April 2024



W. R. BURNETT – Vanity Row. Alfred A. Knopf, hardcover, 1952. Pennant P7, paperback, 1953 (cover art by Harry Schaare). Stark House, softcover, 2015, with Little Men, Big World. Filmed as Accused of Murder (Republic, 1956); previously reviewed on this blog here.

   I felt the need of a strong sharp draught to rinse the taste of [some recent] fatty prose from my mind, and luckily came across Vanity Row,  by W. R. Burnett. Burnett has not come in for the reappraisal and revival so many of his contemporaries have earned, but he authored some classics: Little Caesar, High Sierra, The Asphalt Jungle, etc. and his writing at it’s best combines the terse energy of Hammett with the raised-eyebrow cynicism of Chandler.

   Though the title sounds like a turgid romance, and the dust jacket seems designed to scare away potential buyers, Vanity Row has its moments. Roy Hargis, known as “the Hangman”, is a Police Captain detailed to the Administration of a midwestern city to cover up problems and dispense rough justice when necessary.

   When a prominent local attorney is apparently rubbed out by out-of-town hoods, Hargis is called in to make a quick arrest– but since the Administration is currently negotiating a Gambling agreement with these hoods, Hargis’s job is simply to find a convenient patsy for the killing, and the late attorney’s jilted mistress seems tailor-made for the part.

   The ensuing tale gets sappy at times, but Burnett keeps it fast, straight, and quite readable. He also manages to make his characters seem quite tough without the usual shoot-outs, beatings and car chases of the genre, with a fast-paced narrative perched right on the edge of violence.

— Reprinted from The Hound of Dr. Johnson #7, May 2000.

FRITZ LEIBER “Gonna Roll Those Bones.” Novelette. First appeared in Dangerous Visions, edited by Harlan Ellison (Doubleday, hardcover, 1967; cover art by Diane Dillon and Leo Dillon). Reprinted in Nebula Award Stories Three, edited by Roger Zelazny (Doubleday, hardcover, 1968). Collected in The Best of Fritz Leiber (SF Book Club, hardcover; Ballantine, paperback, 1974). Won both the Hugo Award and Nebula Award in 1968 for Best Novelette for 1967.

   A poor iron miner with the “power” takes on the Devil, in skeletal form,at a gambling establishment’s dice table. Overwritten prose, not as effective for me as it should have been. (3)

— June 1968.


A 1001 MIDNIGHTS PI Review
by Robert E. Briney


STANLEY ELLIN – The Specialty of the House and Other Stories: The Complete Mystery Tales, 1948-1978. Mysterious Press, hardcover, 1979.

   Stanley Ellin made his first impact on the mystery field as a writer of short stories; and in spite of more than a dozen highly praised novels, it is still as a short-story writer that many readers think of him. This hefty collection contains, in chronological order, all thirty-live of the stories written during the first thirty years of his writing career. All but one of them originally appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, where the author’s “annual story” is still an eagerly awaited event. The first seven stories in the collection, starting with the title story (surely one of the most impressive debuts in the field), were prizewinners in the annual Ellery Queen contests.

   Here we have “The Betrayers,” in which a young man constructs an air-tight solution to the wrong crime; the Edgar-winning fantasy “The House Party”; a second Edgar winner, “The Blessington Method,” with its unique approach to gerontology; “You Can’t Be a Little Girl All Your Life,” the story of a rape and its aftermath; “The Crime of Ezechicle Coen,” with its roots going back to the German occupation of Rome in World War II; “The Twelfth Statue,” a novelette of murder in a Rome film studio; “The Corruption of Officer Avakadian,” concerning doctors who ref use to make house calls; and “The Question,” in which the whole point of the story is compressed into a single devastating three-letter word in the final sentence. The stories vary widely in theme and setting. but exhibit the same polished craftsmanship.

   In his introduction to the volume, speaking of another master of the short story, Guy de Maupassant, Ellin wrote: “Here was a writer who reduced stories to their absolute essence. And the ending of each story, however unpredictable, was, when I thought of it, as inevitable as doom.”

   These words might have been written about Ellin’s own work. When Ellin’s first ten stories were issued in book form under the title Mystery Stories in 1956, the book was praised by Julian Symons as “the finest collection of stories in the crime form published in the past half-century.” With the addition of twenty-five stories and twenty years, the judgment still stands.

Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007. Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.

Reviewed by TONY BAER:


A. A. AVERY – Anything for a Quiet Life. Farrar & Rinehart. hardcover, 1942. Bantam #38, paperback; 1st printing, June 1946.

   Donovan’s an ad man for a trade magazine in New York City in the late 1930’s. He’s not too into it. What he’s really into is sailing his skiff in the South Seas.

   His best buddy and sailing partner has come into a bunch of money, and a sporting girl has gotten her hooks into him. Not only is she gonna take him to the cleaners, but it’s going to play havoc with Donovan’s sailing plans.

   So Donovan is set with trying to break up the marriage before it happens.

   Turns out the sporting gal is being sicced on Donovan’s buddy by design of some dangerous mobsters.

   The mobsters have a number of fish to fry, only one of which involves Donovan’s buddy.

   The biggest fish set to fry is based on the real-life McKesson & Robbins, Inc. scandal of 1938. Said scandal involved a bogus bootlegging corporation manipulated to merge with a legit pharma company. A fake balance sheet formed the basis for a merger worth millions to the fraudsters passing off the valueless shares of the shell company to the stockholders of the legit one.

   Donovan gets his hands on proof that the balance sheet is fake and aims to leverage this information to sabotage his buddy’s marriage and save both his sailing plans and the shareholders from a soaking.

   If it sounds convoluted, it is. But as convoluted as it is, you don’t have time to think about it — Donovan (and you, dear reader) is too busy being chased by men with guns all thru the city, warding them off by his swift wits and fisticuffs. With the help of a lovely lass he meets along the way (who happens to be not only executive assistant of the pharma company but an excellent sailor to boot!).

   The book is fast as hell and twice as fun. It’s not a book to ponder. But it’s a breathtaking ride.

« Previous Page