May 2024



MICHAEL & JOHN BRUNAS and TOM WEAVER – Universal Horrors.The Studio’s Classic Films, 1931-1946. McFarland, hardcover, 1990, softcover, 2017.

   Fans of that sort of thing should drop what they’re doing and rush out in the street to buy this book. Handsomely produced, exhaustive but never tedious, this is the survey of those wonderful (and sometimes wonderfully inept) Horror Films put out from 1931 to 1946 by the Horror Studio.

   There are fascinating bits of information on budgets and stock footage, intelligent interviews with the surviving principals and minor character actors, and even an occasional bit of critical depth.

   It’s all too rare that a book manages not to insult the reader’s intelligence even while seriously discussing films that do, but Universal Horrors actually manages to chart its way from the giddy heights of Bride of Frankenstein   and The Black Cat all the way down to things like Night in Paradise and The Brute Man without putting a foot wrong.

   Of course, there are a few mistakes in critical Judgement, by which I mean that the authors don’t always agree with me. I have always been struck by the contrast in Universal Monster Movies between the bland, unengaging “heroes” of these films and the intriguing treatment of the hairy outcasts who are supposed to be the Bad Guys.

   I’ve reflected that kids watched these things in movie houses, where they were re-released right up to the early 50s, then stayed up late a night to catch them on television through the 60s, and I’ve always wondered if this was how the Hippies got their start.

   Weaver and the Brunases don’t bring this up — perhaps just as well — nor do they cite the bit of Invisible Man stock footage that was always [any good Sherlockian’s] favorite bit of Holmesian Trivia, but they do manage to run to earth just about every other bit of stock footage, retreaded script and reused actor from almost a hundred movies that most film historians wouldn’t give the time of day.

   And they do it in a way that is almost compulsively readable. I recommend this one highly.

— Reprinted from The Hound of Dr. Johnson #34, September 2004.

THE ADVENTURES OF THE FALCON. “Kiss Me Not.” Syndicated / Federal Telefilms, 01 October 1954 (Season 1, Episode 15). Charles McGraw. Guest Cast: Nancy Gates, John Dehner, Herb Vigran, Betty Ball. Writer: Herbert Purdom. Director: Derwin Abrahams … (as Derwin Abbe).

   For a quick recap of the long, involved and confusing history, the fellow who does the Spy Guys and Gals website does the best job I’ve ever seen. Here’s the link:

   He covers the books, the short stories, the movies, the radio (nearly 500 episodes), but it’s an episode of the TV series that this review is about. It begins with a gangland killing in a two-bit hashery, then continues with Michael Waring in Washington DC as an overall troubleshooter for an unnamed agency as he volunteers to help a war widow whose teen-age daughter has gone off with a hired killer.

   The connection between this and the prologue? The killer in the hashery and the gun man the woman’s daughter has taken off with are one and the same. How, also, you may ask, does the government get involved? Simple. The girl has taken her mother’s monthly assistance check with her.

   Charles McGraw suffers from a screenplay that makes him a one-dimensional PI, tough and gruff, but little more. John Dehner (the gunman) was always a dapper fellow, but not one you might thing would have not one, but two beautiful women fall head over heels in love with him.

   But overall, not a bad story, one that makes the most of limited amount of time it has to work with (less than 30 minutes). I was happy not to have to sit through wasted time watching cars do nothing but drive from one place to another.

Reviewed by TONY BAER:


A. I. BEZZERIDES – Long Haul. Carrick & Evans, New York, hardcover, 1938. Reprinted in paperback as They Drive by Night (Dell, 1950) and Tough Guy (Lion, 1953).

   Brothers Nick and Paul Benay are trying to make it as over-the-road truckers. Between loan payments on the truck, repairs, middlemen, chiselers, and rotting freight, it’s tough road to hoe. One brother sleeps while the other drives. And vice versa.

   The only way to make it pay is to pay off your truck and haul your own freight. That’s the dream that keeps guys going. But just as soon as it seems like they’re gonna get there, something happens. A drunk driver veers into oncoming traffic, totaling their truck, juicy oranges fluttering down the freeway.

   Paul is concussed, and the only way to keep going is Nick has to pull all-nighters, 72 hours, without sleep. He’s nodding off, nightmares jolting him awake, of a crack up. Is it real or only imagined, this time, flying off a cliff?

   Depressing story, yes, but stilted prose is what keeps from the winner’s circle.

   Made into a Bogart film in 1940.

My apologies for the longer than usual break I’ve had to have with the blog. Nothing’s wrong, I’m just a lot busier than I’m used to. I’ll be back as soon as I’m able. (A few more hours a day might help, if you have any to spare.)

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Marcia Muller


A. A. FAIR – Owls Don’t Blink. Bertha Cool & Donald Lam #6. Morrow, hardcover, 1942. Reprinted many times, including Dell 211, mapback edition, 1940s, and Dell R101, paperback, October 1961.

   A. A. Fair is a pseudonym of Erle Stanley Gardner, but don’t pick up one of these novels featuring private eyes Bertha Cool and Donald Lam expecting a couple of carbon copies of Paul Drake. Cool and Lam are an amusing and endearing pair — perfect foils for one another.

   Bertha Cool, at the time of this novel. is the middle-aged proprietor of an L.A. investigative firm, pared down to a mere 165 pounds but ever on the alert for a good meal. Her partner, Donald Lam, is a twerp in comparison — young, slender, and forever on the defensive for what Bertha considers excessive squandering of agency money. But there’s considerable affection between the two, and with Donald doing the legwork, they crack some tough cases-and have a lot of fun while doing so.

   Owls Don’t Blink opens in the French Quarter of New Orleans, where Donald is occupying an apartment once rented by a missing woman he has been hired to find. He is due to meet Bertha at the airport at 7:20 the next morning and knows there will be hell to pay if he’s late. Fortunately. he arrives on time. and together they meet the New York lawyer who has hired them to find Roberta Fenn. a former model.

   Over a number of pecan waffles — a number for Bertha. that is, who only eats “once a day” —  the lawyer is evasive about why he wishes to locate Miss Fenn. But Cool and Lam proceed with the case-and Bertha proceeds with several lavish meals, still on that same day.

   The discovery of the missing woman’s whereabouts proves all too easy, and also too easy is the discovery of a corpse in Roberta Fenn’s new apartment. But from there on out, everything’s as convoluted as in the best of the Perry Mason novels. The scene moves from New Orleans to Shreveport, Louisiana, and from there to Los Angeles, where its surprising (although possibly a little out-of-leftfield) conclusion takes place.

   And there’s a nice twist in the Cool-Lam relationship that will make a reader want to read the later entries in this fine series, such as Crows Can’t Count (1946), Some Slips Don’t Show (1957), Fish or Cut Bait (1963), and All Grass Isn’t Green (1970). Especially entertaining earlier titles are The Bigger They Come (1939) and Spill the Jackpot (1941).

   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:


ROBERT FINNEGAN – Many a Monster. Simon & Schuster, hardcover, 1948. Bantam #363, paperback, May 1949. Stark House Press, softcover, 2022 (three-in-one edition also including The Lying Ladies and The Bandaged Nude).

   Dan Banion’s a reporter. His editor sics him on the story of an escaped lunatic from the insane asylum — a recently convicted serial killer of women.

   Dan looks into the story, but the further he looks, the more it seems like the kook is innocent: The serial murders continue to mount irrespective of whether the kook’s in custody.

   Dan solves the case, but not before tussling with the KKK, quitting his job, and witnessing more grisly murders.

   Dan Banion’s cool, the writing’s great, but the story’s nothing to write home about. It’s one of those where a cagillion suspects are rounded up and the writer settles on one of them seemingly at random as if he was running low on paper.

IF SCIENCE FICTION, July 1967. Editor: Frederik Pohl. Cover art by Jack Gaughan. Full text and illustrations available at Overall rating: ***½

PHILIP JOSE FARMER – The Felled Star. Serial, part 1 of 2. See review later after both parts are available. [The entire two-part serial is a section of Farmer’s novel The Fabulous Riverboat.]

E. A. WALTON “Pelandra’s Husbands. First story. Love proves stronger than possible immortality. (1)

ANDREW J. OFFUTT “Population Implosion.” Novelette. The plague hits only old people, in direct correspondence to the birth rate. Excellent idea suffers [is marred] only by jumps in the story. (5)

C. C. MacAPP “A Ticket to Zenner.” Novelette. A thief leaves behind a ticket, in a SF intrigue story, reminiscent of Eric Ambler, but without the convincing background. (3)

ALAN DIRKSON “Adam’s Eve.” Novelette. A world without humans has only waiting robots, but two find how to obtain services for themselves. (3) [His only published SF story.]

KEITH LAUMER – Spaceman! Serial, part 3 of 3. See review coming up soon. [Book publication as Galactic Odyssey.]

— July 1968.

   I reviewed the book, by Robert Thorogood, here:

A Mystery Review: ROBERT THOROGOOD – The Marlow Murder Club.

so when I learned that they were doing a TV series of it, I was naturally curious.

   To me, it seems that the cast the lead characters perfectly. I remember not a lot about the story itself, but the little I do and the little I see in the snippets below, the synchronization seems well within very close range. Given who the author is (Death in Paradise, obviously), adapting the book to TV I’d say was a project that was meant to be done.


   MASTERPIECE Mystery! today announced that The Marlow Murder Club, adapted by author Robert Thorogood from his best-selling novels, premieres on PBS Sunday, October 27th at 9/8c. Along with the airdate, MASTERPIECE also announced that the cast and crew are already in production on Season 2.



THE JANUARY MAN.  MGM, 1989. Kevin Kline, Susan Sarandon, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Harvey Keitel, Danny Aiello, Rod Steiger, Alan Rickman. Writer: John Patrick Shanley. Director: Pat O’Connor. Streaming online with ads on various platforms. Available for rent on Amazon Prime as well as other outlets.

   You have been unjustly fired from a job you did well,and now your ex-employers, faced with a crisis Only You Can Handle come crawling to ask you back. Along the way they almost interrupt you in a casual act of heroism, but you agree to come back, whereupon the Red Carpet is rolled out, you meet a sexy young girl who falls madly in love with you, your ex-girlfriend suddenly wants you back, and everybody who ever talked nasty to you is now at your beck and call.

   And wouldn’t it be great if they all brought Beer?

   Well, I suppose there are worse male fantasies, and although The January Man is neither as suspenseful as it should be nor as amusing as it could be, it still deserves some credit for realizing its limited aspirations in a light-hearted and relatively non-violent way. In fact, for a movie about a serial killer of women, it’s surprisingly un-sadistic in concept and execution (no pun intended — honest).

   The January Man also offers some decent thespic opportunities to its performers, who try not to look too surprised at getting them. Kevin Kline is engagingly off-beat as the Cop-turned-Fireman Hero called back to solve the Calendar Girl Murders, Danny Aiello and Rod Steiger are appropriately choleric as his superiors, and Susan Sarandon purveys her own brand of predatory sexuality as Kline’s ex-sweetie.

   Best of all is Alan Rickman, looking more than ever like a young Vincent Price, as the Maynard Krebbs to Kline’s love-happy Dobie Gillis.

— Reprinted from The Hound of Dr. Johnson #34, September 2004.


Reviewed by TONY BAER:


ED LACY – Moment of Untruth. Toussaint M. Moore #2. Lancer 73-554,  paperback original, 1964. Later printing, 1967.

   The phrase ‘the moment of truth’ comes from bullfighting. It refers to the moment that the matador makes the kill.

   Toussaint Moore is a retired detective. He’s a happily married postal worker. But his wife gets preggers and he’s strapped for cash. So he goes back to his old detective agency looking for some work to supplement his income.

   The old PI firm is happy to see him. They just got a call from a rich Mexican lady who wants to hire an American PI for $100 a day. Plus expenses, Touie should be able to pocket close to two grand for a couple of weeks work. She won’t say what the case is — but they figure its just a wandering husband or something.

   When Touie makes it to Mexico it turns out the case is much more sinister. The client’s husband has just been murdered by a poisonous snake planted in his bed. He’d been working on an expose of the most famous matador in Mexico. He found evidence that the matador was a fraud — but before he could publish his story, he was killed.

   Touie cracks the case and everything turns out copacetic. For those that survive.

   I like Toussaint Moore quite a bit — but the story is just okay.

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