It’s been a while since I’ve printed one of these reviews from TMF, so I’ll repeat the introductory explanation that came with the first one I did, back in last July.

   These reviews will come from the long distant past, nearly 30 years ago, in fact. All were published in a fanzine published by Guy M. Townsend, and called The MYSTERY FANcier. Iíll use the initials TMF in the headings to so indicate where all such reviews first appeared. Prior to their TMF publication, some of the reviews were appeared in the Hartford Courant (not a fanzine) and will also be so designated.

   Iím going to reprint the reviews as they were published at the time, whatever warts I see they may have when I read them now. I will update the publishing history of the books, and on occasion, perhaps even most of the time, add Updates or other Commentary.

   I no longer use letter grades to close up my reviews, but I did back then, and for better or worse, Iíll include them now. Donít hold me too closely to either my comments or the grades I assigned to the books. I was a different person then, and so (probably) were you.

HELEN NIELSEN – After Midnight.

Curtis 07204; paperback reprint, no date stated. Hardcover edition: William Morrow, 1966; hardcover reprint: Detective Book Club [3-in-1 edition], July 1966.

   When I think of defense attorneys and mystery stories, I think of Perry Mason. Sam Drake is a part-time lawyer only, and in the author’s own words, a full-time bon vivant, which is hardly promising. He does don the appropriate suit of shining armor at the proper time, however, to take up the defense of a beautiful client accused of stabbing her husband to death. But then rather than tackling the case as a personal challenge to his own flamboyant sense of justice, he takes the considerably more dangerous step of becoming more and more personally involved with the new widow.

   After an emotion-packed trial in which all the unanswered questions are carefully avoided, some hops and skips in logic combine with what at first seems insurmountable coincidence to lead the solution off in perversely contrary directions. The writing is often noticeably pulpy, to match the hero, I guess.     [C minus]

Ė From The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 3, No. 2, Mar-Apr 1979.

[UPDATE] 02-07-08. I have only the barest recollection of reading this book. The review you’ve just read is as new to me as it is to you. I can’t locate my copy, nor can I find a cover image online, so for once we’ll have to go without one. (If you happen to have either the paperback or the hardcover, a scan would be welcome.)

   Of Helen Nielsen, born in 1918 and died 2002, Contemporary Authors says:

Helen Nielsen: Detour

    “Helen Nielsen writes mystery stories in which she carefully plays fair with the reader, providing enough information for the mystery to be solved. Nielsen mixes her detective puzzles with realistic character studies and often sets her stories in southern California, where she has lived since her childhood. Her California, however, is often the “the chilling rains or the thick, yellow, and dripping fogs of winter,” according to Mary Groff in the St. James Guide to Crime and Mystery Writers.”

   Here are excerpts from reviews of some of her other books, by such critics as

Anthony Boucher: “… in a vein of quietly observant realism, underlined by sustained emotional horror.”

Jon L. Breen: “Nielsen has successfully combined the chase-adventure-espionage tale with a formal, fairly clued detective puzzle, a rarer feat than one might imagine.”

Newgate Callendar: “… a smooth piece of work . . . urbane and agreeable.”

   Two of her novels were considered either hard-boiled or noirish enough for them to have been reprinted by Black Lizard. These are the two covers you’ll see somewhere here above or below.

   After all of this accumulated evidence, I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to read After Midnight again, if I could, and see if I have the same opinion as I did back in 1979. I may have been wrong on this one.

Helen Nielsen: Sing Me a Murder

   As for Steve Drake, I did not know he was a series character then, but thanks to Al Hubin and Crime Fiction IV, I do now. Here’s a list of all of the cases he handled:

      After Midnight. Morrow, 1966. Setting: California.
      A Killer in the Street. Morrow, 1967. Setting: Tucson, AZ.
      The Darkest Hour. Morrow, 1969. Setting: California.
      The Severed Key. Gollancz, UK, 1973. Setting: California.
      The Brink of Murder. Gollancz, UK, 1976.

   These last two books, which were also the last two she wrote, were never published in the US.