Search Results for 'The Big Sleep'


A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Bill Pronzini


RAYMOND CHANDLER – The Big Sleep. Philip Marlowe #1. Alfred A. Knopf, hardcover, 1939. Avon Murder Mystery Monthly #7, digest paperback, 1942; New Avon Library [#38], paperback, 1943. Movie photoplay edition: World, hardcover, 1946. Reprinted many times since. Film: Warner Bros., 1946 (screenwriters William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett, Jules Furthman; director Howard Hawks; Humphrey Bogart as Marlowe). Also: United Artists, 1978 (screenwriter-director: Michael Winner; Robert Mitchum as Marlowe).

   It is difficult to imagine what the modern private eye story would be like if a forty-five-old ex-oil company executive named Raymond Chandler had not begun writing fiction for Black Mask in 1933. In his short stories and definitely in his novels, Chandler took the hardboiled prototype established by Dashiell Hammett, reshaped it to fit his own particular vision and the exigencies of life in southern California, smoothed off its rough edges, and made of it something more than a tale of realism and violence; he broadened it into a vehicle for social commentary, refined it with prose at once cynical and poetic, and elevated the character of the private eye to a mythical status — “down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid.”

   Chandler’s lean, tough, wisecracking style set the tone for all subsequent private-eye fiction, good and bad. He is certainly the most imitated writer in the genre, and next to Hemingway, perhaps the most imitated writer in the English language. (Howard Browne, the creator of PI Paul Pine, once made Chandler laugh at a New York publishing party by introducing himself and saying, “It’s an honor to meet you, Mr. Chandler. I’ve been making a living off your work for years.”

   Even Ross Macdonald, for all his literary intentions, was at the core a Chandler imitator: Lew Archer would not be Lew Archer, indeed might not have been born at all, if Chandler had not created Philip Marlowe.

   The Big Sleep , Chandler’s first novel, is a blending and expansion of two of his Black Mask novelettes, “Killer in the Rain” (January 1935) and “The Curtain” (September 1936) — a process Chandler used twice more, in creating Farewell, My Lovely and The Lady in the Lake, and which he candidly referred to as “cannibalizing.”

   It is Philip Marlowe’s first bow. Marlowe does not appear in any of Chandler’s pulp stories, at least not by name: the first person narrators of “Killer in the Rain” (unnamed) and “The Curtain” (Carmody) are embryonic Marlowes, with many of his attributes. The Big Sleep is also Chandler’s best-known title, by virtue of the well-made 1944 film version directed by Howard Hawks and starring Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, and Elisha Cook, Jr.

   On one level, this is a complex murder mystery with its fair share of clues and corpses. On another level, it is a serious novel concerned (as is much of Chandler’s work) with the corrupting influences of money and power. Marlowe is hired by General Sternwood, an old paralyzed ex-soldier who made a fortune in oil, to find out why a rare-book dealer named Arthur Gwynn Giger is holding his IOU signed by Sternwood’s youngest daughter, the wild and immoral Carmen, and where a blackmailing abler named Joe Brody fits into the picture.

   Marlowe’s investigation embroils him with Sternwood’s other daughter, Vivian, and her strangely missing husband, Rusty, a former bootlegger; a thriving pornography racket; a gaggle of gangsters, not the least of which is a nasty piece of work named Eddie Mars; hidden vices and family scandals; and several murders. The novel’s climax is more ambiguous and satisfying than the film’s rather pat one.

    The Big Sleep is not Chandler’s best work; its plot is convoluted and tends to be confusing, and there are loose ends that are never explained or tied off. Nevertheless, it is still a powerful and riveting novel, packed with fascinating characters and evocatively told. Just one small sample of Chandler’s marvelous prose:

   The air was thick, wet, steamy and larded with the cloying smell of tropical orchids in bloom. The glass walls and roof were heavily misted and big drops of moisture splashed down on the plants. The light had a unreal greenish color, like light filtered through an aquarium. The plants filled the place, a forest of them, with nasty meaty leaves and stalks like the newly washed fingers of dead men. They smelled as overpowering as boiling alcohol under a blanket.

   That passage is quintessential Chandler; if it doesn’t stir your blood and make you crave more, as it always does for this reviewer, he probably isn’t your cup of bourbon.

         ———
   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 DAN STUMPF:         


RAYMOND CHANDLER – The Big Sleep. Alfred A. Knopf, hardcover, 1939. Reprinted many times, in both hardcover and paperback, including Avon Murder Mystery Monthly #7, 1942; New Avon Library 38, 1943; Pocket 696, 1950; Pocket 2696, 4th printing, 1958.

RAYMOND CHANDLER The Big Sleep

Film: Warner Bros., 1946 (Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall; scw: William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett, Jules Furthman; dir: Howard Hawks). Also: United Artists, 1978 (Robert Mitchum, Sarah Miles; scw & dir: Michael Winner).

   Speaking of Film Adaptations of Classic Mysteries, Howard Hawks used to reminisce to interviewers about the scene in a book shop in The Big Sleep (Warner Bros., 1946) to the effect of: “I said to Bogart, ‘This scene is awfully ordinary; can’t we do something to liven it up?’ and he put on a pair of glasses and started lisping and camping it up, and it was funny, so I said, ‘Great! Let’s go with that.'”

   Which is a good story, except that the passage in Chandler’s novel is written just like that: glasses, obnoxious effeminacy and all. Granted, the scene in Chandler’s book isn’t as funny as the one in Hawks’ movie, but ’tis there and ’twill serve.

RAYMOND CHANDLER The Big Sleep

   The Big Sleep (Knopf, 1939) was another book I read in High School, but I reread it my senior year in College, and I revisit it every ten years or so since then, always finding something fresh and readable to make me glad I came back. The plot is a mess, and the quality of Chandler’s prose is sometimes strained when it should drop like the gentle rain from heaven on the place beneath, but when it works well, there’s nothing like it, and Sleep brings a colorful cast of bit players to pulp-life with energy delightful to behold.

   Again, there’s room to carp. Chandler’s handling of gay characters is hysterically unsympathetic (“… I took plenty of the punch. It was meant to be a hard one, but a pansy has no iron in his bones whatever he looks like.”) and describing an over-decorated house, Marlowe says it “…had the stealthy nastiness of a fag party.” Well how would he know?

RAYMOND CHANDLER The Big Sleep

   And again, that’s just carping about a classic. The Big Sleep works on several levels, and offers some happy surprises along the way. I particularly liked the passage cataloguing the detritus of a shabby office building where Marlowe notes, “against a scribbled wall a pouch of ringed rubber had fallen and not been disturbed.”

   Nowadays of course, a writer would just say “used condom” and be done with it, but Chandler’s coy self-censorship offers the kind of unique charm that seems lately to have gone the way of all flesh.

   Damn. Two references to Shakespeare and one to Samuel Butler in a single review of The Big Sleep; that’s gotta set some record for pretentiousness.

   As a followup to an earlier discussion about the movie version of The Big Sleep here on the Mystery*File blog:

Trailer for The Big Sleep.

The Babes of The Big Sleep.

The Big Sleep: Bogart and Bacall.

Dorothy Malone in The Big Sleep.

Martha Vickers in The Big Sleep.

   At this rate, it won’t be long before the entire movie is up on YouTube. Thanks to Jeff Pierce, head man at The Rap Sheet, for getting me started in looking.

   Peter Rozovsky has just left a comment after my review of Step by Step, posted about this same time yesterday. Peter found what NY Times movie critic Bosley Crowther said about the film to be very interesting. (Crowther didnt like it very much, and he said so.)

   Whats even more interesting is that in the same column Crowther also reviewed the film version of The Big Sleep, which many people today find one of the classics of the hard-boiled private eye genre. He didnt care for this one either, and he said so and at even greater length. You can read the entire review online yourself, and you should, but here are some excerpts:

   If somebody had only told us the script-writers, preferably just what it is that happens in the Warners’ and Howard Hawks’ The Big Sleep, we might be able to give you a more explicit and favorable report on this over-age melodrama which came yesterday to the Strand. But with only the foggiest notion of who does what to whom and we watched it with closest attention we must be frankly disappointing about it.

Big Sleep

   For The Big Sleep is one of those pictures in which so many cryptic things occur amid so much involved and devious plotting that the mind becomes utterly confused. And, to make it more aggravating, the brilliant detective in the case is continuously making shrewd deductions which he stubbornly keeps to himself. What with two interlocking mysteries and a great many characters involved, the complex of blackmail and murder soon becomes a web of utter bafflement. Unfortunately, the cunning script-writers have done little to clear it at the end.

      […]

   Through it all, Humphrey Bogart stalks his cold and laconic way as the resolute private detective who has a mind and a body made of steel. And Lauren Bacall (Mrs. Bogart) plays the older of the daughters languidly. (Miss Bacall is a dangerous looking female, but she still hasn’t learned to act.) A dozen or so other actors play various tramps and tough guys acidly, and the whole thing comes off a poisonous picture lasting a few minutes shy of two hours.

   On the other hand, to pick a critic whose comments are always handy, Leonard Maltin gives The Big Sleep four stars (****) and in part agreeing with Crowther says, So convoluted even [Raymond] Chandler didnt know who committed one murder, then going on immediately to say, but so incredibly entertaining that no one has ever cared. Powerhouse direction, unforgettable dialogue…

   I realize that its unfair not to give Mr. Crowther a chance to reconsider and later on perhaps he did. No one always gets everything right the first time, and I do mean no one.

   And, just in case you might be wondering, Mr. Maltin gives Step by Step two stars (**), but other than a one line summary of the plot, his only critical judgment is that it is a patriotic programmer.

REVIEWED BY DAVID FRIEND:

   

SLEEPING CAR TO TRIESTE. General Film Distributors, UK, 1948. Eagle Lion Films, US, 1949. Jean Kent, Albert Lieven, Derrick De Marney, Paul Dupuis, Rona Anderson. Screenplay: Allan MacKinnon . Director: John Paddy Carstairs. Currently available on YouTube.

   I’ve always loved films set on vintage trains. It’s the best place to generate suspense: strangers trapped together with no safe way to escape. The Lady Vanishes (1938), of course, is the gold standard, though Night Train to Munich (1940), The Narrow Margin (1952) are other notables. This effort from prolific British director John Paddy Carstairs is a remake of 1932’s Rome Express, which I’ve seen, and follows it fairly faithfully.

   That film centred on a Van Dyke painting stolen by a gang of thieves who subsequently fail to regroup. Poole, one of the gang, tries to flee on the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits train the Rome Express, travelling between Paris and Rome, but his accomplice Zurta, gets on board himself in pursuit.

   Also on board are an adulterous couple, an English golf-bore, a wealthy but tight-fisted businessman and his brow-beaten secretary/valet, a French police officer and an American film star with her manager/publicist.

   The 1948 version went out under the title Sleeping Car to Trieste. The train is now the Orient Express, though the story’s biggest difference is probably the MacGuffin: instead of a painting, it’s now a diary. The film star has also disappeared, the businessman is now a celebrated writer and the golf-bore (who had been played rather wonderfully by Gordon Harker) is now a hooray henry, while other characters have been added.

   As in the original, when Poole (Alan Wheatley – who I only saw the other day in a Tara King-era Avengers episode) boards a train in an attempt to flee his accomplices, one of them, Zurta (Albert Lieven), gets on board and tries to catch him. The tension comes from watching how close he gets. Of course, Poole tries to lay low in his compartment (the sleeping car of the title) until he gets to the West, where he can sell the diary without sharing the proceeds with his accomplices.

   Unfortunately, he is interrupted by another passenger who insists on sharing his accomplice. The diary is hastily hidden in the en-suite bathroom and Poole tries to arrange another compartment for himself without raising too much attention. Before long, he is roaming the train alone and trying to find cover while avoiding bumping into Zurta.

   Elsewhere on the train, there is an adulterous couple (Derek De Marney and Rona Anderson) an Italian-American GI from New York (Bonar Colleano); a famous writer and his put-upon valet Finlay Currie and Hugh Burden); an ornithologist (Michael Ward); a French police inspector (Paul Dupuis) and an imbecilic stockbroker (David Tomlinson).

   The tone is much lighter than the more sinister Rome Express. There is a French chef who is forced to take lessons on English food from a cheerfully xenophobic passenger (“…And that’s called roly poly pudding!”) while the American GI, bored senseless by the chattering ornithologist sharing his compartment, has his romantic advances spurned by a couple of young French sisters (“We don’t want to be liberated anymore!”).

   Tomlinson’s character – younger than his Rome Express counterpart – is perhaps the most overtly humorous, as he bumps into the couple and realises he knows the man, George Grant, and insists on spending time with him. Grant, therefore, must keep away from his mistress, Joan, to avoid their affair becoming known.

   There’s a neat bit of satire here, perhaps even pathos, as Joan is more in love with him than he is with her. In fact, Grant is clearly using Joan as a bit of sexual distraction during his business trip, and deserves all the trouble he gets. Similar sympathy is wrought by author Alastair MacBain’s poor valet Mills who – in one of the film’s most engaging scenes – briefly turns the tables on his tyrannical employer.

   Although such scenes are diverting, they do distract from the main plot, particularly as these side-characters never become properly involved in it. I expected the diary to go from passenger to passenger but, although it does get discovered, this doesn’t quite happen.

   There is still tension, however, not least when Poole is cajoled into a card game involving Zurta and tries to avoid being left alone with him, and there’s a murder in the last couple of reels, followed by a confrontational climax.

   The film is neatly updated to the late 1940s political situation in Europe, though this is only ever obliquely referred to. Aside from the first five minutes, the whole thing is set on the train, so railfans and retro-romantics will enjoy seeing the compartments and corridors. Like the first version, it lacks a central protagonist, and there’s no larger conspiracy to unravel, but on its own terms, it is worth a watch.
   

Rating: ***

REVIEWED BY JONATHAN LEWIS:

   

THE BLACK SLEEP. Bel-Air Productions/United Artists, 1956. Basil Rathbone, Akim Tamiroff, Lon Chaney, John Carradine, Bela Lugosi, Herbert Rudley, Patricia Blake, Phyllis Stanley, Tor Johnson. Director: Reginald Le Borg.

   The eponymous black sleep in the movie’s title is not a state of being. Rather, it is a thing – a fictional mysterious potion from the Indian subcontinent that puts its users into a deep, quasi-hypnotic state. It’s therefore fittingly ironic that a movie about a sleep-inducing substance is, for the first thirty minutes or so, rather soporific itself.

   Despite the best efforts of the always enjoyable Basil Rathbone to liven things up with philosophical speeches about medicine and the human condition, the first half of The Black Sleep is a stilted, talky affair.

   All that changes in the second half. That’s when this Bel-Air production decides to let its inhibitions fall asunder and for schlocky insanity to ensue. How insane, you ask? Let’s just say that John Carradine portrays a stark raving madman locked in a basement dungeon who believes he is a Crusader out to conquer Jerusalem.

   Like many other horror films from the late 1950s and early 1960s, The Black Sleep is set in Victorian England. Rathbone portrays Sir Joel Cadman, an esteemed surgeon who embarks on a series of highly unethical medical experiments on live human subjects. He has his reasons, of course. His beloved wife has been in a coma for months and he believes that, with the right among of experimentation on others, he can find a way to successfully operate on her and bring her back to full life.

   Cadman, in a conniving manner, enlists the aid of Dr. Gordon Ramsay (Herbert Rudley) to further his work. It’s only a matter of time, however, before Ramsay learns the true nature of Cadman’s vicious work.

   The true star of this horror film, however, is neither Rathbone nor Rudley. That honor goes to veteran character actor Akim Tamiroff. Here, he portrays Odo, a Romani tattoo artist in cahoots with Sir Joel (Rathbone). With a smile a mile wide and his notable South Caucasian accent, Tamiroff chews the scenery and makes the whole affair far livelier than it would have been in his absence.

   Final word about the billing: aside from John Carradine, the movie also has two other horror greats listed in the cast; namely, Lon Chaney Jr. and Bela Lugosi. Neither actor has any lines. Chaney portrays a brute whose brain and mind were destroyed by Cadman’s experiments, while Lugosi portrays Cadman’s mute butler.

   It’s always nice to see these greats on screen, but there’s something obviously very sad about how low both actors’ star powers had fallen by the mid-1950s. This was to be Lugosi’s last complete cinematic role, excepting the truly atrocious Plan 9 From Outer Space (1957).

   

IT IS PURELY MY OPINION
Reviews by L. J. Roberts

   

PAUL ADAM – Sleeper. Gianni Castiglione #1. Time Warner, UK, paperback, 2005. Published in the US as The Rainaldi Quartet (St. Martin’s, hardcover, 2006; Felony & Mayhem, paperback, 2007).

   Giovanni “Gianni” Castiglioni is a luthier – a violin maker – at whose home his friends – a policeman, Guastafeste, a priest, Father Arrigh, and a fellow luthier, Rainaldi – gather each month as an informal string quartet. After one of their sessions, Guastafeste and Gianni find Rainaldi murdered in his studio nearby. His widow tells them he was searching for “The Messiah’s Sister,” the twin to a perfect, unplayed, priceless violin made by Stradivari. Gianni is asked by Guastafeste to help in the investigation.

   This book is being released in hardcover by St. Martin’s as The Rainaldi Quartet in February 2006. No matter the title, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The character of Gianni, the supporting characters and the settings in Italy were well done. The killer, and the motive, weren’t ones I anticipated. But it was the history of violins and violin making I found fascinating. The information enhanced, rather than detracted, from the story. If this is an example of Mr. Adam’s writing, I should definitely read another book by him.

Rating: Good Plus

— Reprinted from the primary Mystery*File website, January 2006.

   

      The Gianni Castiglione series

1. Sleeper (2004) aka The Rainaldi Quartet
2. Paganini’s Ghost (2010)
3. The Hardanger Riddle (2019)The Gianni Castiglione series —

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Marcia Muller

   

ERLE STANLEY GARDNER – The Case of the Sleepwalker’s Niece. Morrow, hardcover, 1936. Pocket #277, paperback, 1944. Reprinted many times since. TV Adaptation: Perry Mason, 28 September 1957 (Season 1 Episode 2), with Raymond Burr as Perry Mason.

   Perry Mason is approached by a “peculiar” client – Edna Hammer. who seeks help for her uncle, Peter Kent. Kent has a bad habit of sleepwalking. and when he does, he heads for (he carving knives and curls up in bed with one. Edna is afraid Uncle Peter will kill someone, and she wants Mason to prevent this.

   Kent has other troubles: a wife who instituted divorce proceedings on account of the sleepwalking but now wishes to reconcile; a fiancee whom he wishes to marry but can’t unless the divorce goes through: a complicated business arrangement with a “cracked-brained inventor”; a hypochondriac half brother; and a woman tailing him in a green Packard roadster. Mason spends a night at the Kent home, and by the next morning there is a bloodstained knife under Peter Kent’s pillow, a corpse in the guest room, and a client in very hot water.

   The writing in this early novel is taut and lean — reflective of Gardner’s hard-boiled work for such pulp magazines as Black Mask. The dialogue is terse and packs a good impact. and there are none of the long-winded conversations and introspections that characterize the later Perry Masons. A first-rate example of Gardner’s work in the Thirties and early Forties.

   Some other notable titles in the series are The Case of the Black-Eyed Blond (l944), The Case of the Lazy Lover (1947), The Case of the Green-Eyed Sister (1953), and The Case of1he Daring Decoy (1957). After the late Fifties, the novels seem to lose something, possibly as a result of Gardner’s work on the Perry Mason TV series. Mason is less flamboyant. and the plots are not as intricate or well tied off as in the earlier novels.

   Gardner created other series characters, writing under both his own name and the pseudonym A. A. Fair. The best of these under the Gardner name arc small-1own prosecutor Doug Selhy (The D.A. Calls It Murder, 1937; The D.A. Cooks a Goose, 1942). whose role as a hero is a reverse of Hamilton Burger’s; and Gramps Wiggins (The Case of the Turning Tide, 1941; The Case of he Smoking Chimney, 1943), an iconoclastic old prospector whose experiences reflect Gardner’s childhood travels with his mining-engineer father.

   In addition to his novels, Gardner wrote hundreds of mystery and western stories under various names for such magazines as Argosy, Black Mask, SunsetWest, and Outdoor Stories.

———
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.

COMMENTS BY JONATHAN LEWIS:


   Originally recorded by rockabilly legend Jody Reynolds in 1958, “Endless Sleep” has been covered by numerous artists over the years. One of my favorite interpretations of this song is by Billy Idol, former frontman of the British punk band Generation X.


REVIEWED BY DAVID VINEYARD:


FRANCIS BEEDING – The Seven Sleepers. Professor Kreutzemark #1. Hutchinson, UK, hardcover, 1925. Little Brown, US, hardcover, 1925.

    “I don’t like it, Tom,” she said. “All sorts of queer things are happening just now, and Geneva is always full of international agents of every kind.”

    “International agents!” I exclaimed. “But this is real life. I’ve got a British passport and I’m Thomas Preston of Jebbutt and Jebbutt.”

    “Don’t make any mistake,” said Beatrice. “My chief has told me a good deal about these things. He used to be in the French Intelligence Department.”

    “I don’t see how on earth it can possibly concern me,” I objected.

   Thomas Preston is a British traveling man in Post WWI Europe (a Europe that has just received the first awakening call of what is to come with Mussolini) who finds himself in Geneva, home of the League of Nations (which features prominently in most of Beeding’s thrillers since the two men who wrote under that name both worked there), when his luggage takes a side trip. Not that he is averse to visiting Geneva where the beautiful Beatrice Harvel is working for the League, and as it turns out, for Henri Laval who Preston knew from the war.

   Even before calling on Beatrice, Tom’s visit has been an interesting one, beginning with a strange little man approaching him as if he knew him, shoving a document in his hands, and then promptly being arrested, and then a letter from someone claiming to be Tom’s grandmother setting forth a meeting the next day. These are the things Beatrice doesn’t like and with good reason.

   But no Englishman in the fiction of the between-the-war period, and few since the days of Anthony Hope and the Play-Actor, ever manages to ignore such intriguing mysteries, and in the shadow of John Buchan and Richard Hannay, it would seem practically treasonous. Somehow even when the saner, less adventurous heroes of Eric Ambler and Graham Greene came along, they still somehow never quite managed to ignore that siren song no matter how hard they tried.

   Hero or feckless coward it seems impossible to avoid adventure in a British thriller.

   The Seven Sinners is the work of Francis Beeding (John Leslie Palmer and Hilary Aidan St. George Saunders), best remembered today for the novel The House of Dr. Edwardes, filmed as Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound, and a fine mystery suspense serial killer novel Death Walks in Eastrepps.

   In their lifetime, though, they were known as one of the most popular and purveyors of the novel of adventure and international intrigue. Along with the likes of Valentine Williams, they were authors of many stand alone novels (The Norwich Victims, The 2 Undertakers, Eleven Were Brave, The Five Flamboys, The Six Walkers, The Twelve Disguises, The Three Fishers, Nine Waxed Faces — if you note a theme here …) as well as the Colonel Alistair Granby series.

   This is the first novel in the shorter Professor Kreutzemark series, and a good introduction to the pleasures of Beeding in thriller mode. Like their rival Valentine Williams, the team has some decided skills as a writers of this sort of thing, an eye for drama (keep in mind the plot devices that seem so familiar now were still pretty fresh then), and they probably knew the European scene as well as any British writers until Eric Ambler, especially Switzerland and the international environs around Geneva.

   In short order Tom finds himself calling on his ‘grandmother’ who proves to be a a German Professor (He had a fine silky beard, neatly trimmed and of a bright gold, a broad forehead and well-set eyes, a straight nose, and a complexion almost feminine in its delicacy. At the first view he suggested an intelligent and sensitive philanthropist, reclusive in temperament.), and two other Germans (Uncle Ulrich and Uncle Fritz), and has killed a man in self defense.

   It’s clear the three have mistaken Tom for someone else, and equally clear they are up to something shady involving German resurgence after the war and with the mysterious Seven Sleepers of the title financing their scheme.

   Escapes and hurried journeys, near run things, dual identities, trusted allies (a refreshingly international lot in this case), betrayal, sudden set-backs, and a plot to attack London and Paris with the Professor’s nasty X-3 gas that could “…destroy all forms of vegetable or animal life within a radius of 400 square kilometres” are all the elements expertly handled by Beeding.

   (As Richard Usborne points out in his study of popular fiction between the wars The Clubland Heroes, a good paper could be written on the use of deadly gas in the post War era, so great were the memories of its horrors, Bulldog Drummond and the Saint both encountering the nasty stuff along with just about every other hero.)

   Old fashioned, true (…that fate should have permitted me to assist in foiling the powers of malice and disorder which in every age must be encountered and freshly overcome if men are to keep and to increase their inheritance), but half the fun lies in the familiar elements in these books and the skills with which the writer deploys them.

   Though hardly in a class with Buchan or Yates, Beeding is still an entertaining read with a moment or two of the kind of ‘fine writing’ John Buchan’s literate thrillers instilled in the genre, with only an occasional need to wince at attitudes of another age, and superior plot spinning and settings. The boys knew their Europe both geographically and politically.    (*)

   Professor Kreutzemark, the silky bearded one, of course lives to scheme another day, and indeed Thomas Preston and he cross swords again in The Hidden Kingdom for the last time. No really good villain should be expected to give up the ghost that easy, and there isn’t much doubt that Beeding had a success as great as Valentine Williams Adolph Von Grundt, Clubfoot, in mind even if it eluded him for the Professor, only to find it with the clever and heroic Colonel Granby. Too bad, because Kreutzemark had his moments as mad German professors go, and a bit of style is appreciated in any field, perhaps especially villainy.


   (*) One has to wonder that any reader of popular British thriller fiction was at all taken by surprise by the rise of Hitler and the rebirth of a dangerous Germany. The fiction of the era barely let the poison gas clear from the trenches before imagining fellows in Prussian haircuts, mad doctors, armaments dealers, and shady fellows in high finance plotting the next war, certainly after the mid twenties when Mussolini raised his ugly shaved head.

Granted, most writers were more subtle with Germany never quite spelled out, and Russia and the Reds came in for no small amount of plotting themselves (Sapper was about evenly divided between Germans and Russians sometimes rather remarkably managing to have both working together, but then politics was not his strong point), but it does seem at times as if anyone who bothered to crack a book would have been well advised to invest in a bomb shelter or leave the continent.