Steve

Mar 032015
 

NICK CARTER – The Parisian Affair. Ace/Charter paperback original; 1st printing, December 1981.

   I was going through of box of paperbacks the other day, a box I’d had in the garage for quite a while. It was time, I thought, that they should not be in the garage any longer. Some I’d sell on Amazon, was the plan, the others I’d donate to the local library.

   This was one of them, and since I’d recently read and reviewed a Matt Helm adventure (check it out here), I thought I’d delay the fate of this one and basically read it and compare. The two stories were not the same, of course, but what, I thought, might be the similarities, and the differences between the story-telling.

   This Nick Carter tale, to get that out of the way first, has something to do with an assassin, quickly discovered to be female, who is targeting foreign diplomats in Paris, all from underdeveloped countries. Nick’s job: find her.

   Well, this established a difference already. Helm’s job in The Interlopers was to infiltrate a gang of Communists and do spy stuff like exchange passwords and pass notes to each other. The scope of Nick Carter’s assigsnment expands to world disaster proportions, politically speaking, real super-spy stuff.

   Nick has a boss named Hawk whom he says “sir” to, just like Helm does. He meets a girl — actually several of them — but he goes to bed with only two of them, as I recall, and believe it or not — and this surprised me, too — one of them survives long enough to walk off the stage with Nick when the play is over, or that is to say, when the book is done.

   Whether or not this lady shows up in the next book, Chessmaster (January 1982), I do not know. It would be surprised if she does, but I on the other hand was taken aback by the fact that she even made it as far as to the end of this one.

   I think that both Matt Helm and Nick Carter are both playing catch-up in each of their separate adventures, but Helm is much more active in pulling the trigger on the bad guys as he runs across them. The Nick Carter adventure is much closer to a detective story than Helm’s, with at least four women coming into play as the possible assassin, three of them beautiful models. The book does take place in Paris, after all, and it’s a large plus that the author seems to know his way around and describes the streets and cafes very well.

   Which brings me around to naming the author, not that you’re very likely to have heard of him: H. Edward Hunsburger, who wrote this one Nick Carter novel and one other book under his own name, Death Signs (Walker, hardcover, 1987). It’s a detective story in which a deaf man is murdered, and Mattie Shayne, a teacher for the hearing impaired, helps the police with their investigation.

   But I digress. My conclusions? I enjoyed both. The Matt Helm book was better written, I believe, and more realistic, but in some ways, I think the Nick Carter one was more fun to read. Overall, though, I think realism wins out. I’d give Matt Helm a solid “B” and by stretching it a little, Nick Carter gets a “C.”

 Posted by at 12:29 am
Mar 012015
 

“RABBIT FOOT.” An episode of Schlitz Playhouse, CBS, 9 July 1954 (Season 3, Episode 45). Stephen McNally, Paul Langton, Harry Shannon. Screenplay: Lawrence L. Goldman. Director: Christian Nyby.

   When the series went into syndication, the Schlitz had to go, so they called it Herald Playhouse, under which guise this episode ended up on a DVD of old television mysteries from Alpha Video.

   What’s remarkable, something that I didn’t realize before, is that Schlitz Playhouse was on CBS for eight years, first at 60 minutes, then 30, then alternating with Lux Playhouse for its final season. If I added up the numbers correctly, there were nearly 350 episodes in all.

   I wonder where that puts it in the ranking of longest-running anthology series? It’s a lot of different sets, different actors, and a brand new script from scratch every week. I know there had to be some comedies and straight dramas in the mix, but I imagine a good percentage of the episodes were crime-oriented, such as this one.

   Everyone involved with this episode had long careers in movies and on TV, with the star, Stephen McNally, probably the most recognizable name today. But Harry Stanton has the almost unique distinction of being the only person involved in the making of both Citizen Kane and High Noon, being in the cast of each. (The other is William H. O’Brien, but he almost doesn’t count, since he was an uncredited member of the cast of each; in fact, almost his entire career was uncredited.)

   I’ll leave you to check out the careers of the others in this particular cast. What caught my eye was the name of the scriptwriter, Lawrence L. Goldman, whose name came up on this blog as the author of Black Fire, one half of an Ace Double paperback that I reviewed here not too long ago.

   I should say something about the story, which has only three sets, the couple of storefronts along the main street of a small southern town, inside the local police station, and a swamp somewhere outside of town, filled with bubbling quagmires and alligators, and when you see that at the beginning, I think you know immediately what the ending is going to be.

   And you’d be right. A bedraggled stranger comes into town with a satchel of stolen bank loot, claiming to be a detective from a couple of towns over who has killed the real robber in the swamp. We the viewer sense something is wrong with the story right away, and with less than 30 minutes of running time, it doesn’t take the police chief and his second-in-command to catch on either. But they need proof, and by means of a lucky rabbit’s foot, prove it they do.

   Not so lucky for the rabbit, of course. It never is.

 Posted by at 10:38 pm
Mar 012015
 
Reviewed by DAVID VINEYARD:          


MICHAEL KORYTA – The Cypress House. Little Brown, hardcove, January 2011; paperback, July 2011.

   They’d been on the train for five hours before Arlen Wagner saw the first dead men.

   When that is the first line, it is difficult not to go to line two, and so it is with this excellent noirish crime novel, that also happens to be a supernatural novel. You will see it compared to Stephen King, but don’t let that scare you away. Koryta is a first class crime novelist who found his niche in writing tough noirish novels that veer into the supernatural with an admirable ease.

   I have avoided the horror genre for the last decade, but Koryta can write. He can also create characters you care about, evil you fear, and choreograph violence like no one else. He’s closer to a cross between John D. MacDonald and Cornell Woolrich than Stephen King.

   The time is during the depression, and WWI veteran Arlen Wagner is drifting to his birthplace with a plan we will soon learn, but on the way there, he sees dead men on the train and with nineteen year old Paul Brickill leaves the train in a small North Florida town.

   Wagner has reason to trust his instincts. Since Belleau Wood, he has been able to see death coming. He has been able to talk to the dead.

   The decision to leave the train at that point wasn’t that good either, though. He has fallen into the fiefdom of Judge Solomon Ward and Sheriff Tolliver and his henchmen deputies. Getting away doesn’t seem likely, so he and Paul find themselves staying at a ramshackle hotel by the ocean owned by beautiful Rebecca Cady.

   They went a mile down this mud track before the trees parted and the road went to something sandier, shells cracking beneath the tires. A moment later the water showed, and a clapboard structure of white that had long since turned to gray. It was a rectangle with a smaller raised upper level, steep roofs all around. At the top of the structure was a small deck with fence rails surrounding it. A widow’s walk. A porch ran the length of the house, and an old wooden sign swung in the wind above: The Cypress House.

   This is not a modern gothic by any means, for all its atmosphere. Wagner is as tough and hard as any Hammett hero, and Koryta’s prose can be as clean and cut. He doesn’t dwell or linger on gore and grue like a sick twelve-year-old. There are real scares here. There are real mysteries, and not the supernatural kind. Rebecca is tough and beautiful, no fainting heroine to be saved, and her developing relationship with Arlen believable.

   Rebecca Cady hates Ward and Tolliver, but is somehow tied to them. As she and Arlen and Paul wait for a coming storm, tensions build between the two men, both attracted to her, and as Arlen pieces together the secrets of Cypress House and the corrupt little county, he is drawn even closer. They used to smuggle whiskey through Cypress House, and once Rebecca’s father was Solomon Ward’s partner, but now Ward holds Rebecca’s convict brother’s life over her head and is in a far more sinister trade.

   The final one hundred pages or so of this book consist of a sustained running battle between Arlen and Ward’s men. It may not be a tour de force, but it is as suspenseful and well written as any I have encountered a long time, and Arlen’s history and gift/curse play into it with little or no strain on the reader.

   The clouds thickened and continued to hide the sun, but the rain held off. It was as if the storm were being kept at bay, and angry about it.

   Like the storm the violence and Arlen Wagner won’t be held at bay for long. Both will break with unexpected violence.

   I can’t emphasize enough that this is and remains a fine crime novel more than a supernatural one. It never veers off message, loses a step, nor forgets where it is going. Kortya is the most sustained and capable crime writing novelist I have encountered in a long time.

   Arlen will fight his battle and confront his personal battle and destiny in a believable manner with the ending so perfect I don’t want to even hint at it.

   Love lingers.

   I won’t explain what that means in Michael Koryta’s The Cypress House, but it does have power. American noir meets American Gothic, and readers of both genres have a win-win. All I can say is this one would make a hell of a noirish crime film, supernatural or not.

   Few modern writers I’ve picked up recently impressed me this much, and on top of all that, I found it remaindered for a buck at a dollar store. I would have happily paid more.

 Posted by at 9:39 pm
Feb 282015
 
Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         


VIBES. Columbia Pictures, 1988. Cyndi Lauper, Jeff Goldblum, Peter Falk, Julian Sands, Googy Gress, Elizabeth Peña. Director: Ken Kwapis.

   Vibes is the cult classic that could have been. A quirky quasi-ensemble cast (check); a mash-up of genres, ranging from romantic comedy to adventure film and fantasy and back again (check); and quite a few memorable, downright repeatedly quotable, moments (check). And for a while, Vibes manages to feel like a hangout film, a movie where you just feel like you’re there, or you’d like to be there, just hanging out, shooting the breeze, with the main characters.

   But it wasn’t to be. Indeed, Vibes really doesn’t seem to have all that much of a critical reputation or a cult following. Which is somewhat of a shame, because it really is a daring, albeit wildly uneven, little comedy-adventure film that is worth watching, if only once. It benefits greatly from the screen presence of both Jeff Goldblum and Peter Falk, as well as 1980s pop singer, Cyndi Lauper, in a film role.

   The plot centers around two New York psychics, Nick Deezy (Goldblum) and Sylvia Pickel (Lauper) who travel to Ecuador at the behest of con artist/criminal/man of mystery, Harry Buscofusco (Falk) to allegedly search for a missing man. A search that turns into a hunt for Inca gold. Which transforms into an encounter with a relic from an ancient alien civilization and a source of psychic power. (Try selling that script today: “So tell me what your screenplay’s about.”). There’s also a budding romance between Deezy and Pickel.

   It’s a difficult plot to pull off successfully and, at times, the movie just falls painfully flat. The ending, in particular, is a serious let down. But the journey to the ending, literally and metaphorically, is half the fun. And the cast, particularly Goldblum, seems to be in on the joke. It’s no classic, cult or otherwise, but it’s an enjoyable enough movie to watch, the later into the night the better. And it’s definitely a product of the 1980s, like for sure.

 Posted by at 5:12 am
Feb 272015
 

LAWRENCE BLOCK – The Burglar Who Studied Spinoza. Random House, hardcover, 1980. Pocket, paperback, 1982. Reprinted many times since, including Signet, paperback, December 1998.

   The copy I just read was a fairly recent Signet paperback from the 1990s, so it took me by surprise the first time Bernie Rhodenbarr, the bookshop owner in Greenwich Villagewho does a little burglary on the side, needed to find a phone booth to make a telephone call in New York City.

   How many generations ago was 1980? Long before Google came along, that’s for sure. Think how much time Bernie could have saved making a whole series of long distance calls, trying to track down information about a rare coin called the 1913 V-Nickel.

   Today, you could look it up. According to web page on the other side of the link, the coin, were you to burgle a home in Manhattan and find one, would be worth three to four million dollars, perhaps more.

   And burgle a home in Manhattan and find one is exactly what Bernie and Carolyn Kaiser, his lesbian friend and oft-times confederate in crime, do. Soon ending up dead is Bernie’s good friend (and neighborhood fence), elderly Abel Crowe. Since the theft matches Bernie’s MO, the police suspect him for not only that killing, but also the death of the wife whose home was robbed. One problem: Bernie and Carolyn were the only the second of three sets of burglars that night.

   Which means there are a lot of characters to keep track of, even more than this brief outline of the story might suggest. But Bernie tells the story in such a light, humorous way, punctuated by witty observations about the city and its inhabitants, that the pages simply fly by in very enjoyable fashion.

   Until that is, page 223 of a 302 page novel, when the shark is jumped or the pooch is tipped or whatever the current vernacular may be. Now this is between only you and me, and it may be only me, but up until that time I got the idea that Bernie and I were buddies, and he was keeping me informed of everything he wa seeing and doing.

   But on page 223 he suddenly cuts me out of the picture. He tells Carolyn who he thinks did it. Reluctantly, to be sure. It takes until page 224 before she convinces him to tell her everything. Me, nothing. And here I thought we were friends.

   Of course, I really didn’t want him to tell me, but why Carolyn? I was disappointed.

   It also put a strain on Bernie in the pages that follow. Doing this and that, going here and there, making those phone calls to who knows who, and not being able to tell me what it was that he was doing. It’s not until one of those “gather everybody together in one place” that Bernie reveals the truth and gets the killer (or killers) to confess.

   And of course a book by Spinoza takes its rightful place in the denouement, exactly as the title says it would.

       The Bernie Rhodenbarr novels —

Burglars Can’t Be Choosers (1977)

The Burglar in the Closet (1978)

The Burglar Who Liked to Quote Kipling (1979)
The Burglar Who Studied Spinoza (1980)
The Burglar Who Painted Like Mondrian (1983)
The Burglar Who Traded Ted Williams (1994)
The Burglar Who Thought He Was Bogart (1995)
The Burglar In The Library (1997).
The Burglar In The Rye (1999)
The Burglar on the Prowl (2004)
The Burglar Who Counted the Spoons (2013)

PostScript:   I do not know what kind of name Rhodenbarr is — Googling it turned up only six full pages of Bernie’s before I gave up. Perhaps Lawrence Block simply made it up. That plus the fact that Bernie tells the story himself makes it difficult to put a face to the character. I do not know who should play him in the TV series I have in mind.

    One thing for sure. It won’t be Whoopi Goldberg.

 Posted by at 6:43 pm
Feb 272015
 
An Interview with LAWRENCE KINSLEY


   It took a couple of weeks after I posted a review of The Red-Light Victim (Tower, 1981), a paperback original by Lawrence Kinsley, to track the author down, thanks to Google and the assistance of Mark Nevins, a mutual friend.

   You probably should go read (or re-read) the review again, before continuing. Here’s the link. I’ll reuse the cover image that I used then, but you’ll probably find it helpful to go back to read what I had to say about the book before reading Larry’s own comments on it. What I will tell you here, though, is that it’s a private eye novel, the PI in this case being Boston-based Jason O’Neil. In the background is the anti-nuclear movement of the early 1980s.

   This interview consists of a long comment that Larry left on that earlier blog post, somewhat edited to fit an interview-type format, along with his answers to a few additional questions I asked him.

Steve (SL): I’m glad I was able to get in touch with you, and of course it’s good that you’re still around to be gotten in touch with. Can you tell us something about the book, your reaction to the cover, and how it happened that a second book never happened?

Larry (LK): No, the nukes haven’t gotten me yet! Larry Kinsley is still alive, and am the author of The Red-Light Victim, though I had nothing to do with the cover pic! – that was strictly Tower Pub, which I doubt ever even fully read the book! In fact, I pretty much had an agreement with a scientific group named the Union of Concerned Scientists to review and publicize the book when it came out, but as soon as they saw the cover the agreement vaporized.

   Don’t know how much anyone would be interested in my subsequent tale of woe concerning the book. Suffice it to say that after I sold a second Jason O’Neill detective novel to Tower Pub, The Salem Cult, a year later, they went out of business three months before that book’s fall 1982 release date. Worse, they literally stole away in the middle of the night from their Park Avenue offices, taking all of my royalties from Red-Light with them! These included sales of the book to at least three different European countries, with translations, what Tower had previously told me was unprecedented for one of their mystery/detective books.

   As my writing career up to then had netted me approximately eighht cents an hour, and as at the same time my agent retired suddenly and I couldn’t re-market the second O’Neil book since Tower had already paid for a 15 year copyright, I decided at that time, aided by a sudden move out of the Boston area to Florida because of a work offer in the video retail business, to put my career on hold.

   Red-Light had been up for an Edgar as best first mystery novel, but didn’t win, I was told by Mystery Ink’s librarian, because Tower did nothing to push the book. Although I had other O’Neill books outlined, I simply for a number of reasons both financial and personal couldn’t continue at that time. Little did I know that my hiatus would last well over 30 years!

SL: What have you been doing in the past 30 years?

LK: I have recently retired from the retail business and am back in the writing game, though of course O’Neill himself is vastly out of date – in fact he took up residence in the retirement home for old detectives some time ago – but I do have an historical novel and a WWII spy novel in the pipeline, though no agent as of yet.

   I also spent several years writing a non-fiction book on the architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s campus of buildings at Florida Southern College near where I currently live, which is currently being looked at – no decision yet – by the History Press.

SL: Thanks for all information about The Red-Light Victim and what you’ve been doing since it was published. Do you now own the rights to the book? You mentioned that Tower had a 15 year long contract for the copyright, but that’s long past. And in that regard, have you considered finding a publisher specializing in reprinting oldout-of-print mysteries? There are quite a few actively putting out books today.

LK: You’re very welcome. I’m always interested in letting the reading public know something of the behind the scenes writing game.

   I don’t know much about publishers interested in publishing out of date mysteries – mine was so topical I really didn’t think about a re-release over 30 years later. Maybe by now enough people have come along who thing that the China Syndrome is a casual drug that there might be some re-interest in the topic. (In 1982 I was actually in the middle of negotiating a five-figure deal with a Hollywood producer to sell the screen rights to the book to him when China Syndrome screened, and the deal fell thru.)

   I do own the rights since Tower had only a 15 year window, even if with the failure to pay royalties they had even that, and when the book was published a couple of lines was left out of one chapter which has always nagged me. In fact I have computerized the novel, making a few improvements mainly in the grammar and syntax, so I suppose I could try to market it again.

   I am juggling a couple of other books now, so I will see, but thanks for the suggestion. I also have the second novel in the O’Neill series on the computer now, and may make an attempt with that at some time, though it’s probably even a bit more time sensitive than Red-Light and may not be publishable.

SL: Have you been keeping up with the mystery field in recent years?

LK: Other than rereading Chandler and Hammett, I must confess that I have pretty much put mystery reading as well as writing in the rearview mirror. My current knowledge of the detective/mystery field is severely limited.

SL: Thanks for taking the time to talk with me this way, and for agreeing to have our discussion put online.

LK: I certainly appreciate your interest. Basically I’m just an old gumshoe geezer now whose 15 minutes of near fame has long come and gone, and is probably wasting his time trying finally to get 15 more. But what the heck, I can still breathe, and a writer is usually a writer until his last breath!

 Posted by at 1:26 am
Feb 262015
 

Hi Steve,

I read in one of our newspapers yesterday a review of the film Circle of Danger out soon on DVD in the UK. Doing the usual thing I do and look on IMDB it says, Writer: Philip MacDonald (novel).

A little further googling says based on his novel White Heather. There’s no book I can find by him called White Heather or anything similar, nor can I find a book under that title by any other author. The plot does not remind me of any MacDonald book. Do you by any chance have it on DVD?

Thanks,

Jamie [Sturgeon]

   This is Steve. The reason Jamie asked if I had a copy on DVD was to check to see if White Heather is included in the opening credits. I don’t, but perhaps someone reading this does.

   I also Googled the book title in conjunction with Philip MacDonald’s name and got no farther than Jamie did. Almost every reference I came across copied the same wording from each other. The closest to a solid reference source is this one:

The Complete Index to Literary Sources in Film

https://books.google.com/books?id=Yyqc0Qa6b60C&pg=PA298&lpg=PA298&dq=philip+mcdonald+white+heather+circle+danger&source=bl&ots=K9WizPn4yc&sig=Vorqc0LMthYosspdaE4p5GDFXOY&hl=en&sa=X&ei=IsDsVJf7BYOvggTXzoOQAg&ved=0CCAQ6AEwADgK#v=onepage&q=philip%20mcdonald%20white%20heather%20circle%20danger&f=false

   Any assistance from this point on would most certainly be welcome. The fact that the film was directed by Jacques Tourneur may be of some help, as quite a bit of critical attention has been directed his way.

 Posted by at 7:46 pm
Feb 262015
 
Reviewed by DAN STUMPF:         


OMOO OMOO THE SHARK GOD. Screen Guild Productions as Lippert Pictures Inc., 1948. Ron Randell, Devera Burton, Trevor Bardette, Pedro de Cordoba, Richard Benedict, Mate Richards, Michael Whalen, Rudy Robles. Written & directed by : Leon Leonard.

   Two disparate books come together in one desperate film in Omoo Omoo the Shark God. Herman Melville is one of those Great Authors whose power has always…. well has always escaped me somehow. I labored through Moby Dick in college under duress, and fifty years later found Billy Budd a crashing bore. I can enjoy Conrad, Marlowe, Shakespeare and even de Quincey, but I find reading Melville akin to eating Brussels sprouts. Blame my literary taste buds.

   At the other end of the spectrum, I thoroughly enjoyed a recent book called Talk’s Cheap, Action’s Expensive: The Films of Robert L. Lippert (Bear Manor Media, 2014) by Mark Thomas McGee. For those unfamiliar, Lippert was a producer of dubious ethics and even dubiouser taste, releasing films from the late 40s to the 60s. To his credit, we have The Last Man on Earth, The Fly, Rocketship XM, the Quatermass movies and the early films of Sam Fuller.

   On the debit side, we have the other 70 or so films he bears responsibility for, almost all of them done quickly and artlessly with both eyes on the budget: Films like The Lost Continent (’51) with Cesar Romero and those crummy dinosaurs; King Dinosaur (’55) with even crummier monsters; Fingerprints Don’t Lie (reviewed here earlier;) the Lash LaRue movies; Sins of Jezebel; Queen of the Amazon; Superman and the Mole Men; The Alligator People, a whole bunch of British B-movies with faded American stars.

   I could go on, but you get the point, or if you don’t you won’t. Lippert’s favorite actor was Sid Melton and his most-used actress was Margia Dean, with whom he was sleeping. I rather enjoy Lippert’s films myself. Some are touched with genius, some amusingly inept, and some are simply jaw-droppingly awful, but they all have that sense of quiet desperation Thoreau spoke of so movingly.

   And oddly enough, the talents of Lippert and Melville once met, in a remarkable little film called Omoo Omoo the Shark God.

   Well anyway the credits tell us this is based on Omoo, though I don’t recall any cursed idols, budding romance or native blood-brothers in Melville’s autobiographical novel. Perhaps writer/director Leon Leonard saw something in it I didn’t. (I told you I had a critical blind spot there.) Or maybe the film is an extended commentary on the book, a fictional critique and thematic riposte.

   I guess we’ll never know. All I can say for sure is that the story revolves around an obsessive sea captain guiding his ship back to a remote island in search of some mystical black pearls he stole from the eyes of a native idol years ago and hid someplace. Romance blooms along the way between the Captain’s daughter and our hero (Devera Burton and Ron Randell), and once we get to the island sundry complications ensue, including hostile natives, greedy sailors and some sort of curse.

   This is all done in typical Lippert style, played out on cramped sets and filled out with stock footage. I don’t believe there’s an original exterior shot in the whole movie. But one can clearly see the thematic references to Moby Dick: the mad captain, compelled to pursue a horrible fate; the inversion (White Whale becomes Black Pearls) and the incredible boredom as the story moves like a becalmed iceberg. The studio jungles are about what you’d expect from a movie like this, helped a bit by Benjamin Kline’s expert photography, and Albert Glasser’s music tries hard to convince us something’s going on, but this is basically an hour of nothing much. And yet…

   And yet I find myself wondering what prompted writer/director Leon Leonard to this tawdry madness in the first place. He had no previous experience writing or directing for the movies; his only other screen credit is a bit part in an obscure Rudy Vallee short, Campus Sweetheart, and he seems to have worked mostly in the Theatre as a musical director. So how did he come to bring Melville to the screen?

   Whence this film?

   I tell you, it’s enough to make a man think.

 Posted by at 2:42 am
Feb 252015
 

“POSSESSION.” An episode of Thriller, ATV, England, 21 April 1973. (Series 1, Episode 2.) John Carson, Joanna Dunham, Hilary Hardiman, Athol Coats, James Cossins, Richard Aylen. Story: Brian Clemens. Director: John Cooper.

   An all-British cast this time — recall that Barbara Feldon co-starred in the first episode, “Lady Killer,” reviewed here — and instead of being an out-and-out Alfred Hitchcockian crime story, this one borders on the supernatural.

   But of course, it’s a crime story as well, with a newly married couple in their new home — an isolated manor, of course — with the body of the previous owner found cemented over in the basement. When the female half of the married couple starts hearing whistling in the house at odd hours, mostly during the night, and the rooms ransacked while the two of them are in bed and the doors tightly locked, that’s when they call in a mystic, who helps them hold a seance, with even more deadly consequences.

   I’m sorry that that last sentence was such a long one, but it happens sometimes. I’m not overly fond of ghost stories, but if I’m going to watch one, the British do them best. I’m not sure why, but England is a country that for some reason, ghosts seem to find a likelier place to not find a final resting place than the US.

   Adding to general overall spookiness of the proceedings is the lighting, very effectively done, plus a very minimal musical score, often non-existent while the camera work focuses on a rack of knives in the kitchen, a set of rickety stairs leading to the dimly lit basement, and of course the whistling coming from seemingly nowhere.

   It is the male half of the couple who is seemingly possessed (John Carson, who sounds a lot like James Mason), while it is left to his wife (the beautiful Joanna Dunham) to look concerned, then worried, then out-and-out frightened. Not everyone leaves this story alive, nor is the ending convincing that all things supernatural in the tale have been entirely explained away (deliberately so).

   Nicely done.

 Posted by at 3:47 am
Feb 242015
 

DONALD HAMILTON – The Interlopers. Gold Medal T2073, paperback original; 1st printing, 1969. Reprinted several times.

   It’s been a while since I’ve read one of Matt Helm’s adventures. When they first came out, I used to gobble them down like cotton candy, but for some reason, I don’t remember this one. It came out the year my wife and I moved from Michigan to Connecticut, and I starting teaching here, so quite possibly I had other things on my mind.

   This one is number 12 in a series of 27 books that started with Death of a Citizen in 1960. In my opinion now, I don’t believe that it’s one of the better ones, but a less-than-average Donald Hamilton book is still far above the average other spy or espionage thriller of the day.

   I’m not exactly sure why this particular adventure never quite took off for me. Helm is his usual competent hard-boiled self, telling his own story, killing the bad guys with no sense of remorse, either part of the job or kill or be killed. He is also quite willing to bed any lady who offers, even if he is not sure which side she is on.

   And there are several sides to be on in this novel. As an assignment on behalf of another government agency to pose as a courier for Russians to foil a plot against the defense systems of the west coast of the US, Helm is confused by a group of amateur but still deadly interlopers who do not seem to be on either his side or the Russians. And the aforementioned lady is on either his side (his boss says no), or the Russians from whom she has defected (or so she says), or or she’s playing a different hand altogether (my thoughts on the matter).

   Part of the problem is that the setting is not all that interesting: traveling through Canada from Washington state to Alaska, not the most exotic of locales. Or it may be that the plot the Russians have come up with is so lame: along the way Helm is to meet five different contacts (complete with secret identifying phrases), with the info he so gathers to be inserted in the studs on the Labrador puppy Helm is required to take along with him.

   The title is appropriate. There are many interlopers in this story, and Helm is rightfully disdainful as to their abilities as largely out-and-out amateurs. Not an amateur, though, is the Russian assassin that Helm’s own boss has asked him to eliminate. It all makes for a very large pot of characters, but it takes a long time for things to come to a boil.

PostScript:   Since Matt Helm tells his own story, it was difficult for me to get a decent picture of him in my minds’-eye, and while the cover provides what the publisher thought was a good likeness (as shown), I have to say I disagree. But given that illustration, I’ve been trying to think of a movie actor who resembles this fellow. I’ve come up with a couple of possibilities, but none good enough to mention at the moment. What do you think? Any suggestions?

   That dude in the later cover is a total imposter, as far as I’m concerned.

   Also, if you haven’t seen it already, go back and read Michael Shonk’s recent review of the Matt Helm television series, the one with Tony Franciosa in the title role.

 Posted by at 8:38 pm