Nov 162014
 
A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Francis M. Nevins


PHILIP ATLEE – The Green Wound. Gold Medal k1321, paperback original, 1963. Later reprinted as The Green Wound Contract, Gold Medal, paperback, 1967.

   Joseph Liam Gall’s first appearance in print was as a free-lance soldier of fortune embroiled in a Burmese civil war in Pagoda (1951), a hardcover adventure novel published under James Atlee Phillips’s full name. A dozen years later, writing as Philip Atlee, the author revived Gall, made him a disillusioned contract killer for the CIA, and put him through more than twenty paperback spy thrillers, of which the first and best was The Green Wound.

   The crime writer with whom Phillips seems to have the most in common is Raymond Chandler. Both men use a cinematically vivid first-person style (although Phillips avoids the profusions of metaphor and simile that make Chandler so easy to parody) and eschew careful plotting in favor of strong individual scenes and memorable moments.

   Almost all the Joe Gall novels suffer from near-chaotic structure, but Phillips’s finest scenes are so fresh and alive that, as Chandler said of Dashiell Hammett’s, they seem never to have been written before.

   Phillips’s treatment of his main character is a brilliant study in schizophrenia. On one level Gall is the stoic code hero of the Hemingway tradition, and on another he stems from Ian Fleming’s James Bond, the professional killer for his government, the larger-than-life secret agent forever besting villains of the mythological-monster sort.

   In the conventional patriotic thriller of this type, we are never allowed to doubt that whatever our side does is right because we are by definition the good guys. Phillips at his best subverts this nonsense and approaches the insight of John Le Carre that perhaps at bottom We and They are mirror images of each other.

   Witness,for instance, the story line of The Green Wound. Gall is paid a huge sum by his former bosses at the CIA to come out of idyllic semi-retirement in an Ozark castle, infiltrate a quiet Texas community, and frustrate a plot to ruin the politically connected millionaire who runs the city. From his vantage point as manager of the local country club, Gall dispassionately observes the viciousness of the ruling class and the institutionalized racism that keeps the blacks in a shantytown on the wrong side of the railroad tracks.

   In due course Gall learns that the blacks have secretly organized, with the help of federal civil-rights enforcers, to register to vote at the last possible minute and then oust the white politicians at the polls. On Election Day a bloody race war erupts, leaving the city in flames. Later Gall pursues the instigator of the revolt, a horribly disfigured black veteran who was used by army doctors as an experimental animal and is aching for revenge on the entire power structure.

   The action swings from Mexico to Texas to New Orleans to the Caribbean and back again, but Phillips never resolves the tension between Gall the good soldier and Gall the man who knows he’s on the wrong side. This tension, rather than its considerable virtues as an action thriller, is what makes The Green Wound one of the finest spy novels ever written by an American.

   In most of the later Galls, Phillips downplays or eliminates the structural schizophrenia, and the lesser exploits overstress local color and exotic settings — Sweden, Tahiti, Thailand, Haiti, British Columbia, Korea, and elsewhere — at the expense of story and action. But even the weaker Phillips novels are usually redeemed by several powerful individual scenes that stick in the memory long after the book as a whole is forgotten.

         ———
   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.

 Posted by at 4:29 am
Nov 032014
 
A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Francis M. Nevins


ISAAC ASIMOV – Tales of the Black Widowers. Doubleday, hardcover, June 1974. Fawcett Crest, paperback, August 1976.

   Until the early 1970s, Isaac Asimov was best known to whodunit devotees as the writer who virtually invented the science-fiction mystery. In his novels The Caves of Steel (1954) and The Naked Sun (1957) and in the short stories collected as Asimov’s Mysteries (1968), he masterfully bridged the gap between the two genres and proved that genuine detective fiction could be set in the future as well as In the present or past.

   Although he had previously written one contemporary mystery novel, The Death Dealers (1958), Asimov’s best-known crime fiction of the non-futuristic sort is the long series of Black Widowers tales that debuted in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine in 1972 and is still going strong today after four hardcover collections’ worth of stories.

   The Black Widowers are five middle-aged professional men — Avalon the patent lawyer, Trumbull the cryptographer, Rubin the writer, Drake the chemist, and Gonzalo the artist — who meet once a month for dinner at an exclusive New York club. Each month one member brings a guest and that guest brings a problem, sometimes but by no means always criminal in nature.

   The narration of the dilemma is interrupted frequently by cross-examination and highbrow cross-talk among the Widowers, who like Asimov himself are inordinately fond of puns. After each of the five club members has tried to solve the conundrum and failed, a solution — invariably on target — is proposed by Henry, the ancient and unobtrusive waiter who has been serving dinner and drinks throughout the dialogue. Everyone then goes home both intellectually and gastronomically satisfied.

   The Black Widowers stories stand or fall on the quality of the puzzles and their resolutions. Characterization and setting are minimal, and too many of the tales are either unfair to the reader or wildly incredible, but the occasional gems are clever indeed, and those who share Asimov’s fondness for oddball facts, logical probing, and the spectacle of cultivated men scoring intellectual points off one another will delight in even the weaker links in the chain.

   The four collections published to date are Tales of the Black Widowers (1974), More Tales of the Black Widowers (1976), Casebook of the Black Widowers (1980), and Banquets of the Black Widowers (1984). Asimovians might also look into the author’s book-fair whodunit, Murder at the ABA (1976), and his short-story collection The Union Club Mysteries (1983).

         ———
   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.

Note:   Since this review first appeared, there have been two additional collections of Black Widowers stories: Puzzles of the Black Widowers (1989) and The Return of the Black Widowers (2003), the latter posthumously.

 Posted by at 7:02 pm
Oct 212014
 
A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Karol Kay Hope


  GORDON ASHE – A Nest of Traitors. Holt Rinehart & Winston, US, hardcover, 1971. Popular Library, US, paperback, no date. First published by John Long, UK, hardcover, 1970.

   Gordon Ashe is a pseudonym of John Creasey, an amazingly prolific British writer who had to his credit some 560 novels published under more than twenty names. A Nest of Traitors continues the adventures of Patrick Dawlish and “The Crime Haters,” one of his most popular series.

   A revered British war hero and onetime independent crime fighter, Dawlish is now deputy assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, London, specializing in crimes of international significance. He is also the acknowledged leader of a loosely knit group of crime fighters, the membership representing every major police force in the world.

   In this case, Dawlish must alert various international investigative agencies to a widespread passport-fraud scheme that could wreak havoc on immigration and passport control throughout the world. As Dawlish’s investigation continues, passport control turns out to be the tip of the iceberg; a select group of the world’s most powerful men are on their way to seizing control over each government, major industry, banking system, and society on the planet.

   By the time Dawlish discovers this master plot, the organization — known as “the Authority” — has almost succeeded, and Dawlish is the one person standing between a
free world and its complete domination by this small but vicious group of immensely wealthy megalomaniacs.

   Unfortunately, Dawlish is just too perfect; and the Authority is too powerful to really be vulnerable to the heroic antics of what Ashe would have us believe is the last honorable man in the world. Farfetched, but a good book to read yourself to sleep with.

   Patrick Dawlish appears in all the Gordon Ashe novels except The Man Who Stayed Alive (1955) and No Need to Die (1956). Representative titles are Death on Demand (1939), Murder Too Late (1947), Elope to Death (1959), A Clutch of Coppers (1969), and A Blast of Trumpets (1975).

         ———
   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.

 Posted by at 10:38 pm
Oct 182014
 
A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Bill Prozini


MEL ARRIGHI – Alter Ego. St. Martin’s, hardcover, 1983. No paperback edition. TV movie: CBS, 1987, as Murder by the Book (with Robert Hays as D.H. ‘Hank’ Mercer / Biff Deegan, and Catherine Mary Stewart).

   Hank Mercer is a New York mystery writer, author of such modest best sellers as Death Is My Bedmate and Kill Me Tender. Biff Deegen is Hank’s series sleuth, a hard-boiled private eye patterned after Mike Hammer. Hank is tired of Biff and Biff’s uncouth style; he wants to scrap him and begin a new series about an erudite, tasteful detective named Amos Frisby.

   His editor, Norman Wagstaff. is of course opposed to the idea vehemently. But to placate Hank, who after all is one of his top authors, he agrees over lunch to the following bargain: If Hank can solve a real-life mystery, using Frisby’s methods of deduction, then he trade Riff in for Amos/

   What precipitates this bargain — and what starts Hank off on his all-too-real mystery — is a matchbook dropped on their lunch table by a well-dressed woman, containing the scrawled words “Help me.”

   The mystery involves a valuable statue called The Etruscan Dancer, some urbane crooks, some not so urbane crooks, sexy Marisa Winfield, a poker game, a daring rescue accomplished by Hank using methods better suited to the Human Fly, a chase through the Lexington Avenue subway and, as it were, the piece de resistance: Biff Deegen.

   Biff, you see, steps out of the pages of his own books to become a character in Hank’s real-life mystery.He doesn’t really come to life, of course; he is merely an anthropomorphized figment of Hank’s overworked imagination, his creator’s alter ego. But that doesn’t stop him from becoming Hank’s detective “partner,” sneering at the likes of Amos Frisby and appearing at tense moments to advise Hank on the finer points of physical combat (“Kick him in the balls!”).

   This amusing and affectionate spoof of both genres seems to have been intended as the first of a series– it is billed on the dust jacket as “A Hank & Riff Mystery” — but so far no second book has appeared. Arrighi’s other criminous novels are much more serious in tone; these include such first-rate titles as Freak-Out (1968), The Hatchet Man (1975), Turkish White (1977), the Hitchcockian thriller Delphine (1981), and Manhattan Gothic (1985).

         ———
   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.

NOTE: Mel Arrighi died in 1986 at the relatively young age of only 53. If it so happened that he wrote another book in this series, it was never published before he died.

 Posted by at 6:08 pm
Oct 142014
 
A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Ellen Nehr


MARGOT ARNOLD – Exit Actors, Dying. Playboy Press, paperback original, 1979. W. W. Norton / Countryman Press, softcover, 1988.

   This paperback original is the first of the adventures of Penelope Spring, American anthropologist, and Toby Glendower, Welsh archaeologist. We meet the pair in Turkey on sabbatical from Oxford. The action begins when Penny is seated in an amphitheater and sees a body lying on the grassy stage below. By the time she returns with the police, however, the body has disappeared.

   Next, a member of a film crew staying at the same hotel as the academicians turns up missing. Toby finds the man`s purloined body, and he and Penny decide to investigate. (Toby has a less-than-altruistic reason: He needs to be back in England in ten days, but the police won’t let him leave until the murder is solved.)

   Using talents developed over the years in their academic specialties, the two middle-aged professors become involved with the personnel of the motion-picture crew and their dependents, as well as study the Turkish countryside, to uncover the criminal and his. motives. This is a nice portrayal of two endearing characters and their warm, nonsexual relationship.

   Among Arnold’s other paperback originals are The Cape Cod Caper (1980), Zadok’s Treasure (1980), and Lament for a Lady Laird (1982). These allow the reader to explore the cranberry bogs of Massachusetts, an archaeological dig in Israel, and a Scottish estate.

         ———
   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.

      The Penny Spring annd Sir Toby Glendower series –

1. Exit Actors, Dying (1979)

2. Zadok’s Treasure (1980)
3. The Cape Cod Caper (1982)
4. Death of a Voodoo Doll (1982)
5. Death on the Dragon’s Tongue (1982)
6. Lament for a Lady Laird (1982)

7. The Menehune Murders (1989)
8. Toby’s Folly (1990)
9. The Catacomb Conspiracy (1992)

10. The Cape Cod Conundrum (1992)
11. Dirge for a Dorset Druid (1994)
12. The Midas Murders (1995)

 Posted by at 5:33 pm
Oct 042014
 
A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Karol Kay Hope




CHARLOTTE ARMSTRONG
– The Balloon Man. Coward McCann, hardcover, 1958. Fawcett CRest, paperback, 1969; Berkley, paperback, 1976; IPL Crime Classics, paperback, 1990.

       — The Gift Shop. Coward McCann, hardcover, 1967. Fawcett Crest, paperback, 1968. Zebra, paperback, 1990.

   In her twenty-six-year career, Charlotte Armstrong published dozens of novels and short stories as well as plays and screenplays. Her series detective, MacDougal Duff, appears in only the first three novels; Armstrong is better known for her later works, which combine suspenseful plots with a sensitive depiction of ordinary American people whose moral character is severely tested by extraordinary circumstances.

   Armstrong’s heroes and heroines are normal people with considerable inner resources upon which they can to extricate themselves from dangerous situations that they are in through no fault of their own. The author does not flinch from dealing with such thorny moral issues as the abuse of power by the wealthy, the failure of parents to take responsibility for their offspring, and man’s free will; and she has been known to stand firmly on the side of the underdog. These philosophical issues in no way detract from the suspense of her stories, which is always considerable.

   As shown by The Balloon Man, Armstrong likes young women with guts. The heroine, wife of a rich-boy-tumed-drug-addict, sees her husband throw their young son against the kitchen wall, breaking his leg in a fit of drug-induced hallucination. The down-to-earth young mother leaves quickly, with her son, never to return, knowing her husband’s drug problem is beyond her help. She figures his rich family will take care of him; they’ve always hated her anyway, low-class street girl that she is.

   The husband’s father, however, won’t let it go at that and displays an almost insane resentment of her. He’s determined to get custody of his grandson, and while the heroine waits in a boardinghouse near the hospital until her son is well enough to take back east, the father-in-law bribes an unsavory school pal of his son’s to take a room in the boardinghouse and do all that’s necessary to prove her an unfit mother.

   What follows is a delightful picture of the lives of the boarders and the inner workings of greed and evil that will stop at nothing to separate a child from its mother. A wonderful celebration of good old American grit. And, we might add, wit.

   The Gift Shop is a classic example of Armstrong’s talent and view of the world.Here we have an unassuming, lower-middle-class American girl who is putting herself through college by clerking in an airport gift shop. Her life is ruffled by little more than her boss’s occasional temper tantrum.

   Enter the rich, good-looking bachelor — the youngest of three professionally successful sons who are sources of pride and solace to the patriarch who fathered them. The almost unbelievable hero (are there really such soulful rich young men in the world today?) is hot on the trail of an old school chum who has disappeared under suspicious circumstances (last seen in the gift shop) while researching the whereabouts of the young man’s sister, whose existence has just been revealed to the family.

   And the circumstances of this revelation — a demand that the oldest son, governor of the state, stay the execution of an internationally known crime figure in exchange for the sister’s life — are sinister indeed.

   The adventure that the gift-shop clerk becomes embroiled in is refreshingly humane; and in the course of it, the bachelor overcomes the girl’s resistance to arrogant rich young men. The romance does not proceed without difficulty, however; like many of Armstrong’s heroines, she is the self-sufficient kind and not prone to stroking the male ego.

   This is high adventure, the stuff about which any righter-of-wrongs dreams. It is almost unbelievable, but the author has a way of making us feel it would happen to any one of us, any day now.

   Other excellent Charlotte Armstrong titles are Catch-as-Catch-Can (1952), The Better to Eat You (1954), A Dram of Poison (winner of the Edgar for Best Novel of 1956), The Turret Room (1965), and Protégé (1970). The best of her fine short stories can be found in the collections The Albatross (1957) and I See You (1966).

         ———
   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.

 Posted by at 11:10 pm
Sep 252014
 
A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Francis M. Nevins


WILLIAM ARDEN – A Dark Power. Dodd Mead, hardcover, 1968. Berkley, paperback, 1970.

   During the same years he was writing the Dan Fortune private-eye novels under his Michael Collins by-line, Dennis Lynds took on the pseudonym William Arden and launched another series, this one dealing with industrial spy and PI-in-spite-of-himself Kane Jackson.

   The five Jackson novels are written in a spare, unadorned third-person style reminiscent of Dashiell Hammett’s, and their protagonist is very much the hard-bitten operative, without the leavening of compassion one finds in other Lynds detectives, like Dan Fortune or Paul Shaw.

   Most of the Jackson exploits are distinguished by their setting in the jungle of high-level capitalism, principally in the chemical, metallurgical, and pharmaceutical industries where Lynds worked as a trade-publications editor before turning to fiction.

   In A Dark Power, first and freshest of the series, Jackson is hired by a New Jersey pharmaceutical combine to recover a missing sample of a drug potentially worth millions. The trail leads through the mazes of interoffice love affairs and power struggles, and several corpses are strewn along the path.

   Although Lynds tends to get lost in his own plot labyrinths, this time he keeps the story line under firm control, meshing counterplots with fine precision, skillfully portraying people trapped by their own drives, and capping the action with a double surprise climax. Jackson reaches the truth by clever guesswork rather than reasoning, but this is the only weakness in one of the best PI novels of the Sixties.

   Of the four later Jackson exploits, the most interesting is Die to a Distant Drum (1972), which, like Lynds’s novels as by Mark Sadler, takes as background the turmoil of the Vietnam era. Jackson poses as a revolutionary bomb-maker and joins a Weatherman faction in order to infiltrate a chemical plant and bring out certain evidence of industrial piracy. The result, as usual with Lynds under whatever by-line, is a fine and thoughtful thriller.

         ———
   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.

      The Kane Jackson series –

A Dark Power. Dodd, 1968.
Deal in Violence. Dodd, 1969.
The Goliath Scheme. Dodd, 1970.

Die to a Distant Drum. Dodd, 1972.
Deadly Legacy. Dodd, 1973.

 Posted by at 2:42 am
Sep 202014
 
A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Francis M. Nevins


  WILLIAM ARD – Hell Is a City. Rinehart, hardcover, 1955. Popular Library #756, paperback, 1956. Ramble House, softcover, 2012.

   In the early 1950s, when our political and cultural life was dominated by Senator Joe McCarthy and HUAC, and our crime fiction by the bloody exploits of Mike Hammer, a young man named William Ard joined the handful of hard-boiled writers — among them Ross Macdonald, Thomas B. Dewey, and William Campbell Gault — who carried on the legitimate private-eye tradition of Hammett and Chandler.

   In Ard’s world the PI stands for personal and political decency, a clear line is drawn between dramatically justified violence and gratuitous brutality, and sex is seen as a restoration of oneself and caring for another. Anthony Boucher, the dean of mystery critics, praised Ard over and over for his “deft blend of hardness with human warmth and quiet humor,” for turning out “masterpiece(s) of compressed narration … backed with action and vigor, written with style and individuality.”

   Hell Is a City, seventh of Ard’s nine novels about private eye Timothy Dane, is the most powerful and exciting of his novels. Dane is pitted against the corrupt forces of law and order in a nightmare New York where the mayor, the police commissioner, and most of the officials are allied with the mobs and determined to hang on to their power in the coming mayoral election.

   When a young Latino shoots a Brooklyn vice cop who was about to rape the boy’s sister, the municipal bosses use their puppets in the news media to portray the case as the cold-blooded murder of a heroic officer, and put out word to shoot on sight whoever might contradict the party line.

   Brought into the picture by a crusading newspaper editor, Dane finds himself in the classic roman noir situation: knowing the truth no one else will believe; threatened on all sides by killers with badges and without; hounded through city streets dark with something more than night.

   With its sharply drawn characters, pulsating pace, and terrifying premise, this book could easily have been masterpiece, were it not for its grotesquely bad denouement, perhaps the first televised criminal trial scene in fiction, where all is set to rights in record time and in an impossibly silly manner. In a later Dane-less novel, As Bad As I Am (1959), aka Wanted: Danny Fontaine, Ard reworked the same story line to a better effect, but without the raw, nightmarish tension of Hell Is a City.

   Ard was far from a model of all the literary virtues. He wrote quickly and revised too little, and his style, though readable and efficient, lacks the hauntingly quotable quality of Chandler and Ross Macdonald. His plots tend to fall part under scrutiny and he recycled certain names again and again so that his novels contain small armies of characters named Stix Larsen and Barney Glines.

   But his best books — among which are The Diary (1952), .38 (1952), Cry Scandal (1956), and the paperback original Club 17 (1957), published under his pseudonym, Ben Kerr — are miracles of storytelling economy in which Ard’s special brand of tenderness is integrated with the standard elements of mean-streets fiction.

   His death from cancer in 1960 at age thirty-seven silenced one of the most distinctive voices in the history of the private-eye novel.

         ———
   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.

 Posted by at 1:37 am
Sep 142014
 
A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Marcia Muller


EVELYN ANTHONY – The Tamarind Seed. Coward McCann & Geoghegan, hardcover, 1971. Dell, paperback, 1979. First published in the UK: Hutchinson, hardcover, 1971. Film: AVCO Embassy Pictures, 1974.

   Evelyn Anthony’s novels are a cross between romantic suspense, espionage, and thriller. Romance is the most important element; her main characters are drawn together by immense physical and emotional attraction, often under circumstances of danger and stress. Exotic locales, international events, and political intrigue round out her successful formula.

   The Tamarind Seed (made into a film in 1974 with Julie Andrews and Omar Sharif) opens with the arrival of Judith Farrow at Seaways Airport in Barbados. Judith, a young widow who is assistant to the director of the International Secretariat at the United Nations, is getting away from it all — mostly from the memory of a shattered love affair with a high-placed and very married British diplomat.

   Within days she forms a friendship with a man staying at her hotel, but this time Judith resists romantic involvement: The man is Feodor Sverdlov, a Russian diplomat, most likely a spy, and also married, to a physician who has remained in the USSR.

   Upon their return to New York, Judith and Sverdlov continue to see each other, but things are not simple for them. Judith, a British subject, is visited by members of her country’s intelligence establishment, warning her to steer clear of Sverdlov. And Sverdlov returns to find his male secretary mysteriously absent; his wife’s petition for divorce follows.

   When Judith delivers a frightening message from one of his colleagues, he fears for his life, and he defects to the British. But doing that means involving Judith in a desperate and dangerous scheme.

   This could be standard romance fare, except for Anthony’s strong characterization and skillful use of multiple viewpoint. Her backgrounds are well researched, and her grasp of international affairs keeps an otherwise typical love story moving along at a fast pace.

   Other noteworthy novels by Anthony are The Rendezvous (1983), which deals with Nazi war criminals; The Assassin (1970), concerning a Russian assassination plot during an American election; The Malaspiga Exit (1974), about international art thievery; and The Defector (1981), another novel about tom loyalties to one’s country.

         ———
   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.

 Posted by at 9:42 pm
Sep 092014
 
A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Marcia Muller


DAVID ANTHONY – The Midnight Lady and the Mourning Man. Bobbs-Merrill, hardcover, 1969. Warner, paperback, 1973. Filmed as The Midnight Man (1974).

   The greatest strength of David Anthony’s (William Dale Smith’s) first novel is the prtagonist, Morgan Butler, a Korean War veteran who suffered a breakdown. Upon recovering, he worked briefly for a San Francisco detective agency. At the opening of this story, he is half-owner of an Ohio farm, and because he occasionally feels the need for some action, he keeps his hand in the detective business, taking jobs that are a little outside the law.

   Often the jobs aren’t as lucrative or successful as his clients might wish them to be, since Butler is a man of sensitivity and conscience — good at what he does, but incapable of betraying a well-developed moral code.

   In this novel he helps a former marine buddy who saved his life — Quartz Willinger, constable in the small college town of Jordan City, Ohio, who is laid up with an on-the-job injury and trusts no one but Butler to hold down the fort during his convalescence.

   Tapes that three local college students under psychological counseling made and left with their therapist have been stolen. Butler narrows the focus of the thief down to the tapes of one student, Natalie Claybourne, but before he can find the reason the tape was taken, she is murdered in her dormitory room.

   Butler must contend with numerous men who may or may not have been her lovers; her wealthy father, who gives phony-sounding stories about why he seems more interested in recovering the tape than in his daughter’s killing; and a lady who begins to awaken feelings in Butler that he had considered gone for good.

   Anthony’s portrayal of a college town and its bohemian denizens is excellent; there is a section in which Butler relates how he copes with campus “spring madness” that any student or former student will immediately recognize.

   Although the solution is a little predictable and the story somewhat drawn out, this is nonetheless a novel you won’t want to put down. (A film version, The Midnight Man, starring Burt Lancaster was made in 1974. In it, Butler is transformed into a paroled murderer and night watchman turned detective.)

   David Anthony’s other books featuring Morgan Butler are Blood on a Harvest Moon (1972) and The Long Hard Cure (1979). He has also written The Organization (1970) and Stud Game (1978).

         ———
   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.

Editorial Comments:   The books mentioned in the last paragraph above comprise the complete criminous output of David Anthony, who died in 1986. The Long Hard Cure, surprisingly enough, has been published only in England. For a review of The Organization on this blog by Bill Crider, go here, and for my review of Stud Game, go here.

 Posted by at 12:25 am