DANA CAMERON – A Fugitive Truth. Avon, paperback original, May 2004.
Though an archaeologist by profession, Emma Fielding somehow manages to run into an abundance of cases of murder on her many and varied field trips, this being the fourth in a series, and unfortunately only the first that I’ve read.
Based on the example at hand, it’s a lapse I’d like to remedy as soon as I can. This one’s an impressive outing, beginning as if it were a gothic romance novel from the 1970s, as Emma travels through a dark and overcast night to the Victorian mansion where the Shrewsbury Library is located, and where her latest project has taken her.
After helping to excavate the 18th century home of one Margaret Chandler and putting the life of the woman in the proper context, Emma plans on reading the young bride’s diary, written while she was still trying to adjust to life in the American “wilderness” as a new arrival from England. Here’s a quote that will help describe how Emma’s philosophy of life (and career) put her on my side, immediately and forever. From page 56:
I also reminded myself of why I had finally decided that my work was important. History tends to be about great events or trends that are disassociated from the common person. Historical archaeology is about everyday things, it’s finding out about people who didn’t always have a voice or fair representation by those who kept the public records, it’s about filling in the blanks. By teaching what archaeology teaches about the past, I was letting my audiences know how people like them made great things possible. On good days, I felt like I was a preacher, teaching empowerment, hope and ownership.
When one of her fellow resident scholars is found drowned under mysterious circumstances, Emma is asked by the local police lady to use her academic insight and help with the investigation from the inside. As in the best of detective novels, there are a number of suspects, all with differing motivations, and all must be scrutinized with care, since – if Emma is not careful – she may become the killer’s next victim.
In parallel with the present day crimes, Emma also discovers that Margaret, the lady of the diary, was abruptly accused of the death of a clergyman in her day, but the comments she wrote about her criminal trial are written in code, which requires deciphering on the part of Emma.
When Margaret’s problems are over and she was absolved of the crime she was accused of, her comments were, “The truth is more than a sum of the facts,” an observation that does not explain the circumstances of her acquittal – the crucial pages are inscrutably missing – but it gives Emma the shove she needs, and at the right moment, in her own investigation.
Besides the good, no, excellent characterization and a better than average detective story – and somehow it manages to slip my mind and I have to realize this over and over again, don’t the two go hand-in-hand? – there is an epilogue that is absolutely outstanding. Moralizing after the fact is not all that common in detective fiction, and moralizing on the level of Spider-Man? Now that’s unique.
PostScript: Besides being a mystery writer, Dana Cameron is by primary occupation a professional archaeologist, which comes as no surprise at all.
— May 2004
The Emma Fielding series –
1. Site Unseen (2002)
2. Grave Consequences (2002)
3. Past Malice (2003)
4. A Fugitive Truth (2004)
5. More Bitter Than Death (2005)
6. Ashes and Bones (2006)
And as a sign of the times, perhaps, given the end of this Emma Fielding series, beginning in 2013 Dana Cameron has written five novels in a fantasy-paranormal “Fangborn” series. Here’s a description:
“Archaeologist Zoe Miller has been running from a haunting secret her whole life. But when her cousin is abducted by a vicious Russian kidnapper, Zoe is left with only one option: to reveal herself.
“Unknown to even her closest friends, Zoe is not entirely human. She’s a werewolf and a daughter of the ‘Fangborn,’ a secretive race of werewolves, vampires, and oracles embroiled in an ancient war against evil.”
The cover bills this as “A Fizz & Buchanan Mystery,” which was intriguing right then and there, because (a) I admit that Joyce Holms was a new name to me, and (b) what’s (who’s) a Fizz? Doing some investigation on my own, it was not difficult to discover that Payment Deferred is the first of [nine] in a series, and why I’d happened to have never heard of the author is that [at the time I read this book] none of them have been published in this country.
I’ll get back to that particular point later, I think. Of the pair of sleuths working out of Ms. Holms’ books, let’s take Tam Buchanan first, as it’s much simpler that way. The town is Edinburgh, and Tam (male) is a lawyer who donates a morning a week to a free legal clinic, a more-or-less straight-and-narrow sort of fellow. As for “Fizz,” I think I’ll do some quoting from pages 7 and 8:
Tam arrives late to find “a plump girl of about seventeen” waiting for him.
“You’re waiting to see me, are you?”
She had a sweet, dimpled face and an expression of unassailable innocence. “Well,” she said with a hesitant smile, “that rather depends on who you are.”
The discrepancy between what his eyes saw and what his ears heard was so great that Buchanan was momentarily at a loss. It was like being savaged by a day-old chick, which was clearly impossible, so that he had to assume that she had not intended the put-down but was merely trying to sound sophisticated, or some such rubbish.
“I do beg your pardon,” he said, with exaggerated politeness, and then regretted it. She was, after all, just a kid, and besides, he should have had the common decency to introduce himself before barking at her. “I’m Tam Buchanan, Legal Advice.”
She gave him a shy nod and offered a small but surprisingly strong hand. “In that case I am waiting to see you. I’m your new assistant. The name’s Fitzpatrick.”
And so from here the relationship begins, full of sparks and brief bursts of annoyance and vexation (on both sides, but mostly Tam’s). Here’s another long quote from much toward the end of the book (page 291):
Buchanan was equally disgusted at himself for (a) ever letting her into his life, and (b) being markedly less than enthusiastic to be rid of her.
She was a pain in the neck. Let’s face it, she was horrendous. She was an inveterate liar, a manipulator, selfish, opinionated, miserly, and didn’t give a hoot in hell about anyone but herself. Her philosophy, as propounded by herself, was: everything I have is yours and everything you have is mine. Which was fair enough till you remembered that she didn’t have anything you’d want.
On the other hand, when she was in a good mood – which, okay, was almost always – she was quite nice to be around. She was different. She made you see things in ways you hadn’t seen them before. Also, she had a strange kind of innocence about her, even though you couldn’t trust her with the gold fillings in Grandma’s teeth. But she was honest. That was the funny thing. Way down deep, where it counted, she was as honest a person as he’d ever met.
However, be that as it may, he was rid of her now, and he wasn’t about to change that, regrets or no regrets. Common sense dictated that he learn his lesson and steer clear of her from now on.
Obviously the man is hooked on her. And, no, all first impressions aside, she’s not seventeen, either. More like twenty-six. She’s starting law school in the fall, and working for Tam is to get her foot in the door, and she has no intentions of being a mere secretary. She begins assisting on Tam’s next case almost before he knows there is one.
Which consists of trying to clear the name of an old (and rather dull) friend of Tam’s, Murray Kingston, who has just been released from prison after being convicted of molesting his young daughter.
Who had anything to gain from the false conviction – who could have wanted Murray out of the way for any reason – and who could have faked all of the evidence that put him into prison for three years?
Well, yawn. This is not the most gripping of tales – there’s a heaping abundance of legwork and around page 120 the book gets really talky. Even though (of course) there’s eventually a murder to solve, the real fun is watching the free-spirited Fizz walk loops around the laid-back Buchanan. For the edgiest of relationships since Maddy and David — back before they jumped the shark and “did it” – this is the book you’ll want to read next.
Authors, on occasion and for various reasons, go in their own direction, and that is not always where the reader is going, or wants to, and he or she (the reader) is left leaning the wrong way, and sometimes in the most awkward of positions.
Which is to say, strangely enough, in this the second adventure of Fizz and Buchanan, the edge is gone. Vanished. Only the slightest sense of sexual tension between the two mystery solvers remains, showing itself only now and then, and mostly then.
There’s also a sizable gap in time between the previous book and this one. Fizz, having gotten fired from Tam’s legal clinic, has somehow attached herself to his legal firm itself – and there’s got to be a story there that’s (apparently) never going to be told.
What we do get, as a rather inadequate substitute – I’m being Uncle Grumpy here – is a intimate look into Fizz’s background – the small Scottish village where she grew up, orphaned at an early age, and raised her elderly grandfather.
Persuading Tam to recuperate from an inconvenient gall bladder operation in Perthshire, around Am Bealach where Fizz’s grampa lives, Fizz also has an ulterior motive – persuading Tam to also take an interest in the strange disappearance of Old Bessie, an elderly villager Fizz was fond of. In the meantime, another mystery is encountered – that of a strangely behaving camper with a tent full of weird objects including a blonde wig and a mannequin’s hand.
Can the two cases be connected? Have you not read enough crime fiction to know the answer without asking? You realize of course that the twist might be that they are not – and I’ll never tell.
Once the reader (that’s me) rights himself (or herself, if it’s you, and the pronoun is appropriate) this pair of semi-dueling detectives does do themselves a fair amount of justice on the pair of mysteries with which they’re confronted.
Once again the book plods a little in the middle, but the pieces of the puzzle are painstakingly shaped and given time to develop – perhaps a little too painstakingly – but do stay with them. What better reading experience can there be when all sorts of mysterious occurrences are explained and eventually slide into place?
— May 2004
The Fizz and Buchanan series –
1. Payment Deferred (1996)
2. Foreign Body (1997)
3. Bad Vibes (1998)
4. Thin Ice (1999)
5. Mr Big (2000)
6. Bitter End (2001)
7. Hot Potato (2003)
8. Hidden Depths (2004)
9. Missing Link (2006)
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.
ELIZABETH HELY – A Mark of Displeasure. Scribner, hardcover, 1960. Heinemann, UK, hardcover, 1961.
Visiting Edinburgh, Scotland, for the first time, Commissaire Antoine Cirret of the Paris Sûreté is somewhat bemused. The references to the weather by everyone he meets lead him, temporarily, to believe that many of the inhabitants of that city are weather fetishists.
In Edinburgh at the request of a friend to support him while he’s giving a concert, Cirret goes to sleep during the “Emperor Concerto.” This does not, Cirret would assure you, mean he does not think much of his friend’s technique; it’s just that he does not care that much about music.
Alec Trevor, the friend and pianist, also has friends in the city, one of whom dies while leaving the concert. Except for Cirret’s curiosity, the murder of a not-much-loved widow by nicotine poisoning would not have been detected.
The poisoner is known to the reader and maybe to Cirret. Since she is also a friend of Trevor’s, Cirret disturbs the musician by wanting to investigate the case. Actually, Cirret doesn’t care who did it; he, as a humanitarian, merely wants no repetition of the crime.
Hely presents a wicked but well-liked murderess whose motives are, she assures herself, of the highest, and a delightful detective in Cirret, who looks much like a monkey and may have that creature’s sense of humor. There aren’t that many French detectives that I have enjoyed reading about, but Cirret is an exception.
— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 11, No. 3, Summer 1989.
Bio-Bibliographic Notes: Elizabeth Hely was the pen name of Nancy Elizabeth Brassey Leslie Younger, (1913-1981). Her criminous output as a writer consisted of three books in the Cirret series (see below), plus one standalone, The Long Shot (Heinemann, 1963).
The Commissaire Antoine Cirret series —
Dominant Third. Heinemann, UK, 1959. US title: I’ll Be Judge, I’ll Be Jury. Scribner, 1959.
A Mark of Displeasure. Heinemann, UK, 1961. Scribner, US, 1960.
Package Deal. Hale 1965. No US edition. TV movie: Universal, 1968, as The Smugglers (with Shirley Booth and Emilio Fernández as Inspector Cesare Brunelli).
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.
MARGOT NEVILLE – Murder of a Nymph. Doubleday Crime Club, US, hardcover 1950. Detective Book Club, hardcover reprint [3-in-1 volume]. Pocket #829, paperback, 1951. First published in the UK by Geoffrey Bles, hardcover, 1949.
Another young woman, no better than she should be, bites the dust. And here it’s Australian dust, in, of all places, Come-Hither Bend. Apparently the young woman’s, for want of a better word, friends and relatives at that oddly named place, including her betrothed, were not too fond of her. When she gets off the bus to spend the weekend there, someone beats her about the head and pushes her off a cliff.
Since everyone had problems with Enone — thus one reason for the nymph — coverup is the name of the game. Detective Inspector Grogan knows this but has difficulty penetrating what each person is trying to conceal. When another murder occurs through the stupidity of one of the characters, all begins to come clear.
It took me five attempts to finish this book. Grogan appealed, but the rest of the characters left me cold or slightly nauseated. While she writes well, Neville doesn’t provide the wit or lightness that I particularly enjoy. Maybe if I’d read it in sunlight and warmth –
— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 11, No. 3, Summer 1989.
Bio-Bibliographic Data: Margot Nevile was the joint pen name of Margot Goyder (1896-1975) and Anne Neville Goyder Joske (1887-1966). Most but not all of their criminous output consists of the Inspector Grogan series. All were published by Geoffrey Bles in the UK; those marked with an asterisk (*) were never published in the US:
The Inspector Grogan series —
Murder in Rockwater. 1944. US title: Lena Hates Men.
Murder and Gardenias. 1946. (*)
Murder in a Blue Moon. 1948.
Murder of a Nymph. 1949.
Murder Before Marriage. 1951.
The Seagull Said Murder. 1952. (*)
Murder of the Well-Beloved. 1953.
Murder and Poor Jenny. 1954. (*)
Murder of Olympia. 1956. (*)
Murder to Welcome Her. 1957. (*)
The Flame of Murder. 1958. (*)
Sweet Night for Murder. 1959. (*)
Confession of Murder. 1960. (*)
Murder Beyond the Pale. 1961. (*)
Drop Dead. 1962. (*)
Come See Me Die. 1963. (*)
My Bad Boy. 1964. (*)
Ladies in the Dark. 1965. (*)
Head on the Sill. 1966. (*)
WILLIAM O. TURNER – Mayberly’s Kill. Doubleday “Double D Western,” 1969. Berkley X2017, paperback, 1971; later printings, 1977, 1982.
Turner wasn’t a prolific writer, so I took a short amount of time to come up with complete bibliography, more or less. The major secondary source used was 20th Century Western Writers, 2nd edition. [I've moved the list of books and stories to the end of this review, rather than here at the beginning, where it first appeared.]
Turner was born in 1914 and died in 1980. [If you go through the list of books he wrote], you can see that his career had the usual ups and downs and various digressions that a good many of his fellow writers did. He started in hardcover in the mid-1950s with what looks like solid western historicals.
When he was dropped by Houghton Mifflin, he was picked up by Doubleday – but for not all of his books. Then comes the usual mixture of hardcovers and paperback originals, along with some books that came out first (or only) in England, with some hardcovers eventually never having softcover editions.
Catch Party was a posthumous book, and why it came out from Zebra, who never did any of his other books, so far as I’ve been able to learn, is a minor puzzle. (Not one that’s keeping me up at nights, you may reassured to know.)
Moving on to the book at hand, what the first few paragraphs reminded me of was nothing more (or less) than a good old-fashioned private eye novel:
Zach Mayberly sat with the scrubbed surface of the kitchen table between him and the girl. She was small and slender with a delicate face and black eyes. She was young. Nineteen, she said. She sat straight and looked him in the eye and answered his questions readily. A little too readily, he thought.
“How long did you live up there on Grizzly Creek?”
“Since I married Eduardo. That was in February, two years ago.”
“And Eduardo was killed Wednesday, the fourth of April? Three weeks ago tomorrow?”
The room was dark, low-ceilinged, a typical Mexican kitchen. Susanna Velasquez was not Mexican. This was the house of her sister-in-law, Eduardo’s sister.
The killer of Susanna Velasquez’s husband Eduardo is not Mayberly’s primary interest, but the two men who had been staying with the couple may be the Ambrose brothers, the men whose trail he’s been following. That they may have had something to do her Eduardo’s death is largely incidental, but Susanna’s subsequent and hasty later departure seems to confirm that something shady had occurred, up there on Grizzly Creek.
Mayberly soon discovers an even better lead to follow, however, when he learns that the sister of the woman whom one of the men married is also looking for the them. Her sister’s son was living with her after she died, having left her husband, Sip Ambrose, but when the man stole his son back from the sister, she is doggedly tracking them down, hoping to get the boy back.
Another bounty hunter, a fellow named Yadkin, is also the picture, as well as a Pinkerton man named Deeds. The latter also makes himself a good friend and traveling companion of Melanie Coates (that’s the sister), which somehow displeases Mayberly, and for more reasons than one.
This is a slim novel, taking up only 188 pages of normal-sized type, and believe it or not, what I’ve told you so is only the beginning. Eventually all of the characters in this novel – the two outlaws and the boy; Susanna Velasquez; Mayberly and the girl; Yadkin and Deeds – find their way to a free-thinkers’ settlement called New Sanity, which the Ambrose brothers (Tucker disguised as a woman) have hopes of taking over, with the aid and abetting of one of the more nefarious members of the group already there, not to mention a stockpile of dynamite.
If you’re thinking that this sounds rather ludicrous, I guess it does, but it all makes sense as you’re reading it, in a smile-to-yourself kind of way. When all of the plot threads come together, it is truly a delicious sight to behold, and since the copy I read was a third printing, as you will recall, I imagine that I’m not the only one to have thought so.
Turner was very much a writer in the traditional mode, as off-beat as the setting his characters find themselves in may have turned out to be. The level of language he uses, it occurred to me once while I was reading, seldom exceeds a young adult level – even though more than a few events may be sometimes a little darker than that – but if clarity in story-telling is a virtue, then Turner was a fellow who had it.
The Long Rope. Doubleday, hardcover, 1959. Paperback: Hillman #183, 1961.
Throttle the Hawk. Ward Lock, British hardcover, 1960. Paperback: Berkley, 1966. (*)
The Treasure of Fan Tan Flat. Doubleday, hardcover, 1961. Paperback: Berkley, 1975.
The High-Hander. Ace Double F-186, paperback original, 1963. (Bound back to back with Wild Horse Range, by Louis Trimble.)
Gunpoint. Berkley, paperback original, 1964.
Destination Doubtful. Ward Lock, British hardcover, 1964. US paperback original: Ballantine U1050, 1965.
Five Days to Salt Lake. Ballantine U2252, paperback original, 1966.
Ride the Vengeance Trail. (*) Berkley F1264, paperback original, 1966.
Blood Dance. Berkley F1439, paperback original, 1967.
Mayberly’s Kill. Doubleday, hardcover, 1969. Paperback: Berkley X2017, 1971.
A Man Called Jeff. Berkley X1650, paperback original, 1969.
Crucifixion Butte. Mayflower, British paperback, 1969. No US edition.
Place of the Trap. Doubleday, hardcover, 1970. No paperback edition.
Call the Beast Thy Brother. Doubleday, hardcover, 1973. Paperback: Berkley N2739, 1975.
Thief Hunt. Doubleday, hardcover, 1973. Paperback: Manor Books, 1974.
Medicine Creek. Doubleday, hardcover, 1974. No paperback edition.
Shortcut to Devil’s Claw. Berkley, paperback original, 1977.
Catch Party. Zebra, paperback original, 1988.
(*) If Throttle the Hawk appeared as a Berkley paperback, it was under a different title, with a high likelihood that it was Ride the Vengeance Trail, which is not included in the 20th Century bibliography.
NOTE:20th Century also lists a non-western by Turner, The Man in the Yellow Mercedes, Berkley, 1979, but no book of this title, by Turner or anyone else, could be found in the online WorldCat.
Short stories, with no information that any of these stories had earlier appearances:
“The Proud Diggers.” Contained in Wild Streets: Tales of the Frontier Towns, Don Ward, ed., Doubleday, 1958. WWA anthology.
“Blackie Gordon’s Corset.” Contained in Frontiers West, S. Omar Barker, ed., Doubleday, 1959. WWA anthology.
“The Tomato Can Kid.” Contained in Western Roundup, Nelson Nye, ed., Macmillan, 1961. WWA anthology.
“The Lobo Parker Legend.” Contained in WWA Presents: Great Western Stories, no editor stated, Berkley Highland F1055, paperback original, 1965.
— Reprinted from Durn Tootin’ #7 , July
2005 (slightly revised).
C. DALY KING – Obelists at Sea. Knopf, US, hardcover, 1933. Heritage, UK, hardcover, 1932; Penguin Books, UK, paperback, 1938.
During the bidding for a number in the ship’s pool on distance traveled by day, the lights go out and Victor Smith, either a copper king or a Western railroad magnate, is shot twice in the heart. Only one gun is found to have been fired, and that is proved not to have committed the murder. Smith’s daughter also dies, although of what cause is not known. To add to the complexity, Smith had taken or been given poison almost immediately before he was shot.
The case is too much for the ship’s detectives, so four gentleman aboard assist in the investigation. Dr. Hayvier, a well-known behaviorist, Dr. Pechs, an equally well-known psychoanalyst, and Dr. Pons, inventor of Integrative Psychology, and Professor Miltie, who had carefully avoided being identified with any of the schools of his “science” — all have their theories, all different, with different suspects.
Put aside the fact that the Meganaut has ten decks above the water line and a crew of at least a thousand and that Captain Mansfield invariably refers to it as a “boat.” This is still a fascinating, albeit a bit slow, novel.
— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 11, No. 3, Summer 1989.
Editorial Comments: While I do not know if all four of the detective characters in this novel appear in all of the books below, Professor Pons is stated in Hubin to be in each of them.
The Dr. L. Rees Pons series –
Obelists at Sea. Knopf, 1933.
Obelists en Route. Collins, UK, 1934.
Obelists Fly High . H. Smith 1935.
Careless Corpse. Collins, UK, 1937.
Arrogant Alibi. Appleton, 1939.
Also of interest, I believe, is the following quote taken from author Martin Edwards in his review on his blog of C Daly King’s mystery output in general:
“‘Obelist’ was a word that King made up. He defined it in Obelists at Sea as ‘a person of little or no value’ and then re-defined it in Obelists en Route as ‘one who harbours suspicion’. Why on earth you would invent a word, use it in your book titles, and then change your mind about what it means?”
For more on C. Daly King, the mystery writer, may I also direct you to Mike Grost’s comments about his work on his website.
THE WHISTLER. Syndicated, 1954-55. – CBS Television Film Sales Inc – Lindsley Parsons Production (first 13 episodes) Joel Malone Associates (final 26 episodes). Cast: William Forman as The Whistler. Music by Wilbur Hatch. Produced by Joel Malone.
THE WHISTLER began as a radio anthology suspense drama featuring unexpected twists. It aired on the West Coast CBS radio network. While attempts to succeed on the East Coast were failures, the radio show proved very popular on the West Coast to Chicago and lasted between 1942 and 1955. You can listen to over 400 radio episodes at Archives.org.
The radio program would lead to eight films from Columbia Studios: THE WHISTLER (1944), THE MARK OF THE WHISTLER (1944), THE POWER OF THE WHISTLER (1945), THE VOICE OF THE WHISTLER (1945), MYSTERIOUS INTRUDER (1945), THE SECRET OF THE WHISTLER (1946), THE THIRTEENTH HOUR (1947), and THE RETURN OF THE WHISTLER (1948).
Here on YouTube is MYSTERIOUS INTRUDER, starring Richard Dix and directed by William Castle, for as long as the link lasts.
In February 1954 CBS TV Film Sales had three programs in early development to become a possible TV series. The three were ESCAPE, ROMANCE, and THE WHISTLER. (1)
In April CBS TV Film sannounced plans to bring the radio series THE WHISTLER to television through syndication. (2)
September 1954 Lindsley Parsons Production (FILES OF JEFFREY JONES) was signed to produce twenty-six episodes of THE WHISTLER. (3) (4)
“Billboard” reported (5) there were production problems on THE WHISTLER over cost and length of shooting. Joel Malone, who was the show’s producer and who “Billboard” called the “originator” of THE WHISTLER TV series, formed his own production company Joel Malone Associates to take over production from Lindsley Parsons Production.
“Broadcasting” (6) interviewed Joel Malone (CRIME BY NIGHT, APPOINTMENT WITH DEATH). Malone had edited and written THE WHISTER radio series since 1946. He had written or helped write around two hundred THE WHISTLER radio scripts.
Malone made changes in production methods. Shooting took place six days a week, taking off only Sunday and a major holiday such as Thanksgiving. Starting in November, Malone and company filmed thirteen episodes in little over a month. An article (7) about the cost of filming syndicated TV series included a photo of the cast and crew of THE WHISTLER shooting on the streets of Los Angeles at 3am.
The article (6) noted the shooting day of November 24, 1954, when filming of the episode “Kind Thought” ended, by 1pm the same day the next episode’s cast was ready at the studio to begin work on “Roark Island.”
The stories were the main attraction for THE WHISTLER in all its forms. Joel Malone wisely used his co-writers from the radio series, Harold Swanton (ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENT, WAGON TRAIN and PERRY MASON) and Adrian Gendot (DANGEROUS ASSIGNMENT, SKY KING and PERRY MASON).
No doubt helpful in maintaining the speed of production was the reuse of the radio scripts to make the TV episodes. Sadly, the budget and the restrictions of 50’s television against violence and true visual horror prevented the TV episodes from reaching the suspense of the radio versions.
Most of the TV episodes were directed either by Malone, Will Jason (SHOTGUN SLADE), or William F. Claxton (TWILIGHT ZONE and LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRARIE). I found the Claxton episodes the most creative visually.
The music and famous opening stayed much the same through all the formats. The iconic theme song written by Wilbur Hatch and performed by Dorothy Roberts remains recognizable today. The Whistler himself remained a character of mystery, a shadow drifting through the world observing and commenting on the story and characters. While others including William Forman played the character in other formats, Forman was the only one to play it on the TV series.
The acting was an important selling point for the TV series as it was for the radio version. The TV series attracted such talent as Howard Duff, Marie Windsor, and Linda Stirling. It often reused actors in more than one episode, actors such as Martha Vickers, Craig Stevens, John Ireland, Nancy Gates, John Howard, Robert Hutton, Marshall Thompson and many more.
Most likely shooting began with the hiring of Lindsley Parsons Production in September 1954.
We do know it was on the air in October 1954 when the series major sponsor Signal Oil had it in 28 markets (8). Signal Oil was the West Coast part of Standard Oil. This limited the area Signal Oil would sponsor THE WHISTLER. The series other major sponsor, Lipton also did so in only some markets. Both sponsors limited their support to alternated weeks. (4)
The series lasted one season of thirty-nine episodes, thus leaving enough episodes for THE WHISTLER to be sold over and over for many years. The extra cost of producing an anthology series, plus the lack of a national weekly sponsor probably played important roles in the decision to stop shooting new episodes.
Considering the shooting schedule of thirteen episodes a month, shooting for the series most likely ended in January 1955. By February 1955 (9) Joel Malone was busy with NAVY LOG for CBS-TV network where it would appear in primetime in 1955-56 for CBS before moving to ABC where it remained on air until 1958.
THE WHISTLER TV SERIES EPISODE INDEX
Twenty-six of the thirty-nine episodes can be viewed at Archive.org. (Scroll down to zip files and the TV episodes begin at 18 and ends with 30.) The episodes are also available on YouTube. Below I have linked to two of my favorite episodes.
EPISODES BY LINDSLEY PARSONS PRODUCTIONS
“Search For An Unknown.” Written by Joel Malone and Adrian Gendot. Directed by Will Jason. Cast: Barton MacLane, King Donovan and Jean Howell. *** Businessman hires a PI to find who is threatening to kill him and three other people – four people without any connection.
“Backfire.” Written by Joel Malone. Directed by Frank MacDonald. Cast: Lon Chaney and Dorothy Green. *** Ex-con chauffer falls for the wife of his rich employer. When she dumps him he thinks of revenge.
“Cup O’Gold.” Written by Joel Malone and Adrian Gendot. Directed by Will Jason. Cast: Tom Brown and Barbara Wooddell (sic). *** A corrupt member of the D.A.’s office turns to murder. A woman sees him run from the scene, but fails to identify him as the killer to the police.
“Letters From Aaron Burr.” Written by Joel Malone and Adrian Gendot. Directed by William H. Claxton. Cast: Howard Duff and Martha Vickers. *** When he leaves prison Ernie finds a persistent beautiful young woman representing a rich old lady who wants to help him.
NOTE TO PROOFREADERS: William Claxton on-air credit in Lindsley Parsons Production episodes used the middle initial H but it would change to F for the Joel Malone Associates episodes.
“Fatal Fraud.” Written by Joel Malone and Adrian Gendot. Directed by William H. Claxton. Cast: Patric Knowles and Marie Windsor. *** Marie Windsor plays a femme fatale who uses two men to help her steal a quarter of a million dollars.
“Grave Secre.” Written by Joel Malone and Adrian Gendot. Directed by Will Jason. Cast: Miriam Hopkins and Murvyn Vye. *** Harriett has kept her secret about her killing her employer, but it is another secret she will regret.
“Lady In Waiting.” Written by Joel Malone and Adrian Gendot. Directed by William H. Claxton. Cast: Nancy Gates and Craig Stevens. *** A mobster’s love for a nice girl causes her a great deal of trouble.
“The Big Jump.”. Written by Joel Malone. Directed by Will Jason. Cast: John Ireland and Tina Craver. *** A crook in New York fakes his death and escapes to San Francisco where he goes straight. He has a new life as a happily married man until one of his fellow thieves from New York spots him.
EPISODES BY JOEL MALONE ASSOCIATES
“Cancelled Flight.” Written by Joel Malone and Adrian Gendot. Directed by Will Jason. Cast: Richard Arlen and Barbara Woodell. *** Two partners fall out when the police get too close to their smuggling operation.
“The Blank Wall.” Written by Joel Malone. Directed by Will Jason. Cast: Wallace Ford, and Philip Van Zandt. *** A respected bank employee is proud when his daughter agreed to marry the Bank’s owner son. But her happiness is threaten when a man from his hidden past as an ex-con tries to blackmail him.
“Sleep My Pretty One.” Screenplay by Joel Malone. Based on a Radio Play by Ruth Bourne. Directed by William F. Claxton. Cast: Martha Vickers, Paul Langton and Linda Stirling. ***A doctor may have the cure for a sick patient but the drug must be tested first. He turns to his fiancee for help.
“The Pattern.” . Written by Joel Malone and Adrian Gendot. Directed by Will Jason. Cast: Robert Ellenstein, Ellen Corby and Ken Tobey. *** A bookstore owner tells his detective friend that he had found a pattern of suspicious deaths and that the next death would happen on his street.
“The Jubilee Earring.” Written by Harold Swanton. Directed by William F. Claxton. Cast: Marguerite Chapman, Douglas Kennedy and Art Gilmore. *** A successful female executive is heading to a 10 year reunion with her two closest College friends, one a professional football player who has always wanted to marry her.
“The Glass Dime.” .Teleplay by Ellis Marcus and Harold Swanton. Based on a Radio Play by Adrian Gendot. Directed by William F. Claxton. Cast: Robert Hutton and Eve Miller. ***On the run from the cops a desperate con man steals from his rich uncle.
“Lovely Look.” . Screenplay by Joel Malone. Based on a Radio Play by Mary Ruth Funk. Directed by Will Jason. Cast: Murvyn Vye and Pamela Duncan. *** An unhappy husband falls for the new housekeeper.
“The Other Hand.”. Screenplay by Joel Malone. Story by Joel Malone and Harold Swanton. Directed by William F. Claxton. Cast: John Howard, Dorothy Green and Angela Greene. *** A businessman checks himself into a sanitarium for rest when the stress of work and his relationships with two women get too much for him.
“A Case For Mr. Carrington.” . Screenplay by Harold Swanton. Story by Joel Malone and Harold Swanton. Directed by William F. Claxton. Cast: Patric Knowles, Paul Dubov and Reginald Denny. *** Gordon prepares a plan to murder with the help of a book written by the local Police Inspector.
“Man Who Ran.” Screenplay by Joel Malone. Story by Tommy Tomlinson and Harold Swanton. Directed by Charles F. Haas. Cast: Les Tremayne and Dorothy Patrick. *** A bored accountant seeks to escape his routine existence.
“Death Sentence.” . Written by Fred Hegelund and Harold Swanton. Directed by Joel Malone. Cast: Marshall Thompson, Dani Sue Nolan and John Doucette. *** Told he has three months to live Martin confesses, for money to take care of his family, to a murder he didn’t commit.
“Dark Hour.” Written by Joel Malone. Directed by Charles F. Hass. Cast: Robert Hutton and Nancy Gates *** Young lawyer believes in the innocence of his client despite the arguments of the DA, the Uncle of his girlfriend.
“The First Year.” Screenplay by Joel Malone. Story by Joel Malone and Harold Swanton. Directed by Joel Malone. Cast: Virginia Field, Craig Stevens and John Hoyt. *** A disapproving Uncle sets up his will to punish his niece for marrying a playboy. To receive his fortune they need to stay married and together for ten years.
“Meeting On Tenth Street.” Screenplay by Joel Malone. Story by Joel Malone and Harold Swanton. Directed by Joel Malone. Cast: Robert Ellenstein, Peggy Webber and Willis B. Bouchey. *** A rejected suitor hires a hitman to kill his romantic rival.
“Silent Partner.” Screenplay by Joel Malone. Story by Joel Malone and Harold Swanton. Directed by Joel Malone. Cast: Charles McGraw and Hugh Sanders. *** Matt, the original owner of a large ranch finds himself being pushed out by his partner.
“An Actor’s Life.” Screenplay by Joel Malone. Based on a Radio Play by Gene Fromherz. Directed by William F. Claxton. Cast: Arthur Franz and Margaret Field. *** Julie is a successful singer in Hollywood with problems. She fears her boss who is forcing her to marry him, and now an ex-boyfriend arrives needing her help to get an acting job in Hollywood.
“Trigger Man.” Screenplay by Adrian Gendot. and Harold Swanton. Story by Robert and Beatrice Gruskin. Directed by Joel Malone. Cast: Marshall Thompson, and Dani Sue Nolan. *** Dave, a promising young lawyer, is warned by those around him that there will be a price to pay if he continues to work for a mobster.
“Marriage Contract.” Screenplay by Joel Malone. Story by George & Gertrude Fass and Harold Swanton. Directed by Joel Malone. Cast: Charles Winninger and Tom Brown. *** Eddie becomes a rich man’s lawyer and friend to get into the old man’s will. He succeeds until a twenty-four year old woman with no interest in the money agrees to marry the old man.
TV EPISODES NOT VIEWED
“A Friendly Case of Blackmail”
“Incident at Scully’s Key.’ 16 mm film print: Lindsley Parsons Production, directed by Will Jason, written by Joel Malone and Adrian Gendot, cast: Audrey Totter and Carleton Young (10)
JOHN LESLIE – Night and Day. Simon & Schuster, hardcover, 1995. Pocket Books, paperback, 1996.
This is the second of four mysteries featuring Gideon Lowry, a jazz pianist and private investigator based in Key West. His brother committed suicide at the end of the first book and Gideon’s girl friend (Casey) has moved to Miami.
A visiting singer named Asia (with lips the color of plum) hires Gideon to locate her estranged husband, a writer obsessed with Hemingway. This is a not inappropriate obsession in Key West with the annual Hemingway Days celebration and the Hemingway house, which is open to the public as a museum. Gideon finds the missing husband, but he’s soon killed and Asia looks like a prime suspect.
The novel (like the other three) is heavy with sultry heat and the perfume of whatever produces heavy scents In Key West. A nice series of grace notes on the 1990s private eye scene.
The Gideon Lowry series —
Killing Me Softly (1995)
Night And Day (1995)
Love For Sale (1996)
Blue Moon (1998)