Jul 172014

THE CYCLOPS. Allied Artists, 1957. James Craig, Gloria Talbott, Lon Chaney, Tom Drake, Duncan Parkin. Screenwriter-director: Bert I. Gordon.

   There is some suspense in this rather mediocre sci-fi movie, but not more than you would want to pay more than a quarter for, as you might have, if you were a kid back in 1957.

   It begins with three men and a girl (Gloria Talbott) trying to locate the girl’s fiance,or his body, whose plane went down in a mountainous area of Mexico three years ago, an area so forbidding they are, well, forbidden by local authorities to travel there. Of course, they do so anyway, landing safely (barely) in a small plane built for four.

   Turns out that one of the men (a rather dissipated-looking Lon Chaney), who has financed the venture, has an ulterior motive: uranium, and it turns out that the valley where they’ve landed is loaded with the stuff. It also turns out that the valley is chock full of giant beasts. Connect the two facts, and I think you can figure out where this is going right away, but it takes our four adventurers a while. It has to, or else they’d get right back in the plane and get the heck out of there.

   They don’t but they soon wish they had. The special effects are awful quite primitive, and the giant guy with one eye is really hokey ugly. The fact that Gloria Talbott is rather fetching, even in coveralls, does not make up for a really inferior work of art on the monster’s makeup job.

   The movie, while still mildly entertaining today, was really made for someone who was maybe nine or ten in 1957. Or to be honest, for someone who was nine or ten in 1957 and for whom the nostalgia factor is greater than the judgement of someone seeing it now for the very first time.

 Posted by at 7:16 pm
Jul 162014
Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         

BEYOND THE TIME BARRIER. American International, 1960. Robert Clarke, Arianne Arden, Vladimir Sokoloff, Stephen Bekassy, John Van Dreelen, Boyd ‘Red’ Morgan, Darlene Tompkins. Director: Edgar G. Ulmer.

   Beyond the Time Barrier is a low budget science fiction film directed by Edgar G. Ulmer, whose The Amazing Transparent Man I reviewed here. Filmed over a ten days in Dallas at the same time as that rather disappointing film about an invisible bank thief, Beyond The Time Barrier follows U.S. Air Force pilot, Major William Allison (Robert Clarke, who also produced the film) who, after inadvertently breaking the time barrier in his planet, jettisons forward to the year 2024.

   As it happens, the society Major Allison encounters is a dystopian one. After landing his plane, he is captured by agents from a city-state called The Citadel. Within its walls are dying remnants of human civilization ravaged by a plague that began in 1971. There are also mutants, but they are far less threatening than the ones in the movie, The Time Travelers, which I reviewed here.

   The leader of The Citadel, Supreme, (Vladimir Sokoloff), and his henchman, Captain (Red Morgan), are less than pleased with Allison’s arrival. Fortunately, Supreme’s lovely granddaughter, the mute telepath, Trirene (Darlene Tompkins), has romantic feelings toward the good major and, in any case, she can read his mind and thinks he’s not such a bad guy after all. There’s a budding relationship between these two, but one that never ends up going anywhere. It’s too bad, especially since we learn that Trirene is the only one left alive who isn’t sterile.

   The main focus of the film is Major Allison’s quest to find a way to get back to the past, possibly to prevent the future from happening. Aiding him in his endeavor are some Russians from the past who also ended up at The Citadel.

   Unfortunately, the film really doesn’t really take the paradoxes of time travel that seriously, making significantly less impressive than it could have been. That said, the ending does demonstrate that the filmmakers understood at least one potential aspect of time travel. There’s also a message about the dangers of atomic testing.

   It’s not the standard science fiction B-film plot, nor the somewhat mediocre acting, however, that makes Beyond The Time Barrier worth watching.

   Rather, it’s Ulmer’s direction, notably his exceptional use of geometry that makes it worth consideration. Triangles and pyramids are omnipresent in The Citadel. Spheres, both black and white, are also prominently displayed in different locales within the dystopian city-state.

   This use of geometry as a replacement for big budget special effects really does pay off. Look for the scene in which Trirene (Tompkins) looks at her reflection in a triangular mirror. It’s not exactly on the same level as the role of mirrors and reflections in Gothic horror films or in films noir, but it’s nevertheless very creative.

   In conclusion, Beyond The Time Barrier is a significantly better movie than the disappointing The Amazing Transparent Man. While I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a great film, it’s a perfectly watchable one.

 Posted by at 10:43 pm
Jul 162014
by Marv Lachman

EDGAR WALLACE – Angel Esquire. Arrowsmith, UK, hardcover, 1908. Holt, US, hardcover, 1908. Reprinted many times in both hardcover and soft, including A. L. Burt, US, hardcover, 1927 [shown]. Available online here.

   More than eighty years after it was first published, Angel Esquire, Edgar Wallace’s second novel, remains surprisingly readable. Christopher Angel, an eccentric Scotland Yard detective, will remind you of Albert Campion in his early, silly-ass days, but he is often genuinely amusing, as well as resourceful: “Great fellow for putting things right … if you’re in a mess of any kind, Angel’s the chap to pull you out.”

   When he’s not working on a case, he sits at his desk working on a racing form, and he is not perturbed at all when the police commissioner comes into his office and finds him so occupied. Angel is the perfect sleuth for a far-fetched mystery involving master criminals, English gangsters, and an intricate puzzle that must be solved before the rightful heirs can receive several million pounds.

   Wallace seems to have had fun writing this book. He has a cyanide pellet carried by the villain as a jacket button, and in an inside joke he has Angel play poker with George Manfred, one of the Four Just Men from his first book. He even gives us the type of Tom Swiftie which was so popular in the early 1960′s when he writes of one character’s drink order, “‘Lemonade,’ he said soberly.”

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 11, No. 3, Summer 1989.

Bibliographic Note:   This appears to be the only appearance of Christopher Angel in book form. I have located a story “The Yellow Box” from The Story-Teller, March, 1908, available online here, so there may be more.

 Posted by at 7:54 pm
Jul 162014
William F. Deeck

KELLEY ROOS – Ghost of a Chance. A. A Wyn, hardcover, 1947. Detective Book Club, hardcover reprint, 3-in-1 edition, 1947. Dell #266, paperback, mapback edition, no date [1948?].

   For those who have read all the Mr. and Mrs. North novels, including the couple put aside for emergencies, a dip into the works of Kelley Roos relating the adventures of Jeff and Haila Troy should be next on the agenda.

   While the novels are not as complexly plotted as the ones featuring the Norths and the Troys are not as sophisticated a married couple, the books are a great deal of fun.

   In this novel Jeff gets a call from a Mr. Lorimer saying that some woman is going to be murdered shortly. Trying to keep Haila from getting involved is futile, of course, so he and she chase from bar to bar trying to find Lorimer. Eventually, Lorimer gets shoved in front of a subway train without revealing who is going to be killed.

   Thus the Troy’s have to find the woman among New York City’s three million females. They can be reasonably sure it isn’t Haila or Haila’s Aunt Ellie, a delightful character, but that’s about it.

   When Jeff and Haila try to check into an inn, the innkeeper suspects their bona fides since they have no luggage. Haila explains: “I am a milliner’s model. In the off season I model foundation garments and do a little stag party work. I am determined that my young brother shall the have the education I was denied….”

   How can one not adore such a woman, as long, of course, as one doesn’t have to associate with her in public?

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 11, No. 3, Summer 1989.

Editorial Comment: I reviewed this same book by Kelley Roos just over a year ago on this blog. You can find my comments here.

 Posted by at 4:57 pm
Jul 152014

COUNTERSPY and DAVID HARDING, COUNTERSPY. TV episodes, 1958 and 1959. Bernard L. Schuberg Presentation / Telestar. Executive Producer: Herbert E. Stewart. Based on the radio series Counterspy (1942-1950).

COUNTERSPY. (1958) Written by Jack Anson Fink. Directed by Ralph Francis Murphy. Cast: Don Megowan as David Harding. Guest Cast: Brad Johnson, Gerald Milton and Phyllis Stanley *** A former WWII British Navy frogman puts the fins back on to help Unit C uncover the new advance by the Russians in ship navigation.

   The story is weak with unbelievable characters and plot. No Russian Admiral would treat a top-secret device so carelessly while ignoring the head of security. Slow paced with a writer’s trick needed to supply tension and a lackluster soundtrack add to the episode’s flaws.

   The episode has been posted on YouTube many times including here.

   This is the most commonly seen episode of COUNTERSPY (this is from Alpha Video DVD collection) and may be the only surviving episode left to watch. It is commonly believed to be an unsold pilot, but the episode ends with Don Megowan (THE BEACHCOMER) doing a tease about “next week’s” episode. That seems unlikely for a pilot. Reliable TV spy historian Craig Henderson wrote at his website For Your Eyes Only (*) — a must visit for spy fans — there was a series with Megowan.

   According to “Broadcasting” magazine (April 14, 1958) filming of COUNTERSPY had begun the week of April 7, 1958. The half-hour TV-film series would shoot in Hollywood and in 26 different locations throughout the world. Producer Bernard Schubert had budgeted 39 episodes at more than $35,000 for each TV-Film episode. It would be syndicated through Schubert’s company Telestar.

   From “Broadcasting” (June 16,1958), “Telestar Films, New York, announced last week it is releasing three new half-hour tv (sic) film series for syndication to stations. They are COUNTERSPY, an adventure-suspense series filmed on location through out the world…”

   For the curious the other two were PAROLE and yet to be titled country music show. PAROLE would become a series. TV series YOUR MUSICAL JAMBOREE was probably the country music show mentioned. According to the article, COUNTERSPY was to be released in fall of 1958.

   Bernard L. Schubert was a minor player in the TV-film syndicated market that played a major role in television during the 1950s. Schubert produced such TV series as ADVENTURES OF THE FALCON, AMAZING MR MALONE, MR AND MRS NORTH, TOPPER, CROSSROADS, TV READER’S DIGEST, and WHITE HUNTER.

   Craig Henderson’s website mentions a remake of COUNTERSPY. Thanks to YouTube, I was able to find the pilot remake done by Schubert with Reed Hadley (RACKET SQUAD, PUBLIC DEFENDER) as David Harding.

DAVID HARDING, COUNTERSPY. 1959). Written by Stanley Kapner. Directed by Justin Addiss. Cast: Reed Hadley as David Harding. Guest cast: Christopher Dark, Lilyan Chauvin, Ross Elliott and Vito Scotti. *** A man in a small French village risks everything to help David Harding find two missing American agents.

   An improvement over Mcgowan’s version of COUNTERSPY, this was better produced featuring good use of a (now cliché) soundtrack, with a story full of tension, violence, mystery and even a spy gadget. The opening with Hadley as Harding giving a pledge perfectly fits the period’s reaction to the Cold War and is an improvement over the written scroll of the earlier version.

   In January 26, 1959 issue of “Broadcasting” producer Bernard Schubert announced a new half- hour TV series COUNTERSPY would be released in May.

   Why remake COUNTERSPY less than a year later? Commie-fighting heroes was one of the most popular sub-genres on TV during the fifties. One can understand Schubert’s reluctance to give up on David Harding. COUNTERSPY was not the only remake on his schedule that year.

   In “Broadcasting” (February 2,1959) Schubert’s Telestar announced the filming of the pilots for two possible series, COUNTERSPY and THE NEW ADVENTURES OF MR. AND MRS. NORTH.

   The June 15, 1959 issue of “Broadcasting” reported Telestar had three series about to start filming in Hollywood. They were COUNTERSPY, ALEXANDER THE GREAT, and THE NEW ADVENTURES OF MR. AND MRS. NORTH. For the curious ALEXANDER THE GREAT was to be based on the “Saturday Evening Post” short stories about an earthworm tractor salesman.

   “Broadcasting” (September 7, 1959), reported 39 episodes of DAVID HARDING, COUNTERSPY starring Reed Hadley would be available for national syndication but no date was given.

   September 28, 1959 “Broadcasting” had an odd item about Schubert’s plans to sneak preview episodes from Telestar’s three forthcoming TV-film series. The three series would be DAVID HARDING COUNTERSPY, ALEXANDER THE GREAT, and DAVID HARUM (another attempt by Schubert to adapt a movie turn radio series for TV, Chill Wills was to star as Harum). Plans were to feature as many as six episodes from each series.

   The previews would take place in TV station studios or local movie theatres in six key U.S. regions. The audience would fill out “comment cards” that would influence the series still in production. The first sneaks were planned for late September. Does anyone know if this happened?

   David Harding began as the main character in the radio series COUNTERSPY (1942-50 Blue/ABC, 1950-53 NBC, 1953-57 Mutual) and was created by Phillip H. Lord (SETH PARKER, GANGBUSTERS).

   COUNTERSPY was also adapted for two films, an attempted film series by Columbia Studios. The films were DAVID HARDING COUNTERSPY (1950) and COUNTERSPY MEETS SCOTLAND YARD (1950).

   While I believe the Reed Hadley pilot never went to a full series, I do believe there was a short-lived Megowan series. Are there episodes of the series still out there? This is too common a question for those of us interested in early television.

   There are too many forgotten TV series, especially those syndicated, and too much misinformation in the books and databases devoted to the subject. Thanks to TV-Film collectors we continue to find the shows themselves but despite what we see and learn, common knowledge continues to rule over facts (not unusual in today’s world).

   IMDb does its best, but its episode indexes are near worthless, and the site is riddled with errors such as the Reed Hadley version of COUNTERSPY being listed at IMDb under DAVID HARTMAN, COUNTERSPY (1955) instead of DAVID HARDING, COUNTERSPY (1959). The Hadley bio on IMDb has him playing the character David Harding on DAVID HARTMAN, COUNTERSPY.

   One can only hope someday one of the TV archives such as Museum of Broadcasting, Paley Center and UCLA Film-TV library will index for the Internet (with episodes’ credits, plots and dates if available) the TV shows they are storing. While legally they can’t put the shows on the Internet, they should do an Internet database and end the mysteries, get rid of the accepted misinformation, and fill in the blanks of TV’s past.

   (*) FULL DISCLOSURE: Back in 1973-74 I wrote for two issues of Craig Henderson’s FYEO (FOR YOUR EYES ONLY) fanzine.

 Posted by at 10:22 pm
Jul 152014
Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         

DAVID DODGE – Plunder of the Sun. Random House, hardcover, 1949. Paperback reprints: Dell #478, 1951, mapback edition; Hard Case Crime, 2005.

PLUNDER OF THE SUN. Warner Brothers, 1953. Glenn Ford (Al Colby), Diana Lynn, Patricia Medina, Francis L. Sullivan, Sean McClory. Screenplay: Jonathan Latimer, based on the book by David Dodge. Director: John Farrow.

   Sometimes, it’s a whole lot of fun to plunge into an adventure story, replete with intrigue, shady characters, and historical references to ancient civilizations. And gold. Sadly, stories with plots focusing on the search for treasure in exotic locales are not written very much anymore. Perhaps they are considered passé; perhaps there just aren’t enough contemporary readers for these yarns.

   But if this type of fictional adventure does happen appeal to you, you really can’t go wrong with Plunder of the Sun. Written by David Dodge, author of To Catch a Thief, the story follows the South American treasure seeking adventures of American expatriate Al Colby, our first person narrator. It’s both a fun little suspense tale and an introductory course in Peruvian geography and history.

   The book’s opening places the reader right into the heart of the action. The story’s narrator, Al Colby, is in Santiago, Chile, where he meets up with Alfredo Berrien, a sickly man in a wheelchair, and his nurse, Ana Luz. Berrien has a proposition for Colby. He wants him to transport a small package on board a ship heading from Valparaíso, Chile to Callao, the Peruvian seaport. Once there, Colby is supposed to return the package to Berrien and to get paid.

   As you might imagine, things don’t go quite as planned. After a series of potentially sinister characters show up on board the ship, Berrien is found dead in his cabin. Naturally, Colby becomes curious as to what’s in the package. Turns out it contains parchment fragments that tell, you guessed it, of buried treasure.

   The rest of the novel follows Colby in his quest to decipher the manuscript and to deal with a scheming man from the boat named Jeff. He also runs across Naharro, a Peruvian expert in antiquities, and his son, Raul. There’s also Julie, who was originally also on the boat and manages to be around at both the wrong and right times. There’s plenty of scheming afoot, a deal made, and a double cross. Plus Colby may or may not have feelings for Ana Luz.

   Al Colby’s an interesting character, but the real star of the show is Peru. Dodge clearly knew the country well. His descriptions of the places, the people, and the culture all give Plunder of the Sun an authenticity that many other adventure tales from the era lack. There are numerous references to Incan history, particularly the Spanish conquest of Peru. The work is also filled with what I presume to be Peruvian-dialect Spanish.

   Given how central Peru is to the book’s plot, I was skeptical when I learned that the film adaptation, directed by John Farrow, was set in Oaxaca. I expected just another adventure film set in Mexico. I was both pleasantly surprised and somewhat disappointed.

   There is no doubt that Glenn Ford was well cast as Al Colby. He’s a good actor and he plays the role convincingly. Likewise, Patricia Medina portrays Ana Luz well. Sean McClory portrays the villain, Jeff, as Jefferson, a serpentine creep who slithers his way in and out of Colby’s presence.

   Setting the film in Oaxaca rather than in Peru allowed the filmmakers to shoot on location. Turns out that was a great decision. There are some amazing visuals in the film, managing to give the viewer a glimpse into the ruins without making the film seem like a documentary.

   And although it’s not a film noir, at times Plunder of the Sun does feel like one. There’s a claustrophobic aspect to the film, particularly in the first half. This is notably the case when Colby (Ford) first meets the wheelchair bound Berrien (Francis L. Sullivan). One wishes that Sullivan’s character didn’t have to die so quickly, for he seemed to be one of the more intriguing personalities in the story.

   The problem is this. After a great setup, the story just kind of plods along, notably during the second half of the film. Colby and Jefferson fight, they make up, they fight again. It all just gets a bit tedious. Indeed, without the on-location setting, the film really wouldn’t be particularly interesting.

   As it is, the book tells a much more fascinating story than the movie manages to tell. The film adaptation of Dodge’s work, despite a screenplay by veteran mystery writer Jonathan Latimer, somehow comes across as being both rushed and somewhat dull, turning what could have been a very good movie into a slightly above average adventure film. The film tells Colby’s story in what are supposed to be flashbacks or reminiscences. It’s a narrative technique that doesn’t quite work in this context, giving the movie less a sense of immediacy than the book.

   In conclusion, David Dodge’s Plunder of the Sun is a fun, engaging read. It’s steeped in Peruvian geography and history, with well-developed characters, and enough mystery and intrigue to keep one guessing as to what is going to happen next.

    While the film version isn’t bad, it does come across as something of a missed opportunity. The Oaxaca scenery does, however, almost makes up for the fact that the screenplay isn’t as strong as it could have been. Almost.

 Posted by at 2:04 am
Jul 142014

WILL JENKINS / MURRAY LEINSTER – Mexican Trail. Alfred H. King, hardcover, 1933. A. L. Burt, hardcover reprint.

   Several years ago on this site I reviewed — panned, rather — a film called Border Devils (Supreme, 1932) and was richly rewarded when Steve unearthed the fact that the Murray Leinster story it was based on was in fact a serial in West magazine “Dead Man’s Shoes,” and was eventually published under his Will Jenkins by-line (given the plot, it’s interesting that this appeared under both names — read on!) as Mexican Trail. It wasn’t hard to unearth a copy and I was soon enjoying a fine read, thanks mostly to Steve.

   The story is a bit rushed at first, with Ranger Pete Gray in search of an elusive Mexican drug-smuggler known only as The General, abruptly drugged, framed for murder, jailed and quickly sprung by his friends Neil Denham and Neil’s wife Ethel. Scant pages later, en route to a rendezvous with his friend to sort all this out, Pete finds Neil’s body trailside, his personal effects replaced by those of a wanted criminal — dry-gulched no doubt by the same ornery varmints what framed Pete.

   Pete decides to ride Neil’s horse into town and look around for anyone trying to pass as Neil, and here the Leinster style kicks in as Pete himself is mistaken for Neil and has to assume his murdered friend’s identity. Just as quickly, he’s launched into the midst of a roiling range war fomented (as usual in westerns of this ilk) by persons unknown trying to create confusion and profit from chaos.

   From this point on, Mexican Trail becomes very enjoyable indeed as Pete/Neil does some canny sleuthing, hard riding and tricky gun-fighting, pitted against a clever and unseen foe, surrounded by cowboys who distrust Neil and suspect Pete — and, as you might expect, by a doughty young range-heiress who loves him no matter who he is.

   Leinster does his usual slick job of juggling identities (the plot teems with characters pretending to be other characters) getting Pete in and out of trouble, and wrapping things up with an epic gun-battle in approved Western Fashion.

   After reading this, I went back and watched Border Devils again, and now that I understood the plot, it seemed like a much better film to me. There’s some clever by-play between Harry Carey and Gabby Hayes, and the whole thing is fast-moving and fairly faithful to Leinster/Jenkins’ book.

 Posted by at 5:57 pm
Jul 142014
Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         

THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES. American International, 1971. Vincent Price, Joseph Cotten, Hugh Griffith, Terry-Thomas, Virginia North, Peter Jeffrey. Director: Robert Fuest.

   The Abominable Dr. Phibes is a movie that defies easy categorization. A horror film with strong comedic elements, it manages to be satirical, surreal, disturbing, a murder mystery, and and a Gothic love story all within its running time of slightly over ninety minutes. With lavish art deco settings, a soundtrack consisting of music from the 1920s, and some genuinely disconcerting moments of visual horror, The Abominable Dr. Phibes is a film, love it or hate it, that you won’t soon forget.

   Veteran horror actor Vincent Price stars as the title character, a hideously disfigured doctor/organ pianist living in an old English manor with an art deco interior. He’s seeking revenge against the nine physicians he holds responsible for his wife’s death on the operating table. Caroline Munro, in an uncredited role, portrays Phibes’s deceased wife.

   But the doctor isn’t about to commit murder by any ordinary method. No, he’ll have none of that. Rather, he decides to use the Biblical plagues as his guide. So there’s death by bats, frogs, locusts. You get the picture. Aiding him in his diabolical quest for revenge is his beautiful but mute female assistant, Vulnavia (Virginia North) who appears in a series of both stunning, and stunningly odd, outfits throughout the film.

   As the bodies of physicians pile up, the quasi-bumbling Inspector Harry Trout (Peter Jeffrey) takes the lead on the case. Trout, who is occasionally called “Pike” by his boss (got to love fish humor!), is well meaning, but is consistently late to the scene of the crime.

   Trout teams up with the lead physician on the deceased Mrs. Phibes’s case, Dr. Vesalius (Joseph Cotten), to solve the murder mystery and to catch Dr. Phibes. It’s feared that Cotten, or at least his firstborn son, is an eventual target.

   It’s all good fun, with lots of dark, understated humor. There’s death by golden unicorn impaling, a bizarrely enchanting dance scene with Price and North, and so much more. It’s all quite difficult to describe, but suffice it to say, Price is simply magnificent in his portrayal of one of the strangest villains ever. He’s creepy, campy, devious, and satirical. That said, if you don’t particularly care for Price, you probably ought to skip this movie.

   Similarly, if you try to take The Abominable Dr. Phibes too seriously, you won’t enjoy it. But if you want something that’s both offbeat and memorable, watch this film late at night, the later the better. They don’t make movies like this much anymore, horror films that are also intelligent comedies. And that’s pretty frightful.

 Posted by at 12:32 am
Jul 132014

LOU CAMERON – Guns of Durango. Dell #4694, paperback original; 1st printing, April 1976.

   Doc Travis, a native of Texas, went to Harvard Medical School, as it so happened, but before he was able to make his way home, the War Between the States broke out. Drafted by the Union army, he managed to escape and join up with Colonel Nichols’ Irregular Cavalry.

   Unfortunately, when the war ended Travis never received his official discharge papers, and not having them, he can’t go home to Texas without them.

   Unfortunately, Colonel Nichols is both a scoundrel and a criminal, with perhaps more emphasis on the latter, and he is somewhere now down in Mexico, where another civil war is going on, this one between the troops of Maximilian and the men still loyal to ousted President Benito Juárez. Nichols, as Travis soon discovers, is holed up in Durango with Maximilian and his forces.

   And so, reluctantly, that is where Travis, who tells his story himself, must head as well. Once on his way, though, he bounces like a pinball between various encampments of the two opposing sides, with a band of hostile Apaches as a noninterested but still deadly third party. Luckily, for a medical man, Travis is fast with a gun, but even more than that, he has a glib tongue and a fast-thinking mind, all three finely tuned aspects of his being that he’ll need in abundance if he’s going to survive.

   Travis leaves a lot of death and destruction in his wake, but it’s his brain-work and cleverness that makes this book a lot of fun to read. It’s also, albeit briefly, a work of detective fiction, too, a fact worth mentioning, even though the relevant passage comes and goes within a page or two.

   All I’m saying is that you will need all your wits about you as you’re reading, or you may miss something. Some concentration is needed, more than you can say for the occasional other western you may have recently read. The ending, while satisfactory in most regards, is also left open, suggesting that more adventures of Doc Travis might be in the offing. If so, I don’t know if it ever happened, but it would be welcome news if it did.

[UPDATE] Later the same day. I have discovered that there was an earlier book in the series: Doc Travis (Dell, Sept 1975).

 Posted by at 7:00 pm
Jul 132014
by Marv Lachman

WILLIAM L. DeANDREA – The HOG Murders. Avon, paperback orginal, 1979. International Polygonics, paperback, 1999.

   William L. DeAndrea has acknowledged his debt to Rex Stout, and it is especially apparent in this second novel, The HOG Murders, with its eccentric-genius detective, Professor Niccolo Benedetti. Even Benedetti’s Goodwin, Ron Gentry, will remind you of a subdued Archie. (Actually, Matt Cobb, DeAndrea’s series detective since his first novel, Killed in the Ratings [1978] has more of the Goodwin glibness, which he combines with Wolfe’s being a stickler on grammar.)

   When a mass murderer who signs himself “The Hog” goes on a killing spree in the fictional upstate New York city of Sparta in midwinter, panic sets in, and the world-famous Benedetti is summoned back from South Africa. To carry the Stout analogy a bit further, The HOG Murders suffers from “Too Many Detectives,” with at least five sleuths, professional and amateur.

   The background of wintery weather as an impediment to detection is well handled, especially in a scene in an Adirondack cabin with the wind-chill factor at fifty-five degrees below zero. DeAndrea has a nice surprise waiting at the ending, though it is weakened by the limited number of suspects he has presented and a couple of holes through which one can drive a medium-sized vehicle.

   Incidentally, DeAndrea won Edgars with both of his first two novels, the second in the paperback-original category. I don’t believe that has ever been done before or since; it’s the literary equivalent of Johnny Vandermeer’s consecutive no-hit games.

Editorial Notes:   The HOG Murders was previously reviewed on this blog by Bill Crider. Check out his comments here. At least one other source (Wikipedia) agrees with me on the spelling of HOG in the title of this book, which is how I have presented it in Marv’s review. That’s how I remember it, anyway!

       The Niccolo Benedetti series –

The HOG Murders. Avon, 1979.
The Werewolf Murders. Doubleday, 1992.
The Manx Murders. Penzler, 1994.

       William DeAndrea — Edgars won:

Killed in the Ratings, 1978. (Best First Novel, 1979)
The HOG Murders, 1979. (Best Paperback Original, 1980)
Encyclopedia Mysteriosa, 1994. (Best Critical/Biographical Work, 1995)

 Posted by at 12:47 pm