HENRY KITCHELL WEBSTER – Who Is the Next? Perennial Library, paperback reprint, 1981. First edition: Bobbs-Merrill, hardcover, 1931. Also: Garland, hardcover, 1976.
For a book first published fifty years ago, Who Is the Next? is amazingly fresh and up-to-date. The subdued, unacknowledged love interest between a guardian and his much younger ward would not be played quite the same today, but Webster’s version of this scenario has an attraction that is both pleasing and frustrating, as it was meant to be then, and as it still is today.
Nor would Camilla Lindstrom’s airplane be of the same model and vintage, but in the process of becoming a woman, there’s no better symbol of her budding independence, even today. Her childhood is in the process of disappearing, and as it does, her guardian, Prentiss Murray, realizes that he is falling in love with her.
Well, of course it’s more than a love story. (Need you ask?) Camilla’s aged grandfather is murdered, and almost immediately afterward so is Miss Parsons, his newly acquired secretary and companion. Also soon on the scene is Camilla’s prodigal brother, and of course there are numerous mysterious strangers seen lurking around the estate.
There is a good reliance on fate (on the part of the murderer), and some good detective work (on the part of the police). My only real complaint is that too much of the latter is done behind the scenes, and it comes out only in retrospect, at the end.
But for mystery, vintage atmosphere, and romance, with one of the spunkiest heroines you’d ever want to meet, this book would be hard to beat. I read the last one hundred pages in twenty minutes. That’s three times my usual reading speed.
KUNG FU ZOMBIE. Eternal Film Co., Hong Kong, 1981. Original title: Wu long tian shi zhao ji gui. Billy Chong, Lau Chan, Kang-Yeh Cheng, Kei Ying Cheung, Wei Hu. Screenplay and director: Yi-Jung Hua.
Imagine you are in the process of filming a hybrid action-horror movie today. The powers that be would likely encourage you to utilize the most up-to-date CGI special effects, to procure the highest quality makeup available, and to score a memorable soundtrack. Maybe even a scene with some dark, brooding industrial dance music.
Then imagine how exceptionally polished and sleek the final product might look.
Because that’s definitely not what Kung Fu Zombie looks like. Not in the least.
Directed by Yi-Jung Hua, Kung Fu Zombie stars Indonesian-born martial arts star Billy Chong as a man caught between his domineering father, a reincarnated zombie criminal, and a kung fu kicking vampire.
It’s an absolutely silly, heaping mess of a movie, no question.
But that’s what it’s intended to be. The martial arts movie relies on slapstick comedy, bawdy humor, and (intentionally?) comical special effects to achieve something that far too many overly produced, overly computerized action films fail to do: thrill and entertain, with a tongue firmly in cheek throughout the proceedings.
I’ll confess that I have nostalgia for these types of films. You know, the ones where people fight for the sake of fighting. Where the symphony of martial arts mayhem plays on. Where villains announce their intention to kill the hero before the fighting begins.
The general public, if they ever knew him much at all, has largely forgotten Billy Chong. That’s a shame, because with his boyish charm, impish handsome looks, and quick action moves, he’s the real deal. I watched this particular Billy Chong movie on DVD, but it’s probably even better on a grainy VHS rental tape, if you know what I mean.
by Marv Lachman
FRANCIS BEEDING – Death Walks in Eastrepps. Hodder & Stoughton, UK, hardcover, 1931. [Insp. Wilkins]. Mystery League, US, hardcover, 1931. Reprinted several times, including Norton, US, hardcover, 1966; Dover, US, trade paperback, 1980.
Francis Beeding’s Death Walks in Eastrepps comes well recommended. Vincent Starrett called it one of the ten best mysteries of all time when it came out, and he repeated this as late as 1965 when he did an outrageously bad introduction for a hardcover reprint in Norton’s ill-fated Seagull Library of Mystery and Suspense.
I had better document my charge. Though he doesn’t actually disclose the killer, Starrett gives away almost every other surprise. This, mind you, is not in a critical work dissecting a classic but in the introduction to a new edition that readers are presumably ready to start.
Starrett even commits a careless error, claiming that Beeding’s famous numbered series of Colonel Granby novels were published in order, e.g., The One Sane Man, The Two Undertakers, The Three Fishers, et al.
Actually, the first book in the series was The Six Proud Walkers (1928). It was followed by The Five Flamboys (1929). The One Sane Man did not come along until 1934, by which time Beeding had already used five numbers in his titles.
Just because Vincent Starrett had an off day is no reason to miss Death Walks in Eastrepps. The edition to buy and read is the brand new paperback by Dover. It has no intro duction and needs none. The book speaks for itself, a throwback to a time when authors felt the need to provide mysteries that were long, inventive, and contained many surprises.
A series of murders takes place in an East Norfolk resort town. The puzzle is a good one, though the identity of the killer is far from impossible to guess. Things move at a fast pace, and a bonus is the excellent description of the effect of these murders on a resort during its summer season.
Way back at the beginning of the year a mystery novel by a certain Literary Fiction Author was published, and said author proceeded to make a number of derogatory comments about crime fiction and those who read it. I had the opportunity to respond in an editorial in Crimespree Magazine, and that response is below.
As we celebrate the season, I wish you joy, happiness, and light. I consider myself incredibly lucky to be a part of this community.
I’m an only child, but I didn’t grow up alone. I solved crimes with my buddy Nancy Drew. I hung out with the good men and women of the 87th Precinct in Isola. I rode the Orient Express with Monsieur Poirot. I fished with Santiago and had a crush on Doc in Monterey.
As I got older, my extended family grew. I got sober with Matt Scudder and ate lunch with Bernie Rhodenbarr and Carolyn Kaiser. I tromped around the French Quarter and peered into Louisiana’s misty bayous with Dave Robicheaux and Clete Purcel. I followed Serge all the way to Florida. I hiked into the dark woods of Maine with Charlie Parker. I was shown around LA by Harry Bosch, Joe Pike, and Elvis Cole. I fell in love with Copenhagen while following Louise Rick. I sang along to Hank Williams with Tom Thorne. I glimpsed evil with Tony Hill. I crept through Edinburgh’s alleys with Rebus. I rode around The Hollows with Jones Cooper.
I could go on (and on), but you get the idea. These characters and stories—and the authors who create them—have made my life infinitely richer. They have contributed to how I view and interact with the world, giving my perception and understanding of human nature layers and depth I would otherwise lack.
Crime fiction is not about crime any more than science fiction is about science or romance is about sex. It is about the human condition. It is about aspects of society we might prefer to ignore. It is rife with social commentary that gives us room for thoughtful consideration. It is delivered in prose that can be sharp, languid, or both.
I often hear people say that readers like mysteries because they enjoy seeing good triumph over evil. I don’t necessarily agree. For me, the best mysteries are less about the solution or even seeing justice served. They’re about the process, about how human beings interact with each other and the world around us often in the most trying of circumstances.
Crime fiction is sometimes dismissed as being less “deep” or “worthwhile” than other forms of fiction. I would venture, though, that this dismissal comes from people who aren’t familiar with the books that have enlivened my five decades on the planet. These stories are clever, insightful, intelligent, astute, and sometimes funny.
I’m a fairly well-educated person with a decent vocabulary, and yet I frequently look up words used in the books I read. So those who think that crime fiction is written with less literary flair than other forms of fiction are also sorely mistaken.
In addition to giving me glimpses into locales real and imagined, crime fiction shows me aspects of history through a unique lens, one of the personal perspectives of characters (and, by extension, authors). It also captures the cultural details of particular eras that might otherwise be lost.
Crime fiction consistently occupies spots on bestseller lists because it engages readers with stories and characters that range from clever and light to terrifying and gruesome. Some stories follow formulas, yes, because those formulas work, especially when they’re used by authors with remarkable storytelling skills.
I’m incredibly lucky to know a lot of people who read and some who write crime fiction. They are among the finest people on the planet. To those who sneer at readers and authors of genre fiction generally and crime fiction specifically, I say: meet my tribe, my family. Get to know us. We might surprise you.
Gravetapping by Ben Boulden
Posted: 18 Dec 2014 07:31 PM PST
“His name was Jimmie Prescott and he is thirty-one years of age. Five foot ten. Slight build.”
He is a loner. A sniper. A killer. The sort of sniper who sets up over a busy city street and randomly chooses a target. A victim. It is the spontaneity that thrills him, and, by his own reckoning, he is the best. The best because he has 41 notches on his rifle, and, while there have been a few close calls, he has no real fear of capture.
“A Real Nice Guy” is a stylish crime story written by William F. Nolan, a favorite author of mine, originally published in the April 1980 issue of Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine. It is something of a battle of sociopaths—both bad, of course—and while the ending is less than surprising the journey is ideal. The prose is smooth and, especially the non-dialogue narrative, is something like a brassy jazz riff—
“He was a master. He never missed a target, never wasted a shot. He was cool and nerveless and smooth, and totally without conscience.”
It is short. Third person, and very much worth seeking out. But, in the interest of fairness, that is exactly what I think of all Mr Nolan’s short work.
I read “A Real Nice Guy” in The New Mammoth Book of Pulp Fiction, published in 2013 by Running Press, and edited by Maxim Jakubowski.