Mar 282015
 
Like so many modern crime-fiction fans, I include 1974’s Chinatown among my favorite films of all time. Aside from its noirish story line and its stellar cast of performers (Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, John Huston, etc.), one of that movie’s great strengths is its moody soundtrack, responsibility for which belongs to Jerry Goldsmith. I’ve previously showcased that music here, but only today did I happen across the YouTube video below, in which Goldsmith talks about the process of composing his memorable motion-picture score.

Mar 282015
 
REVIEWED BY MICHAEL SHONK:


ADAM ADAMANT LIVES! BBC TV, 1966-67. Cast: Gerald Harper as Adam Adamant, Juliet Harmer as Miss Georgina Jones and Jack May as William E. Simms. Script Consultant: Tony Williamson. Producer: Verity Lambert. Theme written by Hal Sharper and David Lee, sung by Kathy Kirby.

   The story of Adam Adamant Lives! began with Sydney Newman. Newman remains one of the most successful and influential TV Network executives in the history of television. While Head of Drama for ABC Television (Associated British Corporation) he helped develop The Avengers, both series: one, a standard spy drama with Patrick Macnee and Ian Hendry and the second version, a fashion conscious surreal spy adventure with Macnee and Honor Blackman.

   Newman would leave ABC for the BBC where he became its Head of Drama. There he helped create Doctor Who and Adam Adamant Lives! Newman was influenced by a variety of elements in his creation of Adam Adamant. Aware of the success of James Bond, he wanted the theme music to sound like Goldfinger and even tried to hire Shirley Bassey to sing it.

   Sydney Newman had brought serious quality programming for adults to British television. This lead to the rise of his nemesis Mary Whitehouse and her fight to protect the morals of the British viewer. Reportedly, Newman was wondering about Whitehouse’s Victorian values and thought about a character from the 1890s reacting to modern (1960s) society.

   The BFI bio of Sydney Newman explains the development of Adam Adamant Lives!: “According to BBC documentation, Newman’s idea originally was to produce a series about the British detective character of Sexton Blake, a sort of two-fisted imitation of Sherlock Holmes first published in 1893. At the last minute, however, the Blake project was dropped (do to a failure of agreement with the publishers) and the would-be series’ basic format was developed into Adam Adamant Lives!

   The creation did not go smoothly, with several writers unable to create a satisfactory story or even find the right name for the character. Sydney Newman would finally name him Adam Adamant, the word adamant meaning extremely hard substance. The pilot was not received well. It would never air, and only the part of it that was used in episode one survives. Ann Holloway, who had played the role of Georgina Jones in the pilot, was replaced by Julie Harmer, who fit the 60s style-look better. Tony Williamson finally was able to come up with the right script and the result was “A Vintage Year For Scoundrels.”

“A Vintage Year For Scoundrels.” Written by Tony Williamson with material by Donald Cotton and Richard Harris. Directed by William Slater and David Proudfoot. Guest Cast: Peter Ducrow, Freda Jackson, and Frank Jarvis. *** Adam Adamant, English gentleman adventurer, is defeated by his archenemy, master criminal The Face, in the year 1902 when Louise the woman he loves betrays him. The villain uses a secret formula to give Adam a “living death.” Buried frozen but alive Adam would be uncovered in 1966 London. He has problems adjusting to modern times, especially with an unwanted sidekick, the young headstrong Miss Jones who refuses to leave him alone. However when young Miss Jones is threaten by a lady mobster Adam runs to her rescue.


   This was a time when the quality production values we expect from the BBC today did not exist. Shows such as Adam Adamant Lives! suffered from its low budget and limited shooting schedule. But such limitations did not stop the series from becoming a popular cult favorite then and now.

   The creative world of British TV at the time was small and a look at the series’ credits reveal many familiar names, including Brian Clemens. (Yes, he was writing for The Avengers at the same time.) It is no surprise that the writing was one of the highlights of the series, featuring perfect Penny Dreadful plots with delightful dialog and action for the over the top characters. Producer Verity Lambert, who all ready had Doctor Who on her resume, knew talent and was one of the first to give a TV set designer named Ridley Scott a chance to direct.

   In Season One Adam would face a different villain each week. The action would begin with the villain or crime. Learning of it Adam would begin to investigate. He would order Miss Jones to go home. When he arrives to question those involved he would discover Miss Jones working undercover at the villain’s location. There was always at least one young beautiful woman who would betray Adam, who would remain convinced she was a victim and mislead.

   Gerald Harper played the Edwardian hero with Victorian tastes well, especially in the way he moved. Adam was disgusted with the modern world and convinced he was needed more than ever to fight evil. Adam never understood the sexual revolution. He revered women, certain each was a helpless delicate creature he must save. His determination to protect women’s innocence would often frustrate the weekly femme fatales. Adam rejected the modern karate style of fighting for old-fashion fisticuffs and his sword/cane. The London of 1902 was gone so Adam adapted by building his mansion on top of a car park. One modern convenience he accepted was the automobile and would drive around in a Mini, a car popular during the 60s in London.

   Juliet Harmer’s performance gave the series much of its youthful energy and look at life as an adventure to enjoy. Miss Jones was the typical modern young woman in London’s 1960s. Her fashion sense was often a source of criticism from her elders, be it too revealing or too male. Georgina grew up with her beloved Grandfather telling her the exciting adventures of Adam Adamant, and now her hero had come to life she was not going to let him go. Always upbeat, Miss Jones was difficult to discourage no matter how many times the villains tortured her, Simms insulted her and Adam ordered her to go home.

   Jack Dawson originally played Adam’s manservant Simms. But after he injured his back during rehearsals Dawson was replaced by Jack May. William E. Simms met Adam and Miss Jones during “Death Has a Thousand Faces” when the three were able to stop an evil plan to blow up the Golden Mile in Blackpool. Despite his mean spirited limericks and his constant insults to Miss Jones, James May was able to make the dour Simms likeable. Simms was happy to serve Adam but was most happy when he was not involved in a dangerous adventure. Dependable, capable if reluctant Simms often found himself teamed up with Miss Jones as they rushed to help Adam.

“Sweet Smell of Disaster.” Written by Robert Banks Stewart. Directed by Philip Dudley. Guest Cast: Charles Tingwell, Adrienne Corri and Pauline Munro. *** Adam discovers modern advances in laundry, advertising and a plot to take over the World.


   In the second season it was decided to give Adam an arch nemesis to fight every week. The only woman Adam had ever loved, Louise returned to Adam’s life. After over sixty years Louise was now an old woman. Sadly, she would betray him again as she helped revive The Face, the evil Mastermind and only man to have ever defeated Adam Adamant. The Face had used the same formula he had used on Adam and now was ready to return to his life of evil. The series had never resorted to subtlety and now with The Face and Adam set to do battle the series grew weirder with a growing feel of early hero pulps.

“A Sinister Sort of Service.” Written by Tony Williamson. Directed by Laurence Bourne. Guest Cast: T.P. McKenna, Frances Cuka, and David Garth *** A series of robberies lead Adam to a Nazi-like security company that uses a new computer to figure out crimes. Series final episode.


   The popular series lasted just two seasons and the cause of its cancellation remains a source of rumors and questions. Today only seventeen episodes of the twenty-nine survive. Hiding behind the absurdity of the series adventure premise was an attempt to look at how society was changing at the time. 1960s London was one of the most important centers for the growing youth culture and the “generation gap” that resulted.

   Adam’s rejection of the modern society, and Simms insulting Miss Jones like a disapproving Father while Miss Jones ignoring him like an independent daughter was something viewers could identify with. Adam Adamant Lives! remains a fun entertaining escapist adventure, but it also reminds us that during this time James Bond was replacing Sexton Blake, and young damsels were no longer willing to do as they were told.

   An out of print official (Pal format) DVD of the series can be found in the collector’s market. Most of my information came from the episodes and two documentaries on the series. Cult of… was a series on BBC Four that examined behind the scenes of old favorite TV series such as Adam Adamant Lives! The other was a TV special called This Man Is the One.

 Posted by at 5:42 pm
Mar 282015
 

Dagobert and Jane Brown make a charming couple - and a very readable pair of sleuths. Here are links to some reviews (and further information) about some other detective couples whom you might enjoy:

Jeff and Haila Troy, created by the husband and wife writing team of Audrey and William Roos, writing as Kelley Roos: The Frightened Stiff:

Moving is never fun. Especially if you’re a young couple moving into a basement apartment in New York’s Greenwich Village in the 1940s…only to discover your furniture isn’t there yet, there’s no lock on the door, no shades on the street-level windows, strange things going on in your apartment building…and the police wake you to tell you there’s a corpse out in your garden that seems to have been drowned in your bathtub.

Then there are Henry and Emily Bryce, created by Margaret Scherf. I enjoyed Glass on the Stairs:

Take what appeared to be an open-and-shut case of suicide. Stir in a few clues that don't add up - a pink glove, some possibly poisoned toothpaste, a few sounds that should have been on a tape recording that somehow weren't there, and a few shards of broken glass. And let Emily and Henry Bryce shake up the mix - because, as Emily observes, “When we have a murder, we don’t like to be piggish about it. We want all our friends to share it with us.” What you have is a rather remarkable screwball comedy-mystery called Glass on the Stairs, by Margaret Scherf.

Another husband-and-wife writing team, Frances and Richard Lockridge, came up with an extremely popular couple of detectives in the mid-twentieth century: Pam and Jerry North. They're rather hard to find now, but there's a Kindle edition available of The Dishonest Murderer:

The Dishonest Murderer surely reflects a peculiar way of looking at a violent crime such as murder, right? And yet here's a case in which the entire setting of the murder - from its victim, to the method of murder, to the setting where the body was found - all seemed wrong. It was up to Pam North to sum it up, quite well: “we’re looking for someone dishonest. A dishonest murderer…a setup designed to mislead. Dust in our eyes. In other words, a kind of sleight of hand. So that we’d look in the wrong place. Fundamentally dishonest."

And, of course, no list of husband-and-wife teams would be complete without Nick and Nora Charles, the creation of Dashiell Hammett, who appeared in the classic American mystery, The Thin Man:

When the young woman approached Nick Charles and insisted he should search for her missing father, Nick really didn’t want to get involved. But each time he proclaimed his lack of interest, more and more people – including the police, the missing man’s family, a few assorted mobsters and more – became convinced that Nick knew something about the disappearance of that missing man – who may, by the way, have murdered his mistress. Eventually, he found himself forced into investigating the whole business – although he was careful not to let it get in the way of his serious drinking.

By the way, I have done podcast reviews for all four of these books. You can hear those reviews in their entirety by clicking on the appropriate links:

The Frightened Stiff

Glass on the Stairs

The Dishonest Murderer

The Thin Man

You can find other books by these authors on the backlist page as well.

THE COMING OF CROW

 Uncategorized  Comments Off
Mar 282015
 


THE COMING OF CROW
By Joel Jenkins
Pulpwork Press
305 pages

For ever reviewer, there are always books we cannot read fast enough because, not only do we personally enjoy them so much, but because we also can’t wait to share them with our fellow readers.  This is such a book.

Joel Jenkins is among the elite of the new pulp fiction writers working today.  Like most prolific scribes, he has several different series available to pulp fans.  Of all of them, my favorite is hands down the weird western stories he’s done featuring his wonderful character, Lone Crow.  Crow is the last of his tribe; they were all butchered by a renegade band of Apaches.  Crow’s travels take him all over the North and South America, from the freezing rugged Alaskan frontier to the thick, hot cloying jungles of Brazil.  Wherever there is some strange mystery dealing with the occult, you are bound to find this Indian gunfighter making an appearance.  And when he does, look out!  Then the action kicks up a notch and it’s blessed bullets against all manner of beasts and monsters.

“The Coming of Crow” contains fourteen of Crow’s amazing adventures; a few having been previously published in other anthologies over the past few years.  That I’d already read some of these before didn’t bother me in the least, as having bound together in one glorious collection is the treasure here.  Another fanciful element of many of Jenkins’ Lone Crow stories is that he peppers them with historical western figures.  Among these accounts, Crow crosses paths with the likes of Wyatt Earp, Bass Reeves, Shotgun Ferguson and many other colorful western legends.

If you are a fan of weird westerns, then your library isn’t complete until you have this book in it.  I was happy to see Jenkins purposely labeled it Volume One which means he has a lot more Lone Crow stories coming our way and this reviewer couldn’t be any happier about that.
Mar 282015
 
from Gravetapping by Ben Boulden:
Robert Bloch, at least to the small but select audience of this blog, needs no introduction. He is one of the great writers to graduate from the mid-Twentieth Century pulp racket, and—like all true pulp writers—if it sold, he wrote it. He worked several genres including crime, horror, science fiction and fantasy. He is best known for his fine novel Psycho—later transformed into its faithful film adaptation Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho—but his work has a depth and quality rarely seen. If Mr Bloch wrote it, it is likely pretty great.

On the far side of great is his 1958 story “The Hell-Bound Train”. It won the 1959 Hugo Award, and it is the best science fiction story—short or otherwise—I have read in a long time. It features a young bindlestiff called Martin. His father “walked the tracks for the CB&Q” until he met with a drunken accident and his mother ran off with a traveling salesman. He skipped the orphanage and drifted with the rails. He tried his hand at crime, and on a cold and lonely November midnight he determined to go straight—

“No sir, he just wasn’t cut out for petty larceny. It was worse than a sin—it was unprofitable, too. Bad enough to do the Devil’s work, but then get such miserable pay on top of it!”

Martin’s dream of a straight life is interrupted by the unexpected appearance of an unfamiliar running train. The windows dark. Its whistle “screaming like a lost soul.” The conductor who steps from its forward car is off—the way he drags a foot when he walks, and his nonstandard technique of lighting his lantern with his breath. It takes only a moment for an offer of a ride to be tendered, but Martin negotiates a deal. He will gladly ride for a single wish in exchange. He wants, at his own choosing in a moment of happy contentment, to stop time. The conductor accepts the bargain, and Martin is certain he fooled the devil. He finds a job in the nearest town and plots his own happiness, looking for that moment where he wants to spend forever.

“The Hell-Bound Train” is brilliantly executed. Its narrative is seemingly simple, but the simplicity is misleading. A study of misdirection, really. It shows the reader enough to make a conclusion (incorrectly) about where the story will finish, fulfilling that expectation in a way, and then taking it further. And that final step takes the story from pretty good to great. It is very much like the best of  The Twilight Zone , and a shame it was never treated in an episode.

“The Hell-Bound Train” was originally published in the September 1958 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. I read it in the anthology The Hugo Winners, Volume 1 edited by Isaac Asimov and published by Fawcett Crest in 1973.                   

Mar 282015
 

JAMES M. REASONER – Texas Wind. Manor, paperback original, 1980. Point Blank, softcover, 2004.

   Rumor has it that Manor has gone bankrupt. I don’t know if it’s true or not, but the fact remains that I haven’t seen any of their product in over a year, and distribution was pretty good around here before that.

   And I have never seen this book anywhere for sale. If James Reasoner hadn’t sent me a copy personally, I’d have never seen it period. All this leads me to the fairly safe conclusion that if you haven’t obtained a copy for yourself by now, you probably won’t.

   It’s a pity, too, because it just may be the best book Manor ever published. They evidently never knew what they had either, because the back of the book is filled with ads for their western novels.

   And this is a private eye book, for crying out loud. Cody’s home town is Fort Worth, and I guess maybe he wears cowboy boots, but that’s about it. He’s hired to find a missing daughter, who maybe has run off with her best friend’s boy friend — or has she been kidnapped?

   There are a few false notes here (one of which led me into thinking up a whole new ending), and I thought Cody’s love affair with Janice, the new light of his life, came on too fast, but Reasoner has a deceptively smooth, easy-to-read style that helps you forget you’ve read hundreds of stories like this a hundred times over.

   Never really flashy in any sense of the word, but a solid job through and through.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 5, No. 5, Sept-Oct 1981.



[UPDATE] 03-28-15.   I was correct about the Manor edition becoming a collectible. The last time I looked, which was 10 minutes ago, there was not a single copy available for sale on the Internet. Luckily a softcover edition was published a short while ago, and I’m sure it’s also available online as an ebook.

   I’ve not read the book since I wrote the review above, and now that I’ve reminded myself of that unfortunate fact, I intend to do something to do about that as soon as I can.

 Posted by at 1:05 pm
Mar 282015
 

Everywhere you look you will find a book close at hand.  In my car’s trunk, under car seats, car glove box, bookshelves, closets, tote bags, the bathroom, coffee tables, nightstands, in dressers under clothes, and that’s not including the 700 books on my NOOK and Kindle devices!  I am not even sure where to start!

I said to myself I would take all duplicates and pass them on to others for their reading enjoyment.  HaHaHa this did not work, I just could not do it.   Instead I purchase copies for my friends.  Even when I have the ARC, HC release, MM release and e-Book version of a title.  When I really like a story and/or author I purchase their audiobooks in addition. 

I am starting to think this may not be a good thing?  In my defense I do read my books more than once.  I take the best care with each and everyone to not break a spine or damage even one page.  My feeling is the story is a gift from the writer that brings me pleasure.  So when an author takes the time to visit with me and personalize a book I consider it priceless!

How many of you feel this way?   Do you only read a physical book or use an eReader.  I am also curious to know if you follow an author do you preorder their books?

Mar 282015
 
By
Scott D. Parker
Well it took seven months--but only about three weeks of binge watching--to catch up with GOTHAM. That's 18 episodes if you're keeping score at home. Eighteen pretty darn entertaining hours, I have to say.

First things first: the MVP of GOTHAM is the person in charge of casting. Not sure who that is, but he/she deserves a medal. Or a raise. I have loved getting to see new spins on classic characters with new actors. Benjamin McKenzie as James Gordon is wonderful. McKenzie’s portrayal of Gordon’s goodness tinged with anguish over things he has to do is wonderful. He, along with most of the other, are actors of whom I was unfamiliar before GOTHAM so I’m coming with a blank slate. Donal Logue’s Harvey Bullock, Gordon’s partner, is also good if not a little over-the-top in a more typical partnery kind of way. I’ve enjoyed the progression of Bullock into a true partner even if he didn’t agree or know where Gordon was heading.

David Mazouz plays young Bruce Wayne and he got my vote in the opening scene when, for the first time on film, he screamed after his parents were murdered. I mean screamed. Since then, he’s turned into a stoic lad who wants to know more but is only hampered by his age. But he can sure boss Alfred around. Sean Pertwee is an actor I knew but only from ELEMENTARY. Here, he’s a badass Alfred and he is great. I love the little subtle touches he gives to prove he’s scared to death at the prospect of raising a young, rich orphan. But this Alfred has some military background and that’s starting to come out.

As for the villains, I like that Edward Nygma (Cory Michael Smith) works for the cops. Smith plays the future Riddler as a weirdo that wants to fit in but that no one likes. John Doman as Carmine Falcone conveys such gravitas that he fills the screen with his personality. I think that the choices Jada Pinkett Smith is making are fun in a comic-booky sort of way, but she still has the presence to make her scary.

Above all other villains is Robin Lord Taylor’s Penguin. Oh my! He is my MVP of the entire show. I love the way he’s portrayed as a thinker, a pipsqueak who is not above getting knocked around because he’s thinking five steps ahead. Ten even. I’ve liked the Penguin in the comics because he’s a lot like Marvel’s Kingpin or even Moriarty: he’s a puppeteer who pulls a lot of strings but not ones that can be tied directly to him. Burgess Meredith was great for what he did but Danny DeVito’s version was a little off for me. Now, typically, Oswald Cobblepot is a rich orphan, one on par with Bruce Wayne, but not in GOTHAM. Here, he’s a low minion who has worked his way up the crime ladder and looks to rule the city. Taylor’s characterization of Penguin is shocking (he’ll out and out stab a guy with little thought) and funny, often in the same scene.

The stories are good and fun, successfully bridging the line between police procedural and comic book hijinks. We get disturbing storylines as early as episode 2 (with the abduction of children for a fate not named but implied) that are followed soon by ones featuring a guy who ties his victims to weather balloons and let’s’em rise...then fall. There are long-running story arcs--Gordon’s odyssey as a good man in a bad town is the prime one--but the Penguin’s is one of the better ones. He loves Gotham and will do anything for her, and it’s interesting to see how that plays out episode after episode.

I like that the writers are presenting characters wearing masks--goat mask, red hood--before Batman or other masked villains that we know show up. It’s neat to see them put forth the idea of the power behind a mask. It’s also fun to see nascent versions of the characters we already know.

It’s not all wine and roses, however. That very thing of showing early versions of the characters can be too much. The young Poison Ivy I’m not fond of much (and it was hard to find a good image to use today and not have her in it). She’s just a street urchin out of Oliver Twist. Young Bruce Wayne comes off a little too much like the current Bat-God--the modern version of Batman where he’s thought out every last thing to the nth degree that you can never beat him--and he still needs to be a kid. That’s why I like what they’ve done with Selena Kyle (Catwoman) and how the two of them get along.

There are a few little things but not too much to make me not like the show. I even watched 3-4 episodes on some days. It sucked me in and I enjoyed them all. Like I wrote last fall, I still would have liked to have seen Thomas and Martha Wayne on screen for awhile and I'd love to have seen GOTHAM become the universe where Batman doesn't have to exist.
The reason I haven’t watched until now is the time it airs: 7pm on Mondays. That’s family/homework time. CASTLE airs at 9pm on Mondays and I don’t have the time on Mondays to tape-and-watch. But I will definitely start now. I’m just happy to have a new Batman show on TV with interesting twists on the known canon.

Next up: catching up on The Flash.

So, GOTHAM watchers: what say ye? Like the show? Dislike the show?