ILLEGAL. Warner Brothers, 1955. Edward G. Robinson, Nina Foch, Hugh Marlowe, Jayne Mansfield, Albert Dekker, Howard St. John, Ellen Corby, Edward Platt, Jan Merlin. Screenplay: W. R. Burnett and James R. Webb. Director: Lewis Allen.
When District Attorney Victor Scott (Edgar G. Robinson) discovers that he’s sent an innocent man to the chair, not only are his ambitions for a higher office (governor) gone up in smoke, but soon after so is his political career altogether. He resigns, finds he can’t make a go of it as an attorney dealing in civil law, and in spite of the concern of his former assistant (Nina Foch), begins spending more time in bars than he does practicing law.
But as chance would have it, Scott discovers that his skills in the courtroom on one side are just as good on the other, and soon the money is rolling in as one of the best defense attorneys around, with some of his performances on behalf of his clients putting to shame even the wildest ever dreamed up by the previous master of them all, Perry Mason.
This attracts the attention of not only the local crime boss but the new D.A., who suspects an inside man is leaking information out of his office. This leads in turn to Nina Foch’s character being accused of murdering… Well, it is complicated, but to the screenwriters’ credit, the story is clearly presented from beginning to end, perhaps to the extent of being at times a little too obvious.
This is Edgar G. Robinson’s role all the way. The triumphs and failures of the character he plays need someone with a super-sized sense of the extravaganza, and Robinson is just the person to do the job. The rest of players are mere moths flitting around his constant flame.
Save, just maybe, Jayne Mansfield’s character, a wasp-waisted singer and live-in companion for the aforementioned crime boss makes her a perfect witness on the stand, her breathy whisper-like Marilyn Monroe voice making everyone in the courtroom sit up and take notice.
by Marv Lachman
CYRIL HARE – Tenant for Death. Faber & Faber, UK, hardcover, 1937. Dodd Mead, US, hardcover, 1937. Softcover editions include: Dover, 1981; Perennial Library, 1982.
Even better [than Francis Beeding’s Death Walks in Eastrepps, reviewed here ] is Cyril Hare’s first mystery, Tenant for Death. Hare generates the kind of intellectual excitement that used to be present in so many mysteries. The facts are presented to the reader and, if the puzzle is not as complex as Ellery Queen in his heyday, there is still much for the reader who wishes to compete with the detective.
Hare’s sleuth is Inspector Mallett who, after appearing in Hare’s first three books, began playing second fiddle to the author’s later detective, Francis Pettigrew. Mallett is a detective we can respect and identify with. I can visualize a subdued Leo McKern (of Rumpole fame) playing him on the screen.
There is humor in Tenant for Death, and it is reasonably subtle. Hare has a good ear for language and introduces (and demolishes) a few pompous individuals. There is not a great deal of description, and that is good because too much tends to slow a mystery down. There is just enough for the reader to supply his own imagination and set his own scenes.
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Here’s an excerpt from my novel Canary, out from Mulholland Books on February 24, 2015.
Our narrator is Sarie Holland, who’s just realized she has taken her sort-of boyfriend on a drug run. While he’s out getting take-out food, she’s left to circle the block. And then…
WHEN I TURN…
Stop what you’re doing and read this right now, and you’ll understand why February 24th can’t come quickly enough.
Through sheer serendipity this turned up on YouTube and I had to post here it here. Loads of twinkling lights, Christmas trees, the CTA's famous Holiday Train and fireworks in December -- what more could you ask for? Enjoy this one minute of laptop or armchair travel to our fine Windy City.
This year for my Christmas music video I decided to introduce you to one of my favorite alternative bands, one you've probably never heard of: Gandalf Murphy and the Slambovian Circus of Dreams. Here's their brand new Christmas song "Every Little Light"
Whoever or whatever you believe in, however you celebrate this end of the year, have a memorable and magical time. Make the most of it you wonderful people out there in the dark. Looking forward to more literary Lost in Limbo discoveries and sharing them with you in 2015.
This is becoming something of an annual tradition, but I’m trying not to let it become a routine list. This year I’ve done my best to choose books by authors I wasn’t familiar with before. If nothing else, it has encouraged me to try new authors.
North of Boston by Elisabeth Elo.
This is one of those books that’s undoubtedly crime fiction, but also so much more. Perfume making, deep sea fishing, the machinations (and power) of the armed forces, whale poaching; big city life, remote island life; crimes against ordinary people and the environment. Not a book to be read in a couple of sittings, though give it some slack on the 50-page test and you won’t regret it.
Blacklands by Belinda Bauer.
An author I’ve been meaning to sample for a long time, and now I have – wow, wow and thrice wow. Can this woman write! She claims she didn’t set out to write a crime novel, and maybe not even a novel at all, but following on from this masterpiece (which justifies the existence of book awards, since it won the Gold Dagger hands down four years ago) she seems to have acquired a career as a writer of psychological suspense. Can’t wait for the next one.
The Paris Winter by Imogen Robertson. This is a small cheat, because though I finished it on March 2nd, I read most of it in February. So I may add another for March.
Atmosphere, ambience, sense of time and place: this book has all that and a lot more. Paris, winter of 1909/10, culminating in a few days when the city was devastated by floods. An art community, which lives, breathes, sings and dances. Characters you want to hug or kick. All this, and a great plot as well.
And here’s the bonus selection: A Lovely Way to Burn by Louise Welsh. It’s the first of a trilogy, set in a truly scary end-of-civilization-as-we-know-it landscape. Against so much devastation (a deadly virus is sweeping the world – and this was written before the Ebola crisis) the murder could seem incidental, but it doesn’t; it’s right there in the middle of it all. The characters keep dropping like flies, but you almost wish they wouldn’t they’re so well drawn.
Spider Woman’s Daughter by Anne Hillerman. This is a borderline cheat, but only borderline. It is a debut novel, but... well, see for yourselves. The author is the daughter of the late, hugely lamented Tony Hillerman, who wrote a series I can only describe as magical, featuring an experienced and eminently wise Navajo cop called Joe Leaphorn. Anne has picked up the baton that death plucked from Tony’s hand, and has proved herself to be Olympic class, with every right in the world to continue what her father started.
Killer Ambition by Marcia Clark. Two for the price of one, and both are page-turners in spades. The first half is a murder mystery in which the killer is identified; the second half is a courtroom drama in which the prosecuting attorney battles against the odds to get him convicted. All made possible by the American legal system, which is about as far as it’s possible to get from the British system and still be... legal. Sharp dialogue, rollercoaster plot, characters to root for or boo at. The kind of book that keeps you up till the small hours because you just have to know what happens.
I took it on holiday, and it was my flight reading. When I found an earlier one in the series in the Tattered Cover Bookstore in Denver a few days later, I just had to add it to the pile I took home.
Also Dark Side by Belinda Bauer. See February, and multiply by five.
The Eagle Catcher by Margaret Coel. As a huge fan of Tony Hillerman (see April), I have no idea why it’s taken me so longer to discover Margaret Coel. I found this brilliant book during one of my wonderful, leisurely browsing days in the Tattered Cover Bookstore – and by some quirk of fate, it happens to be the first in the series, which is set on Wind River Reservation in Wyoming. I’ve been there, and have the t-shirt to prove it – really!
The only problem is, Margaret Coel doesn’t have a UK publisher. Did I say problem? Make that yet another excuse to visit the US. As if I needed one...
Another bonus selection, and a definite cheat: I chose an Imogen Robertson in March. But this one, Theft of Life, got under my skin. Denizens of the so-called civilized west (and I include Europe in that) were pretty horrible people two or three hundred years ago.
That’s the first six months. July to December will follow next week.