Dec 272014
Girls With Guns Holiday Edition

Day #6

The Venus Death 
by Ben Benson

Printing History
Written by Ben Benson

The M. S. Mill Co. and William Morrow & Co.

Bantam Books
 Posted by at 1:43 am
Dec 272014

ROBERT GILLESPIE – The Crossword Mystery. Raven House, paperback original, 1980.

   As I understand it, the first four Raven House titles (this is #3) were sent out as advance samples to at least some, if not all, of the subscribers to Harlequin’s line of romance titles. I don’t know if the story is true, but if it is, I wonder what those women thought of this book. As the title indicates, it’s purely a puzzle story, but the language used is often surprisingly crude and foul — of the four letter variety.

   There’s also one pretty good sex scene, and one fairly brutal, which is not so good. This does not count the murder of Mary Cross, Rocky Caputo’s predecessor as the crossword editor of the New York Herald-Courier. Means of death: starvation in a locked room, complicated by cirrhosis of the liver.

   The puzzle itself — a message in cryptograms, only later as a crossword — is major league, but as we all know, cleverness alone does not a novel make. Gillespie shows promise, but he needs more seasoning. Overall, I’d say Triple A ball in the minors, at best, and if you can’t stand crossword puzzles at all, you can probably skip this one.

Rating:   C

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 5, No. 5, Sept-Oct 1981 (slightly revised).

[UPDATE] 12-26-14.   This appears to have been Rocky Caputo’s only recorded brush with murder. It was the author’s first book; Hubin records seven additional titles to his credit, five of them with a series character named Ralph Simmons, a retired advertising director of the same newspaper that Caputo worked for.

   It would have been clear –or at least clearer — to readers of this review back in 1981 that Raven House was an attempt by Harlequin Books to create a line of paperback mysteries. The imprint didn’t last long, and sometime I’d like to take a longer look into what kinds of mysteries they published and some of the highlights of the series. There is not room in this small footnote to do so now, however. For now, it may suffice to give you this link to this New York Times article that appeared soon after Raven House began.

 Posted by at 12:52 am
Dec 262014

Books: Mr. Bad Taste and Trouble Himself: Robert Mitchum
 by Robert Ward
For the entire piece go to

“He drank too much and smoked too much. He granted too many interviews full of cynical observations about himself and his business. He made too many bad movies and hardly any of the kind that stir critics to rapture or that, taken together, look like a life achievement worthy of official reward.
God, some of us are going to miss Robert Mitchum!”—Richard Schickel
And he’s still missed, 17 years after his death. No, you sure don’t see movie stars like Robert Mitchumanymore. But we can still appreciate the real thing. In 1983, Robert Ward hung out with the star of Out of the Past, The Night of the Hunter, Cape Fear, and The Friends of Eddie Coyle, and wrote the following profile, “Mr. Bad Taste and Trouble Himself: Robert Mitchum.” It originally appeared in the March 3, 1983 issue of Rolling Stone and is collected in Ward’s terrific anthology, Renegades. It appears here with the author’s permission. —Alex Belth
A big, crazy, sexy sixty-five-year-old little boy who can’t get used to the idea that he’s supposed to act like, like Ward Cleaver, you dig?
Robert Mitchum is walking down this Kafkaesque hallway, holding his arms straight out in front of him, crossed, as though they’ve been manacled by the CBS production assistant who trucks along in front of him. Mitchum staggers a bit. All he drinks nowadays is tequila—and milk, though not together—and he had his first shot at one thirty in the afternoon, and now it’s ten thirty at night and he’s been through five interviews and a fifth of Cuervo Gold Especial and is fast moving into that strange land between dreams and wakefulness.
Things are mightily askew but still manageable until someone notices the glass partitions and the little wooden desks, which look like interrogation booths, and yells, “Bob, look, we’re in Czechoslovakia and they’re going to bring out the fucking guards!”
This registers slowly behind Mitchum’s lizard-lidded eyes, and smiling his curling serpent’s smile, he thrusts his hands forward as though they are cuffed and booms in this deep, hilarious voice: “My name is Robert Mitchum. My serial number is 2357982. My rank is private. I have nothing whatsoever to tell you….”
Down these endless narrow hallways and out of these little rooms come women of all ages—twenty-three, forty-five, sixty-seven—each of them saying, “Hey, that’s… that’s Robert Mitchum,” and each of them getting this look on her face. The same look. Lust! And helplessness. And yet, completely maternal. And sweet, like, “I’ve got to help that big, crazy, sexy, funky little boy who is sixty-five years old and has never gotten used to the idea that he has to act like a Ward Cleaver brand of grown-up.”
Mitchum had drawn a similar response from a group of young businessmen as we’d left the Waldorf Hotel earlier. “There’s Mitchum,” one of them said. “He’s all fucked up again.” And the rest of them laughed and nodded. Thank God somebody is still wild.

“Where the hell is the goddamned makeup girl? I want to kiss her, okay?” he says now, as he runs through the halls. Yes, right here at CBS, is Mr. Bad Taste and Trouble himself. Yeah, he’s got himself a pinstripe suit and dark Italian sunglasses like all the rest of those movie stars, but one look will convince you that here is a man acting like a civilized being. In a 1964 Esquire profile, the usually savage Helen Lawrenson said his personality had paralyzed her into wordlessness. D. H. Lawrence described it as the Life Force. But six-foot-one-inch, barrel-chested, ham-fisted, sleepy-eyed, speech-slurred Robert Mitchum gives off something that can’t really be put into words at all….Meanwhile, the makeup woman, a sixty-five-year-old gal herself, is literally buckling at the knees and wiping her brow and saying, “My, oh my, oh my…Robert Mitchum.” The whole place cracks up, and Mitchum sweetly kisses her on the forehead.
Dec 262014

Discover a new detective series for $2.99! Click on the cover image to find out more about She’s Leaving Home—you’ve got just enough time to read it before Shaw’s sequel, The Kings of London, comes out at the end of January.

Google Play | iBooks | Kindle | Kobo | Nook

"This outstanding novel is a reminder of the multiple joys of [a] police procedural with quirky characters, crisp dialog, and, in this case, a healthy dose of period detail." —Library Journal (starred)

Dec 262014
We wrap up the Forgotten Books series for another year with an old favorite of mine, an author I've been reading for close to 50 years. In the early Sixties, when I was volunteering in the local public library, I came across some Western paperbacks that looked interesting in a batch of books somebody had donated. They were about a Texas Ranger named Walt Slade, and they were written by an
Dec 252014
A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by James L. Traylor

W. T. BALLARD – Say Yes to Murder. G. P. Putnam’s Sons, hardcover, 1942. Penguin #566, paperback, 1945. Also reprinted as The Demise of a Louse, as by John Shepherd, Belmont, paperback, 1962.

   W. T. Ballard was one of Joe Shaw’s second wave of Black Mask boys. His first Black Mask story, “A Little Different,” appeared in September 1933. It featured Bill Lennox, troubleshooter for the fictitious General Consolidated Studios. (Ballard himself had worked for First National Studios in the early 1930s.)

   Lennox was one of the most popular series characters in Black Mask, and appeared in twenty-seven stories between 1933 and 1942. He’s not a PI exactly, but he has that same hard-boiled ethos; his exploits have an appealing under-stated sense of immediacy.

   After writing short stories for about ten years, Ballard published Say Yes to Murder, the first of four Bill Lennox novels, and set the standard for the Hollywood murder mystery. Ballard’s gift for this type of story is his careful depiction of scene and his emphasis on character in a subgenre that usually does not rely on such realism.

   Ballard invented a cast of characters that later became almost cliches of the movie industry. Sol Spurck, the crusty head of General Consolidated Studios; Nancy Hobbs, Lennox’s long-suffering girlfriend; and cops named Spellman and Stobert who are not quite as condescending toward Lennox as the typical cops of the hard-boiled detective novel.

   In Say Yes to Murder, Lennox investigates the murder of Leon Heyworth, a drunken actor whom Lennox finds stabbed and lying under the bed of actress Jean Jeffries, granddaughter of Lennox’s old friend Mary Morris. Faithful to Spurck and the studio, Lennox, with the help of Jake Hertz, a studio minion, and an empty piano box, moves the body from Jean’s apartment, attempting to keep Mary Morris’s name out of the papers.

   Along with a superior sense of timing and scene, Ballard’s novel shows great intricacy in plotting. Here the vital clue to the solution of the mystery is identity. An the characters are in show business, with consequent multiple personas. Lennox’s primary task is wading through the maze of personalities. Ballard presents the murder as a problem of separating illusion from reality, a method quite effective in focusing Hollywood’s artificiality.

   Noted critic James Sandoe praised Lennox because “he doesn’t have to flex his biceps to prove that he’s strong.” Say Yes to Murder is a consistently rewarding hard-boiled novel.

   The other three Bill Lennox novels are also excellent Murder Can’t Stop (1946), Dealing Out Death (1948), and the paperback original Lights, Camera, Murder (1960, as by John Shepherd). Ballard was a close friend of fellow pulp writer Norbert Davis and coauthored one novel with him, Murder Picks the Jury (1947), under the joint pseudonym Harrison Hunt.

   Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.

NOTE: Previously reviewed on this blog are:

      Murder Can’t Stop.
      Lights, Camera, Murder.
      Hollywood Troubleshooter (a collection of Bill Lennox short stories)

 Posted by at 11:51 pm
Dec 252014

As I'm featuring another Mary Roberts Rinehart Book, The Album, this week, I thought it might be fun to look back at another of her books - one which I think was more tightly written and, overall, more entertaining.

Rinehart wrote The Man in Lower Ten in 1909 - her second book, after The Circular Staircase. It's the story of a memorable and deadly train trip. Our narrator is a lawyer named Lawrence Blakely, who sets out by train from Washington to Pittsburgh, where he is to take a deposition in a forgery case. He is carrying some critical evidence in the case along with him. After taking that deposition, he gets on a train to return home, and he is assigned to the berth numbered “lower ten” in the Pullman car.

Through a series of odd events, however, he does not sleep in that berth. Someone else is sleeping there when Blakely arrives to go to bed, and the lawyer – unhappily – moves to another berth. When he wakes up, however, he finds that he is in yet another wrong berth, all his papers including the evidence (and his clothes as well) have been stolen – and the man who had been sleeping in lower ten has been murdered. Then, the train is wrecked in a disastrous crash which kills all but a handful of people – among whom, of course, is our narrator.

From there on, the book becomes a thriller, with Blakely staying a step or two ahead of what seems to be a curiously unhurried police investigation. He falls in love with the daughter of the man he had gone to depose – a woman who appears to have a number of secrets of her own. And there will be a healthy share of odd, dangerous and sometimes deadly adventures before everything gets sorted out at the end.

I reviewed The Man in Lower Ten a couple of years ago. It's a lively and thoroughly enjoyable book. Because it is more than a century old, there are a lot of versions floating around. The one I've linked to above is an inexpensive Kindle and/or paperback edition with a new intro by Otto Penzler; I know that there are free electronic versions around as well. I do think it's worth another look.