Monday, November 30, 2015

Fred Blosser on THE POISONERS by Donald Hamilton

by Fred Blosser

Donald Hamilton began the 1970s with two books from Fawcett Gold Medal.  “Donald Hamilton on Guns and Hunting,” a collection of articles reprinted from “Outdoor Life” and other outdoorsman magazines, appeared in 1970.  (I wish I’d kept my copy from long ago: it’s a relatively pricey item now on the used-paperback market.)  “The Poisoners,” the thirteenth book in the Matt Helm series, followed in March 1971, nearly two years after the previous Helm.  At 224 pages, “The Poisoners” was one-third to one-fourth longer than the earliest, tightest Helm novels.  It continued the series’ turn toward more expansive and often flabbier page counts that became more the norm for Hamilton from the ‘70s on.    

“The Poisoners” begins with a familiar premise, as Helm’s boss, Mac, calls him back from vacation for a mission.  Mac orders him to find out who mortally wounded a female colleague in Los Angeles, Helm’s one-time bedmate Annette O’Leary, and oh yes, as a suggestion and not an order, authorizes Helm to take out the killer in turn as a lesson to the competition, whoever the culprit may have been and whatever the motive.  In LA, a local gangster summons Helm and serves up one of his employees, whom he claims committed the murder.  The employee, Basher, a small-time boxer, sullenly goes along with the story and says it was a case of mistaken identity.  But Helm is unconvinced, in part because Basher is too clumsy with the murder weapon, a .44 Magnum revolver, to be a believable shooter.

All of this occurs in the first 30 pages.  The rest involves Helm with a successive array of gorgeous but untrustworthy woman (a Hamilton staple), a hierarchy of mobsters, and Red Chinese agents.  Much of the storyline employs Hamilton’s formulaic playbook from earlier novels and those yet to come, including the ploy of somebody staging a fake assault against Helm or another character, for motives that the seasoned Helm easily discerns.  Compared with today’s world where arsenals of military-grade weapons seem to be a dime a dozen on the streets, it’s quaint that Helm’s weapon of choice is a .38 revolver.  A laser sight on a sniper’s rifle is such advanced technology that Helm calls it a “Flash Gordon gizmo.”

Hamilton’s title, “The Poisoners,” has a couple of symbolic meanings that are associated with the main, interlaced threads of the plot.  One meaning refers to a Mafia scheme that Matt stumbles into, involving the movement of ten kilos of Chinese heroin into the U.S. from Mexico.  The other meaning refers to a bigger Red Chinese operation for which the drug deal is only a cover.  This component of the plot brings back a recurring character from two earlier Helm novels, Red Chinese mastermind Mr. Soo, Mr. Soo isn’t sufficiently colorful, and isn’t on stage long enough, to be very memorable.  Still, I suppose he’s preferable to the Red Chinese villain played for laughs by the late, very un-Asian Victor Buono in the movie version of “The Silencers” (1966), Tung-Tse (the name being one of the movie series’ inane sexual puns -- get it, “tonguesy”?)

To say much more about the Red Chinese operation would give away the twists in the plot, but at risk of a spoiler, I’ll note that Hamilton foreshadows the big reveal by setting the action in LA during a smog crisis, alluding to the offstage disappearance of an environmental scientist, and through Helm, commenting several times on the “damp, chemical-smelling mist” that pervades the city.  I suspect that Hamilton devised, plotted, and wrote the novel with one eye on TV news coverage of Earth Day, the enactment of the U.S. Clean Air Act, and other environmental developments of 1969 and 1970.  Enough said, except to note that, even after Helm figures out the mystery on p. 178, Hamilton still has several surprises waiting in the remaining 46 pages.

You may wonder if the .44 Magnum in the novel was also an attempt by Hamilton to be topical, given that 1971 also saw the release of Don Siegel’s “Dirty Harry,” in which Clint Eastwood’s Insp. Harry Callahan fetishized the sidearm as “the most powerful handgun in the world.”  Nope, chronologically impossible: “Dirty Harry” wouldn’t open until eight months later.  Maybe there was something in the water that year.

“The Poisoners” went into a second Gold Medal edition in 1984 with different packaging.  Aesthetically, the new cover was classier than the old format.  Nevertheless, older fans from the ‘60s are likely to mourn that something minor but significant went out of the series when the old layout was discarded.   

Sunday, November 29, 2015

From Stark House: Fell The Angels Catharine Butzen

Catherine Butzen
Fell the Angels
978-1-933586-89-2  $17.95

Stark House Press introduced the Fell the Angels characters in Catherine Butzen’s first novel, Thief of Midnight, back in 2010. The main character, Abby Marquise, works in Chicago for the Society for the Security of Reality, keeping the world area safe from the nefarious plots of such mythical creatures as boogymen, werewolves, ghouls and faeries. 

In Thief of Midnight, there is a plot by the bogeymen--their existence threatened by dying belief--to kidnap children and create a reign of terror. In Fell the Angels, Abby and her group have to deal with a group of rogue selkies who are in league with a group of power-hungry faeries.

Reviews for Thief of Midnight include this from Publishers Weekly: “Butzen's strong debut livens up some common urban fantasy tropes with witty dialogue and fun monsters.” 

Her new fantasy mystery is darker—and even stronger. 

In fact, Fell the Angels just received a PW review in late October, in which the reviewer had this to say: "Butzen keeps the action moving quickly, with plenty of fights distracting Abby and John from their search for the killer, but also tosses in some delightfully grim humor... fans of the formula will enjoy the ride." 

Part urban fantasy, part detective thriller, Fell the Angels is the second book in the Abby Marquise series. Available now from Stark House Press at

Saturday, November 28, 2015


Ed here: This is a discussion from

TCM Movie Morlocks. Even though I think Body Doubles is something of a mess structurally I enjoyed it and find this discussion entertaining.

Sark and Rick Discuss Brian De Palma's "Body Double"

This post is being republished as part of ClassicBecky's and Dorian'sThe Best Hitchcock Movies (That Hitchcock Never Made) blogathon. Click here to read other entries in the blogathon.

This discussion of 
Body Double (1984) between film fans from different generations assumes that you’ve seen the film. But if you haven’t—or have, but need a plot refresher--here’s a synopsis:Actor Jake Scully (Craig Wasson) experiences a debilitating episode of claustrophobia on the set of a low-budget horror film. Dismissed for the day, he discovers his girlfriend Carol making love to another man. Later, he learns that he has been fired from the movie. Since Carol owned the house they shared, Jake needs to find new lodgings. His luck improves when another actor, Sam, offers a house-sitting gig. One of the perks of the observatory-like house is a telescope aimed at the window of an attractive woman who performs a provocative dance routine every night. Jake becomes obsessed with his "window" neighbor, but becomes concerned when he spies another man watching and following her. (Body Double is rated for adult themes, nudity, and violence.)

: Sark, you once said that De Palma’s best Hitchcock homages were the ones where he took Hitchcockian themes and turned them on their head. I think Body Double is a great example of that. On the surface, Body Double is a suspense film--and a very good one. But underneath the surface, it's a witty film about acting and deception. When Jake freezes up while reliving the "sardine game" in his acting class, the teacher yells at him: "You've got to act!" That's just what everyone around Jake does throughout the rest of the movie. Alexander Revelle acts the role of Sam who, in turn, acts the role of "the Indian." Holly acts out of the role of Gloria. Even Jake gets in the game, acting out the role of an adult film producer. The scene over the closing credit is a perfect coda, where De Palma shows us a body double in a shower scene in the horror film. Holly, who is standing beside the lead actress, tells her: "I bet this will get you a lot of dates." Thus, more deception will be promulgated!
for the rest go here:

Barry Malzberg: Queen's Gambit

A posting to Rara Avis, that mystery discussion group. 

Patti Abbot, bless her, fails to see the fragility, the passion, the divided self and agonizing struggle of Elizabeth Harmon to supersede her damaged history and psyche, Patti Abbot mistakenly sees this novel as ideologically centered (anti-Commie) when politics is the shell, not the meaning, the distraction, not the soul.  She does not appear to understand the complexity of the characters, all of them or that they are all in thrall to chess itself which in this great novel is no metaphor but is the shape and expression of our condition.

In 1964 in Syracuse, my wife and I saw THE HUSTLER in a local theater (the second time I had seen it) as did our friend, the great poet Trim Bissell who said then "It's a nice film but I have come to the conclusion that it is _only_ about pool."  And I did not have the wit to give him the proper response until years later after he had jumped bail and gone underground for seventeen years meaning that when they finally caught him we surely would have had other matters to discuss.  So I must settle again for giving that proper answer to rara avis, such empty (but always earnest) forum: "Trim, you are right.  Of course you are.  But in being right you have isolated not the weakness of the work but its stunning power.  Because if if a work of art is truly about something, embraces its subject wholly, explores it to the absolute, then it has taken the world itself."

Poor Trim.  (1942-2002)   Poor Elizabeth Harmon.  Poor Boris Spassky.  Poor Bobby Fischer. 
The world in all its elegance, intricacy and darkness.
Barry N. Malzberg

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thanksgiving; My favorite quote about actor David Canary's passing

Ed here: We had a long and perfect lunch with my son Joe and his entire family yesterday. Even our oldest grandchild Shannon was back from the Naval Academy. After next year she'll be spending five years on various ships around the world. We'll see her even less. I baby sat her three afternoons a week when she was 2 1/2-5 years old. She was such a sweet, hilarious little girl. And now she's a sweet, hilarious--and brilliant--young woman.


Actor David Canary died Friday. I always enjoyed his work. A real pro, good guy or bad, soap operas or westerns, so I read his obits. This sardonic line from the NY Times made me smile as I'm sure it would have Mr. Canary himself.:

"Mr. Canary’s first taste of soap-opera drama came in 1965, when he was cast as Dr. Russ Gehring, Mia Farrow’s physical therapist, in “Peyton Place.” Ms. Farrow’s character was in a coma at the time, so their interaction was minimal."

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Dave Zeltserman reviews At the End of a Dull Day by Massimo Carlotto

Review of At the End of a Dull Day by Massimo Carlotto

AT THE END OF A DULL DAY by Massimo Carlotto is the kind of tough, take-no-prisoners crime novel that had me falling in love with the genre back when I was a kid reading Spillane, Cain, and Hammett. The anti-hero of this novel, Giorgio Pellegrini, is not a nice man, to put it lightly. He’s at least as ruthless as my own Kyle Nevin, and he might even be more of a sociopath. Earlier in his life, Giorgio had been a criminal and a terrorist, now thanks to his benefactor, the Honorable Counselor Brianese, his record has been scrubbed clean and he owns a popular restaurant in the Veneto region of Italy where Brianese operates in the backroom taking bribes and conducting shady government business. Giorgio might be living a more respectable life now, but he keeps his fingers dirty, operating a small prostitution ring wth his old friend, ex-lover, and partner Nicoletta which he uses to supply Brianese and his political cronies. The way Giorgio disposes of these prostitutes every six months so that they can’t accumulate any secrets that can harm the Honorable Brianese is particularly cruel. But as I said earlier, Giorgio is not a nice man. Even without learning about what he does to these prostitutes, all you have to do is see the way he dominates every aspect of his wife’s life to make her little more than a docile servant to understand that.

So life is good for Giorgio. He’s wealthy, respected, living for him a nice dull life. And then shit happens. Brianese decides to steal two million euros that Giorgio had entrusted with him to invest. When Giorgio leaves Brianese a message by breaking into the Honorable Counselor’s home and disfiguring the maid with brass knuckles, shit really happens. Instead of Brianese taking the intended message--that Giorgio isn’t someone to be messed around with—he now looks at Giorgio as a savage who needs to be removed. And that’s really where the beauty of this novel shows up—as despicable as Giorgio might be, with all the double-crosses that follow, which include being sold out to the mafia, you can’t help but root for Giorgio as he tries to claw his way back to the way things were before Brianese’s initial betrayal. 


Tuesday, November 24, 2015

I'm not a bond fan but happy thanksgiving-great review of fleming's letters

for the entire review go here:

by Jennifer Senior

Ian Fleming adored women, fast cars, golf, martinis and cards, and he cheerfully assigned these same hobbies to his most famous fictional creation, Agent 007. But “The Man With the Golden Typewriter: Ian Fleming’s James Bond Letters” is much less about Fleming’s glamorous cavorting than it is about his brazen hustle to become a famous commercial novelist. This will come as a disappointment, perhaps, to anyone who dives into this collection and expects an orgy of vice. But to anyone who has ever worked on a book — writing one, editing one, marketing one, publishing one — or, heck, even just read one, this volume is a giant stalk of catnip.

Open to almost any page and you’ll find something irresistible. My favorite exchanges are those between Fleming and two of his most trusted readers, William Plomer and Daniel George, to whom he sent early drafts of each Bond installment. While they almost always found something wonderful to say — “I got so fond of Dr. No I was quite sorry to see him vanish under a mound of excreta,” Mr. Plomer wrote in 1957 — they were positively unsparing in their critiques of Fleming’s stylistic tics and idiosyncrasies. There isn’t space to list them all, but here’s a modest sampling:

“I don’t think M. ought so often to speak ‘drily.’”
“Shoulder-shrugging, I regret to say, is too much in evidence.”
“On some pages the sentences all begin with ‘And.’ I can’t see the point of this. Presumably you are aiming at producing an effect of panting continuity. Take out all the ‘Ands’ and see if it makes any difference.”

Mr. Plomer also offered more practical criticisms, noting how improbable it was that a fly-button would be the first thing to dislodge from Bond’s pants as he lay spread-eagle on a saw table, a circular blade whirring toward his groin. (A memorable scene in “Goldfinger.”) “Didn’t other objects get in the way first,” Mr. Plomer asked, “or does Bond have undescended testicles?”

Monday, November 23, 2015

Seven Things to Know About Sydney Greenstreet


Seven Things to Know About Sydney Greenstreet

1. Sydney Greenstreet did not appear in a movie until he was 62. His film debut was pretty memorable, though—he played Kasper Gutman in The Maltese Falcon.

2. Despite a number of popular supporting performances (e.g., CasablancaChristmas in ConnecticutDevotion), etc., he received only one Oscar nomination. That was for The Maltese Falcon and he lost in the Best Supporting Actor category in 1941 to Donald Crisp (How Green Was My Valley). It was a strong field that year, with the other nominees being James Gleason (Here Comes Mr. Jordan), Walter Brennan (Sergeant York), and Charles Coburn (The Devil and Miss Jones).

3. Greenstreet’s screen career consisted of just 23 films made between 1941 and 1949. Warner Bros. paired him with his Maltese Falcon co-star Peter Lorre nine times.

With Peter Lorre in Three Strangers.
4. Peter Lorre said of Sydney Greenstreet: “He was not only one of the nicest men and gentlemen I’ve ever known, I think he was one of the truly great, great actors of our time.” According to the biography The Lost One: A Life of Peter Lorre by Stephen Youngkin, Lorre referred to Greenstreet as “the old man,” while Greenstreet called Lorre “Puck.”

5. Tennessee Williams dedicated his 1946 one-act play The Last of the Solid Gold Watches to Sydney Greenstreet. Williams conceived the role of an “old-time traveling salesman” with Greenstreet in mind for the lead (Vincent Price played the part in 1947 at a small theatre in Los Angeles.)

6. Greenstreet provided the voice of Rex Stout’s portly sleuth Nero Wolfe in a half-hour 1950-51 NBC radio program (you can easily find episodes on the Internet). Fans of Stout’s books often criticize the series for taking too many liberties (e.g., Wolfe rarely mentions his orchids and, though reclusive, he's willing to leave his beloved brownstone on occasion).

Sydney Greenstreet and Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca.
7. Sydney Greenstreet, who battled kidney disease and diabetes, died in 1954 at age 74. Despite a brief acting career, he created a pantheon of memorable characters. My favorite may still be Kasper Gutman, so I leave you with this quote from The Maltese Falcon(imagine it delivered by Mr. Greenstreet—as only he could): “I couldn't be fonder of you if you were my own son. But, well, if you lose a son, it's possible to get another. There's only one Maltese Falcon.”

This post is part of the What a Character! blogathon co-hosted by Once Upon a Screen. It was delayed from last week and now technically starts on November 21st. Click here for the full schedule.

Gravetapping by Ben Boulden No Comment: "The November Man"

Gravetapping by Ben Boulden

Posted: 22 Nov 2015 08:37 AM PST
“It must be the same as deprogramming a Jesus freak: The intellectual argument never counted because there was no intelligence involved.”

—Bill Granger, The November Man (There are No Spies). Grand Central Publishing PB, 2014 (© 1986). Page 157. Lydia Neumann speaking to Margot Kieker.

[No Comment is a series of posts featuring passages that caught my attention. It may be the idea, the texture, or the presence that grabbed my eye. There is no analysis provided, and it invariably is out of context]

Sunday, November 22, 2015

In Praise of Robert Ryan

(thanks to Peter Winkler for the link) the L Magazine

"If most movie stars embody one or another of our treasured notions about who we are, Robert Ryan quickly became a shadow-self, a fathomless well of postwar America's weaknesses, insecurities, prejudices and demons. In Fred Zinnemann's 1948 Act of Violence, he's the war buddy who torments Van Heflin—the solid homesteader of so many Westerns, here symbolically cast as a suburban contractor—with knowledge of his dark past. A few years ago, The L's Nicolas Rapold pointed out Act's striking similarities to A History of Violence: Ryan is the specter of our worst capabilities, but also a conflicted, sympathetic character. Zinnemann keeps the camera on him as he stands just outside the threshold of Heflin's comfy house, waiting to mete out his long-sought vengeance but also starting guiltily at the sound of a woman's voice from inside, sweating and grimacing and trying to slow his churning heartbeat.

"Ryan was always either pursuer or pursued, or maybe both, but he brought nearly infinite nuance and variety to his boogeymen. In Fritz Lang's Clash By Night (1952), as the small-town projectionist who hounds Barbara Stanwyck, he's full of loathing borne of self-knowledge and given flight by Clifford Odets's baroque, steel-edged dialogue; he's more raw as the racist bankrobber in Robert Wise's Odds Against Tomorrow (1959), with its great wintry uptown and upstate locations. Blacklisted screenwriter Abe Polonsky makes the film's heist into a racial allegory, plagued by tensions between Ryan and angry Harry Belafonte: most Ryan performances are psychoanalytic inquiries into the social ills of postwar America, revealed as hateful or frightened or drunk, but Polonsky makes it explicit, and the liberal Ryan, despite his conscientious disapproval of his character (which he discussed with the activist press), grants himself access to stores of blind, omnidirectional hatred in a relentlessly self-flagellating performance (check that bitter smile as he delivers his first line of dialogue, addressing a small African-American girl in mock dialect).

for the entire article go here:

Saturday, November 21, 2015

cool article ‘Emperor of the North’ and ‘Wind Across the Everglades’: Fighters in Nature and Showbiz

Friday, November 20, 2015

Why the western version of High Sierra is preferable to the original by Jake Hinkson

Joel McCrea and COLORADO TERRITORY (1949)

by Jake Hinkson

When Raoul Walsh remade his 1940 gangster flick HIGH SIERRA almost twenty years later as the Western COLORADO TERRITORY, he improved on the story. Today, the Western isn't as well known as the gangster story. I suspect this has everything to do with the fact that the original movie starred Humphrey Bogart, while the remake starred Joel McCrea.

Today, Bogart is one of only a handful of golden age movie stars still remembered by the public at large. We like to talk about stars as immortal figures, but the truth is that we're only now entering the second century of filmmaking and most of us have already forgotten most of the last century's biggest stars. Don't believe me? Take a poll of the people under thirty and ask them if they know who Bette Davis was. Ask them if they can name a Gary Cooper movie. Go back further. How many can have any clue who Pearl White was?

This isn't a lament. Nor is it a "what's wrong with these kids these days." Movie stardom is, relatively speaking, still a new phenomenon. Maybe this is just what happens to movie stars. Nobody really gets to live forever.

for the entire article ttp://

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Forgotten Books: How Like An Angel by Margaret Millar

How Like an Angel

I've always held the opinion that some writers are just too good for the mass market. This is a true of a number of literary writers but it's also true of at least one writer of crime fiction, the late Margret Millar. For all her many deserved awards, she never became the enormous commercial success she deserved to be.

For me she's the single most elegant stylist who ever shaped a mystery story. You revel in her sentences. She used wit and dark humor in the direst of novels long before it was fashionable in the genre. And she was a better (and much fairer) bamboozler than Agatha Christie.

I recently reread her How Like and Angel and its richness, its darkness, its perverse wit make me repeat what I've said many times before--if this isn't the perfect mystery novel, it comes damned close.

The story, complex as it becomes, is simple in its set-up. Private eye Joe Quinn, having gambled away all his money, begins hitchiking from Reno to Caifornia. Along the way he sees the Tower, the symbol of a religious cult that eventually offers him not only shelter but a chance to put his skills to use. Sister Blessing asks him to find a man named Patrick O'Gorman. The man is dead. Which makes Quinn suspicious of why they want him located.

Among its many pleasures is the way this novel, published in the early sixties, anticipates some of the fringe cults that would grow out of the flower power days. There's more than a touch of ole Charlie Manson in the Tower.

Call your favorite mystery bookstore for this one. If they don't have it, I'm sure they can get it. I think you'll be as amazed by it as I am. This is one of the most artfully rendered novels of any kind I've ever read.