Archive for April, 2012

The Poisoners by Donald Hamilton


With trouble like this,
there's only one man to call:
Matt Helm

1984 Ballantine Edition
Matt Helm #13
This one was murder from the start. A lovely red-haired lass whose amateur standing as a secret agent had been cut short by some very professional killers. The strange part of it was that she had not been on assignment. Nobody had a clue as to what she had found. But obviously she  had found something. Something very gig and very bad. Too much for her, but just the right size for Matt Helm.

13th Printing
Printing History
Written by Donald Hamilton (1916-2006)

Fawcett Gold Medal Books
March 1971
ISBN 449 14163

11th Printing
Ballantine Books
June 1984
ISBN 449 12693

Once Around the Blog Block

• This is the final day of Gerald So’s “30 Days of the 5-2 Blog Tour,” which has been celebrating National Poetry Month, crime-fiction-oriented verse, and So’s own blog, The 5-2, ever since the beginning of April. If you haven’t been following closely, rest assured: You can find links to all of the associated posts here.

• Check out The Thrilling Detective’s list of 14 “brilliant but cancelled” TV private-eye TV series, which includes The Outsider, City of Angels, Leg Work, and Tenspeed and Brown Shoe.

Mr. Poe’s deservedly forgotten mystery?

• What a funny and downright wonderful idea for a blog: The “Blog” of “Unnecessary” Quotation Marks. I wish I’d thought of it.

Turning murder into a tourism draw.

• I’d wondered what ever became of Edgar Award winner Wendy Hornsby ... It seems all five of her Maggie MacGowen novels and two of her Kate and Tejeda books have recently been re-released as e-books by The Mysterious Press.

• And at the Mysterious Press site, Gary Phillips recalls what led him to write Violent Springs (1994), his first Ivan Monk novel.

• This last weekend brought the 45th anniversary of Expo 67, the often elegantly designed Montreal world’s fair that first got me interested in such events--both modern and historical.

Still holding out for that storied Matt Helm movie ...

• The latest issue of Mystery Readers Journal focuses on stories set in France, and includes an essay by J. Robert Janes, whose long-awaited 13 book featuring World War II-era investigators Herman Kohler and Jean-Louis St.-Cyr, Bellringer, is set to be released on June 5. Kohler and St.-Cyr first appeared in Mayhem (1992).

“The most belligerent newspaper apology ever?”

• For the Mystery*File blog, Josef Hoffmann chooses what he says are “the 12 best essays on crime fiction.” They include Raymond Chandler’s “The Simple Art of Murder,” Ross Macdonald’s “The Writer As Detective Hero,” and Stephen King’s “Warning! Warning! Hitchhikers May Be Escaped Lunatics!” (that last piece being a “very direct and frank, rather personal, full insight into Jim Thompson’s work from the viewpoint of a famous storyteller”).

Investigating Nancy Drew’s late mother.

• Did you know that David Simon, creator of the HBO-TV series The Wire (in addition to being author Laura Lippman’s husband), is now composing a blog called The Audacity of Despair?

The 10 most corrupt movie cops?

• Last spring, the blog Tipping My Fedora produced an idiosyncratic list of the top 100 mystery novels of all time. Now, blogger Yvette Banek has published a rundown of “101 Favorite Mysteries and/or Thrillers.” The temptation to assemble my own such list is tempting, but as I’ve written before, it would be no easy task.

• Patrick deWitt’s western-flavored crime novel, The Sisters Brothers, has won this year’s Oregon Book Award for Fiction.

• President Obama learns to make right-wing craziness work for him.

• The Pulp Factory, “an Internet group made up of over one hundred pulp enthusiasts, some professional writers and artists,” handed out its third annual Pulp Factor Awards in Chicago over the weekend.

Here’s the schedule for the 10th Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, slated to take place in Harrogate, England, from July 19 to 22. Sigh ... I wish I could go.

• Jack Balestreri, “believed to have been the last survivor of the thousands of workers who built” San Francisco’s iconic Golden Gate Bridge, died earlier this month at age 95.

• And get those DVD player ready! The complete runs of Yancy Derringer (1958-1959) and 87th Precinct (1961-1962) are both due out in stores this coming August.

"The Left Leg"

While a great many fine authors use humor in their mysteries, often to lighten the mood after (or before) some horrifying event, there are few who write their murder mysteries as out-and-out farces. One who did was Phoebe Atwood Taylor, author under her own name of mysteries featuring Asey Mayo, the New England amateur detective known as the "Codfish Sherlock." But those mysteries are mostly fairly straightforward, although there are some excellent comic elements in many of them.

But Taylor also wrote another series, under the pen name "Alice Tilton" featuring a New England schoolteacher named Leonidas Witherall, whose principal claim to fame is the fact that he strongly resembles playwright William Shakespeare (or at least Shakespearan busts and portraits). And those books are out-and-out farces, racing from cliffhanger to cliffhanger, as Witherall gets himself involved in a murder (often, in fact, he is being framed for one) and must stay a step or two ahead of the police and try to solve the murder before they arrest him.

What kind of farce? Well consider the events in "The Left Leg," first published in 1940. It's the subject of today's review on the Classic Mysteries podcast, and you can listen to the entire review by clicking here. In "The Left Leg," we begin with Witherall being thrown off a local bus, after another passenger, a young woman, makes some very peculiar (and fraudulent) accusations against him. As there is a snowstorm raging, he ducks into a nearby hardware store for shelter. The store appears to be empty - but as Witherall stands there, a man runs in wearing a green top hat and green silk suit and carrying an Irish harp under his arm. The man runs to the cash register, opens it, takes an envelope out of the register, and runs out of the store. Witherall leaves (with the store owner, now returned, insisting that Witherall must have robbed him) and next seeks refuge at the home of his boss, the headmaster of the school where Witherall teaches, only to find the man has been murdered and police are banging on the door. And the headmaster's body is missing a (prosthetic) left leg. And Witherall's galoshes are on the floor near the body.

Complicated enough for you? And that's just the BEGINNING of the novel. It's sort of the literary equivalent of the Three Stooges meet the Keystone Cops. And it is hilarious. Leonidas Witherall - usually called "Bill" by the other characters, because of his resemblance to William Shakespeare - is a more-or-less solid pillar of relative sanity in the midst of a remarkably crazy world. Taylor wrote eight of these wild comedy-mysteries between 1937 and 1947, and some are back in print again. I find these books a good way to refresh my own quirky sense of humor. "The Left Leg" is great fun.

Reviewed by LJ Roberts: DEBORAH GRABIEN – New Slain Knight.

IT IS PURELY MY OPINION Reviews by L. J. Roberts DEBORAH GRABIEN – New Slain Knight. St. Martin’s/Thomas Dunne, hardcover, November 2007. Genre:   Paranormal/Suspense. Leading characters:  Ringan Laine/Penny Wintercraft-Hawkes; 5th in “Haunted Ballad” series. Setting:   England. First Sentence:   In the large upstairs room at the pub called the Duke of Cornwall’s Own, [...]

Battle Cry, July 1960

Zounds! The end of the month is upon us — post your last caption entries for the monthly contest!