Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Sunday, December 31, 2023


 2023 was the reading year for me.  I read an astonishing 402 books.  (Actually, the true number is higher.  Computer problems erased part of my list, and I have tried to reconstruct as much of it as I could, but I'm certain I left a number of them out.)  Admittedly, some of these titles were rather short, but there were a number of hefty volumes also -- including a couple of 1000-pagers, so it all pretty much balanced out.  In past years, I felt that completing more than 250 books was a terrific accomplishment, but 402?  Wow.

And, with few exceptions, I enjoyed them.

Authors I read a lot of this past year include Lee Goldberg, Donald E. Westlake, Erle Stanley Gardner, Christopher Golden, Max Allan Collins, Lawrence Block, James Lee Burke, Bill Crider, Dean Koontz, Mickey Spillane, and F. Paul Wilson -- top notch authors, all of them. 

2023 was also the year I finally got around to reading Howard Brown's two pulpish prehistorical fantasies about the barbarian warrior Tharn, and an early romance novel by Murray Leinster under his "Louisa Carter Lee" pseudonym.  I read a number of early Sax Rohmer short stories, and am closing in on my complete read of the original Tom Swift novels.  I started reading Martin Edwards' mystery novels (oh, why hadn't I read them before?), and picked up again (after too long an absence) with the Dave Robicheaux novels by James Lee Burke, Elvis Cole/Joe Pike novels by Robert Crais, and the D.A. Doug Selby books by Erle Stanley Gardner.  I fanally read Neil Gaiman's AMERICAN GODS and started in on E.E. "Doc" Smith's creaky SF classic Lensman series. I started Lee Goldberg's MONK series and found I could not stop with just one; I had the same reaction with his DIAGNOSIS MURDER series.  I started going through my hefty backlog of books from Hard Case Crime, wondering how Charles Ardai manages to select so many great and varied titles.  I read books about authors Harlan Ellison, C. M. Kornbluth, and John W. Campbell.  I gagged as James Patterson and Brian Stitts tried pitifully to revive Doc Savage and the The Shadow (making me more determined to read Will Murray's far superior continuing adventures of Doc Savage and his gang in 2024).  I became a kid again, reading the Danny Dunn juvenile books by Jay Williams and Raymond Abrashkin.  Speaking of being a kid, I finally read the complete NARNIA books by C. S. Lewis.  I spent an enjoyable afternoon in Leonard Wibberley's Grand Fenwick.

My favorite books of 2023?  Sorry, I can't, I just can't.  It's like comparng apples to oranges.  I can however unhesitatingly recommend the book I finished this Saturday -- THORN HEDGE by "T. Kingfisher," an amazing updated fairy tale that speaks to the power of story.

As for the books I had hoped to read in 2023 had something else also bright and shiny not also crossed my path -- at the top of the list is Sheridan le Fanu's UNCLE SILAS (I've been trying to read this one for years).  Also Ann Radcliffe's THE MYSTERIES OF UDOLPHO (ditto).  I started William Godwin's CALEB WILLIAMS, but was drawn away by something else.  So they are on the schedule for 2024.  And there's my "I'm So Ashamed I Haven't Read This Yet List," which includes LeGuin's THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS and THE DISPOSESSED, Peake's GORMENGHAST books, and Huxley's BRAVE  NEW WORLD.  I'll never run out of books by John Creasey, and I have maybe a couple of dozen unread books by Basil Copper.  And short stories...there's a gazillion of stories now available online in the old pulps by Henry Kuttner, Murray Leinster, Manly Wade Wellman, Robert Silverberg, Nelson S. Bond, Frank Belknap Long, and others.  I'm also hoping to track down the few books by August Derleth that have been avoiding me.  And then, there's all the new stuff coming out.

2023 was a good reading year.  Let's hope 2024 matches or exceeds it, if not in number at least in quality.

Saturday, December 30, 2023


 Let's end the year with Dolly Parton.


I've incorporated six more lists to the recommended mystery and crime booksof 2023.  They're at the link.  (scroll down.)

Friday, December 29, 2023


 Dan Dunn was the first fictional character to make his debut in a comic magazine, Detective Dan, Secret Operative No. 48, a "protocomic book" -- done as a tabloiid, rather than in more recognizable comic book fashion --  published by Humor Publishing.  Created by Norman W. Marsh, Dunn has a close physical resemblance to Chester Gould's Dick Tracy, (minus the strong jaw line), who had appeared two years earlier. The art was not a good as Gould's, but Dunn shared Tracy's penchant to shoot the bad guysThen, later in 1933, he then made his newspaper debut in the Dan Dunn comic strip for Publishers Syndicate, running until 1943; the strip would eventually appear in some 135 newspapers.  For nearly five months in 1935, the Sunday comic strip ran a topper strip, Dan Dunn's Scientific Crime Detection Laboratury.  Reprints from the comic strip were published in over sixty issues of several comic books:  Famous Funnies, The Funnies, Red Ryder, Mammoth Comics, Crackajack Funnies, and Popular Comics. There was a Dan Dunn Detective Magazine, a pulp which only lasted for two issues in 1936. A 1944 fifteen minute syndicated Dan Dunn radio show lasted for 78 episodes, only four of which survive.  From 1934 to 1941, Big Little Books published seven Dan Dunn adventures.  The comic strip was eventually cancelled to make way for a new strip, Kerry Drake.

In addition to being a cop in an unnamed big city, Dunn also acts as Secret Operative No. 48 for the FBI (or the Secret Service, or both -- it was never made very clear).  This allows him to occasionally chase after large threats to the country and to the world, rather than the usual criminal gangs.  He sometimes teams up with female government agent Secret Service Operative No. 185, or with his pet "Wolf Dog (conveniently named Wolf), or Babs (the orphan girl he unofficially adopted), or chubby, somewhat comic sidekick, Irwin Higgs.

One of his greatest enemies is Wu Fang, a Yellow Peril character -- actually several characters from the adventure and pulp era.  For example, Wu Fang is the evil Chinese crimniial master mind (complete with poison snakes and a pool of octopi) who goes up against Craig Kennedy in Arthur Reeves' 1914 novel The Exploits of Elaine.  Wu Fang was also the oriental villain in Robert J. Hogan's novels in the seven-issue pulp magazine The Mysterious Wu Fang (1935-1936).  Dan Dunn's Wu Fang is not related to these characters, or any of the other Wu Fangs who dot the popular literature landscape.  (It should go without saying that Dan Dunn has no relationship with Danny Dunn, the juvenile scientific hero of the juvenile adventure series written by Jay Williams and Raymond Abrashkin).  Nonetheless, Wu Fang was Dan Dunn's most memorable antagonist:  "Wu Fang, King of the Dope Smugglers, with diabolical, fiendish cunning, aided by a horde of depraved gangsters, and an endless stream of money squeezed from human blood, corruption and degradation."

Dan Dunn on the Trail of Wu Fang was the fifth in the Big Little Books series of his adventures.  It's a fairly fast read, due to small pages, large type, and simplistic language.  When we begin, Dan has just captured Eviloff, the hodd-wearing arch criminal, and his gang, and is ready for a new assignment...


Thursday, December 28, 2023


 Tom Swift and His Odean Airport; or, Foiling the Haargolanders by "Victor Appleton" (Harriet Adams)  (1934)

A mainstay of juvenile (read: boys') adventure novels, Tom Swift, inventor and adventurer, had just about run his course by 1934.  Gone was the sense of fun and excitement that marked the earlier books in the series, gone was the inventive plotting and coincidence theater that had romped through the series, and gone was Howard R. Garis, who, after writing the first thiry-five books in the series, hung up his Swiftian spurs.  In his place was Harriet Stratemeyer Adams, the daughter and successor to juvenile book packager Edward Stratemeyer.  Harriet took over the series with 1933's Tom Swift and His Television Detector, following it with 1934's Tom Swift and His Ocean Airport and 1935's Tom Swift and His Planet Stone.  And there the series died its long-deserved death.  Well, almost.   A few years later, Tom Swift and His Giant Telescope (1939) appeared, followed by Tom Swift and His Magnetic Silencer (1941) -- both ghosted by Thomas Moyston Mitchell, and both appearing as Big Little Books (large type on the verso pages and a full page drawing -- albeit crude -- on the recto pages; presented in atrociously written-down language), with both books a stain on an already tarnished reputation.

Harriet Adams "was responsible for over 200 books over her literary career."  For the most part, she did not write them, providing instead outlines to various ghost writers and overseeing the production of the books.  She claimed to have written all of the Nancy Drew books published during her lifetime, but t'weren't so.  (Nancy Drew, by the way, was created by her father, and the majority of the books were ghost-written by Mildred Wirt Benson.)  She was, however, involved in updating the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books in the 1950s and 1960s, removing stereotypes and streamlining plots.  She also evidently touched up some manuscripts, the degree to which is not known.  Despite all the bluster and publicity, the full degree of her writing chops remains up in the air.  IMHO, Tom Swift and His Ocean Airport did not add to her luster.

Tom now appears to be in full control of Swift Enterprises (or Swift Construction -- the name changes at the whim of the writer), the large research and manufacturing firm basically devoted to his inventions.  His father, referenced briefly here, does not appear at all.  Also not appearing at all is Tom's new wife Mary, who had been his long-time girlfriend; in fact, she is only mentioned twice in passing, and not by name.  (Sidenote:  many theorize that Tom's marriage a few books before marked the death knell of the series.)  Tom's best friend, Ned Newton, is now Tom's business manager; if memory serves me, Ned is also recently married (to Mary's best friend), but no mention is made of this.  Also present is Koku, a giant warrior -- large on strength, small on brains --from a mysterious South American tribe, who serves as Tom's devoted bodyguard, and Eradicate Sampson, the colored Steppin Fetchit-ish comic relief, now very elderly, yet still prideful.  Also in the mix is Mr. Wakefield Damon, an older friend who spends his time blessing everything ("Bless my brakeshoes!" "Bless my vest buttons!" "Bless my fountain pen!" ad nauseum); he serves no purpose whatever except evade his wife and to accompanyy Tom on his various adventures.

When we open, Tom is attempting to invent a noiseless wireless transmitter (transmitters tending to be noisy and full of static); Tom believes this will be a big money-maker.  Tom is interrupted by a visit from an old friend, aviator Jerry Mason, who is about to attempt a solo airplane voyage of 10,000 miles without stopping to refuel.  Mason fears an evil rival, Zeb Lang, is trying to sabotage his efforts in order to claim the trip and the glory for himself.  Sure enough, after Mason takes off, Lang follows him in a much larger ship and crowds him out of the sky, forcing his to crash in the ocean and (presumably) drown.  Tom hears all this on his radio shortwave.  Mason is undoubtably dead, his plane gone; Zeb Lang and his plane also vanish, never to be heard from.  It is a bit off-putting to read, but Tom is remarkably blase about his friend's death.  Ho hum, so he's gone.  But Tom does stop to think that Mason might have been saved if he had a place to land his plane mid-ocean -- an ocean airport, if you will.  Tom determines to build such an ocean airport in order to save any other pilots who might happen to crash in that exact spot in the middle of the ocean.  I admit I had a hard time grasping that logic and motivation.

Enter Emil Gurg, supposedly a talented engineer with impeccable credentials, who easily talks his way into an important job with Tom.  Ned is suspicious of the guy from the git-go, but Tom appears to have been hit with a stupid stick and sees nothing suspicious.  Around this time, author Adams throws in mention of master criminal the "Leopard" from an earlier book.   I'm not spoiling anything by admitting that that is a false flag and absolutely nothing comes of this plot thread -- much like Zeb Lang, he's here and then he's gone.

Tom gets the cooperation of the US goverment to built his ocean airport.  The only thing is that Tom needs a specific type of lumber to build the airport's platforms, and that lumber doesn't exist.  Oh.  Wait.  It does. i It comes from a rare tree grown only in the small country of Haargoland -- which happens to be where Emil Gurg comes from.  Alas, the country is currently being run by a party which refuses to let the country export the rare lumber, citing it as a national resource.  Not to worry.  Tom blithely agrees to support a revolution and a government takeover in order to get the lumber.  But no killing, mind you,  the revolution must be entirely bloodless.  And so it is.  The government is overthrown, Tom buys his lumber frpm the new government, and it is being shipped to New York.  Easy peasy.  What Tom has forgetten (or maybe just did not want to admit) was that revolutions spawn counter-revolutions, and this one is very bloody on both sides.  Tom washes his hands of the matter.  He bought the lumber.  It belongs to him.  And any political repercussions are not his fault...or his business.  Tom's utter lack of moral aawreness is upsetting and, to be frank, disgusting.

By the way, the entire plan and design of the ocean airport is stupid and unworkable.  But when did that ever stop a plot from moving forward?

Anyway, Tom and the gang (minus Eradicate, who was too old for the journey) are in the middle of the ocean, building their airport.  A massive series of underwater earthquakes nearly scuttle the project.  In a better thought-out story, this would have some major consequences, but here it is just another plot thread going nowhere.   The landing area is composed of large platforms held together by a strong magnetic poser (luckily, Tom had build a large enough magnet to do the trick a number of books earlier).  In case of a violent storm, the platforms would be separated to float safely off, to be pulled together later by the magnets.  It is interesting to note that during the construction of the airport, Tom (actually Harriet Adams) completely bungles his understanding of a "fatham" as a unit of measuremnt.   Also, the area of the Atlantic Tom and the gang are is populated by a large body if basking sharks, and we are told (er. misinformed -- thank you, Harriet) that these sharks are much, much larger than the breed really is; this adds a sense of danger when Tom jumps overboard and one of the (non-maneating) sharks goes after him, only to be punched in the nose (snout?) by Koku.

Anyway, evil Emil Gurg (remember himn?) has been messaging the Haargoland Navy so they can send a warship to take over the ocean airport and claim it for their country.  The bad guys do just that and Tom and the gang are taken captive.  Tom, howver, has perfected his wireless device (remember that?) and has messaged Washington to send help.  A US warship arrives and beats the tar out of the Haargoland warship, but not before the bad guys toss a bomb onto the airport to destroy it.  Tom, being Tom, rushes out and throws the bomb overboard seconds before it explodes. 

So all ends well.  The ocean airport is a success and America will allow any friendly country to use it.  Haargoland, not wanting a war, meekly submites to America's might.  Emil Gurg, who it turns out to be a professional (small "c") communist, will be caught, tried, and hung if he ever steps foot in America gain.  And, it turns out that Jerry Mason (remember him?) is alive; he had been picked up by a ship with no radio and was unable to contact anyone for months.  Zeb Land, however, is still missing and presumed dead, pieces of his plane scattered across the ocean.  Tom, instead of reuniting with Mary, settles down to a game of checkers with Ned.

Oh, my sweet Jesus!

You may ask, as I did, why an ocean airport, which is basically an aircraft carrier?  Especially since crude aircraft carriers have been around since 1910, and larger ones were in steady production in the 1920s.  To which the only possible answer would be, "Yeah, but,"  But what?  "But, yeah."  In other words, pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. 

One has to approch the Tom Swift books which an appreciation of the time they were written and the audience for whom they were intended. which means accepting that they were racist, sexist, jingoistic, and somewhat amoral.  (In one book, Tom and Ned kill a hundred or so natives, without the slightest bit of conscience.)  These are people you not want to emulate, even though you might enjoy reading about them.  

Tom Swift is the epitomoe of the early 20th century view of an inventor -- he began as tinkerer with nothing but a high school education and a flair for handiwork.  It's only later that he developed some scientific knowledge.  But Tom, being Tom, soon can do almost anthing:  

"Do you think I'll lose my hand, Mr. Swift?"

"Certainly not,  I'll doctor you."  This Tom did with great skill, thereby earning the undying friendship of the unfortunatate sailor.


"...All the navigating instruments seem to have been affected by some mysterious electrical force of Nature."

"Perhaps I can put them in shape again," offered Tom.

"Have you ever had any navigating experience?" asked Captain Benson somewhat skeptically.

"A little,"  Tom said quietly.


It would take too long to detail how he sought out and found the trouble in compasses, gyroscopes, range-finders, magnetos, galvanometers, dynamos, resistance coils, relays and the hundred other complicated pieces of machinery and apparatus which make up the navigating vitals of a modern warship.

People seldom say things in these books.  They exclaim, cry, shout, answer, comment, ejaculate, demand, ask, continue, remark, speak, state, suggest, announce, order, admit, gasp, chuckle, invite, roar, and what have you.

For someone who truly enjoys bad books, I am loath to admit that this is a bad bad book.  Tom, for all his flaws, deserved better.


Readers of this blog know well that I have a serious case of fumble fingers.  This afternnon, I was typing the word "middle" and it came out "jiddle."  Of course, "jiddle" is not a word, but I truly feel it should be -- sadly, I have no idea what the word should mean.  Any suggestions?


Orson Welles plays the shadowy presence who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men.  Young family man Paul Gordon, with a very ill daughter and desperately in need of money, has been sentenced to die after being convicted of a robbery/murder.  But Gordon is innocent and was forced into driving a car by the real villains.  The Shadow goes into the prison on the eve of the execution, and uses his great mental powers to find a way to rescue the poor man.

The Shadow was originally created as the mysterious narrator of a CBS radio anthology series, Detective Story Hour, with episodes based on stories from the Street & Smith pulp magazine.  Radio listeners were so impressed with the character, they demanded pulp stories about him.  Street & Smith comissioned writer Walter B. Gibson to create and write a series of stories about the character; the first issue of The Shadow magazine was dated April 1931.  That character who had the ability to cloud men's minds moved to the radio airwaves on CBS with "Death House Rescue" in September 1937.

Also featured in the long-running program was Agnes Moorhead as Margo Lane.  Ken Roberts served as the show's announcer.  The phrase "Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men" was never used by Welles; it was voiced by Frank Readick, Jr., who had taken over the narrator's role in Detective Story Hour; Readick held a water glass next to his mouth to create the echoing effect.

Let's journey back to the first days of radio's most mysterious character and enjoy "Death House Rescue."  The early minutes of the show serve to give listeners the Shadow's background and motivation.

Wednesday, December 27, 2023


 On December 11, I compiled a list of the books included on some 45 "Year's Best" lists of crime and mysteries books that J. Kingston Pierce had referenced on his blog The Rsp Sheet.  As more lists arose and as Pierce reported them, I incorporated them on my master list until there were about 80 "Year's Best" lists included.  Pierce reported that he was stopping this exercise on December 21.  **SPOILER ALERT!**  He lied.  Somehow he came across four additional lists, which he posted today.

The entire, massive -- really massive -- up-to-date, incorporated list can be found here.  (Scroll down.)

Tuesday, December 26, 2023


 Top billed is Mamie van Doren because noithing sats Navy like Mamie. 

Strange trees in Antarctica?  It could happen, I suppose.  And when these trees are discovered, they are shipped oput for scientic study.  Somehow they land on a Pacific island where the U.S. Navy has a base, also where Mamie van Doren (Untamed Youth, The Private Lives of Adam and Eve, Sex Kittens Go to College) hangs her 38DD bra.  We all know that strange things found in frozen wastes can be dangerous (cf. The Thing from Another World) so it is no wonder that these trees morph into carniverous, mobile creatures at night.

Vying for Mamie's attention (she plays Navy nurse Nora Hall) are Lt. Charles (was someone a Peanuts fan?) Brown (Anthony Eisley, The Young Philadelphians, Journey to the Center of Time, television's Hawaiin Eye) and Ensign Rutherford Chandler (Bobbie Van, The Affairs of Dobie Gillis, Small Town Girl, Kiss Me Kate).  Also in the cast are one-time child actor Billie Gray (The Day the Earth Stood Still, On Moonlight Bay, television's Father Knows Best), Pamela Mason (Pandora and the Flying Dutchman, Charade, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex * But Were Afraind to Ask --apropos of nothing, I've always wanted to read her 1943 novel A Lady Possessed), character actor Walter Sande (274 credits on IMDb, including The Blue Dahlia, A Place in the Sun, and television's The Adventures of Tugboat Annie), Philip Terry (The Lost Weekend, Seven Keys to Baldpate, The Leech Woman), Russ Bender (War of the Colossal Beast, Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow, It Conquered the World) and one-time Mike Hammer Biff Elliot (I, the Jury, PT-109, The True Story of Jesse James).  A pretty impressive cast for such a lower than low budget movie shot in ten days.  Interestingly, the cast threatened to walk off the set when they found out what the title of the film would be.

Straining credibility was Mamie van Doren's acting chops here, which were pretty good.  What really strained things was the too-mall, tight blouses she wore.  (More tha one pundit pointed out what the real "monsters" in this movie were.  The actress got roped into this movie because she owed producer Roger Corman a movie.  (She never hesitated to pan the film afterwards.)  Overall, the acting is pretty good and the film rises well above the average B-movie horror flick.  One may certainly not go out one's way to see, but one would be missing out to deliberately avoid it -- just gloss over the fact that the Triffid-like monster look pretty cheesy on film.

Directed by Michael A. Hoey, with uncredited assists from Jon (Ramar of the Jungle) Hall and SF schlockmeiset Arthur C, Pierce.  Scripted by Hoey, with (again) an uncredired assist from 
Pierce, The film was based on Murray Leinster's paperback original, The Monster from Earth's End.  (I have to assume the book's title came from the publisher and not the author -- the novel is pretty good and was dumbed down for the film.)

There are a lot of flaws to the movie, and (**cough, cough**) a couple of good points.   Ot's not as cheesy as one may think.  in fact, it'spretty entertaining.

Judge for yourself:

Sunday, December 24, 2023


Openers:  Jimmy Jarnegan's office was deceptive in a good many ways.  When you walked down the echoing hallway of the Tudor Building, you found his name on a shadowed panel of frosted glass.  "JAMES JARNEGAN, REPORTS," was all that showed on the door to indicate his profession, and "REPORTS" does not sound like a particularly interesting profession.  But it is.  And when you pushed open the frosted glass door you found yourself in a rather unimpressive little anteroom  with Miss Bailey on guard.

Miss Bailey was somewhere on the drabber, further side of thirty-five, and her hair was never quite tidy, and she looked like a person who is hired partly out of charity and partly because her wages will be lower than those of a young girl who has to dress like a bank president's daughter in order to catch a shoe clerk for a husband.  But Miss Bailey was highly efficient and her salary was excellent.

There were other deceptive features.  If you were admitted to Jimmy's office, you would think that the anteroom and the single office composed the total office space.  But he paid rent on four adjoining offices in addition to these two, even though the doors of the other offices bore the names of firms of which nobody had ever heard and with which nobody at all ever did business.  Jarnegan's office itself looked rather comfortable and rather expensively furnished, but not as if any great number of important matters were ever decided there.  Which was perhaps the most deceptive thing of all.

Important matters were decided there.  One man, at least, had decided not to commit suicide in that office, and one other man had decided to abandon an honorable name and profession and go back to an astonished penitentiary and serve out the balance of an unfinished term.  And there were matters affecting reasonably important business concerns decided there every day.

-- The Man Who Feared by Will F. Jenkins (1930)

Jenkins, of course, was better known as 'Murray Leinster."  In the days before that name was synonymous with science fiction, Jenkins was churning out an amazing number of stories in all genres.  He began his career writing for Menken and Nathan's Smart Set (it was either Mencken or Nathan -- stories differ -- who suggested he adopt the Leinster pen name for his "minor" writings, never realizing that that name would soon overtake the Jenkins birth name), moved on to Breezy Stories and similar pulps, and expanded to adventure, romance, western, detective, historical, and general fiction, and pubishing his first science fiction story in 1918.  Jenkins was noted for churning out fast, readable, and literate stories for both the pulps and the slicks.  The majority of his published books were in the science fiction field, he also published a number of exciting western novels and more than a few detective novels.

When a dishobest and amoral businessman is threated by an anonymous aopurce to have hs life pulled apart, private detective Jimmy Jarnegan agrees to help, despite having a strong personal reaspon to hate his client.  The investigationleads to murder, theft, and balckamail as Jarnegan pursues a particularly vicious killer.  While not a top-notch detective novel, The Man Who Feared is an interesting read and well worth your time, especially if you are a Jenkins/Leinster fan -- and many of us who grew up with his stories in the 50s, 60s, and 70s are just that.

  • Forrest J. Ackerman, editor, Rainbow Fantasia:  35 Spectrumatic Tales of Wonder.  Science fiction antholgy from the man who was known as "Mr. Science Fiction."  Ackerman preached the gospel of science fiction his whole life, bt had a hard time separating the clunkers from the pure gold.  This anthology has booth, mostly dating from th 1920s and 30s.  The conceit of this anthology is that a color must be mentioned in each story title:  black, gray, brown, purple, violet, blue, green, yellow, golden, orange, red, scarlet, white, and rainb ow.  (I suppose there are worse criteria for selecting an anthology's contents.)  Stanbys fronm the erly days of the genre include Harl Vncent, Nat Schachner, Ray Cummings, and Arthur J, Burks; later authors include H. L. Gold, A. E. van Vogt, and C. L. Moore.  A mixed bag, but with some pretty intersting reading.
  • [anonymous editor], A Treasury of Classic Mystery Stories.  A hefty (789 page) instant remainder from Fall River Press.  Twenty-three stories dating from 1956 tp 1921, including the novels The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Big Bow Mystery, and The Mysterious Affair at Styles.  Also included is a hard-to-find Sax Rohmer story, "The Ten-Thirty Folkestone Express" (1914, as "The Crouching Man"), which was also released as a rare British pamphlet, 10.30 Folkestone Express (Lloyds, c. 1915).  Part of a box of goodies from the Sage of Tonawanda, George Kelley.
  • "Victor Appleton" (house name used by Harriet Adams this time out), Tom Swift and His Ocean Airport.  A late entry in the original series.  After Howard garis stopped penning Tom's adventures after book 35, Harriet Adams (the daughter of Stratemeyer Syndicate founder Joseph Stratemeyer) took over for the last three "true" books.  (Two final books -- poorly written and definitely inferior -- were published as Big Little Books after a four-year hiatus, both ghosted by Thomas Moyston Mitchell).  this was the second of her Ton Swift novels, and the 37th in the series altogether.  By now, Tom as a youthful hero is showing his age.  He's married and running a mega-large science and invention concern.  His original readers, who started with him in way back in 1910, have aged out, too.  It was more than time to put the original series to rest.  It wouldn't be until 1954 that the series is "resumed" with the advent of the Tom Swift, Jr., books (33 titles, lasting until 1971.
  • .Basil Copper, The Dark Mirror.  Copper's first novel in his long-running series about L.A. privat investigator Mike Faraday.  The first person narration from a California 'tec has a lot of Britishism that makes each book an unusual read.  Mike Faraday is an acquired taste.  Luckily, I have acquired it.
  • John Creasey, a whole bunch of Inspector(later Superintendent) Roger West  mysteries: Death of a Postman (also published as Parcels for Inspector West), The ExtortionersInspector West AloneSend Superintendent West (also published as Send Inspector West), A Sharp Rise in Crime, and So Young to Burn,  Also two adventures of the Toff, the Honourable Richard Rollison:  Double for the Toff and The Toff and the Runaway Bride.  Creasey's books are like peanuts or potato chips for me -- a can't stop at just one.
  • Will F. Jenkins (a.k.a "Murray Leinster"), The Man Who Feared.  First serialized in Detective Fiction Weekly, August 9-30, 1930;  published in book form the same year.  Jenkins' last mystery novel before he began to concentrate more on his science fiction, while also continuing to produce westerns.  Jimmy Jerrigan has to track down the "deepest, bloodiest, guiltiest villain" in his career.
  • Leo P. Kelley, editor, Themes in Science Fiction:  A Journey into Wonder.  The first of three anthologies Kelley produced for the school market; 31 stories, complete with introdictions nd suggestions for discussion.  A number of the usual suspects are represented -- Asimov, Clarke, Sheckley, Dick, Anderson, Ellison, Matherson, Kornbluth (both singly and with Pohl), Leiber, Vonnegut, Laumer, Oliver, Ton Godwin, Fredric Brow, Gene Wolfe, and others.  Another one from the George Kelley box, with grateful thanks.
  • "Lousia Carter Lee" (Will F. Jenkins, a.k.a. "Murray Leinster"), Her Desert Lover: a Love Story.  in the 1920s, Jenkins found a ready marker in Love Story Magazine and published 39 stories there, including this novel, which was serialized weekly from May 9 to May 30, 1925 before being released as a book that same year.  He published two other romance novels under the Lee pseudonym; all three are hard to find.  I got lucky with this one.
  • Adrian McKinty, I Hear Sirens in the Street.  A Detective Sean Duffy novel, the second book in the Troubles trilogy.  It's 1968 and Duffy has to identify a torso found in a suitcase.  The torso belongs to an American tourist who used to belong to the US miltary.  So what was he doing in Northern Ireland in the midst of the Troubles?  The Sean Duffy books have been critically acclaimed, an for good reason.
  • Dasvid Morrell, Scavender.  Thriller, a followup to Creepers, featuring damaged hero Frank Balenger, this time on a hunt for a 100-year-old time capsule.
  • Hans C. Owen, Fit to Kill (also published as Ways of Death). Evidently the author's only novel, and possibly his only work of fiction.  An academic mystrery featuring Sergeant "Sally" Cusani and Professor Percival Trout, who offer a course in murder detection at a large Eastern university.  When murders begin to roll in (a shooting, a bludgeoning, and a strangulation) the pair have to go to their own syllabus.     
  • Robert Silverberg & Martin H. Greenberg, editors, Great Tales of Science Fiction.   Another "instant remainder," this time from Galahad Books -- 36 stories crammed into 529 pages.  Many of the stories are familiar,but the lineup is to die for, from Poe, Verne, Wells, Twain, and Kipling to Williamson, Weinbaum, Simal, Leinster, Asimove, Sheckley, Leiber, Anderson, Cordwainer Smith, Bester, Sturgeon, Farmer, Clarke, Russ, Silverberg, and Le Guin.  A great collection!  Another one from the Kelley box.
  • Jay Williams and Raymond Abrashkin, Danny Dunn and the Universal Glue.  YA novel in the science fictionish series,  Danny, Joe, and Irene become interested in Professor Bulfinch's experiments with polymers and end up using a "uiniversal glue" to save Miston from a threatened flood.  This is one of my favoite YA series.
  • Also, in the Kelley box were four (count 'em, four!) Yo-Yo Ma CDs and a double CD of James Starker performing Bach Suite!.  Super good stuff.  I really should feature both artists on blog posts in the near future.   FULL DISCLOSURE:  Although I refer to George as the "Sage of Tonawanda," that title (I suspect) really belongs to Diane.  I just confer the title to George because I feel he needs the ego boost.

The Story of the Lady that was murdered, and the story of the young Man, her Husband:

Commander of the faithful, your majesty may be pleased to know, that this murdered lady was my wife, the daughter of this old man you see here. who is my own uncle by the father's side.  She was not above twelve years old when he gave her to me, and it is now eleven years ago.  I have three children by her, all boys yet alive; and I must do her that justice to say, that she never gave me the least occasion of offense; she was chaste, of good behaviour, and made it her whole business to please me.  And for my part, I loved her entirely, and rather prevented her in granting any thing she desired, than opposed it

About two months ago she fell sick; I took all imaginable care of her, and spared nothing that could procure her a speedy recovery:  After a month, she began to grow better, and had a mind to go to the bagnio.  Before she went out of the house, Cousin, said she, (for so she used to call me out of familiarity) I long for some apples; if you could get me any, you would please me extremely; I have longed for them a great while, and, I must own, it has come to that height, that, if I will not be satisfied very soon, I fear some misfortune will befal [sic] me.  With all my heart, said I, I will do all that is in my power to make you easy.

I went immediately round all the markets and shops in the town to seek for apples, but I could not get one, though I offered to pay a sequin a-piece.  I returned home very much dissatisfied at my dissappointment.  And for my wife, when she returned from the bagnio, and saw no apples, she became so very uneasy, that she could not sleep all night:  I got up betimes in the morning, and went through all the gardens, but had no better success than the day before; only I happened to meet an old gardener, who told me that all my pains would signify nothing, for I could not expect to find apples any where but in your majesty's garden at Balsora.  As I loved my wife passionately, and would not have any thing of neglect to satisfy her, chargeable upon me, I put myself in a traveller's habit, and after I had told her my design, I went to Balsora, and made my journey with so great diligence, that I returned at the end of fifteen days, with three apples, which cost me a sequin a-piece; there were no more left in the garden, so that the gardener would let me have them no cheaper.  As soon as I came home, I presented them to my wife, but her longing was over;  so she satisfied herself with receiving them, and laid them down by her.  In the mean time she continued sickly, and I knew not what remedy to get for her.

Some few days after I returned from my journey, I was sitting in my shop, in the public place where all sorts of fine stuffs are sold, and saw an ugly, tall black slave, come in with an apple in his hand, which I knew to be one of those which I had brought from Balsora.  I had no reason to doubt it, because I was certain there was not one to be had in all Bagdad, not in any of the gardens about it.  I called to him, and said, Good slave, pray thee tell me where thou hadst this apple?  It is a present (said he, smiling,) from my mistress.  I was to see her to-day, and found her out of order.  I saw three apples lyng by her, and asked her where she had them?  She told me, the good man, her husband, had made a fortnight's journey on purpose for them, and brought them her.  We had a collation together; and, when I took my leave of her, I brought away this apple that you see.  

This discourse put me out of my senses; I rose, shut up my shop, ran home with all speed, and going to my wife's chamber, looked immediately for the apples, and seeing only a couple, asked what was become of the third.  Then my wife turning her head to the place where the apples lay, and perceiving there were but two, answered me coldly, Cousin, I do not know what is become of it.  By this answer I did verily believe what the slave told me to be true; and at the same time, gave myself up to madness and jealousy, I drew my knife from my girdle, and thrust it into the unfortunate creature's throat; I afterwards cut off her head, and divided her body into four quarters, which I packed up in a bundle, sewed it up with a thread of red yarn, put all together in a trunk, and when night came, I carried it on my shoulder down to the Tigris, where I sunk it.

The two youngest of my chidren were already put to bed, and asleep, the third was gone abroad; but at my return, I found him sitting by my gate, weeping very sore.  I asked him the reason:  Father, said he, I took this morning from my mother, without her knowledge, one of those three apples you brought her, and kept it a long while; but, as I was playing some time ago with my little brother in the street, a tall slave that went by, snatched it out of my hands, and carried it with him:   I ran after him, demanding it back; and besides, told him that it belonged to my mother, who was sick, and that you had made a fortnight's journey to fetch it; but all to no purpose, he would not restore it.  And whereas I still followed him crying out, he turned and beat me; then ran away as fast as ever he could from one lane to another, till at length I lost sight of him.  I have since been walking without the town, expecting your return, to pray you, dear father, not to tell my mother of it, lest it should make her worse.  And when he had said these words, he fell a-weeping again more bitterly than before.

My son's discourse afflicted me beyond all measure.  I then found myself guilty of an enormous crime, and repented too late of having so easily believed the calumnies of a wretched slave, who, from what I had learned of my son, invented that fatal lie.

My uncle here present, came just at the time to see his daughter, but, instead of finding her alive, understood from me she was dead, for I did conceal nothing from him; and, without staying for his censure, declared myself the greatest criminal in the world.

Upon this, instead of reproaching me, he joined his tears with mine, and we wept three days together without intermission:  he for the loss of a daughter whom he always loved tenderly; and I for the loss of a dear wife, of whom I deprived myself after so cruel a manner, by giving too easy a credit to the report of a lying slave.

Thus, commander of the faithful, is the sincere confession your majesty commanded from me.  You have heard now all the circumstances of my crime, and I most humbly beg of you to order the punishment due for it; how severe soever it may be, I shall not in the least complain, but esteem it too easy and gentle.

The calip0h was very much astounded at the young man's relation.  But this just prince, finding he was rather to be pitied than condemned, began to speak in his favour:  This young man's crime, said he, is pardonable before God, and excusable with men.  The wicked slave is the sole cause of this murder:  it is he alone that must be punished; wherefore, said he, looking upon the grand visier, I give you three days time to find him out; if you do not bring him within that space, you shall die in his stead.  This unfortunate Giafar, who thought himself now out of danger, was terribly perplexed at tis new order of the caliph:  but as he durst not return any answer to this prince, whose hasty temper he knew too well, he departed from his presence, and retired to his house with tears in his eyes, peruadng himself he had but three days to live; for he was so fully persuaded that he should not find the slave, that he made not the least inquiry about him.  It is possible, said he, that in such a city as Bagdad, where there is an infinite number of negro slaves, I should be albe to find him out that is guilty?  so that, unless God be pleased to bring it about, as he hath already detecte the murderer, nothing can save my life.

He spent the first two days in mourning with his family, who sat round him weepoing and complaining of the caliph's cruelty.  The third day being come, he prepared himself to die with courage, as an honest minister, and one that had nothing to trouble his conscience; he sent for notaries and witnesses, who signed the last will he made in their presence.  After which he took leave of his wife and children, and bid them the last farewell.  All his family was drowned in tears, so that there never was a more sorrowful spectacle.  At last the messenger came from the caliph to tell him that he was out of all patience, having heard nothing from him, nor concerning the negro slave, which he had commanded him to search for; I am therefore ordered, said he, to bring you before his throne.  The afflicted visier made ready to follow the messenger; but as he was going out, they brought him his youngest daughter, about five or six years of age.  The nurses that attended her presented her to her father to receive his last blessing.

As he had a particular love for that child, he prayed the messenger to give him leave to stop for a moment, and taking his daughter in his arms, he kissed her several times; as he kise her, he perceived she had somewhat in her bosom that looked bulky, and had a sweet scent.  My dearest little one, said he, what hast thou in thy bosom?  Dear father, said she, it is an apple, uponwhich is written the name of our lord and master the caliph; our slave* Rihan sold it me for two sequins.

At these words, Apple and Slave,  the grand visier cried with surprise, intermixed with joy. and puitting his hand into the child's bosom piulled out the apple!  Hr caused the slave, who was not too far off, to be brought immediately, and when he came, Rascal, said he, where hadsst thou this apple?  My lord, said the slave, I swear to you that I neither stole it in your house, nor where three or four small children were at play, one but the other day as was I going along a street, out of the commander of the faithful's garden; of them, having it in his hand, I snatched if from him, and carried it away.  the child ran after me, telling me that it was none of his own, but belonged to his mother, who was sick; and that his father, to save her longing, had made a long journey, and brought home three apples, whereof this was one, which he had taken from his mother without her knowledge.  He said what he could to make me give it him back, but I would not; so I brought it home, and sold it for two sequins to the little lady, your daughter; and this is the whole truth of the matter.

Giafar could not enough admire how the roguery of a slave had been the cause of an innocent woman's death, and almost of his own.  He carried the slave along with him; and when he came before the caliph, he gave that prince an exact account of all that the slave had told him, and the chance that brought him to the discovery of his crime.

Never was any surprise so great as that of the caliph, yet he could not prevent himself from falling into excessive fits of laughter.  At last he recovered himself, and, with serious mien, told the visier, That since his slave had been the occasion of a strange accident, , he deserved an exemplary punishment.  -- Sir, I must own it, said the visier, b ut his guilt is not irremissable.  I remember a strange story of a viser of Cairo...

[Here, the visier Gaifar begins to relate The Story of Noureddin Ali, and Bedridden Hassan.  At the end of this lengthy tale, the visier pardons the Giafar's slave]

* This word signifies in Arabic, Basilic, an odoriferous plant, and the Arabians call their slaves by this name, as the suctom in France is to give the name to a footman.

-- taken from Arabian Nights' Entertainments, as reprinted in Tales from the East:  Comprising the Most Popular Romances of Oriental Origin; and the Best Imitations by European Authors, edited by Henry Weber (1812).  Weber served as amanuensis to Sir Walter Scott, and reportedly assembled this collection for Scott.  went mad shortly after Christmas 1813 and challenged Scott to mortal combat; he was restrained and placed in an asylum as a "hopeless lunatic," where he died in 1818.

Phew!  there's a lot to unpack in this story...racism, sexism, the patriarchy, class distinctions, family violence, the arbitary and capricious systems of justice and politics, the convenient use of coincidence theater, paternal favorism, and marrying your cousin even though you are not America's Mayor ...not a pleasant portrait of a society or a time.  And where does one get apples that can stay fresh for so long?

'Tis the Season for Christmas Florida Man:
  • From 2022:  52-year-old Florida Man Richard Daniel Atchison of Fruitland Park was arrested for hitting his wife with a Christmas tree after she had asked for his help with dinner.  She compounded her offense by putting a spoon in the sink, accidently splashing him with water.  Irritated, Atchisin packed his things and left, only to return and insist that she leave instead.  When she tried to leave, he hit her with the Christmas and then blocked her way to prevent her from leaving.  alcohol was involved.
  • From 2023:  Florida Grinch Douglas M oore, 43, of Middleburg, was arrested for firing a gun during a neighborhood Christmas parade because he was "agitated" and what the parade-goers were doing.  And what were they doing?  Evidently Christmas-parading.  Again, alcohol was involved.
  • From 2019:  Florida Santa Wannabe Richard Ellis Spurrier, of Pinellis County, was arrested for sharing holiday joy by handing out marijuana "because it was Christmas."  Authorities confiscated 45 grams of weed from the 67-year-old before taking him in.  No alcohol was involved in this ho-ho-holiday caper.
  • From 2020:  An unnamed Bradenton Florida man did not get a present fro St. Nick.  instead he woke up to find a complete stranger in his bedroom sucking on his toes.  Eww!  No sus[pects were found or arrested.  As for me, I'd rather get a lump of coal in my stocking than a visit from the phantom toe-sucker.
  • From 2018:  At the annual Cape Coral festival of Lights, one unnamed Florida Man was carrying a hiuge sign proclaiming, "SANTA ISN'T REAL," and yelling at parents of small children that they were lying to their children.  The rant evidently went on for hours.  (I have heard more recent stories of religious findamentalists doing the same thing in recent years, but those tales may be apocryphal.)
  • From 2013:  Florida Schizophrenic Brandon Aydelott killed his mother on Christmas Eve when he was 17.  Sharon Aydelott was a teacher at Holly-Navarre Middle School. (My grandson Jack went to Holly-Navarre Intermediate School and, had we lived a few streets to the east, he would have attendied Holly-Navarre Middle School this year; instead, he's going to Woddlawn Beach Middle School.) Aydelott stabbed his mother several times, beat her with a bat, and stomped on her face several times; he was found not guilty by reason of insanity, and has been confined to a state hospital.  He is due to go before a judge on January 4 for possible release, after one report found him no longer to be a danger to himself or others.
  • Cocoa Beah, 2023:  Once again, the Surfing Santas are at it.

Krampus:  There are times when I think we need to bring a little Krampus into the Christmas season.  Let's face it:  the Grinch is not doing a bang-up job; if he were part of a large and mindless corporation, he'd be just an entry-level mailroom clerk.  Krampus, however, is the cool and dangerous sidekick to Santa.  He's Hawk to Spenser, Clete Purcel to Dave Robicheaux, Joe Pike to Elvis Cole.  When Krampus comes to town, people sit up and take notice.

Krampus has been around since the 6th or 7th century.  He was a pre-Christianity figure in the Central and Eastern Alpine communities -- which makes Santa Claus a Johnnie-come-lately.  But things really got intersting when he teamed up with St. Nick.  Whereas Santa would reward the good little boys and girls, Krampus would scare the bejeezus out of them until they behaved.  They were the original good cop-bad cop duo.  And if a bad kid did not turn his act around, Krampus would a) beat them, b) drown them, c) eat them, or d) shove them in his sack and take them down to Hell.  If Krampus were arpund today, I'd have a list of neighborhood children for him.

And Krampus is butt-ugly -- just how ugly is up for question because few have survived seeing him.  He has cloven hooves, goat horns, a tail, a long and pointed tongue, and sharp, sharp fangs, and is covered with dark furry hair.  But do not confuse his looks with those of Satan -- Krampus is far, far uglier.  The name Krampus comes from either the Bavarian (krampn, meaning dead or rotten) or from the German (kramp/krampen, meaning claw).  (Some people believe the origin of the word comes from the old German word for menstral cramps, but I tend to discount this.)

And why limit Krampus to the Christmas season?  I believe we need something to deflect all of the horrors that threatened to await us in 2024:  global warming, rising oceans, new and virulent diseases, nuclear destruction, earthquakes, volcanoes, abberant weather, rising populations, a great extinction, mass starvation, ethnic and cultural wars, Florida politics, homophobia, the war on women, a descent into authoritarinism, illiteracy, our eventual AI overloards,science denial, Tay-Tay and Kelce, and the impending MAGA-universe,  Krampus, scary as he is, cannot hold a candle to these other horrors.  Krampus is the deflection we need.  His time has come.

Listzilla:  J. Kingston Pierce over at his The Rap Sheet blog has been reprinting (and linking to) this year's lists of recommended crime and mystery books as he comes across them.  Two weeks (December 11) ago, on Jerry's House of Everything, I compiled these lists into one massive list.  Since then, Pierce has been adding more lists and I have been incorporating them into my own list.  To avoid confusion, I marked each additional book with the date added.  When there were multiple recommendations of a book, I marked tha title with an asterisk.  As the list greww some of the books received multiple recommndations for the first time, so I marked those also with the date.  My compiation soon encompassed  some 80 "Year's Best" lists.  Pierce completed his list survey on Thursday, the 21st, which also allowed me end this rather time-consuming project.

For those who are intersted, here is the Bits & Pieces post that carries the list (scroll down for the list):

Thinking Ahead:  three elderly people were discussing what they would want their grtandchildren to say about them fifty years in the future.   The geezer said, "I wand my grandchildren to say, 'He was successful in business.' "   The second one said, "I want them to say, "He was a wonderful family man.' "  The third person did not hesitate and said, "I want them to say, 'gee, he looks good for his age."

 A Marc Chagall Christmas (1943):

Good News:
  • Nuclear waste from unused weapons is now being turned safely into glass after leaking radioactivity for years
  • Six strangers drop everything to help man find wedding ring he lost while doing yerd work
  • British boy gets an Iron Man prosthetic arm for Christman
  • Volunteer hospital driver gets a favor returned by a six-year-old decades later
  • Oklahoma teen overcomes shyness to collect and give away 54,000 toys
  • FDA approves cure for sickle cell desease for the first tratment to use gene-editing CRISPR
  • Vaccine targeting triple-negative breast cancer shows good results in clinical trial sets a renewable record with 70% energy from wind

Today's Poem:
Music on a Christmas Morning

Music I love -- but never strain
Could kindle raptures so divine,
So grief assuage, so conquer pain,
And rouse this pensive heart of mine --
As that we hear on Christmas morn,
Upon the wintry breezes borne.

Though Darkness still her empire keep,
And hours might pass, ere morning break;
From troubled dreams, or slumbers deep,
That music kindly bids us wake;
It calls us,with an angel's voice,
To wake, to worship, and rejoice;

To greet with joy the glorious morn,
Which angels welcomed long ago,
When our redeeming Lord was born,
To bring the light of Heaven below;
The Powers of Darkness to dispel, 
And rescue Earth from Death and Hell.

While listening to that sacred strain,
My raptured spirit soars on high;
I seem to hear those songs again
Resounding through the open sky,
That kindled such divine delight,
In those who watched their flocks by night.

With them, I celebrate his birth --
Glory to God, in highest Heaven,
Good-will to men, and peace on Earth, 
To us a Savior-king is given;
And God is come to claim His own,
And Satan's power is overthrown!

A sinless God, for sinful men,
Descends to suffer, and to bleed,
Hell must renounce its empire then;
The price is paid, the world is freed,
And Satan's self must now confess,
That Christ has earned a Right to bless.

Now holy peace may smile from heaven,
And heavenly Truth from earth shall spring:
The captive's galling bonds are riven,
For our Redeemer is our King;
And He that gave his blood for men
Will lead us home to God again.

-- Anne Bronte

Happy Holidays!  From our house to yours...

FIRST ROW:  Duncan, the phlegm-inducing allergen dog;  SECOND ROW:  Erin, Christina, Walt (yes, he's that short), Jack;
THIRD ROW:  Trey (Erin's boyfriend), Me (ever-handsome), Mark;  Fourth Row:  Santa Rosa Sound

Saturday, December 23, 2023


One of the most noted authors of the classic British ghost story was scholar and antiquinarian Montague Rhodes James, who would often read his stories by candlelight for friends and students at King's College, Cambridge, on Chrsitmas Eve.  He was noted as much for his professional delivery as he was for the errie quality of his stories.

Although they are well worth reading, I have often felt that the proper mileau for a Jamesian tale was the spoken word.  For this Cristmas Eve, I have chosen this 2022 podcast by Tony Walker of "The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral."



 This was Kitty's favorite Christmas carol, this time done by David Archuleta.

Friday, December 22, 2023


 Bob Steele Western ran for ten issues from 1950 to 1952.  

Bob Steele was born Robert Adrian Bradbury into a vaudeville family in 1907.  He begn his film career in 1920 and, in 1927, was hired by Film Booking Offices of America to star in a series of westerns under the name Bob Steele.  From that time through the 1940, he starred in B-westerns for almost every minor film studio.  He continued acting in westerns until 1970's Rio Lobo (as an unnamed deputy), and did occasional television work, including playing Trooper Duffy on F Troop from 1965-67.  But his career as a popular western star faded in lthe late 1940s, which may explain why there were only ten issues of Bob Steele Western.

Bob Steele Western #1 features a four-chapter story, "Hangman's Bait."  Bob tries to help a lawyer free an innocent man and finds himself against a powerful bad guy and a crokked deputy.


Thursday, December 21, 2023


 Her Desert Lover:  A Love Story by "Louisa Carter Lee" (Will F. Jenkins) (1925)

The first question I have is why the subtitle?  I think everyone could tell that this was a love story from the main title.  (That subtitle would be used on the other two romance novels published under the "Lee" pseudonym" -- all by Chelsea House, a publisher who evidently believes in hitting its readers over the head with the obvious.)

The subtitle is a good indication that this may be a bad book.  And it is.  Very bad.  Certainly not in the lusty, erotic sense that many romances of today are, but just overwritten and maudlin.  And yet I enjoyed it, in part because of its author, who, over a period of 60 years, published more than 1500 stories and articles, as well as over 60 novels and hundreds of film, radio, and television scripts.  I find Jenkins' work to be immensely readable, and this book is no exception.  I think you just have to approach the book in the right frame of mind.

Take a novel -- any novel -- and inject it with a lethal dose of saccharine.  Throw in as many illogical plot complications as Carter has liver pills.  Mix well (or, not so well) and you end up with a rushed and happy finale like the third act of an over-written melodrama.  Remember to avoid clearing up the one very minor, niggling plot point that has been bothering the reader throughout the book, and you have Her Desert Lover, a story which originally appeared in the long-running pulp magazine Love Story (along with nearly thirty others Jenkins had published under the "Lee" penname in the 1920s).

How saccharine can you get?  The hero, Philip Lane, a confirmed woman-hater, first views the unconscious heroine and calls her Lady Sunbeam because of her blonde hair; he continues to call her this even after finally learning her true name.  He instantly falls in love with the unknown, comatose beauty.  For her part, she calls him her Desert Lover, because he promises to take her away from all the terrible plot complications.  Keep in mind that the story is set in Westchester and the surrounding areas.  And, yes, after awakening, she falls instantly in love with him.  Love.  Overpowering, all-consuming LOVE.

Here's an example of the overwritten prose:

"There was a little silence, a silence fraught with a thousand, dear, unspoken things.  A bird, poised on a swinging rose brnch, trilled his very heart away.  A thousand beautiful blooms seemed to be sending prayers of fragrance heavenward.

"Philip Lane, moved by the impulse that had come into being as he held an unconscious human burden close to his heart two nights before, lifted Lady Sunbeam's fragile, fluttering, little white hand and touched it with his lips."


"Then for a long, bossful moment all was forgotten, and the misery and torture of the last few days faded away, and they knew that just as they had tasted the dregs of misery, so now life was holding to their lips the cup of jpy which is only sipped by those whose hearts are brave and true"

To be followed by:

" 'Don't cry, dear girl.' replied Philip, kissing away each tear as it trickled down from her eyes.  'You have been so brave -- such a plucky girl, and all I ask is that you keep a stiff upper lip just a little while longer, and surely, somehow, we'll fight our way through all this terible tangle.' "

Did I mention that this is also a mystery novel, of sorts?  A unknown woman has been stabbed in the back of the head.  Naturally Lady Sumbeam is accused of the murder on the flimsiest of excuses, and needless alarums and excursions are encountered as a result .  It's interesting to note that the true murderer has been given an unshakable alibi, which was forgotten about (yet remained unshakable) at the book's end.

Critics Damon Knight and James Blish each accused the other of coming up with the term "idiot plot," in which a story's action can only progress because all the characters in the story are idiots.  I think that applies here.

And yet...


I had a great time with this book, and not necessarily as a palate cleanser.  I gleefully and speedily tramped through the turgid prose and the endless complications, closing the book with a smug and satisfied smile.  Why?  Perhaps it was because it was written by one of my favorite authors (who could never do any wrong, IMHO).  Or, perhaps because my level of critical reading is the lowest of the low.  Or, more likely, because it was just so much fun.

Who knows?  You might enjoy this one, too.  Or you might curse me for thrusting this novel upon you.

Wednesday, December 20, 2023


 Here's a Christmas adventure with Sergeant Preston and Yukon King!

We all know Sergeant Preston wears a red coat, but is there anyone else from the far-up North who also wears a red coat?


Tuesday, December 19, 2023


 "The Spectre-Barber (A Tale of the Sixteenth Century.)" by Johann Karl August Musaus (slightly abridged, taken from Tales of the Dead, 1813, edited anonymously by Sarah Elizabeth Brown Utterson; originally published in German as "Stumme Libe," 1782; reprinted in Musaus's collection Volksmarchen der Deutschen; Viertes Theil, 1788; French translation as "L'amour muet," in Fantasmagoriana: ou recoil d'histoires, d'appiritions, de spectres, revenants, fantomes, etc., 1812, translated by Jean-Baptiste Benoit Eyries; also reprinted as "The Dumb Lover" [1826] and "Dumb Love" [1827])

Musaus (1735-1787) was known best for his Volksmarchen der Deutschen, a collection of German folk stories rewritten as satires.  The stories of Musaus were part of an early renaissance of folk tales, brought about by a rise of romanticism and Romantic nationalism, and had a strongi influence on the writings of Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Anderson, and others.  Eyries' Fantasmagoriana, which collected eight stories -- this one by Musaus, two by Johann August Apel, four by "F. Laun" (Fredreich August Schulze), and one by "H. Clauren" (Johann Gottlieb Samuel Carl Huen) -- became a seminal collection in the history of the fantasy and supernatural genres, as did Utterson's Tales of the Dead, which translated five of the stories from Fantasmagoriana, along with a sixth story written anonymously by Utterson and based on a tale once told her by a friend.  Fantasmagoriana was the book which was read by Byron, Shelley, Mary Shelley, Clair Claimont, and John Polidari in that famous summer of 1816 and which inspired them to each try to write a ghost story -- resulting in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Polidari's The Vampire, and Shelley's "Fragment of a Novel" -- one of the first stories in English to include a vampire.

Since this story was based on a folk tale, don't look for strict logic.  Indeed. much of the plot involves the wishful and magical thinking that is part and parcel of many children's tales, but told with a certain edge.  Frederick, the protagonist, undergoes a series of adventures and unfortunate drawbacks while circumnavigating his way to the story's happy  conclusion.

Frederick is the son and only child of Melchior, a wealthy merchant in Bremen.  Freerick is young man of personal advantages and goodness of heart.  But when Melchior dies suddenly without a will, Frederick is overwhelmed by his new riches and becomes a profligate, spending money wildly without any thought.  Soon he has burned through his father's inheritance and is forced to live in poverty in an apartment in the most remote part of the city.  Across the street from him lives an inpoverished widow and her beautiful daughter, Meta.  The widow hopes that the daughter's beauty will gain her a rich husband who will lift the two women out of poverty.  Frederick views Meta from his window and falls in love.  Meta's mother, noting this, tells Meta to stay away from the window and to avoid the young man across the street.  Frederick's only view of Meta is on the street when she returns once a day from mass.  Knowing the mother objects to Frederick's watching Meta. he stays away from the window; instead, he arranges a mirror by the window and, through this, is able to view the woman he has fallen in love with.  Hidden in his room, Fredrick begins to play romantic music on his lyre to draw the attention of Meta.  Through his music, she soon falls in love with this man she has never met.  Federick knows that, in his straightened condition, he will never be able to have the woman he wants.  He determines to gain enough wealth to win her hand and her mother's approval.

Going through his father's old records he learns that a number of persons were indebted to him and had never paid off their debts.  He leaves Bremen to journey to the city of Anvers to collect on these debts, many of which were held by persons who are now very wealthy.  Hungry, cold, and drenched by a violent storm, he is led to a castle where (he is told) the owner, the chevalier Bronkhorst, is noted for receiving guests and treating them lavishly.  But the chevalier supposedly has one little quirk:  he also flagellates his guests.  Federick is warmly welcomed by Bronkhorst and is  well fed and given a comfprtable apartment for the night.  In the morning, Bronkhorst gives him a pouch of money before sending him off -- without any flagellation.  Frederick is told not to believe everything he hears.  

He then arrives at Anvers to collect the debts owed his father, but is repulsed.  Each and every debtor denies the debt.  Some produce forged documents that claim Frederick's father actually owed them money, rather than the reverse.  Frederick is thrown into debtor's prison, where he lanquished for three months.  When he is released, all of his belongings have been taken from him and he is given twenty-four hours to leave the city and never return.

Now broke and disheartened, he wonders if he should sail to the new world and try to win his fortune there.  One evening, an rapacious innkeeper refuses him a scrap of bread or shelter, but tells him he can spend the night in an abandoned castle nearby.  The castle is rumored to be haunted, but the innkeeper, lying, tells him that there is nothing to fear; the innkeeper himself has never seen any evidence of a haunting and, since he lives nearby, would be able to go to Frederick's assistance should anything happen.  The castle is a well-appointed one, and Frederick lays down for the night.  He is awoken by a knocking on the barred door of his chamber.  The door bursts open and a large bearded figure in a red robe enters.  The figure is carrtying an open razor and a shaving kit.  It gestures Frederik to a nearby chair.  When Frederick sits, the spectre barber begins to cut his hair and to shave him.  In minute, all hair from Frederick's head is gone.  The ghostly figure then rises to leave, hesitates, and looks back quizzically at Frederick.  Frederick detects what the spectre wants and motions it to the chair he had just occupied.  Frederick the shears the hair off the figure's head, leaving it completely bald and without a beard.  It is then that the spectre finally speaks.

It thanks Frederick, who has removed a centuries-old curse.  The spectre had been the castle barber and to please the evil lord of the catle, he would shave the heads of the castle's guest completely.  The barber's master thought this was very funny, although his victims were often very upset.  One day, the barber played this trick on a visiting monk, who cursed him.  The barber would spend eternity cutting the hair of any guests at the castle until one of the guests, unbidden, would do the same for him, leaving him completely hairless.  Now that Frederick had broken the curse, the barber could now got to his eternal rest.  To thank Frederick, the apparition told him to remain until his hair had grown back, then return to Bremen.  On a certain day on the bridge over the Wessen, Frederick would meet a friend who would instruct him how to gain a fortune.

Three  months pass and Frederick is at the bridge, which is occupied only by beggars.  The long dy goes by with no friend approaching with tidings of a great fortune.  He is about to give up in disgust, when a one-legged beger approaches him...

The treasure is a hidden wealth that his own father had hidden.  Frederick uses the money to establish himself in business, growing it rapidly become a financial success, and marry Meta.  He has a long and happy life, forsaking his previous dissolute ways, and becomes a model citizen -- ending the tale with a happy fairy tale ending.  A young man of noble virtues, having been led astray by instant wealth, has now returned to the straight and narrow and has reaped his just reward.  The prodigal son meets the German marchen.

There is more to the story, of course, but the tale is essentially the embodiment of the magical thinking of childhood.  Remember, however, that the faity tales and folk tales of old were not often sweetness and light.  Behind the scenes may lay some very dark happenings.

Both Tales of the Dead and Fantasmagoriana are available to be read online, as well as many other stories by Musaus and the other German Romantics.

Monday, December 18, 2023


Here's Rod Serling's take on on Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol'

This televsion special was aired without commercials as the first United Nations Special, a series of programss sponsored by Xerox promoting the United Nations.  Tycoon Daniel Grudge (Sterling Hayden) is still bitter from the loss of his son, 22-year-old Marley (Gordon Spencer), killed in combat during Christmas Eve in 1944.  It takes the Ghosts of Christmas Past (Steve Lawrence), Christmas Present (Pat Hingle), and Christmas Future (Robert Shaw) to set him straight.

Joining the all-star cast is Ben Gazarra, Eva Marie Saint, Percy Rodigues, James Shigeta, Peter Sellers, Britt Elkund, and Joe Santos,  Produced and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz.  Music by Henry Mancini.

Enjoy this holiday treat.


 'Twas the week before Christmas and all through my house...I've been listening to different versions of my favorite Christmas song.

John Rutter, Gerald Findley, and The Cambridge Singers:

Mahalia Jackson:

Londa Ronstadt:

Barbra Steisand:

John Jacob Niles (who composed the song):

Sarah Arnesen:

Peter, Paul and Mary

George Beverly Shea:

Simon Khorolsky:

Julie Andrews:

Jo Stafford:

Philip Langridge:

Jennifer Skaw:

Bobbie Gentry:

Joan Baez:

Ed Ames:

And here's a violin medley by Rob Landes of I Wonder as I Wander with Kitty's absolute f vorits Christmas song, O Come Emmanual:

Do you have a favorite version of this song?

What's your favorite Christmas song?

Have a meaningful holiday, chock full of friends, family, food, joy, laughter, and love. 

Saturday, December 16, 2023


Noel Stookey and Peter Yarrow.

Friday, December 15, 2023


 Space opera!

Bug-eyed monsters!

Good Girl Art!

Science and reality be damned!

I felt like a kid again reading this first issue of Fiction House's Planet Comics, title which ran for 73 issues from January 1940 to the Winter 1953 issue.  As was the case with many of Fiction House's comics books, this title was a spin-off from one of their pulp magazines, in this case Planet Stories, venerable pulp that was home to such great writers as Leigh Brackett,the early Rau Bradbury, Philip K. Dick (his first published story), Poul Anderson, Nelson S. Bond,  Theodore Sturgeon, and Ross Rocklynne. (The comic book managed to eke out two more issues than its namesake pulp, which lasted for 71 issues.)  Such a heady list of writers did not, alas, contribute to the comic book, although among the comic's many writers were Walter Gibson and Frank Belknap Long.  Planet Comics unique in its portrayal od strong female characters, often drawn by woman artists such as Lily Renee, Marcia Snyder, Ruth Atkinson, and Fran Hopper.  It's male artists included Murphy Anerson, George Tuskas, and John Cullen Murphy (best known for his long run with Prince Valiant).

In this premiere issue we find:

  • "The One-Eyed Monster Men of Mars," illustrated by Dick BV\riefer.   This was the first adventure featuring Flint Baker, one of Planet Comics' longest-running heroes, a space hero who eventually became part of the "Space Rangers."  Here, flint completes a rocker begun by his father ands heads off to Mar with a crew of frred convicts.  There, they dicover the corpse of an earlier explorer and a warning to stay away from the dark side of the planet.  Along for the ride is stowaway reporter Mimi Wilson, a gorgeous red-head with a great pair of legs.  The rocket ship looks like something from an old AIP Jules Verne movie; the futuristic city on the light side could have come from H.G. Wells's Things to Come; Princess Viga od Mars wears a brief outfit showing a lot of skin; the one-eyed monsters are armless with deadly prehensile tails; evil villain Sarkpo wants to kill the Princess and mate with Mimi (gasp!); and Flint and his crew must save not only the ladies, but the planet!  What's not to like?
  • "Auro, Lord of Jupiter" was the son of Professor John Harwich and a space version of Tarzan.  Orphaned and stranded on Jupiter, where his Earth muscles made hm strong as steel on the aien planet, and where he is befriended by a giant saber-toothed tiger.  The ape-like natives of the planet consider him their leader and call bim "Auro," which means unconquerable.  The evil ruler of Neptune has captured an Earth ship, and has taken its ossupants as slaves, but Martha Gale, an assistant pilot, manages to escape and land on Jupiter, where she enlists Auro and his followers to hhellp overthrow the evil Neptunian.  A fierfe battle ensues and Auro (naturally) comes out on top.  Oddly, although Helen is a good-looking woman, there is no good girl art or skimpy costumes.  I gues you can'r have everything.  Auro continued as a regular in Planet Comics, but with issue 41, he was reimagined as Charles Edson who, after crshing on Jupiter, has his spirit transferred to the body of the original Auro.
  • "The Red Comet" is the mystery man of the universe. (He has an "intra-atopmioc space adjuster" that can expand his  body to gigantic proportions. Vogt)

Thursday, December 14, 2023


Dig Two Graves by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins, 2023
Too Many Bullets by Max Allan Collins, 2023

Normally, this is the space where I would take a look at a 'Forgotten Book."  But we're in the holiday season and I decided to treat myself to two recent novels from one of my favorite writers.  Both books are excellent reads, completely different fronm each other, and either (or both) would make a fantastic holiday gift for yourself or for the mystery fan in your life.

I have made no bones about y admiration for the multi-talented Max Allan Collins and his writing. The thing about Max Allan Collins is that everything he does is good.  Damned good.

Mickey Spillane tasked his friend Collins to take charge of his vast trove of uncompleted manuscripts and synopses following his death.  With the blessings of Jane Spillane and the Spillane estate, Collins has been able to add over thirty books to the Spillane oevre -- novels, short story collections, plays, and a graphic novel.   Fourteen of those novels feature Mike Hammer, covering the gamut of Hammer's fictional timeline.  Many of the works were based on near-completed manuscripts and drafts; others were culled from fragments and notes, some contradictory.  Dig Two Graves is based on two manuscripts -- one a potential Hammer novella, the other an early and different take on what would later become the non-Hammer Dead Street; one dating from the 60s, the other from the early 2000s.  Collins seamlessly joined the two, placing the tale in the 60s, shortly after his secretary/partner/girlfriend Velda Sterling returned after disappearing for seven years.

During those seven years, Mike Hammer hit the skids, became an alcolholic, and ended up sleeping in the gutter.  Now that Velda is back, Hammer has regained his dignity, has sobered up, and is back in the PI business.  But Hammer's lost years have left their mark; he's tough, but not as fit as he had been in the past.

Velda's mother now has a very strained relationship with her.  She resents Velda for letting her think she was dead for the past seven years.  Hammer negotiates a truce btetween the two and has set a dinner date where they can iron out their problems.  Before that could happen, car deliberately slams into Velda's mother, nearly killing her.  The driver turns out to be a contract killer whose weapon of choice is an automobile.

At the hospital, Velda learns that the man she had known as her father wasn't.  Her birth father was gangster Rhino Massey, notorious in the underword for planning armored car robberies.  Rainey walked out on Velda's mother when he discovered she was pregnant.  He later died.  Or did he?

Rainey was inducted into a nascant witness protection program by the Justice Department.  In thse early days, the government set up an exclusive retirement community outside of Phoenix to house some 300 criminals in their witness relocation program, loosely guarded by about 100 federal officers.  The crooks are given new identities and pledge to put aside past differences with rival gangsters, so Dreamland Park has become an idyllic retirement home where everybody behaves themselves.  (Yeah.  This whole idea strains credulity, but credulity-straining is a hallmark of the Hammer series.  Remember this is the guy who killed his way out from behind the Iron Curtain and the guy who snagged over a billion dollars in cash.)

So Hammer goes down to Arizona, only to discover that Rhino Massey, now known as Ranier Miller, had died (a second time) in a mugging on Phoenix several months earlier.  Rhino's brother, Joey (Velma's uncle), has come down to claim Rhino's property -- including the mortuary and cemetery the feds had given him as a "legit" cover.  If Mike Hammer is around, there are bound to be people tryng to kill him.  And so it goes. exploding into a fast-action tale of hidden millions, mixed identities, contract killers, surprise villains, and jealous women.

Mike Hammer is the archetype of the tough private investigator -- perhaps even more archetypical than  Carrol John Daly's brutal Race Williams.   Hammer has a strong core of decency and a sense of justice.  He tends to be there for the little guy as both protector and avenging angel.  Below the surface, Hammer has a sense of humor (he always "grins", never smiles).  Hammer began as a male fantasy for returning WWII vets, a no-nonsense tough guy who will ignore the rules whenever necessary.  Mickey Spillane was the consummate, knowledgable showman, always playing to his audience, whether on paper or in his day-to-day persona.  Nothing points this out more clearly than his creation Mike Hammer, and Collins has continue to imbue the detective with the essence of Spillane.

Max Allan Collin's major fictional character is Nathan Heller,  a flawed detective whom Collins has followed since True Detective (1983), set in the Capone gangster era of Chicago in the 30s, bringing him up to the 60s of the Kenedys  J. Edgar Hoover, and Jimmy Hoffa.  An ex-cop who becomes a private eye, Heller meets and interacts with historic figures, eventuall becoming the "detective to the stars" and bulding his small agency to a nationwide concern.  Over the years he become involved in some of the most famous and notorious crimes in America, from the assassination of Huey Long, to the kidnapping of the Linbergh baby. from the death of Marilyn Monroe to assassination attemps on John F. Kennedy.  Meticulously researched, each of Heller's cases offer a rational, possible solution to mysteries that may have been muddled by history.

Too Many Bullets involves the assassination of Heller's friend Bob Kennedy at the Ambassador Hotel in 1968.  When Kennedy's normal security man is unable to attend, Kennedy asks Heller to act as his security guard.  One caveat, however:  Bob Kennedy demands that his security not be armed, just as he has refused the aid of the local police department, fearing either would send a wrong message to his supporters.  In compulsively readable detail, Collins take us through the victory rally and then through the crowded kitchen of the Ambassador, where bullets ring out.  Heller is gulty that he was not able to stop the assassination, but he is convinced that Sirhan Sirhan is the assassin -- he saw him fire the bullets.  But questions begin to arise after an abyssmally inept investigtion by the LA Police Department.  Why are there too many bullets?

Heller begins the novel by admitting that the entire story might never be told and that some of the guilty will probably never be published..But some of the unknown guilty have been punished, by Heller.

A fascinating look into a horrible time.  This book perhaps hit too close to home for me because I remember those days all too well in detail.

Wednesday, December 13, 2023


 I noted oh thos blog that yesterday, December 13, was Wold Newton Day, marking the anniversary of a fictional meteor striking ner Wold Newton, Yorkshire, England, in 1795.  This event, a construct of writer Philip Jose Farmer, would have lasting implications for the literary world for centiroes to come.  The meteor was radioactive and somehow caused genetic mutations to the occupants of two passing carriages.  The descendants of these occupants became the eal-life counterparts of many of the most popular fictional characters in literature -- endowing them with great intelligence and strength and embuing them with a huge capacity or either good or evil.  The list of characters affected by the Wold Newton meteor is lentgthy:  Tarzan, Sherlock Holmes, Doc Savage, Lord Peter Wimsey, Captain Blood, A. J. Raffles, Allan Quatermain, Professor Challenger, Bulldog Drummond, Holmes's nemesis Moriaty, Solomon Kane, Phileas Fogg, Sam Spade, The Shadow, The Spider, Nero Wolfe, both Dr. Fu Manchu and Sir Denis Nayland Smith, James Bond, Travis McGee, Lew Archer, M. Lecoq, Arsene Lupin, the Time Traveler from Wells's The Time Machine, G-8, Sam Spade, and Doc Savage's cousin Paricia and his aide Monk Mayfair...and I'm sure there are many others, including Sir Percy Blakeney, the Scarlet Pimpernel.

To honor the Wold Newton characters, here's a dramatization of The Scarlet Pimpernel, from the 1934 film based on Baroness Orczy's 1905 novel.  For this radio adaptation, Leslie Howard reprised his film role as the Pimpernel.  Olivia de Havilland plays Margaret.

They seek him here

They seek him there

Those Frenchies seek him everywhere

Is he in heaven?

Is he in Hell?

That demmed elusive Pimpenel!

To anwer that rhymje, he's right here -- at the link below.  Enjoy.