Category: Golden Age Article

Audiobook Review: Black Mask 1: Doors in the Dark


Doors in the Dark gives is the first of several audiobooks that provide material that first appeared in Black Mask Magazine, perhaps the best known of the crime magazine pulps.

The collection begins with Keith Alen Deutsch’s history of Black Mask. It’s a great listen for fans of classic crime fiction, though skippable if you just want the story.

“Come and Get It,” is written by Erle Stanley Gardener, who’d become a mystery legend for writing Perry Mason. This story features Ed Jenkins, the Phantom Crook. This story is a self-contained short novel but in a series of novels involving the Phantom Crook’s battle with a crime syndicate who is trying to hurt a girl that Jenkins likes. Jenkins has some of the cleverness and cunning that would later be seen in characters like Leslie Charteris’ the Saint. However, he’s also a bit of a throwback to the “Crook with a Heart of Gold” character that was popular in the 1920s, and his sharp self-definition of himself as a “crook” is a dominant. Overall, this story is decent.

“Arson Plus” was originally published by Dashiell Hammett under the pseudonym of Peter Collinson. It’s the first story featuring Hammett’s Continental Op. It’s a quick moving arson case with a very clever solution.

“The Fall Guy” was written by George Harrison Coxe and features Flash Casey, the great crime photographer. Having listened to many episodes of the radio show, “Casey, Crime Photographer,” I found this to be a bit of a treat. The story itself is competent, but not “flashy” with typical noir characters.

“Doors in the Dark,” by Frederick Nebel features Captain Steve McBride investigating the apparent suicide of a friend, but he believes it’s murder. This story is from the series on which the Torchy Blane film series was based, though the series doesn’t feature Torchy with McBride being the hero. Still, there are some madcap/screwball moments in this story that set the tone for the Torchy Blane series.

“Lucky” by Doc Savage creator Lester Dent is one of the few stories featuring his crime solving Ship’s Captain/Insurance Oscar Sail. This story is fast paced and with a bit more violence than any other tale in the collection. Still, quite enjoyable with some clever twists.

Overall, I enjoyed this audiobook, but it’s one of those releases that fall under, “You will like if you like that sort of thing.” One negative review criticized the stories for having the same quality as old time radio. As someone who loves old time radio mysteries, I consider that a positive. The pulp genre is not high literature but much of it is still entertaining in its own way.

Ultimately, this audiobook offers talented narration of a good history of pulp fiction along with five classic pulp stories including a Flash Casey story and tales by the creators of Doc Savage, Perry Mason, and Sam Spade. If that sounds up your alley, then this is definitely an audiobook to pick up.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

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Audio Drama Review: The Wisdom of Father Brown, Volume 2

Colonial Radio Theatre continues to bring the works of G.K. Chesterton’s Father Brown to the air in this second collection of four mysteries based on G.K. Chesterton’s Wisdom of Father Brown.

•The Duel of Dr. Hirsch-The reclusive French statesman Dr. Hirsch is accused of treason and Father Brown and Flambeau get caught in the midst of swirling political intrigue. This is a classic Father Brown story with a clever solution most listeners wouldn’t see coming. Colonial does a superb job on the adaptation and allows Chesterton’s misdirection to work its magic.

•The Man in the Passage-A great actress is murdered. Several men could have done it, but the case hinges on conflicting testimony as to what the suspects and Father Brown saw in the passage. This is probably one of Chesterton’s lesser mysteries and that it would be a mystery to the police that would end in a climatic court scene requires a greater suspension of disbelief than any other story in the Father Brown canon. The entire mystery is a joke and Father Brown’s conclusion is the punch line. The characters are played quite broadly and a bit over the top because of this, but Colonial is simply playing the story as it’s written. They do good job adapting a story that doesn’t easily lend itself to adaptation.

•The Purple Wig- A freelance journalist investigates a cursed aristocratic family and how that curse has apparently affected the latest Duke of Exmoor. This one has a great satirical element as it focuses on the efforts of a newspaper to shape public opinion by reporting facts that conform to the papers and the reader’s biases. The mystery isn’t bad and it’s wrapped in a clever bit of satire that feels as relevant today as it was when Chesterton wrote it more than a century ago.

•The God of the Gongs: Father Brown takes a winter holiday with Flambeau and they find themselves at a summer resort where Father Brown discovers a body and a dark mystery. This is the most straightforward and suspenseful tale on the CD and builds very nicely to its climax.

In taking on The Wisdom of Father Brown, Colonial has set out to adapt some of Chesterton’s most challenging stories for readers. Like Volume 1, Volume 2 to succeeds in making these stories entertaining and engaging for a modern audience while still being true to the source material with solid production values and good production values. Overall, another great Father Brown collection from Colonial Radio Theatre.

Rating: 4.25 out of 5.0

Disclosure: I received a free digital copy of this production in exchange for an honest review.

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Movie Review: My Gun is Quick (1956)


My Gun is Quick stars Robert Bray as Mike Hammer, Mickey Spillane’s hardest of hard boiled private eyes. Hammer comes to the defense of a prostitute being beaten and gives her money to get home on. When he finds out later that she was murdered, Hammer sets out to find the killer.

The film is obviously low budget but competently made, with solid direction and editing. The less expensive production actually helps creates a gritty Noir feel.

Robert Bray was strangely given an “introducing” credit when he’d been appearing in films for fourteen years. However, he is a solid Mike Hammer. I’m not a huge fan of Mike Hammer, but I was pleased with Bray’s portrayal. He portrays Hammer as a rough character, but still makes him feel sympathetic and human as he goes about his journey as he cuts through the underworld to unravel this mystery which he takes on as a personal crusade.

The rest of the cast is mostly unknowns. The biggest name I recognized in this was Patricia Donahue, who played a bar girl in this and would later play Lucy Hamiltion in the Michael Shayne TV series. Despite the lack of star power, the cast turns in mostly solid performances.

Overall, the film is worth watching for fans of Mike Hammer, or those looking for a solid Noir film. It is available either as a DVD or for instant viewing through Amazon.com and can be watched by Amazon prime members for free.

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Book Review: The Lone Wolf

The Lone Wolf was a contemporary of Boston Blackie. Like Blackie, the Lone Wolf was a thief turned amateur detective who appeared in silent films, talkies, radio, and eventually television. Like Blackie, the Lone Wolf began in book form.

The Lone Wolf: A Melodrama” by Joseph Vance follows the career of Michael Lanyard, a boy abandoned in Paris to a life of hard labor, who became an apprentice thief and then a master thief who operated alone. He did this on the advice of his mentor who warned Lanyard of the pitfalls of letting his guard down. So Lanyard built a life of crime accompanied by a legitimate front that was a life of luxury, fine art, and expensive homes and solitude, thus why he became known as the Lone Wolf.

However, the Lone Wolf finds his secret veil pierced, and an international criminal syndicate is determined to force him to join with them…or not be able to either work or escape from Paris. On the run, from both the Paris police and this gang of criminals, Lanyard falls in love with the mysterious Lucille Bannon and vows to change his ways to make himself worthy of her. However, it becomes apparent she is not all she seems.

The Lone Wolf has a lot going for it. There’s plenty of plot-related mysteries and character questions to keep readers guessing and engaged. Lanyard is an interesting and sympathetic protagonist. He reminds me of Leslie Charteris’s early portrayal of the Saint, except the Lone Wolf is “tempted” to reform far earlier in his career than Simon Templar.

As the book’s subtitle promises, it has melodramatic moments and speeches which had me rolling my eyes, but Vance did warn readers upfront. The character of Lucille Bannon lacks definition, but that’s part of her being a woman of mystery, I guess. And the villains were more obstacles than real characters.

Despite its flaws, I enjoyed The Lone Wolf. The book has an amazing amount of action: fights, foot chases, car chases, attempted burglaries, and even an airplane chase make this truly action packed, add to that a lot of mystery, romance, and a fair splattering of comedy, and overall The Lone Wolf is an entertaining book that holds far better than you would expect an obscure book from more than a century ago to do.

Rating 3.75 out of 5.0

This book is available for free download through Project Gutenberg.

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Audio Drama Review: The History of Harry Nile, Volume 7

The final dozen stories to wrap up Phil Harper’s historic run as Harry Nile are collected in the History of Harry Nile, Volume 7, containing twelve episodes including three double length episodes and Harper’s final episode before he died.

Some of my favorites are:

The Case of the Interstate Stalker: A case where Harry helps out his sister who is being chased across the country by an obsessed used car dealer. It’s not a typical detective story, but it does show Harry’s personal side, and shows the aging private eye relating to his family.

The Friends of Jules Riskin: Another personal story that follows up on a previous episode, this time involving the death of Harry’s younger brother Joey. Harry’s been told it’s an accident but finds out otherwise, and faces a mob vendetta that could wipe out his family.

Twenty Grand: A shady business deal investigation leads Harry on the hunt for a rare car, and an encounter with an even more unusual woman. There’s some great twists and solid tension.

The Mobius Matter: The last Harry Nile story starring Phil Harper. A husband comes to Harry and Murphy saying he believes his wife is trying to kill him. Independently, the wife comes to them saying her husband is trying to kill her. It’s a very clever case with a lot of twists. The story features Richard Sanders from WRKP in Cincinnati.

Motive: Russell Johnson (the Professor from Gilligan’s Island) appears and the story has solid and unexpected twists.

The stories in this set are well-written and well-acted. My only minor quibble is with the ending of, “The Miracle Mile,” a story which took Harry back to Los Angeles to solve a problem for an old friend and then ended without Harry doing anything for his friend.

Beyond that, this was really a joy to listen to. Phil Harper’s run as Harry Nile was an all time classic run that’s been a pleasure to listen to, and his chemistry with the late Pat French was superb.

This is a good buy for long-time fans of Harry Nile. There are many callbacks to prior episodes, so those who are new to the character may want to try the History of Harry Nile, Volumes 1 or 2, or pick up one of the Adventures of Harry Nile sets with Larry Albert, who took over the role after Harper passed away.

However, if you do want to purchase this, be aware that March 19th, 2017 may be the last day you can order. Jim French productions is closing and there’s currently no plan for the episodes to continue to be legally available. So if you’re interested in any of their products, March 19th, 2017 is the deadline.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.0

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