Tag: good review

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: Avengers, The Lost Episodes, Volume 7


Big Finish concludes its four-year promise of adapting all the episodes from the mostly lost first season of the Avengers starring Anthony Howell as Dr. David Keel and Julian Wadham as John Steed. There are three stories in this final release, but only one features both protagonists.

Dragonsfield is a superb Cold War story that finds Steed on his own and investigating espionage at a British lab. The lab is trying to create a top-of-the line space suit in order to sell it to the Americans. This story is a delightfully done mystery with plenty of suspects and manages to keep you guessing. We do see Steed using some enhanced interrogation methods on one spy, but other than that this is a very well-done story featuring Steed alone.

In the Far Distant Dead, on his way home from a South American holiday, Dr. Keel stops to provide medical relief in the wake of a cyclone. In the process, he encounters a fisherman with food poisoning and discovers the source–a can of hydraulic fluid mis-labeled as olive oil.

Keel sets out to get to the bottom of the deliberate act meant to save on custom fees. Following on the heels of a solo episode for Steed, this solo episode for Keel balances things out and we get a story that centers on Keel as a physician and where the mystery is driven by Keel’s compassion and righteous anger. Dr. Sandoval is an interesting supporting character. Is her outrage real or is she in on the conspiracy?

The story does suffer from a villain who is over-the-top. The way he says “Kill him!” is hilarious but I don’t know if that goes well with the tone of the story.

Finally, in The Deadly Air, Steed and Keel investigate sabotage at a laboratory trying to discover a vaccine. This story suffers from being in the same box set as Dragonsfield which is a much better story, rendering The Deadly Air a repetitive episode.

The story is okay, but it pales in comparison to Dragonsfield which has more suspense and more interesting characters. This adventure by comparison is an average story with a few good moments.

Overall, this is a good set in what’s been a good series. The Lost Episodes has filled a big hole in the history of one the 1960s most beloved and iconic programs with superb acting, good writing, and a dedication to authenticity.

Overall rating for this box set: 3.75 out of 5.0

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DVD Review: The Line Up


The Line Up is a noir film based on the 1954-60 TV series of the same name (later syndicated as San Francisco Beat.) The film begins with an exciting scene where a cabbie flees police and drives erratically until he’s shot. Lieutenant Guthrie (Warner Anderson) and the police discover a smuggling ring which smuggles heroin through the baggage of innocent people and then retrieves the heroin from them.

There are two basic reasons to see this film:

The first are the stars are not the police but the villains. Dancer (Eli Wallach) is a psychopathic gangster and is assisted by his wiser mentor Julian (Robert Keith) in collecting the drugs and disposing of those who know too much which turns out to be most people.

Unlike in an earlier era where these two would walk around sounding dopey, Dancer and Julian are constantly well-spoken, polite, even friendly when the job calls for it. However, in an instant, they turn deadly. Julian sums up Dancer well, “There’s never been a guy like Dancer. He’s a wonderful, pure pathological study. He’s a psychopath with no inhibitions.” Wallach makes the character very believable and menacing.

Johnny Dollar star Bob Bailey has one scene in this film as a finger man telling Dancer who the drugs had been smuggled in with. It’s a decent performance.

Also, though he only appeared in one scene where he barely spoke, Vaughn Taylor turns in a memorable performance as the drug kingpin, “The Man.” It’s practically an acting clinic on how much can be communicated using only facial expressions.

The second big reason to see this is San Francisco. So much of the movie is shot on location in the City by the Bay. The locations aren’t only good looking but they’re used in some innovative ways in the story. It really makes for a unique look.

The film’s biggest issue is the police characters. The film’s intent was to rope in the 30 million fans of the TV series, “The Line Up,” which is why stars of that series were brought in. However, these scenes are the least interesting in the film. Not bad per se, just obligatory. Policework can be interesting in a Noir film (see: He Walked by Night) but it doesn’t happen here.

In addition to the trailer, the DVD release includes a kind of interesting special feature with Dark Knight Director Christopher Nolan discussing how the NOIR genre influenced him. I was surprised that this film had a commentary track, but listening to it, I found it a bit unpleasant as one of the commentators was just randomly foul-mouthed rather than insightful or funny.

Overall, The Line-Up is a solid film and there’s much to recommend it to those who love Noir films, San Francisco, or Bob Bailey. Ironically, the only thing you won’t get out of it is a sense what the classic radio series the Line Up looked like on film.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

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Book Review: The Sinister Shadow


Doc Savage and the Shadow are two of the greatest pulp heroes of all time. Yet, they’ve never met in their original book medium. There have been attempts to do this in comic book form, but the ones I’ve read have been somewhat underwhelming.

The Sinister Shadow by Will Murray takes an original idea by Lester Dent in order to bring these two legends of the 1930s together in one book.

In the books, “Lamont Cranston” was not the true identity of the Shadow. Rather, the Shadow forced Cranston to let him impersonate him when Cranston was away from the city (which was most of the time) on the threat that, if he didn’t, the Shadow would completely steal Cranston’s identity, leaving Cranston without a place in the world because somebody’s got to fight evil, right? In the pulps, Cranston’s amused by this and agrees. In this book, Cranston isn’t as much amused as resigned.

However, Cranston receives a blackmail notice from a villain identifying himself as the Funeral Director who threatens to kill Cranston unless he gives him $50,000. Cranston thinks the villain is the Shadow and turns to Doc Savage’s aide Ham Brooks for help. Before they can get to Doc, both are kidnapped. This leads to both the Shadow and Doc Savage being on the trail of the Funeral Director.

The book has a lot to offer. Much of it is spent with Doc and friends suspecting the Shadow as the creepy methods of the Funeral Director seem his style and the Shadow works outside the law while Doc is an honorary Inspector for the NYPD. In addition, Doc and his men have a no killing rule, while the Shadow has no qualms about dealing out rough justice to the criminal world. Thus our two protagonists spend time hunting and battling each other before turning to the real bad guy. These parts of the book are fun and Murray does a good job writing both characters. Doc’s men are their usual selves while Doc remains ever the unflappable and brilliant man of bronze. The Shadow is mysterious and baffles the great Doc Savage with his strange methods. Doc’s assistants also are great though they’re pushed more to the background than usual. The Shadow’s henchmen are generic and lack a lot of personality.

As for the villain, the Funeral Director is a perfect foil for our protagonists. He’s a creepy, evil villain whose theme is centered around death and dying complete with coffins. It seems like an obvious idea for a supervillain but I’ve never read it done before. Why the Funeral Director came after Cranston is never satisfactorily explained and it comes off as a plot convenience.

This book is enjoyable, though it’s not Shakespeare or even Raymond Chandler. It’s a new pulp adventure team up from the man who is better at recapturing the spirit of the original pulps than any other writer today. While I won’t say it exceeded my expectations, it certainly met them. After nearly eighty years, Will Murray finally created a story worthy of these two great characters and if you’re a fan of either one, it’s a worthwhile read.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

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Audio Drama Review: The Avengers: The Comic Strip Adaptations, Volume 2

The second and final volume of Big Finish’s Avengers Comic Strip adaptations offers four more hour long adventures featuring Julia Wadham and Olivia Poulet playing the iconic roles of of John Steed and Emma Peel.

The set begins with “Playtime is Over” in which Steed and Peel investigate a series of daring robberies apparently committed by children. When a man who has offered them a lead is murdered by a toy boat, that sets them onto a toy factory run by an eccentric man who never quite grew up.

This takes the offbeat nature of the Avengers and ups the zaniness to the level of a 1960s Batman TV episode. It’s incredible fun, if a bit predictable at times.

In “The Antongoniser,” after several strange deaths, Steed and Mrs. Peel are put on the case and discover the cause of death is animals gone bad. This is an entertaining program, with some fun moments, but it doesn’t measure up to the better episodes in the series with a mystery that’s too quickly solved and a villain that’s not that interesting. Still, worth a listen due to the fun one-liners.

In, “The Mad Hatter,” a visiting foreign princess becomes a target for assassins. As the title implies, a theme villain is behind it, but the story has a lot of twists on its way to the big reveal. The dialogue is hilarious as are many of the situations. Although, the idea of a rattlesnake being hidden in a bowler hat does cross the line from hilarious to ludicrous. Still, a fun episode.

“The Secret Six” is a perfect finale for the comic strip stories as Steed and Mrs. Peel find themselves prisoners at a country estate where they are held by six master criminals from around the globe who have decided that eliminating Steed and Peel is critical for their evil plans to succeed. It’s an action packed and dizzying ride as the two have to dodge bullets and even a tank in their quest to stay alive. Overall, this is a fun and exhilarating conclusion to the series. My only complaint is  several of the six villains were not quite credible as crime bosses. In the end, that doesn’t stop this finale from being a pleasure to listen to.

Ratings: 4.0 out of 5.0

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