Category Archives: Private Eye

Noir on Tuesday: HICKEY & BOGGS

A train pulls into a busy platform and a woman in sunglasses gets off and quickly walks away. She goes through LA’s Union Station, still looking largely as it did since it opened in 1939. We dissolve to a street … Continue reading

Posted in DVD Review, Film Noir, Five Star review, Noir on Tuesday, Private Eye, Robert Culp | 7 Comments

NIGHT PASSAGE (1997) by Robert B. Parker

“Being a homicide cop wasn’t like anything on television, but there wasn’t much point in trying to explain that someone who could never know.” The late Robert B. Parker will most likely be remembered best for his books featuring Boston … Continue reading

Posted in Jesse Stone, Police procedural, Robert B. Parker | 5 Comments

MURDER ON THE YELLOW BRICK ROAD (1977) by Stuart M. Kaminsky

I love movies, especially those from the so-called Golden era (pre-1960) when the studios were seen as glamorous dream factories; and of course I love detective stories. Thus I am a real sucker for books that combine the two, when … Continue reading

Posted in Los Angeles, Private Eye, Raymond Chandler, Stuart Kaminsky | 12 Comments

Z is for … Fred Zackel’s COCAINE AND BLUE EYES (1978)

The 2011 Alphabet of Crime community meme over at the Mysteries in Paradise blog has reached the end of the line with the letter Z – and my second and last nominations this week, comes following a communication from the … Continue reading

Posted in Private Eye, Ross Macdonald, San Francisco, Scene of the crime | 3 Comments

RIP Newton Thornburg (1930-2011)

Last month the American novelist Newton Thornburg died at the age of 81. He had apparently been incapacitated by a stroke in 1998 and been confined to a wheelchair since then. He remains best-known for his 1976 post-Vietnam novel Cutter … Continue reading

Posted in 'Best of' lists, Newton Thornburg, Private Eye | 7 Comments

Top 20: Private Eye movies

“The bottom is loaded with nice people. Only cream and bastards rise” – HARPER (1966) The private investigator or, in Sherlock Holmes’ case, ‘consulting’ detective, is a figure completely embedded into the history of the crime and mystery genre, but … Continue reading

Posted in 'Best of' lists, Dashiell Hammett, Film Noir, Philip Marlowe, Private Eye, Raymond Chandler, Ross Macdonald, William Goldman | 97 Comments

V is for … SOLOMON’S VINEYARD (1941) by Jonathan Latimer

The Alphabet of Crime community meme over at the Mysteries in Paradise blog is nearing its end as it reaches the letter V – and my second nomination this week, also eligible under the guidelines of Bev’s 2011 Mystery Readers Challenge, is …

SOLOMON’S VINEYARD (1941) by Jonathan Latimer

“I fought in the war,” Jonesy said; “but it wasn’t like this.”

This is a book that comes with a lot of baggage after gaining notoriety as a mystery that was so hardboiled that it wasn’t published uncut in the US for some forty years – does it, could it, really live up to that promise? Is this the book that is to the crime and mystery genre what DH Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover was to ‘serious’ literature – an emancipating, liberating turning point in the genre? Well, no, not all. It’s still a damn good book though. Here’s some reasons why. Continue reading

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THAT ANGEL LOOK (1997) by Mike Ripley

The Alphabet of Crime community meme over at the Mysteries in Paradise blog this week reaches the letter T, and my nomination, is …

THAT ANGEL LOOK by Mike Ripley

“I resorted to one of my long-standing philosophical maxims and thought: Stuff this for a bunch of soldiers.”

What can you say about a crime novel in which the hero, despite being bright, articulate, University-educated and a worldly-wise musician, spends most of his time driving a black cab and working as a gopher? That this same protagonist, when he’s not getting pushed around by cops and drug dealers, is also clearly under the thumb of not just his ambitious girlfriend but also completely at the mercy of his vicious pet cat? That this is the kind of novel in which the leading ladies turn out to be either neo-Nazis, witches or Thatcherite scum? Well, for starters, you would have to accept that this is a paradoxical book, one that treats subjects such as racism without levity and yet has a wisecracking laugh-to-page ratio to make most hardboiled wordsmiths envious. Welcome to Angel’s world, which resembles London, England in the 1990s on the cusp of the Internet revolution. Continue reading

Posted in Crime Fiction Alphabet, London, Mike Ripley, PB Yuill, Scene of the crime | 4 Comments

Top 100 mystery books (almost)

The plan was to come up with a top 100 that I was prepared to stand by – but I wanted to re-read so many of the books that I might have included but now remembered too vaguely (such as Ngaio Marsh’s output or books like Tey’s hugely popular The Daughter of Time) that I thought I should publish only a partial list. Not to mention finding it a bit hard to just settle on one book by Georges Simenon given the enormity of his output – I have placed a list of 80+ titles on the site and am extremely open to suggestions …

So here are My (Nearly) Top 100 Mystery Books  Continue reading

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SPADEWORK (1996) by Bill Pronzini

The Alphabet of Crime community meme over at the Mysteries in Paradise blog has reached the letter S. My second recommendation this week is …

SPADEWORK by Bill Pronzini

“Hardboiled shockers, offbeat whodunits, exercises in ratiocination, impossible crime puzzles, attempts at social commentary, light-and-wry near-cozies, pure slapstick farce …” – Bill Pronzini

Next month will see the return of Bill Pronzini’s ‘Nameless’ private eye in Camouflage, some 40 years since the publication of his first case. This will be the 38th volume in the series, one that, if publishers Macmillan are to be believed, will end when it reaches its 40th. Fans will doubtless hope that this is not so, but if it is then this is a character that has already had an enviably long run – and a remarkably varied one at that. One shouldn’t need much of an excuse to celebrate the work of a master like Pronzini, but here, courtesy of the letter S, is a brief look at Spadework, his second collection on ‘Nameless’ short stories . It was originally published by Crippen & Landru in 1996, coinciding with the 25th anniversary of the characters (where has the time gone?) but sadly now appears to be out of print. It contains fifteen short stories together with a delightfully biased introduction from fellow crime writer Marcia Muller, who is also Mr Pronzini’s wife. Continue reading

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Top 10: San Francisco Mysteries

With the closure at the end of this month of The San Francisco Mystery Bookstore (as reported here) I thought I would dedicate a post this week to that fine city in Northern California where, once upon a time, I used to visit a very good friend of mine. I did a lot of growing up there in the 80s and 90s and also bought a lot of great mystery books.

I haven’t been there in over a decade now but along with its undoubtedly beautiful setting on the Bay, the vibrancy of its culture (and counter-culture) and of course the wonderful food, fascinating people and amazing architecture, the potential for squalor and seediness seemed often remarkably ever-present to me as a European tourist, requiring little more than a short step in the ‘wrong’ direction – especially before the regeneration of SOMA. This mixture of high and low culture, of beauty and darkness, have made it the perfect setting for all kinds of mysteries, from the misanthropic romance of Hitckcock’s Vertigo to the hard- and soft-boiled worlds of Hammett found in the gritty adventures of Sam Spade and upper class sleuths Nick and Nora Charles. In some ways the most valuable works here for me are those by Bill Pronzini and the late Joe Gores, who use the city and its environs as the backdrop for so much of their work. They offer a particularly fascinating and diverse look at a city and how it has changed over the decades.

Limiting this list to just 10 inevitably meant plumping for some personal favourites and some unavoidable but great, even classic, books that somehow you just can’t do without. So, for today, these are my top mystery books set in and about San Francisco, still beautiful and mysterious – just like my old friend. I present these in strict chronological order. I hope to blog on each separately, as time goes by … Continue reading

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Audio review: PLAYBACK by Raymond Chandler

I first published this review over at my Audio Aficionado blog but I think it belongs more properly here with my other Fedora tips.

Playback (1958) is generally agreed to be the least of Chandler’s novels, with its slender plot and small cast of characters; but on the other hand this works to its advantage in the broadcast medium. In fact the novel, which I previously reviewed here, had its roots in an original screenplay of the same name written between 1947 and 1948 for Universal Studios but never produced. Those interested to compare the now three iterations of this material can read the complete script online.

The Plot: PI Philip Marlowe is mixing a little business with pleasure – he’s getting paid to follow a mysterious and lovely redhead called Eleanor King. And wherever Miss King goes, trouble seems to follow. But she’s easy on the eye and Marlowe’s happy to do as he’s told, all in the name of chivalry, of course. But one dead body later and what started out to be a lazy day’s snooping soon becomes a deadly cocktail of blackmail, lies, mistaken identity – and murder … Continue reading

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P is for … Polygamy and Poodle Springs

The Alphabet of Crime community meme over at the Mysteries in Paradise blog this week reaches the letter P. My third contribution this week is …

POODLE SPRINGS (1989) by Raymond Chandler and Robert B. Parker

Over at his estimable Classic Mystery blog the Puzzledoctor recently posted a review that combined the letter P and matrimony, which I thought was darn clever given the Royal Wedding hullabaloo over the past weekend. As a cheeky homage, let me counter (with apologies to the good doctor) with a brief overview of what might be termed a polygamous book (in many senses) …
At the time of his death in 1959 Raymond Chandler was working on a new novel featuring Philip Marlowe, the immortal private eye he created twenty years earlier in The Big Sleep. Tentatively entitled ‘The Poodle Springs Story’, Chandler’s parody of Palm Springs, it sees Marlowe married off to Linda Loring, the wealthy socialite he first met in The Long Good-bye (1953) and who proposed to him at the end of Playback (1958). Chandler left some notes and four completed chapters of his new story after wrestling with it for months, unsure if marrying off Marlowe was a good idea or not. Nearly thirty years later Robert B. Parker, the creator of Boston PI Spenser, was tasked with turning these scant 20 or so pages into a novel. Continue reading

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H is for … HAZELL PLAYS SOLOMON (1974) by PB Yuill

The Alphabet of Crime community meme over at the Mysteries in Paradise blog this week reaches the letter H, so I nominate …

HAZELL PLAYS SOLOMON (1974) by PB Yuill

“My name is James Hazell and I’m the biggest bastard who ever pushed your bell-button”

And so begins the first in a series of three brisk novels (and one short story) featuring the East End of London’s answer to Philip Marlowe, Sam Spade and the Continental Op. It’s a great opening line, but not really that representative of the tone of the book as a whole, or of the lead character either come to that.

Hazell is 33, recently divorced, a recovering alcoholic and late of the Metropolitan Police Force (following a severe beating from a vicious gang of thieves who virtually destroyed his ankle). After hitting skid row (or the East End of London’s equivalent) he is trying to put his life back together as a private inquiry agent. Although undeniably tough (and emotionally immature) he is also far from being a total cynic – he has a lot more in common say with Ross Macdonald’ Lew Archer (featured in last week’s post) than cro-magnum PI’s like Mike Hammer and with considerably more humour than either. Continue reading

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G is for … THE GALTON CASE (1959) by Ross Macdonald

The Alphabet of Crime community meme over at the Mysteries in Paradise blog this week reaches the letter G, so I nominate …
THE GALTON CASE (1959) by Ross Macdonald
Private detective Lew Archer (known in some editions as Lew Arless, and in the cinema, as played by Paul Newman, as ‘Lew Harper’) first appeared in THE MOVING TARGET (1949) by John Macdonald, a pseudonym for Margaret Millar’s husband Kenneth (named, not insignificantly as we shall see, after his father, John Macdonald Millar). Following complaints from fellow mystery writer John D. MacDonald, the pseudonym quickly transmuted into ‘Ross Macdonald’ as the books grew in critical acclaim. Macdonald in fact was quickly heralded as the natural successor to Hammett and Chandler in the hardboiled genre, a serious author using the crime genre with literary intent and not just a purveyor of tough guy pulp fictions. The eighth Archer novel, THE GALTON CASE, was first published in 1959 and in many ways can be seen as a turning point in Millar’s career. Continue reading

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