Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Nightmare Alley, new film from strange book

Director Guillermo del Toro’s new film version of “Nightmare Alley” is about to open in theaters. 

The movie stars Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, Toni Collette, Willem Dafoe, Rooney Mara and a lot of other big names. 

Here’s hoping it is as good as director Edmund Goulding’s 1947 version starring Tyrone Power, Coleen Gray, Joan Blondell and Helen Walker. 

And here’s hoping it sticks closer to the unsettling weirdness of William Lindsay Gresham’s 1946 novel of the same name, but without going too far off the deep end, as Guillermo del Toro is apt to do. 

A few years ago, I wrote a piece about the novel. You can read it here.

Thursday, December 9, 2021

Christmas Party by Rex Stout

Around here, Christmas trees went up and houses got decked out with colored lights before Thanksgiving. It is the holiday season. 

In that spirit, I picked up a copy of Rex Stout’s, Christmas Party, a Nero Wolfe mystery set during the yuletide.

Private detective Nero Wolfe’s right-hand man, Archie Goodwin is attending a Christmas party at the offices of a former client when the host is murdered right in front of a roomful of guests.  

The suspects are many, including disgruntled employees, jealous benefactors, and a mysterious figure in a Santa Claus costume tending bar at the time. 

Since the host seems to have been poisoned from a bottle no one else drank from, Kris Kringle becomes the No. 1 person of interest. But Santa slipped away in the chaos as the others tended to the downed host. 

Archie is embroiled in the mystery as he was romancing a young woman employed at the company. Another young woman employee involves Nero Wolfe in the case. 

Both Archie and Wolfe know things related to the company and its people that they each would like to conceal from the police. The only way to do that is for Nero Wolfe to solve the mystery and reveal the killer before Inspector Cramer of the New York Police Department pounces on the wrong suspect. 

This is the perfect holiday read: not too long, none of the Nero Wolfes are, but this one is a novella; not too graphic, again, none of them are; and, while the brilliant, beer-drinking, flower-loving, gourmand, Nero Wolfe is an overbearing pain in the ass, sharp-witted, street-smart Archie Goodwin is always good company.

Rex Stout (1886-1975) published Christmas Party in 1957.

Monday, November 15, 2021

Fourth Down and Out by Andrew Welsh-Huggins

Andrew Welsh-Huggins’ first private investigator Andy Hayes novel, Fourth Down and Out, from 2014, is a terrific read.

Hayes is a PI with an unusual past.

As a college football star for the Ohio State University, he was involved in a scandal that ended his career and made him one of the most hated personalities in Columbus, Ohio.

Now, 20 years later, avid fans of the team still recognize Andy and let him know, loudly, just what they think of him.

Andy primarily works for a local lawyer, who needs detective work or has clients who need it.

In this case, a middle-age man caught on video with a high school girl finds himself being blackmailed. He contacts Andy to find the blackmailer and erase the video. Fortunately, the movie has not hit the web. It resides on a laptop that proves difficult to find.

Other people want the machine and just as Andy gets his hands on it, he is jumped by to thugs hired to retrieve it. One of the thugs, a football fan, recognizes Andy and gives him an extra hard thumping.

The thug is later found murdered, further complicating the case.

Andrew Welsh-Huggins, an Associated Press reporter, lays out a complicated plot with many twists and turns, running his protagonist all around the city, the burbs and the countryside. He also fills the book with a fine sense of what big-time college football means to the residents of the area.

So far, there are seven books in the Andy Hayes series.

This series was highlighted recently
(here and here) by my friend Col, at his site Col’s Criminal Library, a great source for finding out what’s new in crime fiction.

Sunday, October 31, 2021

Wolfshead by Robert E. Howard

Today, a repost and a request.

While I am familiar with some of the classic werewolf stories, if you can suggest more – classic or not
I would appreciate it.

Happy Halloween.

Wolfshead is one of Robert E. Howard’s earliest stories, published in Weird Tales in 1926 when the author who later wrote the Conan stories was 20 years old.

It is a werewolf yarn, and since the Wolf Man was my favorite of the old movie monsters, and with Halloween approaching, I thought this novella (or is it a novelette?) would make a good Forgotten Books post this week.

The time of the story is not stated, but best guess puts it in the 17th or early 18th century. A former soldier travels to Africa to visit an old friend who has grown rich by shipping goods to Europe. The friend is also involved in the slave trade, which contributed to his wealth. At the castle of the friend, the unnamed narrator meets a variety of guests, one of whom turns out to be a werewolf. This werewolf, like all werewolves of future stories and movies, knows what he becomes at night and desperately longs to be rid of the curse or to die.

The first half of this story is a horror mystery as the narrator and the surviving guests try to figure out who – and what – is attacking them at night. The second half of the story is the surprising reveal and explanation, followed by some fine action as the werewolf goes on a rampage.

The story is written in a formal style with a dark, chilly tone, and Howard ’s talent keeps it from bogging down. His action passages are excellent and his rethinking of the werewolf legends is an intriguing twist.

This shorter piece is worth reading and can be found on-line.

Friday, October 15, 2021

A Small Sacrifice by Dana King

Dana King’s first detective Nick Forte novel, A Small Sacrifice, was nominated for a Shamus Award, and boy did it deserve the recognition and praise. It is a ripping good tale.

Former Chicago cop, Nick Forte, takes on the job of clearing the name of a man everyone believes guilty of murdering a child.

State and local police bungled the investigation and could not prove the man strangled his own six-year-old son.

The killing made headlines the previous year when the man found the child’s body in the basement of the family’s huge suburban home.

Now, his mother, a wealthy, obstinate, battle axe, wants to restore the good name of the family. She hires Nick for the task.

Nick hates the case, but money is money.

He tells the mother he cannot promise he will get any further than the police. The woman says she does not want Nick to solve the case, just do enough to change public opinion about her son.

Nick barely begins snooping when someone he wants to interview winds up dead in the trunk of a car. Before he can dwell on the odd possible connection to the case, a hired killer attempts to assassinate Nick on the streets of Chicago. The hitman has mob connections.

Once Nick Forte steps into mob territory, the level of tension in the story goes up tenfold. Mobsters get annoyed when outsiders stick their noses into their carefully concealed illegal businesses.

But what is the connection between the mob and his client's arrogant son, Nick wonders?

Dana King spins a complex tale of crime and corruption in a fast paced story with a just the right amount of humor – usually provided by Nick’s first person comments.

At one point, Nick Forte has to talk face to face with a powerful mob boss. Nick says, “I forced myself to make eye contact. It was like looking down the staircase to hell.”

There are four more novels in King’s Nick Forte series.

For a glimpse at Dana King’s other series, the Penns River police novels, look here and here.

Thursday, September 30, 2021

Clint Eastwood’s “Cry Macho” is a film to see, if . . . . . .

If you can get past the idea that anyone would ask a 90-year-old man to drive down to Mexico to rescue a teenage boy, then you will have a fine time watching the new film, “Cry Macho,” starring and directed by Clint Eastwood.

We did.

Others did not. Some friends and some critics disliked this film.

After starring in nearly 50 movies and directing 45 films – often doing double duty in front of, and behind the camera – if Clint Eastwood makes a picture, I am going out to see it. He is one of America’s greatest living directors. There have been some missteps along the way. “Cry Macho” may be one of them. But I found enough in it to enjoy.

It is hard to think of any one as old as old Clint acting in and directing the same movie.

Mel Brooks comes to mind. But the last film he both directed and starred in was, “Dracula: Dead and Loving It” (1995) when he was 69 or 70. Woody Allen both directed and starred in “To Rome With Love” (2012) when he was about 76.

Roman Polanski is someone I think of as appearing in a lot of his own pictures. But that perception is wrong, except in a few instances and a bunch of cameos or Hitchcock-like appearances. The last time he starred in his own film was 1976’s “The Tenant.”

Actors have continued working into their 80s and 90s – the late Christopher Plummer did, and Judi Dench, at 86, is in Kenneth Branagh’s new film, “Belfast.”

Some directors continued working as senior citizens. Ridley Scott, 83, will have two movies out this year.

The oldest director I ever heard of making feature films was Manoel de Oliveira. Five years ago, I did a post about Eastwood and Oliveira (here).

Film Comment magazine published a list of the oldest directors (here).

But, as far as I know, no one Clint’s age has both directed and starred in the same movie.

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Another Look at Out of Sight by Elmore Leonard

Twenty-plus years of Elmore Leonard imitators – with Quentin Tarantino at the front of the pack, and imitators of imitators – have taken some of the edge off, and the fun out of Leonard’s dialogue. But not all of it.

His 1996 novel, Out of Sight, is still a fast, breezy read with well drawn characters, tons of suspense, and swift violent action that hits you like a smack in the face.

Out of Sight is the story of wanted bank robber Jack Foley and federal marshal Karen Sisco who is hunting for him.

Jack and Karen first meet outside a Florida prison when she arrives just as he pops up out of an escape tunnel. Jack, and a buddy waiting for him, overpower Karen, put her in the trunk of her own car and then Jack climbs in with her.

Snuggled up to each other for the getaway, they get to talking as if on a date.

This may sound familiar because director Steven Soderbergh made a good movie from it with George Clooney as Jack and Jennifer Lopez as Karen.

Karen gets away from Jack and Jack gets away from the law. But there was a weird kind of connection between them in that trunk and each wants to see the other again.

Jack and his buddy, Buddy, drive from Florida to Michigan and get with some violent gangsters planning to rob a mansion. Karen gets a line on Jack and tracks him to Detroit.

Why two cool bank robbers like Jack and Buddy would get involved with this new plan is the biggest mystery in Leonard’s crime story. But the author’s skill and style makes it easy to overlook that little problem.

The main thing that diverts a reader’s attention from the hitches in the plot is the budding love story between Jack and Karen. The savvy, middle aged, and very smooth bank robber is smitten with the young, attractive fed. The danger of falling hard for her is whether Karen will fall for him or snap the cuffs on him.

At its heart, Out of Sight, is a romance novel and an example of what can happen when the master of one genre dips into another.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

The Card Counter is a Film to See

Paul Schrader’s, “The Card Counter,” is a raw, yet strangely quiet, movie about a former soldier, psychologically damaged by his time in Iraq. His guilt and fears, which he keeps hidden behind a stony stare and immobile face, are not the result of battle, but of the things he did while a guard in Abu Ghraib prison.

The soft spoken, stone-faced character, who now makes a living as a professional gambler, is played by actor Oscar Isaac, and he is unnerving to watch.

There is a great deal of stillness in “The Card Counter,” but a tremendous amount of inner turmoil, which can set a viewer’s nerves on edge waiting for the explosion.

Schrader, who wrote and directed this film, is the guy who wrote the script for the 1976 Martin Scorsese film, “Taxi Driver.” Here, Schrader uses some of the same techniques in “The Card Counter,” including an alienated protagonist who tells us about himself in voice-over narration.

Unlike Robert De Niro’s edgy taxi driver who observes the world around him and comments on it, Isaac’s gambler is quietly involved in his world of intense card games. He sticks to low stakes games in casinos around the country which, in this film, appear slick, serious, empty and devoid of any kind of fun.

This new Schrader character, like the old one, is compelled to be alone, but longs to connect with other people – and with the viewers of the film. He even tells us how he changed his name from William Tillich to William Tell. Is the name Schrader’s way of letting us know William wants to “tell” us what’s eating at him? Is it a play on the poker term meaning body language that tips other players to the cards one is holding. Is the name a reference to the legend of the archer who shot an apple off his son’s head? In the movie, William forms a dangerous friendship with a volatile young fellow with an ax to grind against the people who plunged the country into the war in Iraq.

The film poses lots of questions. It answers many of them, but leaves quite a few mysteries. (Like, what was up with those bed sheets? Sensory deprivation?)

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Two Harlan Coben Miniseries


Having now watched two Netflix miniseries created by suspense author Harlan Coben, I have a question:

Is it OK, after six hours of damn good, suspenseful entertainment, if the conclusion of a story does not completely add up?

My answer is, Yes. It’s OK with me.

The two shows that my wife and I enjoyed, but some friends had problems with, are “Safe” and “The Stranger.”

In “Safe,” a man who recently lost his wife and is struggling to raise two teenage daughters is thrown into a panic when his older daughter goes over to a friend’s house and never returns. The mystery is what happened to her. What the man finds out in his search complicates everything and shows the safe, gated community in which they live is not safe at all.

Without giving too much away, the first thing the man finds out is that the girl did not go to her friend’s house, but to a wild party at the house of another girl whose parents were away. The man struggles to wring the truth out of the teenagers and their parents, who are all caught up in covering their own asses, never mind that a neighbor’s kid has disappeared.

In “The Stranger,” a young woman approaches a man at a sporting event and tells him some things about his wife no one else could know. The man starts to question, doubt and suspect his wife has been telling him lies. The young woman does the same thing to other people and seems to enjoy watching their lives come apart.

Who is she and how does this stranger know these things? No spoilers here.

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Dashiell Hammett’s Continental Op

There is a massive paperback called The Big Book of the Continental Op with all (or most of) Dashiell Hammett’s short stories featuring his investigator for the fictional Continental Detective Agency. Hammett never tells the reader the Op's name.

Editors Richard Layman and Julie M. Rivett collected all the Op stories Hammett published from October 1923 to November 1930 in the pulp magazine Black Mask. The book includes the original, serialized stories Hammett later rewrote, edited, and published as the novels, Red Harvest and The Dain Curse. Aside from correcting typos and adding footnotes to explain the slang Hammett used, the editors presented each story as it first appeared nearly a century ago.

The first yarns I read (reread, actually) in the collection were two early linked stories published in 1924, “The House in Turk Street” and “The Girl with the Silver Eyes.” Unlike the ones that became the novels, these two do not have to be read in order. I know, because I read them out of order decades ago, and again this summer.

Chronologically, “The House in Turk Street” comes first. In it, the Op, a 35-year-old, heavy set (he called himself fat in his first person narration of the stories), detective is doing the legwork for a case by going door to door, asking residents of Turk Street if they have seen a certain man reported to be in the neighborhood.

At one door, an old couple invite him into their house and fritter away his time in a scene that is almost comic until a man with a gun enters. It is not the man the Op is searching for, but is the leader of a small band of thieves who are hiding out in the house. The man, along with an ugly thug, a beautiful young woman, and the old couple, have pulled a heist of bonds.

The bonds are in a bag and each of the gang members wants the bag for himself. Each is willing to deceive, double cross, and even kill the others to get it. While their greed occupies them, the Op is able to free himself and get away, but not before guns go off, people get shot, and the bonds go from hand to hand.

While the plotting and the amount of violence in the story may have been what Black Mask required, Hammett through his life experience and his ear for natural sounding dialogue, elevates the story.

“The Girl with the Silver Eyes” is a much longer and less confined story which Black Mask promoted as a novelette.

In it, the son of a rich man wants the Op to find his girlfriend who has disappeared. The Op gets to work and soon learns the beautiful woman skipped out with $20,000 the young man gave her. The guy does not care about the money – which was not all his – he just wants the woman he loves to come back.

The Op does his job, and Hammett lets the reader in on some of the techniques detectives used to track people. For instance, the Op walks over a newspaper office, looks up the weather reports for the last month, notes the days it rained, goes to the taxicab companies and asks them to look for any record of fares on those days going to or from the woman’s apartment building.

“The Girl with the Silver Eyes” is a story with a lot of local color as the Op works his way around town winding up at a night club and gambling joint. Hammett’s observations of the gamblers, the club owner, the cheats, snitches and other assorted creeps, is great fun to read.

My only complaint with it was the use of a corny device to allow the baddies to escape and plunge the Op into a rip-roaring car chase near the end.

The realism of Hammett’s Continental Op stories comes out of the author’s experience working for the Pinkerton National Detective Agency. While the stories stand up pretty well, they were the training ground for one of the best detective novels ever written, Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon.

Sunday, July 4, 2021

Happy Fourth of July!


James Cagney in “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” the perfect movie for the Fourth of July.

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Baltimore Blues by Laura Lippman

Laura Lippman is a writer I have heard about for years but had yet to catch up with her books. Last week, I read Baltimore Blues, thoroughly enjoyed it, and wondered what took me so long to get to it?

This 1997 mystery was the first in Lippman’s Tess Monaghan series. We meet Tess, a reporter without a newspaper after the daily she worked for went out of business – like so many papers, big and small.

Tess is making ends meet with two part-time jobs, one for her uncle, the head of an obscure government department who needs reports and press releases written, and another for her aunt who runs an eclectic bookstore. Tess lives in an apartment above the bookstore.

In the early morning hours, she goes down to the Patapsco River and gives herself a workout rowing a shell. One morning on the river she meets Darryl Paxton, a competitive rower and an old friend everyone calls Rock. After a friendly race back to the boathouse, Rock confides in Tess, telling her that he believes his girlfriend, Ava, is in trouble and that is why she seems to be drifting away from him. He offers to pay Tess to follow Ava and find out what is going on.

For a week, Tess follows Ava every time the woman comes out of the office building where she works for a prestigious law firm. Ava has some peculiar interests, like shoplifting from boutiques in an upscale mall, and going to a hotel during her lunch break. One day, Tess literally bumps into Ava’s boss in the lobby of the hotel, and that makes too big a coincidence for Tess. Instead of reporting her findings to Rock, she confronts Ava herself, setting off a chain of events that land Rock in jail for murdering the lawyer.

Rock’s defense attorney, who is also his friend and rowing coach, hires Tess to investigate the murder, looking for leads that will exonerate Rock.

Tess does her job, and more. Forgetting that she is employed to follow the defense lawyer’s instructions and gather facts, and falling back into her habit of trying to break a story, she endangers Rock’s case and puts herself in the crosshairs of the real murderer.

Lippman’s story is a quick read with a good many twists and turns, action, suspense, and observations about the city of Baltimore and its diverse population and neighborhoods.

There is a lot to like in this book, including a few literary references, like brief mentions of three poems within a few pages of each other: Houseman’s “Terence, This is Stupid Stuff” and Auden's "In Memory of W. B. Yeats” and Milton’s “When I Consider How My Light Is Spent.”

Thursday, June 17, 2021

“Shaft” directed by Gordon Parks from the Ernest Tidyman novel

Last week, I wrote about the novel Shaft. This week, a few words about “Shaft,” the 1971 movie.

The story is fairly simple, private investigator John Shaft is hired by a Harlem gangster to rescue the man’s teenage daughter from Mafia kidnappers.

Some of the social and political complexities of the novel are lost, but the action is retained. The movie is nearly wall-to-wall action, with a few lulls while Shaft verbally spars with police Lt. Androzzi, and beds several women.

The movie had some excellent things going for it. It was based on a solid novel by Ernest Tidyman, who co-wrote the screenplay. It had a good cast with Richard Roundtree as Shaft, Charles Cioffi as Lt. Androzzi, and Moses Gunn as the gangster. Gunn has a terrific moment early on when hiring Shaft and trying to maintain his tough front, while his emotions overwhelm him and tears come to his eyes. 

“Shaft also had long-time magazine photographer, writer, and filmmaker Gordon Parks as director. In an interview, Richard Rountree said Parks was so cool, he was Shaft.

And, perhaps most memorable of all, “Shaft” had a musical score and song by Isaac Hayes. Hayes won an Oscar for “Theme from Shaft.” 

Say “Shaft” to people who have seen the movie, and I will bet two things happen, they hear the song in their heads and they picture Richard Roundtree walking through Times Square in that long leather coat. 

I was going to say more about the movie, but I found the following clip which says it all.


Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Surprising novel Shaft by Ernest Tidyman

First edition

Three things surprised me about the book, Shaft:

First, the paperback copy on my shelf, unread until now because I had seen the 1971 movie several times, is not a novelization of the film, but an original novel written by Ernest Tidyman, published in 1970.

Second, the novel is old fashioned and current at the same time. New York City, where the story is set, was on its heels at the time. Times Square, where 28-year-old, black, private investigator John Shaft has his office, was a sleazy place full of crumbling movie houses, porno book stores and strip joints. But, many of the struggles of the African-Americans living in Harlem then, are the same today.

Third: Ernest Tidyman, a man whose name I have seen in movie credits, and who I always assumed was black, was white.

Shaft is the story of Harlem-born, Vietnam-vet, P.I. John Shaft who is approached by uptown’s most powerful and feared gangster with a personal request. Knocks Persons wants to hire Shaft to find out who kidnapped his teenage daughter and where they are holding her.


The Mafia grabbed the girl to pressure Persons into relinquishing control of Harlem. But Persons knew that. He was using Shaft to smoke them out and to settle some scores.

Before the old mob tipped its hand, Shaft tracked down and approached a militant young black leader, Ben Buford, for information. While meeting in a secret and secure building with Buford’s men guarding the place, the place is attacked, killing the guards and nearly killing Buford and Shaft.

Later, in an attempt to negotiate with the mob, Shaft is ambushed, takes a hell of an ass-kicking, and is dumped on Knocks’ doorstep as a warning to the Harlem gangster.

While most men would be rushed to the hospital, Shaft rushes into action with a plan to smash into the kidnappers hideout, rescue the girl and stomp the men who beat him. All of this is executed in a series of incidents even more impossible than the end of the movie based on this book.

Tidyman was very good with action and dialogue, not quite as good with the odd, internal musings of John Shaft. But overall, Shaft is a
well done, fun read, and if I can find Tidyman’s other Shaft novels, I will be reading them, too.

Ernest Tidyman (1928-1984) had a long career as a journalist before writing his first book. His third book, Shaft, was a success, helped no doubt by the hit movie that came out the following year. He went on to write six more Shaft novels as well as other books. He also wrote and produced films. He wrote the script for the movie,“Shaft,” and won an Academy Award for his screenplay of “The French Connection” from Robin Moore’s non-fiction book.

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Three Questions for Dana King author of Leaving the Scene

This month, Dana King published Leaving the Scene, the sixth book in his terrific Penns River series of police procedurals. I recently asked him three questions:

EB: Congratulations on the new book. Would you tell us about it and what the police in your fictional Pennsylvania town are facing? 

DK: Leaving the Scene has two meanings in this book. Long-time Penns River police chief Stush Napierkowski has retired, so changes are afoot in the department. The new chief has to hit the ground running when a hit-and-run driver kills a woman. While the homicide takes up more of the story than anything else, mostly the book deals with the conflicting demands on the cops’ time, some humorous, others not. 

EB: You’ve lived with your recurring characters for a while now. Does that make the writing easier? Or is coming up with a new story always a challenge? 

DK: For me it’s easier; others’ mileage may vary. I like having a set cast I can draw from, as I know many of their strengths and weaknesses already. I’ll often get an idea for a story, or a side anecdote, and my first thought will be, “Sisler needs to answer this call,” or, “this can show the differing styles and personalities of Trettle and Burrows.” It opens things up for me. I also don’t have to use every continuing character in every book. It’s a little like the old Mission Impossible TV show, where Peter Graves would shuffle through the photos of his team to choose who he wanted to use this week. As for ideas, Penns River is based on a real place. I just have to read the paper for ideas. 

EB: During the writing of any of your Penns River novels, or your Nick Forte P.I. series, have you ever painted yourself into a corner and had to figure a way out of it? 

DK: Oh, yeah. Two times come to mind. In each I had to throw away tens of thousands of words and go back to a place where things were still on the rails and work from there. I once wrote over 30,000 words of a Nick Forte story, fighting it all the way, when I realized this wasn’t a Forte story; it belonged in Penns River. I threw away everything but one sentence and started over. (It wasn’t the opening sentence, either.) Not coincidentally, these are the only books I tried to write without outlines. Never again. The outline often changes as the book progresses, but I always have some kind of map working. Scrivener is great for that, especially if you need to re-arrange the order of chapters. 

EB: Thanks, Dana. 

For more information about Dana King’s novels, check out his website, and keep up with him on Facebook or his blog.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Mairgret Has Scruples by Georges Simenon

A big mystery in Georges Simenon’s, Mairgret Has Scruples, is: When is something going to happen?

But, wondering about that may miss the point of this 1958 novel featuring the fictional detective, Jules Maigret of the Paris police.

Here, solving a crime seems less important than understanding the culprit and the victim. In this case, no crime is committed until very late in the story.

Nearly three-quarters of the book is a series of scenes involving Chief Superintendent Maigret talking to a married couple.

The man comes to the station to tell Maigret he fears his wife is going to poison him. Later, the wife comes in to tell him her husband is nuts and possibly dangerous.

Several long talks with each follow, while, in the meantime, Maigret sends his detectives off to learn all they can about these people. It turns out the wife has a guy on the side and the husband is in love with his sister-in-law. Still, no crime has been committed.

Maigret briefs the city prosecutor and the lawyer warns him to drop it because there is no cause to be investigating this couple. But the chief persists, knowing he could wind up in legal trouble himself.

As usual with Simenon, this book is a bit of a magic act because not much happens in the 186 pages and yet every page is fascinating.

Maigret, who likes to study and understand the people he comes in contact with, is a study himself. The man is efficient, even swift when he has to be, but he can also be slow and plodding, pondering a case and worrying about the characters involved.

This and other Maigret novels feel almost leisurely. The chief even has time most days to go home and have lunch with Madame Maigret. Although she is used to him eating in silence as he puzzles out a case.

Georges Simenon (1903-1989) wrote 75 Maigret novels and 28 short stories. The prolific author also turned out many stand-alone novels. The numbers vary on just how many books Simenon wrote. Some estimate around 400, including the ones he did early in his career under different pen names.

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Film: The New Centurions (1972)

A 49-year-old cop movie that holds up pretty well is “The New Centurions,” based on Joseph Wambaugh’s first novel.

George C. Scott stars as Kilvinski, a veteran patrol officer reaching retirement age whose personal life is empty. While he is weary of life on the street, it is the only thing he lives for.

But the story is really about Roy, who in the film goes from a rookie, under the guidance of Kilvinski, to a veteran, and whose life is going in the same direction as his mentor’s. Roy is played by Stacy Keach.

In the wake of current events, it is interesting to see what policing looked like five decades ago – from the attitudes, to the rogue events, to the simple things like the lack of body armor.

But unlike many police pictures and television shows that age badly – mostly because time has not been kind to the actors playing bad guys who now look like actors playing bad guys – “The New Centurions” stood up pretty well.

One scene that jumps out was when the veteran and the rookie stop a black truck driver on a minor infraction and the situation escalates. The truck driver was played by Roger E. Mosely (who went on to co-star on TV’s “Magnum, P.I.

“The New Centurions” was directed by Richard Fleischer, who had a long career and may be forgotten or underrated today. The script was by Sitrling Silliphant and possibly an uncredited Robert Towne. Also in the film were Jane Alexander, Scott Wilson and Erik Estrada.