Friday, February 24, 2017

Arthur C. Clarke’s Rendezvous with Rama

Rendezvous with Rama, which appeared in 1973, is one of Arthur C. Clarke’s more celebrated novels. I read it many years ago and although I liked it I felt that it didn’t quite compare to masterpieces like The City and the Stars and Childhood’s End. Reading it again my opinion is pretty much unchanged. It’s second-tier Arthur C. Clarke, but second-tier Arthur C. Clarke is still better than 99 percent of published science fiction.

In the 22nd century a large asteroid is spotted. There’s nothing unusual about that but this seems to be a slightly odd asteroid. For one thing it’s remarkably symmetrical, and for another it’s spinning a lot faster than any known asteroid. It’s odd enough for astronomers to take some interest in it and when they do so they’re in for a shock. The asteroid, which has been given the name Rama, is a perfect cylinder and it’s hollow. This is no asteroid, this is a spaceship. And it's a very big spaceship - it's about fifty kilometres in length.

This is much excitement among scientists, and much consternation among bureaucrats and politicians. This is the moment that both have been awaiting, with both hope and dread - First Contact.

Given the fact that this spaceship’s course has taken it nowhere near any stars for half a million years or so it seems very unlikely that there could be anything alive on board Rama. Even the most advanced technologies for recycling air, water and wastes could not have maintained life for so long. Rama must be a dead empty shell, of immense interest to archaeologists of course, but still completely dead.

The United Planets, who rarely agree on anything, manage to agree to send the spacecraft Endeavour to rendezvous with this strange intruder in our solar system. Time is short - within a few months Rama will have left our solar system forever.

Rama proves to be a gigantic hollow habitat, with artificial gravity provided by its spin. The interior is a very strange landscape indeed. Not surprisingly, Rama is indeed dead. Or so it appears at first.

Clarke was always at his best when working on a truly colossal cosmic scale, with time spans of millions of years. In Rendezvous with Rama he is very much playing to his strengths. Clarke was an atheist who was fascinated by religion and his books often pose questions that are not merely philosophical but quasi-religious. Questions about the purpose of existence, the destiny of the human race, the nature of life itself. Earth’s encounter with Rama poses several such questions. Most pertinent in this case is the question of the nature of life. Does Rama contain life or not? Clarke wasn’t interested in easy glib answers to these sorts of questions. His objective was to get the reader thinking about the concepts rather than claiming to have absolute answers. Rendezvous with Rama tantalises us with possibilities but offers no certainties.

The biggest criticism leveled at Clarke throughout his career was the almost non-existent degree of characterisation. It should be noted that this criticism was most often voiced by people who failed to understand that science fiction does not play by the rules that apply to literary fiction. For Clarke cardboard characterisations were a feature, not a bug. He had no desire to distract the reader with the tedious emotional lives of his characters. His books were about big ideas. If you want characterisation then Arthur C. Clarke is not the author for you.

Clarke liked to keep the science in his books reasonably plausible. Rendezvous with Rama deals with interstellar travel on the grand scale but without invoking faster-than-light travel. Rama itself is impressive but despite its vast scale it’s also a theoretically possible technology. At the same time he manages to make his alien world genuinely alien, and he does so without making it sinister in any obvious way. The world of Rama is neither comforting nor threatening - it’s disturbing merely because it’s so wildly unfamiliar and inexplicable. It’s a puzzle without a solution.

Clarke may have written better books than this but Rendezvous with Rama is still absolutely essential reading for any science fiction fan. Highly recommended.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Christopher Bush’s Dead Man Twice

Dead Man Twice, published in 1930, was one of the very earliest of Christopher Bush’s Ludovic Travers mysteries. Intriguingly in these early books Travers plays second fiddle to a detective named John Franklin.

This book appears to be a sporting mystery but don’t panic. You don’t have to like (or understand) boxing to enjoy this one.

Michael France is a young man generating a lot of excitement. He’s an Englishman who appears to have a real chance of winning the world heavyweight crown. France is a gentleman boxer - a real gentleman, Eton followed by Cambridge, an actual blue-blood. His two inseparable companions are his manager, Kenneth Hayles, and racing driver Peter Claire. The three were childhood friends. Actually the position of Hayles is a little ambiguous - France seems to pretty much manage his own career. Peter Claire has provided the money to finance France’s boxing career. Hayles and France were also co-authors of a book describing France’s career to date whole Hayles is also the writer of a couple of detective stories. These literary endeavours will play a major role in the ensuing mystery (the fact that Claire drives racing cars will also be important). There is also a fourth member of the circle, Claire’s beautiful but flirtatious wife Dorothy.

Everyone is thrilled not only by France’s exploits in the boxing ring but also by his charm and good looks and easy-going confidence. He is something of a national hero. 

John Franklin is employed as a detective by Durangos Limited. We never do find out exactly what the principal business of Durangos is, it just seems to be a large and terribly important company. Durangos also employs a certain Ludovic Travers as a financial advisor.

Franklin is exceptionally pleased when he is given the opportunity to meet Michael France, in fact is invited to dinner where he is mightily impressed by the atmosphere of wealth and good fellowship that seems to surround France. Franklin is therefore shocked when he calls at France’s house a few days later and discovers not one but two corpses!

The formidable Detective Superintendent Wharton of Scotland Yard is assigned to the case. As Franklin is an acquaintance, a detective, a former policeman and a vital witness Wharton is happy to have his help on this case. Wharton is not quite so sure about accepting assistance from Ludovic Travers. He knows and likes Travers but Travers has no experience as a detective.

The case itself is a double murder in two senses although to explain why might risk a spoiler. It is not an impossible crime. Anyone could have committed the murders. Anyone, this is, apart from the only people with any reason for wanting to commit them. Leaving aside the remote possibility of murder by a complete stranger there are a handful of suspects but they have alibis that are absolutely unbreakable.

There’s also a question about the murder method. So what we have are unbreakable alibis, ingenious murder methods, literary clues and also a neat trick with a suicide note - all the things that fans of golden age mysteries love. The plot is quite ambitious but it comes together neatly. I like the fact that there’s an ingenious murder method that actually sounds like it might have worked.

It’s John Franklin and Superintendent Wharton who take centre stage. Travers lurks in the background. At this stage he’s not even an amateur detective. He’s simply an intelligent man who has developed an interest in the subject of crime through is friendships with Franklin and Wharton. He is however a fast learner. A nice touch is that although Wharton doesn’t know it he and Travers are engaged in a race to find the solution - Travers is keen to demonstrate that he really does have the instincts of a detective and if he beats Wharton to the answer then Wharton will have to start thinking of him as a real detective.

Bush would eventually realise that three detectives was one too many and that Wharton and Travers were the characters with the most appeal. Franklin would drop out of the picture. Wharton and Travers were also the ideal team - totally mismatched but for that very reason they’re a formidable combination and their friendship is convincing.

All true golden age detection fans are delighted by mysteries with maps and floor plans. This one has two floor plans and two diagrams!

Even though one would have liked to see more of Ludovic Travers Dead Man Twice is a fine example of the art of the detective story. Highly recommended.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Alexander Wilson’s The Mystery of Tunnel 51

The Mystery of Tunnel 51 was published in 1928. It was the first of Alexander Wilson’s spy thrillers featuring his hero Sir Leonard Wallace.

Wilson was a fascinating and enigmatic character in his own right. He was certainly a Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) officer during the early part of the Second World War. He may have had connections to the British intelligence community before that. Sir Leonard Wallace bears a certain resemblance to Mansfield Smith-Cumming, the first head (or ‘C’) of MI6. Wilson was dismissed from MI6 in 1942 but claimed that he was actually still working for them under deep cover. He may have been a genuine super-agent or most of his intelligence career may have been a fictionalised attempt to explain away his increasingly chaotic personal life.

Whether the truth about his later career there is no question that Wilson enjoyed a great deal of success as a writer of thrillers during the period from 1928 to 1940. His books then languished in obscurity until quite recently until several were reprinted, including The Mystery of Tunnel 51.

Wilson spent a good deal of time in India and it is India that provides the setting for The Mystery of Tunnel 51.

A British officer, a Major Elliott, has been carrying out a survey of the defences of British India. The plans he has made must be delivered, in absolute secrecy, to the Viceroy. Several attempts have already been made on Major Elliott’s life. Now he is on the final leg of his journey to Simla to see the Viceroy. He has a police escort and surely there is no way that anything can go wrong now. But Britain’s enemies are cunning and determine and will stop at nothing to get those plans!

Britain’s enemies are of course the Russians. Russophobia had been one of the defining characteristics of British foreign policy for well over a century (in fact it still is). The coming to power of the Bolsheviks adds an extra touch of paranoia to the plot but in fact the story is very much in the tradition of Great Game stories such as Rudyard Kipling’s Kim. The Great Game was a sort of Cold War between Britain and Russia, driven on both sides by paranoia about threats to their respective colonial empires, which lasted from the 1790s to the early 20th century. Even in the 1920s the British were haunted by the fear that someone would try to steal India from them.

When it becomes clear that the secret plans might yet fall into the hands of Bolshevik agents the local authorities in India decide to call in Sir Leonard Wallace, the legendary head of the Secret Intelligence Service. Wallace’s investigations uncover a vast conspiracy with hundreds of Bolshevik spies throughout the length and breath of India.

While this is very much a spy adventure tale the book also includes an impossible murder which requires Sir Leonard Wallace to do some real detective work.

Eventually the plot becomes a series of chases and a race against time to stop the Russian super-spy before he can get the secret plans over the frontier.

One of the things that delights me about the thrillers of the interwar years is the sublime self-confidence and optimism of the heroes. No matter how vast or diabolical the conspiracies that they encounter might be men like Bulldog Drummond, Richard Hannay and Simon Templar are never disheartened. They simply do not admit the possibility of defeat. The post-WW2 spy thriller would be increasingly populated by anti-heroes and flawed heroes, and by cynics like Len Deighton’s unnamed spy and pessimists like George Smiley. Even James Bond is, to a degree, a flawed hero - he makes mistakes, sometimes very bad ones, and he finds that being a secret agent has a price. There’s nothing wrong with the cynical pessimist school of spy fiction but it can be a bit much after a while and sometimes it’s refreshing to turn to the interwar thrillers with their cheerful, extroverted, dauntless and large-than-life heroes. 

Sir Leonard Wallace is such a hero. Of course he has a sidekick, Major Brien, an old pal who lacks Wallace’s brilliance but makes up for it in grit and pluck.

Wilson’s spy fiction is very much in the old-fashioned heroic mould, though with a definite tinge of paranoia. There’s plenty of action with quite a bit of gunplay. There are car chases and aeroplane chases. Both the heroes and the villains are masters of disguise. There are secret passages and the spies know every cunning trick in the book. There are hair’s-breadth escapes from danger and there’s an abundance of breathless excitement.

The chief bad guys are evil super-villains and their henchmen are either mindless killing machines or cringing cowards. There’s no need to worry about shades of grey - the British are the good guys and the Russkies are the bad guys. That’s all you need to know. If an Englishman turns out to be a bad guy it will also turn out that he’s not a real Englishman.

While it has some of the atmosphere of Rudyard Kipling’s Kim it naturally does not have the psychological subtlety and the philosophical depth of Kipling’s masterwork. Kipling’s view of imperialism was complex and nuanced. Wilson takes it for granted that the Raj is a good thing for Britain and a good thing for India and that any Indians who oppose British rule can only be doing so because they are in the pay of the Bolsheviks. It’s only fair to point out that Kipling was one of the greats of English literature. Wilson’s aims are of course much less ambitious. He is merely trying to write a fine old-fashioned potboiler. In this lesser aim he succeeds extremely well.

The Mystery of Tunnel 51 is an action-packed yarn that delivers the goods. Highly recommended.

The second of the Sir Leonard Wallace spy novels, The Devil’s Cocktail, is just as much fun.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Carter Dickson's Skeleton in the Clock

Skeleton in the Clock was one of the crime novels written by John Dickson Carr under the name Carter Dickson. Carr’s specialty was of course the locked room mystery, and while this one doesn’t quite have a locked room, it does have an apparently impossible murder with most of the features of a classic locked room mystery.

Skeleton in the Clock features the formidable blustering and at times frankly terrifying Sir Henry Merrivale (known as H.M.), distinguished barrister and amateur detective.

The book opens with a strange mixture of the gothic and the farcical, with ghost-hunting and with H.M. pursuing Lady Brayle (a formidable figure in her own right) with a 17th century halberd.

Carr loved introducing gothic elements into his mysteries and he had the knack of doing so without the spooky stuff being a mere distraction. Ghosts are the subject of conversation between young Captain Martin Drake, his friend Ruth and middle-aged barrister John Stannard. Stannard makes a suggestion. If ghosts are earthbound spirits and if they’re earthbound because of some traumatic event surrounding their death then there’s one place where you’d be just about certain to find ghosts - the execution shed of a prison. And as luck would have it there’s an old abandoned prison not very far away, and it just so happens that Stannard has obtained the key. He suggests that he and Drake should spend the night there.

Martin Drake accepts the suggestion but he has other things on his mind. Or rather he has one thing on his mind - Jenny. He met Jenny briefly during the war, they fell in love and then he lost her. Literally lost her - they became separated on a railway platform and he has spent three years searching for her.

There’s a third plot element - the mysterious death twenty years earlier of Sir George Fleet. His death could only have been an accident. No other explanation is possible. Murder is certainly an absolute impossibility. Nonetheless H.M. is quite certain it was murder.

With the aid of a few coincidences these three plot strands all come together very satisfactorily.

You expect incredibly complicated plotting and an ingenious but outlandish solution to the crime from this author, and that’s what you get. The plot includes a murder twenty years in the past, another murder twenty years in the past that may or may not be connected with the first, a wartime love affair that ends with the lovers separated on a crowded train station and thinking they’ll never meet again, a strange romantic triangle, a mirror maze, a possibly haunted prison, fencing, 17th century poets, and an actual clock containing an actual skeleton. 

The impossible crime itself does not disappoint. Sir George Fleet fell off the roof of Fleet House. The flat roof was often used for various leisure activities and was supplied with deck chairs and other amenities. As luck would have it at the time of the accident the entire roof was under observation, the observers being perched on the roof of the nearby pub, and all agreed that Sir George was completely alone. Nobody could have pushed him off the roof.

It’s also a book that combines a good deal of humour with the usual crime stuff, and while Carr’s humour isn’t to everyone’s tastes I enjoyed it. Sir Henry Merrivale is definitely one of the more outrageously over-the-top of fictional detectives, and one of the more entertaining. 

First published in 1949, very much in the Golden Age style of detective thrillers, and great fun. Highly recommended.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Panther’s Moon by Victor Canning

Victor Canning (1911-86) was a British thriller writer who enjoyed considerable success during the period from the 1940s to the 1960s only to be largely forgotten since. Panther’s Moon was published in 1948.

Panther’s Moon begins in Milan. Roger Quain is an English engineer who has accepted a slightly unusual task from his French father-in-law - to transport two black leopards from Rome to Paris. In Milan he meets a young Englishwoman who spins him a strange and rather unlikely tale, about being a British spy and about a murdered man and some secret and terribly important micro-film. He doesn’t believe a word of it, at first, but she’s able to produce both the corpse and the micro-film so then he starts to believe her.

This woman, Catherine, wants him to help her smuggle the micro-film out of Italy. Surely any patriotic Englishman would be willing to help a British spy?

As it happens she has a plan for smuggling the micro-film out. It’s a very good plan. Nothing could possibly go wrong. No-one is likely to try to search a not-very-friendly panther (especially one who has already killed one man).

Of course something does go wrong. Roger finds himself having to hunt panthers in the Swiss Alps but somebody else has found out about the micro-film and Roger could find himself the hunted rather than the hunter.

This novel is a far cry from the popular British thrillers of the 20s and 30s featuring rambunctious heroes like Bulldog Drummond and it’s also very different in tone from the action-packed British thrillers of the 50s and 60s. Canning has rather more serious intentions. He’s trying to write a serious thriller with an emphasis on psychology and with perhaps even a few things to say about the human condition. In this objective he succeeds at least moderately well.

Panther’s Moon is an avowedly literary thriller. It’s also not quite a classic suspense novel - the reader knows no more about what’s going on than the hero. The identity of the enemy agent remains hidden until the end, although we know it has to be one of a limited number of people staying at a hotel in a Swiss valley. So in structure this book has some similarities to the detective fiction of the golden age.

Roger Quain is at least a reasonably interesting character. He’s one of the many men who found it difficult to settle down after the war. He doesn’t like to think himself as being adventurous or a romantic but he is in fact both of these things. This adventure fulfills a need in him.

Catherine had spent the war on top-secret assignments behind enemy lines, had fallen in love and had then lost her lover. Now she can never love again (or so she imagines) and she perhaps  welcomes the prospect of danger - death would reunite her with her lost love.

Several of Canning’s thrillers were filmed in Britain, including The Golden Salamander and Venetian Bird. Panther’s Moon was made into a US film, Spy Hunt, unfortunately a film that is almost impossible to get hold of.

Panther’s Moon is a decent spy thriller with very little action but some nice attention to setting and some effective tension towards the end. If your tastes run to the more literary type of thriller it’s definitely worth a look. Recommended.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Freeman Wills Crofts' The Loss of the Jane Vosper

The Loss of the Jane Vosper is one of the Inspector French mysteries written by Freeman Wills Crofts and was published in 1936. It’s one of several Crofts novels that deals with the sea.

To be more specific, this book begins with the final voyage of the Jane Vosper. The Jane Vosper is an elderly freighter which makes regular trips to South America. She’s old but she’s well-built and a fine sea boat. The weather is somewhat dirty but Captain Hassall knows the old freighter can handle worse weather than this and he is not the least bit concerned.  At least he is not concerned until the first explosion rocks the ship.

The loss of the Jane Vosper is a set-back for the Southern Ocean Steam Navigation Company but it is nothing short of a disaster for the Land & Sea Insurance Co Ltd. They have insured part of the cargo for the sum of £105,000 and they have already had a very bad year. The Land & Sea Insurance Co Ltd is a very reputable firm which would never contemplate disputing a claim without very good reason but this is a very curious case. If the sinking of the Jane Vosper was not an accident, are they still liable? After all they insured the cargo, not the ship. The situation is uncertain enough to convince the directors to engage a private detective to look into the matter.

At this stage it is not a police matter, there being no actual evidence as to the circumstances of the sinking, although the explosions make it highly likely that explosives were placed on board the ship. The disappearance and presumed murder of a man does however make it very much a police matter and Scotland Yard is called in. Joseph French, having finally earned his promotion to Chief Inspector, undertakes the investigation.

It’s a very perplexing case. French has no doubt that the presumed murder is connected with the loss of the Jane Vosper but there is not a shred of evidence to support his belief. Even worse, although it is practically certain that the sinking was due to the detonation of a series of bombs, all his investigations (and very exhaustive investigations they are) seem to prove is that there was absolutely no way in which explosives could have been planted on the ship. It was an impossible crime, and yet it most definitely happened.

This, like all the Inspector French mysteries, is a classic police procedural and this is a genre in which Crofts really excels.

Any competent police detective must be thorough and methodical but Chief Inspector French takes these qualities to extremes. Every single lead is pursued as far as is humanly possible. Not even the tiniest detail is overlooked. Details which any reasonable person would consider to be completely insignificant are doggedly followed up, much to the amusement of French’s sergeant. But this is how French works and it’s an approach that has brought him a great deal of success. In this case French chases down leads that seem to be absurdly irrelevant and it’s just such an absurdly irrelevant lead that finally enables him to crack the case.

If Inspector French’s methodical approach brought him great success as a policeman then the equally methodical approach of Freeman Wills Crofts brought him equal success as a writer of detective novels. Crofts is all about the plotting and the investigative methods of his detective. If you want in-depth psychological analysis and well-rounded characters then you had best look elsewhere. Crofts did plotting. That’s the one thing he did really well, and he did it very very well indeed. When it came to plotting he had few equals. In fact I’d almost go so far as to say he had no equals at all in that area.

This particular novel is slightly unusual for Crofts in that the solution does not hinge on the question of alibis, and there are no railway timetables or shipping schedules consulted.

The opening sequence on board the Jane Vosper is one of the high points of the book. It’s atmospheric and wonderfully thrilling and suspenseful. Of course we know the ship is going to sink - the title of the book makes that much clear - but we have no idea if the crew are going to survive or not and Crofts manages to make us care deeply about that question. There’s another reasonably good action scene at the end.

The Loss of the Jane Vosper displays all Crofts’ failings as a writer but it also showcases his great strength - his superlative plotting. Your tastes may vary but for me his plotting is so good that it easily compensates for his weaknesses. And as a bonus this novel does display an unanticipated skill in writing action scenes. Highly recommended.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Mickey Spillane’s Day of the Guns

Day of the Guns was the first of Mickey Spillane’s four Tiger Mann espionage thrillers written between 1964 and 1966.

Not surprisingly the formula is not all that different from Spillane’s Mike Hammer novels. There’s plenty of sex and violence. Tiger Mann resembles Mike Hammer in that he gets personally involved in a case and the case quickly becomes a kind of one-man crusade.

Tiger Mann is a counter-espionage agent but he doesn’t exactly work for the US government. Although he does at times work in with official intelligence agencies his actual employer seems to be a wealthy individual named Martin Grady who runs a kind of private intelligence and espionage operation. Grady’s organisation runs operations that the official intelligence agencies are not prepared (or not permitted) to handle. Whether Grady’s outfit operates with the unofficial blessings of the government is not entirely clear. Grady clearly has powerful political connections and there are many important people who are happy to allow him to run his private spy operations but it’s also made obvious that there are other important people who would like Grady’s outfit shut down.

So Tiger Mann is an outsider of sorts, or rather he’s very much like Mike Hammer in being not quite an insider and not quite an outsider. Tiger does not worry overmuch about legal niceties. In fact he doesn’t worry about such things at all. He not only ignores the law when he finds it convenient to do so he also totally ignores matters like diplomatic immunity. Soviet spies operating under diplomatic cover generally don’t have much opportunity to claim diplomatic immunity when they encounter Tiger Mann - he usually just kills them and lets someone else worry about clearing up those kinds of irritating details.

Spillane’s Mike Hammer was a character who was inclined to take the law into his own hands, a habit which upset many of Spillane’s critics. Tiger Mann takes things much further than Hammer. To Tiger the threat of communist subversion is so great that it can only be countered by using methods that are just as ruthless and immoral as those of the communists themselves.  

In fact of course just about every fictional spy hero at some point finds himself doing things that are technically illegal and morally dubious.  Espionage is a dirty game. Tiger Mann is just more blatant about it than most. He doesn’t even pretend to play fair and he doesn’t make any attempt to disguise the elements of vigilante justice and personal vengeance in his motivations. Some readers might feel that Spillane pushes these things too far in this novel but really if you’re squeamish about such things you probably shouldn’t be reading Mickey Spillane at all.

Day of the Guns opens with Tiger Mann encountering a woman quite by chance. He hasn’t seen her for twenty years but he recognises her immediately. Rondine Lund had been a Nazi spy during World War 2 and a young American spy named Tiger Mann had fallen in love with her. Tiger paid a high price at the time for making such a foolish mistake. Rondine had also been responsible for the deaths of a number of American agents. Tiger has nursed his hatred of Rondine for two decades and now he knows she’s alive and in New York City and he intends to kill her. 

Rondine doesn’t look quite the same. She has had plastic surgery and she now claims to be Edith Caine, an English translator working at the UN. Tiger however has no doubt that Edith Caine is indeed Rondine Lund. He also has no doubt that she is up to her old games of espionage and he intends to find out exactly what nefarious conspiracies she is currently involved in. Once he finds that out he can kill her.

Of course it is immediately obvious that while Tiger hates Rondine he still loves her as well. Even Tiger is aware of this.

While the sexual tension between Tiger and Rondine is one of the engines driving the plot there’s no graphic sex and by later standards the sleaze is fairly muted. The violence on the other hand is quite graphic at times. 

Spillane had dealt peripherally with espionage themes in several of his Mike Hammer novels so it was an obvious move to start writing actual spy thrillers. Day of the Guns isn’t quite your usual spy thriller. It’s more of a crossover crime/espionage tale which has (like the Mike Hammer books) a mystery to be solved. Tiger Mann is very much like Mike Hammer, only more so. Since the plot involves the UN Spillane takes the opportunity to express his views on that subject - not surprisingly he is not a fan of that organisation.

If you’re not a fan of the Mike Hammer books then you’re not going to like this one. If you are a Hammer fan then you’ll find much to enjoy, with typical Spillane themes of love, friendship and betrayal and lots of action and violence. In fact Day of the Guns is pretty much non-stop action with just about everyone wanting to kill poor old Tiger. It’s good hard-boiled fun with a characteristic Spillane plot twist at the end. Recommended for Spillane fans.