Wednesday, December 26, 2018


These days to make it in Hollywood it would have to have a better title than Greenmantle, which sounds too much like some freak comic-book superhero. On second thought, comic-book superheroes are precisely what Hollywood hungers for these days, pretty much bumping from the pinnacle of adolescent necessity the shadow-faced manly-looking men and voluminous-lipped edgy women (with their stunt doubles) in those derring-do popcorn thrillers older adults risk peeing their pants before missing a single onscreen second.

While Greenmantle is in fact a quintessential heroic flesh-and-blood action thriller, albeit taking place before the advent of the electric razors that allow the manly-looking man to sport the de rigueur permanent shadow-face that sets the edgy woman’s bee-stung-lips aquiver, its plot would be dangerously incorrect from progressive viewpoints in that it paints Islam as an evil would-be empire courted by evil Germany as the key to bumping off the righteous British Empire in World War I. Of course, were something “based on” Greenmantle to be filmed tomorrow modern changes most certainly would be made regarding the shadows and lips and politics and prejudices. And the title.
We could have some fun here, as author John Buchan’s protagonist, Richard Hannay, is the same hero of The Thirty-Nine Steps, which The Guardian listed in 2014 as one of the 100 best novels in the English language. It’s been filmed several times, the first by Alfred Hitchcock in 1935. I doubt as memorable a Hollywood title could be cooked up for Greenmantle, but in keeping with the crucial marketability of twenty-first century commercial filmdom one might consider at least subliminal references to Lawrence of Arabia, Indiana Jones, The Wizard of Oz, and The Magnificent Seven.
I’d probly pay ten bucks for a small multiplex popcorn to see Four Righteous White Dudes Hunt the Stunning Evil Witch of Constantinople, or perhaps something a tad shorter, like Ho-ly Scheisse!, or maybe wait to catch it at the neighborhood theater where the popcorn’s only six bucks. (You should go while it’s still on a big screen, though. I don’t believe DVD could do it justice.)

But seriously, friends, Greenmantle truly is a most excellent romp of a buddy pic with some genuinely dangerous villains (including a ruthlessly hypnotic babe) and gaspworthy political and ethnic observations reflecting the time (1916). Such as: The “Kaiser will fling overboard a lot of ballast in Europe, and it will look like a big victory for the Allies, but he won't be beaten if he has the road to the East safe. Germany's like a scorpion: her sting's in her tail, and that tail stretches way down into Asia.”
As our adventure begins, Richard Hannay, an army Major recuperating from an especially bloody battle with German troops in West Africa, is recruited to lead an undercover mission penetrating a mysterious German plot to unite the Arab nations against Britain and its allies. He assembles two men to join the mission. His first pick is Sandy, “Sandy...the wandering Scot carried to the pitch of genius. In old days he would have led a crusade or discovered a new road to the Indies. Today he merely roamed as the spirit moved him, till the war swept him up and dumped him down in my battalion.”
Next comes John Scantlebury Blenkiron. a dyspeptic American, recommended by Sir Walter Bullivant, the Foreign Office official who’d recruited him, and with whom Hannay had worked previously in The Thirty-Nine Steps. Blenkiron, a citizen of Boston, who’d been born and raised in Indiana, “had done wonders for the Allies in the States,” Bullivant had told Hannay in selling him Blenkiron. “He had nosed out the Dumba plot, and had been instrumental in getting the portfolio of Dr Albert. Von Papen's spies had tried to murder him, after he had defeated an attempt to blow up one of the big gun factories. Sir Walter had written at the end: 'The best man we ever had. Better than Scudder. He would go through hell with a box of bismuth tablets and a pack of Patience cards.”

The three don’t have much to go on, only a notion learned by Bullivant’s son that the Germans believed some uniting figure, code named “Greenmantle.” would soon arise in the Middle East, and, with a little persuasion from the Kaiser’s agents, could turn the world of Islam to the German point of view. “Islam is a fighting creed, and the mullah still stands in the pulpit with the Koran in one hand and a drawn sword in the other,” Bullivant has told Hannay, a sentiment shared by many in the West since 9-11 but dismissed as racist hysteria by many others in the West at this very moment.
Bullivant’s son, as he was being murdered by “enemies” in the Middle East, was able to transmit three cryptic words his father believes are clues to the identity and whereabouts of the unknown uniting figure. Ruminating on this seemingly impossible mission with Sandy and Blenkiron, Hannay has second thoughts: “Suddenly I had a feeling that the whole affair was stark lunacy. Here were we three simpletons sitting in a London flat and projecting a mission into the enemy's citadel without an idea what we were to do or how we were to do it.”
They decide to split up and travel on different roads, agreeing to meet up in Constantinople by a certain date. Along the way, Hannay recruits Peter Pienaar, a prospector/hunter/soldier of fortune Hannay knew from time he’d spent in Africa. “In those early days he was none too good a citizen. He was in Swaziland with Bob Macnab, and you know what that means,” he tells us. I don’t have an inkling what in hell that means other than that Hannay knows and trusts Pienaar as a valuable addition to his team.

Because Hannay’s narrating this tale, we see, hear, and feel only what he sees, hears and feels on his trek with Pienaar toward Constantinople, at one point going undercover as a couple of Dutch adventurers who get caught up with a nasty German Col. von Stumm, whom they must convince they hate the British. Stumm is a true heavy here, and ends up pursuing the two half the way to Constantinople. Stumm, Hannay muses, “was a man of remarkable qualities, which would have brought him to the highest distinction in the Stone Age.”
Along the way, Hannay’s and Pienaar’s paths cross several times with those of Sandy and Blenkiron, who often save their skins in the nick of time. Eventually they learn the real villain, whom even Stumm fears, is a woman. At one point unbeknownst at first to them, she becomes their landlady. Blenkiron has the misfortune of experiencing her before the others:
“ ‘I've been to see our pretty landlady,' he said. 'She sent for me and I hobbled off with a grip full of plans, for she's mighty set on Mesopotamy.'
'Anything about Greenmantle?' I asked eagerly.
'Why, no, but I have reached one conclusion. I opine that the hapless prophet has no sort of time with that lady. I opine that he will soon wish himself in Paradise. For if Almighty God ever created a female devil it's Madame von Einem.'
He sipped a little more milk with a grave face. 'That isn't my duodenal dyspepsia, Major. It's the verdict of a ripe experience, for I have a cool and penetrating judgment, even if I've a deranged stomach. And I give it as my considered conclusion that that woman's mad and bad--but principally bad.' ”
Hannay, of course, soon has his own meeting with the bad lady, and—surprise surprise--she likes him.
Hannay shares with us some ruminations on the German people. This, for example:I realized something of the might of Germany. She produced good and bad, cads and gentlemen, but she could put a bit of the fanatic into them all.” Three-quarters of my blood is German, and I suppose I should take offense, but...I agree with Hannay. And perhaps it is safe to say it applies as well to a majority of the recent U.S. electorate?
Without any particular context I recall, Hannay offers us another gem: “To be able to laugh and to be merciful are the only things that make man better than the beasts.”
And here’s Blenkiron contemplating the “bad and mad” Madame von Einem in an observation that still rings true: “My trouble is that she puts me out of countenance, and I can't fit her in as an antagonist. I guess we Americans haven't got the right poise for dealing with that kind of female. We've exalted our womenfolk into little tin gods, and at the same time left them out of the real business of life. Consequently, when we strike one playing the biggest kind of man's game we can't place her. We aren't used to regarding them as anything except angels and children.”
And who would argue with this from Sandy? “I fancy it isn't the men who get most out of the world and are always buoyant and cheerful [who] most fear to die. Rather it is the weak-engined souls who go about with dull eyes, [who] cling most fiercely to life. They have not the joy of being alive which is a kind of earnest of immortality…I know that my thoughts were chiefly about the jolly things that I had seen and done; not regret, but gratitude.”
More and more I’m liking Ho-ly Scheisse! for the movie.

[For more Friday's Forgotten Books check the links on Patti Abbott's unforgettable blog]

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

THE DEATH OF MR. LOMAS – Francis Vivian

I won't squeal! Honest!
There was a character actor who always got bumped off in movies I watched as a kid. Soon as I saw him on the screen, as a hotel clerk, a barkeep--someone who stumbles into a holdup or some other criminal activity, which was the only kind of role I remember seeing him in, I knew instantly he was about to get bumped off, as he was never onscreen long enough to develop any role other than victim. I don't know his name, but I can see his dumpy little body clearly and hear the high-pitched, nervous, raspy voice. which reminded me of the Snow White dwarf "Doc," begging desperately not to get bumped off. I've Googled until my fingers screamed, trying every which way to identify this putz, to no avail. I may even have added "born with bump me off tattooed on his butt" to my Googling. You'd think someone at Google would have felt a little compassion for me, steered me in the right direction. But...

If The Death of Mr. Lomas had been made into a movie back in the day (the book was published in 1941) guess who would have played Mr. Lomas? I'll let author Francis Vivian give you a clue—the first paragraph of the prologue:
He was a little old man with shrewd grey eyes. He had a yellowish goatee beard, a moustache with waxed points, and bushy eyebrows. His nostrils were twitching and his lips quavering when he called on the Chief Constable of Burnham early that fine June morning. He allowed himself no more than the front edge of the chair with which he was provided and each time his eyes met those of the Chief Constable they retreated behind their lids like the horns of a snail.
A little later, still in the chief constable's office, the little old man comes to the point: "Mr. Lomas wriggled on his inch of chair. His beard quavered ridiculously as he tried to force words from his throat. He opened his mouth twice, only to close it again...[and] eventually gripped the arms of the chair and leaned forward. 'I am being poisoned, Sir Wilfred!' he said dramatically." Sir Wilfred, of course, thinks him a kook, and dismisses him,
But later that day...oh yes...Mr. Lomas indeed turns up dead. His beard had been shaved off postmortem. Tests soon establish fatal cocaine poisoning.
It's probably a good thing this observation by local police Inspector Gordon Knollis didn't appear until chapter eleven or one might have wondered by then if the honorable protagonist of Vivian's ten Inspector Knollis cases was in fact quite so honorable, or was at best full of baloney: "...this is no story-book case, and there will be no surprise ending. The most obvious person killed him, for the commonest and most obvious reason. That person went about it in the simplest possible way, and, paradoxically, it is the factor of simplicity that has proved the complication in the case.”
Well, maybe in Knollis's mind. In my mind that statement, especially by chapter eleven, is laughable. A veritable horde of suspects emerged almost immediately after Mr. Lomas's OD. Among them are his dentist son and spinster daughter, who stand to inherit a sizable cash estate, a pharmacist "best friend" who loved Lomas's mistreated wife (who died recently), the son's mysterious girlfriend, and assorted other vaguely sinister characters. Complementing these suspects with their motives, means, and personalities was the early discovery Lomas had been a prickly, miserly SOB more akin to the fairytale troll under the bridge than the lovable Dwarf Doc impression I'd somehow conjured at the start. And despite Knollis's denial of complications, this, with its multitude of secretive, potential poisoners, was one of the most complicated crime novels I've ever read. It took Knollis, with his assistants, to probe and unravel and theorize and analyze and puzzle the pieces together to...well let's let him explain:
"I always wanted to be an engineer," he tells his wife, "to take things to pieces and put them together again; I always wanted to know how things work, and why they work.”
She smiled, the loyal wife boosting her hubby's self-confidence. “Doesn’t that prove that you have a flair for detection? You deal with men’s minds, motives, and desires. You dissect their actions, theorize on why they do this, and that, and the other; on how they could have done this, and that, and the other. You are just as much an engineer as if you were dealing with engines and machinery.”
She allows a little humor into the mood by telling him, “you look like a detective.”
This revelation was most welcome with me, as my introduction to the Knollis series had been book six, The Singing Masons, in which he's now with Scotland Yard and is assigned to aid local constables stuck with a most unusual murder among several beekeepers and their families. The Death of Mr. Lomas is the series debut, providing us an introduction to its star.
Knollis, the author tells us, "looked more like a detective than anything Hollywood could produce in its most enthusiastic moments. He might have been taken from stock. He was lean, and had a long inquisitive nose that was destined to be thrust into mysteries whether mechanical or psychological. His eyes were of a cold grey hue, mere slits through which he regarded the world with suspicion. They were forbidding until the creases at the corners were noticed, but it was seldom they came into play unless he was relaxing in his wife’s company or playing bears with the two infant versions of himself who were now safely tucked up in the nursery above them. Knollis’s major trait was patience, a fact thoroughly appreciated both by his wife and by the officers with whom he worked; it was his patience that had enabled him to rise from a uniformed constable on beat to the head of the Burnham Criminal Investigation Department. He was now forty-one years of age, and eminently satisfied with his lot."
So there. Sort of a modernized, domesticized version of Sherlock Holmes. Basil Rathbone would have been perfect.
There are some disturbing, as well as eye-rolling moments in the narrative attributable presumably to the WWII-era majority public sensibility. We have curtains described as nigger-brown, and physical features suggesting moral turpitude, such as the description of Lomas's dentist son as “clear-eyed and fresh-complexioned. His jaw was tight, but Knollis, from long experience, recognized signs of moral weakness in the curve of the chin and the sloping angle of the jaw.” Gotta wonder how many male readers reflexively reached for their own jaws after reading that line. Alas I, of impeccably adequate moral strength, succumbed, as well, dammit.
This one still holds, tho, I submit: “I cannot understand the ramifications of the female mind.”
Vivian leaves us with one mystery unsolved. Perhaps more can be learned in later episodes: Knollis calls his typewriter “George.”

This just in: My friends at Google evidently have been reading over my shoulder, as they just now have surprised me with a gift! The guy from whom I learned as a young, impressionable moviegoer never to beg murderers for mercy was Mr. Percy Helton. May he rest in peace at long, long last.

[For more Friday's Forgotten Books check the links on Patti Abbott's unforgettable blog]

Thursday, December 13, 2018


It's been a little over a year since Ed Gorman left us, taking with him my favorite fictional small-town private-eye/lawyer Sam McCain, at 24 “the youngest and poorest lawyer” in town, leaving us to wonder who's driving McCain's '57 red Ford ragtop, and whether the beautiful Pamela Forrest is finally regretting having spurned his eternal love for her, and whom the handsome District Judge Esme Anne Whitney (who hired his investigative services) is now shooting with her endless supply of rubber bands, and who in hell is solving all of the murders in Black River Falls, Iowa, pop. 20,300.
We know for sure it’s not the town idiot, Police Chief "Don't call me Cliffie!" Sykes Jr.

Thinking of Ed last week, missing his friendly generosity and the marvelous characters (there are more in the ensemble cast besides the above that make up the McCain series), I had no choice but to pick one of my favorite episodes for a reread, and it turned out to be Save the Last Dance for Me. (It’s another series feature that each novel takes the title of a popular song in the year the story is set. Last Dance's year is 1960.)
It was a really good year, as another song goes, for a smalltown American mystery novel. If only because it was the year JFK was aiming to be the first Roman Catholic elected to the White House. Gorman gives us a heads up for that theme in the epigraphs, including this quote from journalist/novelist Anna Quindlen: “It was not until I was 8 years old that I discovered that not all the world was Roman Catholic. When John F. Kennedy ran for president, it became clear that many Americans outside our homogeneous enclave considered our faith strange and suspicious and threatening. It turned out that we were a they.”
And there's this from Gorman himself: "I have drawn extensively from Richard Hofstadter’s fine book Anti-Intellectualism in American Life." Seems fit for a more recent American period, as well.
McCain mysteries are not easy to categorize, despite being similar in their gently witty, first-person style narrated by the self-effacing, feisty underdog McCain. Each story seriously tackles a prominent national controversy of its time, which serves as an underlying theme for the murder that only McCain is smart enough, dogged enough, and lucky enough to solve. In Last Dance the election/Catholic issue hovers darkly over two homicides linked to a Pentecostal hillbilly church that uses poisonous rattlesnakes in its services to test the Holy Spirit’s presence in its members. It's a congregation that also believes Kennedy's presidential run is sponsored by Jews and the Vatican in a secret collaboration to—ahem--conquer the world.
The novel opens with McCain and his latest girlfriend, Kylie Burke, a pretty, red-headed, Jewish, local newspaper reporter, attending a church service in the former four-bay garage that had been abandoned after a tornado destroyed the adjoining Chevrolet dealership showroom. The Ozark-based congregation that took over the empty garage had fled to Black River Falls after getting kicked out of other states because of its illegal use of the snakes. The church’s preacher, Rev. John Muldaur, had hired McCain to investigate anonymous death threats he’d received.
Gorman sets the tone early, with McCain musing on the type of people drawn to this form of religion. There’s understanding and even sympathy in his voice as he reveals these impressions, seeing a sadness in the people: “Not even Steinbeck had gotten to it. The Okies were just displaced farmers who wanted to work and prosper. I never read anything about Okies and rattlers. Dreiser kinda got to these people, I guess. That opening scene of An American Tragedy where the family is there on that twilight street corner. I could see these people on that same corner, snakes and all. They were the lost ones and didn’t even know it. Few of them would have indoor plumbing; some of them wouldn’t even have electricity. A good number of them would die young because they didn’t see doctors. And they would spend too much of their time fearing a Jesus who was a parody of the man or god who lived not quite 2,000 years ago. In their version, He despised them and they were appreciative of that fact. It gave some explanation, I suppose, for their smashed and shabby lives.”

Later he tells us, “You can’t estimate the effects of poverty on generation after generation of people, that sadness and despair and madness that so quietly but irrevocably shape their thoughts and taint their souls.”
McCain feels a special pity for the children. “There was a certain apprehension in the eyes of the young ones,” he says. “They had not yet been fortified with the certainty of their elders—that those who did not practice the ways of their faith would perish in hell, and that all strangers meant you harm. Especially, according to the pamphlets Muldaur had been circulating in town, the Jews and Catholics all huddled behind Jack Kennedy in this fall’s election.”
Irish, of course, McCain was raised Catholic and apparently is still in its graces, although he appears to be a tad lapsed. Yet, while the fundamentalist approach of Muldaur and his congregation horrifies him, he finds an innocent moment for reflection listening to Muldaur’s teenage daughter, alone with her mother, singing in the church: “Her voice was skilled and knowing enough to convey both the promised peace and the grief of the present time...the girl sang and swayed in joy and sorrow to the melody.
“And for that moment I was able to put aside all the hip, modern ways I’d been taught to feel about our quest for purpose and meaning and to simply share in our need to understand our place in the cosmos. Cave paintings dating back thousands of years illustrated the desperate need mankind had always felt in seeking such an explanation. It almost didn’t matter if you believed in a god-force or not. The need to bring some meaning to the spectacle of human history was primal.”

Her father, the Rev. Muldaur, is the first victim—death by poison, at first believed to have been delivered accidentally by one of the church’s rattlers. Judge Whitney orders McCain to investigate when an autopsy reveals Muldaur had been given a lethal dose of strychnine. Then the “respectable” Presbyterian pastor is found dead near his home, stabbed multiple times. Judge Whitney wants these murders solved quickly because she is planning a campaign bash at her home for Richard Nixon. The judge’s family is based in “the East” and she maintains high-profile friendships, including that of Leonard Bernstein, whom McCain has heard her calling “Lenny” on the telephone. Have no doubt that McCain will clear up the killings in time for the bash, so “Dick” won’t think of Black River Falls as a nutty hillbilly town.
McCain and Kylie Burke are able to crash the party, staying long enough to catch a glimpse of Nixon playing volleyball with the judge’s other distinguished guests.
He was the only guy I’d ever seen play volleyball in a white dress shirt, necktie and wingtips. And I felt sorry for him. He didn’t seem to even sense how strange and sad he looked—laughable and pathetic—volleyball played in suit and wingtips. But then I’d always felt sorry for him, sensing that I was as odd in my way as he was in his.
I never did actually meet him but as we rushed in the downpour from the elegantly dressed lawn to our car, I felt pretty sure for the first time that John Kennedy was going to win the election.
Playing volleyball in wingtips.

Poor old Milhous. After this election, I was pretty sure we’d never hear another political peep from him again.”

[Find more Friday's Forgotten Books links at Todd Mason's amazingly eclectic blog]

Thursday, December 6, 2018

DEATH OF A DISSIDENT – Stuart Kaminsky

My initial brainstorm was to copy Stuart Kaminsky's complete introduction to the Mysterious Press edition of his Death of a Dissident with maybe a highlight here and there and an occasional comment of my own to break it up. But I quickly realized copyright restrictions would undoubtedly toss a greasy wrench into the plan, so I knew I'd have to get off my lazy metaphoric butt and write an actual review. Rest assured, however, Kaminsky's introduction is so good I still intend to use great chunks of it, either in paraphrase or as direct quotes. It's (as I would argue to the judge in a copyright infringement lawsuit) unavoidable!

For one, Kaminsky relieved some of my reluctance to read his crime novel about a Moscow cop, concerned that maybe he wouldn't measure up well with Martin Cruz Smith's Arkady Renko. I'd just finished re-reading the Renko series and enjoying it even more than I had the first go-round. Kaminsky addresses that concern head-on. By coincidence, Death of a Dissident came out about a month after Gorky Park, the first Renko episode. "Though I had enjoyed Martin Cruz Smith’s novels— and still do," Kaminsky tells us, "I couldn’t read Gorky Park. The reviews made it clear that our books bore only a superficial resemblance to each other."

I agree. Neither the plots nor the styles are comparable much beyond their Soviet Russian milieu. The Arkady Renko novels remind me more of the complex stories and characterizations John le Carré employs in his novels, whereas Death of a Dissident has an Ed McBain feel, à la his 87th Precinct crime series. Oh, alright, I cheated on that one. Kaminsky makes the McBain resemblance abundantly clear in his aforementioned intro: “I love Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct novels,” he says, and mentions specific McBain influences throughout. But wait. “I also love Georges Simenon’s Maigret novels, and John Creasy’s Gideon novels were favorites of mine in high school. Above all, I love ‘classical’ Russian literature, particularly Dostoevsky and, even more specifically, Crime and Punishment.

And they all, as well as Russian writers Chekhov and Gogol, come into play in Death of a Dissident. His lead character, Chief Inspector Porfiry Rostnikov, he frankly admits, “bears more than a passing resemblance to Jules Maigret. His methods are similar, but his milieu is much different. Rostnikov is, like George Gideon, a man of action. And it is no coincidence that Porfiry Petrovich Rostnikov bears the name of the magistrate who drives [Dostoevsky’s] Raskolnikov to a confession of murder. Rostnikov, finally is my fantasy of my Russian grandfather, my father’s father, who died when I was about six.”
Stuart Kaminsky

Another ensemble character, one of Rostnikov’s assistants in Death of a Dissident, he tells us, has a quasi-role model from the Star Trek TV series. “Emil a tall, gaunt, loyal, humorless traditionalist who bears some resemblance to Mr...Spock. Karpo is a haunted man who had devoted his life and loyalty to the religion of Communism which, as practiced in the Soviet Union, keeps letting him down. Karpo wished to deny his emotions, the needs of his body and the human loyalties which, ultimately, are more immediate than his devotion to duty.”

Rostnikov’s other assistant, Sasha Tkach (no help with the pronunciation) is, in some ways, what Burt Kling might have become in the 87th Precinct novels, had life not dealt him a monstrous love life and had he been plunked down in contemporary Russia rather than in Isola. Sasha’s concerns are domestic. Life, the complications of a changing Russia, a growing family, and his inability to cope with women threaten to overwhelm him.”

So there you have the three lead characters, explained in a way I suspect most English teachers—high school presumably and most certainly undergraduate if we’re talking college—would accept as analyses in a homework composition or surprise quiz. And there’s even more in Kaminsky’s intro for the serious pseudo-scholastic plagiarist.

As for the plot, it’s classic McBain/Simenon/Creasy police procedural. A famous Soviet dissident is murdered with a sickle in his apartment a day before his scheduled trial, despite being under constant KGB surveillance. Hmmm. The Soviets appear to be torn between rejoicing and fearful the dissident’s death will reflect badly on them in the West, as though due process was denied. So Rostnikov and his sidekicks are encouraged to find the murderer so it appears justice has been done. Any murderer will suffice so long as the government can claim deniability. Rostnikov answers to the Cbief Procurator in his precinct (or district or whatever the hell the Moscow political division is called) is a good party member, but respects Rostnikov, who is a good cop, and superficially a good party member. They get along, unlike Renko and his bosses (called “prosecutors” in those novels), where barely concealed corruption makes a mockery of party ideals with every blink of every eye.

The police work is credible and interestingly revealed, providing opportunities to develop the characters in both their official and domestic roles. Investigation is methodical, and when the routine seems to be getting a tad tedious, some plausible action occurs to break up the pace. One irritant broke up the mood for me, disrupting my identification with the lead characters: changing points of view. It’s one of the things I don’t like about McBain’s novels. Too many heads to be inside, especially if they’re villains. I did get to like the three main cops and their procurator, a devout, workaholic Communist woman with an ailing heart.

Thinking the series was going to end after a second outing, Kaminsky says he considered killing off Karpo, the Spock character. “In the first of several drafts of Black Knight in Red Square, Emil Karpo is killed. My editor and agent liked the character so much that they persuaded me to let him live.” He notes that McBain considered killing Steve Carella, his central character at the start of the 87th Precinct series. Fortunately for both series, the authors changed their minds.

Kaminsky tells of the trouble he had getting his Porfiry Rostnikov series off the ground at all. “I liked what I had done. My agent liked what I had done. However, no hardcover publisher liked what had been done so the book came out as a paperback original. Death of a Dissident was submitted to the publisher and accepted almost a year before it was published. [It] suffered the fate of most paperback originals: no reviews.” Well, here’s one—better late than never, no?

Before his death in 2009, he’d published fifteen more Rostnikov novels, several other crime series, short stories and non-fiction works. His fifth Rostnikov novel, A Cold Red Sunrise received the 1989 Edgar Award for Best Novel.

[Find more Friday's Forgotten Books links at Todd Mason's amazingly eclectic blog]