Monthly Archives: September 2015


January on Galveston Island means that one can still go fishing when northern sections of Texas and the United States are experiencing the brutal joys of old man winter. While one can stand on the gulf coast pier and throw a line into the ocean until the pier closes at five that does not mean the fish will cooperate. They certainly aren’t cooperating on this beautiful day when Dino comes out on the pier to talk.

Truman Smith has known Dino for a lot of years. Rarely does he come out and Dino never ventures out over the water even if it by way of a solid pier. Not only did Dino have to pay three bucks to come out onto the pier, he is missing part of his lineup of reality television talk shows that were so prevalent back in the 90’s. Whatever he needs is very important, at least to Dino, through Truman Smith isn’t exactly thrilled with him for a variety of reasons.

He is less thrilled when he hears what drove Dino to actually leave his home. Dino wants to hire Truman Smith and his private investigator skills to find the legendary local guy known as “Outside Harry.” An island fixture the man has been homeless for decades. Outside Harry has been homeless and probably always will be once he is found safe.  It is a lifestyle choice for Outside Harry and one that will make him harder to find than the average person. Dino, who never was a part of the family business when gambling interests ran Galveston Island, has been making use of his contacts and can’t find him. Dino and his wife, Evelyn, want him found simply because he is missing and they are worried something might have happened to him.

“Besides,” Evelyn went on, “if you don’t look for him, nobody will. Nobody cares what happens to an old man like that.” (Page 8)

There is that as Truman is well aware. Dino is willing to pay in terms of cash and sweetens the deal with an unopened box of Tender Vittles for Truman’s cat, “Nameless” so Truman agrees to do a little looking. That search for Outside Henry leads him to a legendary island building, more than one ambush, and plenty more in “When Old Men Die: A Truman Smith Mystery.”

Third in the series following Dead on the Island and Gator Kill the read is a complex tale of mystery and deceit along with a touch of Texas History. Darker in tone than the Sheriff Dan Rhodes Series, the Truman Smith series features a private investigator that is trying to come to terms with his past and the guilt he feels. As such, each book finds him a little further along that path as he slowly copes with recent events. There are the occasional small flashes of humor, but mainly this book and the series in general is more action orientated with serious situations that are more detailed than in some of the author’s other books. This is a very good series that should be read in order due to the numerous events referenced in When Old Men Die: A Truman Smith Mystery. This series, much like the author, does not get the recognition that is well deserved.

When Old Men Die: A Truman Smith Mystery
Bill Crider
Walker and Company (subsidiary of Bloomsbury Publishing)
November 1994
ISBN# 0-8027-3195-3
192 Pages (available in audio cassette and e-book versions)

Material supplied by the good folks of the Plano Library System.

Kevin R. Tipple ©2015

Reviews and More


His real name is J. D. Miller. Many know him as “The Lawyer” as a nod to his former profession. These days his courtroom is the land and he is judge, jury, and executioner. He is on a quest to dispense personal justice to those who wronged him so grievously though some do not care for his taking justice into his own hands. That means there are deputies and others looking for him. That sad state of affairs means that his hunt comes with additional risk every time he sets foot into a town.

He had arrived in the north Texas town of Emmett minutes before the explosion at the jail. He had planned a relaxing evening including a good night sleep in an actual bed at the nearby hotel. He was still in the street when the explosion at the jail up the way took out the back wall. Then, a few seconds later, the shooting started.

In the chaos Miller ran to help and opened fire on the outlaws as they rode down the street seconds after they had killed two that wore badges. While managing to stop one of the outlaws from escaping, Miller sustained injuries. Injuries that lead him to need treatment from the local doctor who also happens to be a fountain of information regarding the situation and more in The Lawyer: The Retributioners by Wayne D. Dundee.

Using characters originally created by Edward A. Grainger, author Wayne D. Dundee has created another excellent installment of the series. The Lawyer: The Retributioners touches on the narrow minded racism prevalent at the time and other societal issues while delivering a solidly good western tale. A tale that continues the groundwork laid by Edward A. Grainger this work further expands and continues the series like what has happened with Cash Laramie and Gideon Miles series.

If this series is new to you The Lawyer: The Retributioners can be read first though there are references to events found earlier in the series. For that reason it would be best to start with The Lawyer: Stay Of Execution which includes the original short story, The Lawyer by Edward A. Grainger.

The Lawyer: The Retributioners
Wayne D. Dundee
Beat To A Pulp
July 2015
ISBN#: 978-1943035076
Paperback (also available in e-book)
114 Pages

Material supplied by the publisher in exchange for my objective review.

Kevin R. Tipple ©2015

Review: THE MARBLE ORCHARD (1996) by William F. Nolan

Best known as the author of the science fiction novel Logan’s Run and the screenplay for the film adaptation of same, William F. Nolan is a versatile writer who has worked in several fiction genres and who has written a number of non-fiction works as well. In 1985 he wrote The Black Mask Boys, a book highlighting the stories of eight important writers who helped make Black Mask the most renowned detective pulp magazine of them all. Each story was prefaced with a biographical piece about its author. Nine years later he published The Black Mask Murders, the first novel in a trilogy that stars “The Black Mask Boys”: Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and Erle Stanley Gardner. All three appear in every book, but each is narrated in the first-person by a different writer: The Black Mask Murders by Hammett, Sharks Never Sleep by Gardner, and The Marble Orchard, under consideration here, by Chandler.

The year is 1936, and Raymond Chandler and his wife Cissy are living in the Los Angeles area. Chandler continues to learn and hone his writing craft by turning out stories for Black Mask, the magazine that has also been a home to stories by his friends Dashiell Hammett and Erle Stanley Gardner.

When Chandler answers a phone call from a homicide lieutenant requesting that Cissy come to the morgue to identify a body, he asks who the dead man is and learns it’s Julian Pascal, Cissy’s former husband. His body was found in a Chinese cemetery, and his death appears to have been a ritual suicide. A stunned Chandler tells the detective that he’ll come to the morgue, that he and Julian were friends. Once he confirms the dead man’s identity, Chandler dreads having to tell Cissy. When he breaks the news to her, she vehemently insists that Julian would never kill himself and urges Chandler to look into the matter to find out what really happened.

A mysterious woman in a white limousine appears at Julian’s funeral, a woman later identified as Carmilla Blastok, a now-retired actress whose claim to fame is a series of films that began with The Blood Countess, in which she portrayed a vampire, “a kind of female Lugosi,” as Hammett describes her. She retired after David DuPlaine, the director of all her hit films, was shot to death, ostensibly by a burglar he caught in the act of robbing his house. When Chandler meets with her, he learns she barely knew Julian Pascal, though the latter composed the scores for a couple of her films. She attended his funeral, she tells him, because she hoped to see her much younger sister Elina there. She suspects that Elina once had an inappropriate relationship with Julian.

Elina, who had had a brief acting career herself, has been estranged from Carmilla for three years, having taken up with an abusive former stage actor named Merv Enright. Carmilla begs Chandler to find her sister, just so she can know if the girl is alive and well. When he reminds her that he’s a writer, not a detective, she offers to pay him a thousand dollars, money he can sorely use. Thinking that Elina might be able to enlighten him about Julian and thereby enable him to definitively resolve the question of Julian’s death, he accepts.

And so, enlisting when necessary the assistance of his friends Hammett and Gardner, Chandler’s adventure at “playing detective” begins, plunging him into some situations more appropriate to his fictional sleuths than to a middle-aged former oil company executive turned pulp writer. One of those situations is reminiscent of a similar one in his novel Farewell, My Lovely, as William F. Nolan no doubt playfully intended readers to believe Chandler used his “real life” experience as the basis for Philip Marlowe’s fictional one several years later.

As entertaining a whodunit as The Marble Orchard is, the detective-story portion feels like one of novelette length, the rest a lot of filler. Thus the reader is given scenes involving real-life personalities including William Randolph Hearst, Orson Welles, and Shirley Temple, among others–scenes that do nothing to advance the plot but which serve to fix the story in a particular place and era. The reader is given historical information about a number of locales within the greater Los Angeles area. And there is a secondary story thread involving an African-American man and woman that is clearly meant to depict the racial attitudes of the period but which is wholly irrelevant to the principal plotline. Fortunately, Nolan is a skillful writer with a smart sense of pace, so the filler is equally entertaining and doesn’t disrupt the flow.

Since I first discovered him when I was in my early teens, Raymond Chandler has always been one of my literary heroes. (The Long Goodbye is my all-time-favorite novel.) So enamored of his style was I that, back then, when writing a story, I’d often ask myself, “How would Chandler handle this scene, or this section of narrative, or this exchange of dialogue?” Ultimately I realized that developing my own style and voice, for better or worse, was preferable to imitating another’s. Playing Robert Louis Stevenson’s “sedulous ape” will only get you so far; eventually you have to (and should want to) come into your own. To truly write like someone else requires one to be someone else.

Chandler has had plenty of imitators. I personally think his style was among the most influential of the 20th Century and might very well still be one. Whether they intended to imitate him some of those writers might dispute, but the influence is indisputably there. Three who carried it off well were Howard Browne writing as John Evans (incidentally the name of one of Chandler’s pre-Marlowe pulp-magazine detectives) in his Paul Pine mysteries; Roy Huggins in The Double Take; and Keith Laumer in his purposed homage, Deadfall.

As a former editor of a couple of mystery magazines, one of my biggest pet peeves was the story submission that deliberately tried to imitate Chandler’s–or anyone else’s–distinctive style. Unless the author was writing an obvious spoof or one-time tribute, he or she was virtually guaranteed a rejection. I wanted to publish stories in the authors’ own unique styles.

To his credit–and he touches on the matter in an afterword–Nolan, save for maybe three similes, does not write like Chandler writing a Philip Marlowe novel. That’s because Nolan is not writing a Marlowe novel; he’s writing what is intended as a report from Raymond Chandler about events in which he personally played a role.

All things considered, then, The Marble Orchard is a good, if unexceptional, detective story embedded in a lot of entertaining and informative filler, and populated with a variety of colorful characters.


Postscript: In real life, Chandler and Hammett met exactly once, at a dinner for Black Mask writers. In his biography of Chandler, Tom Hiney writes that Gardner and Chandler were friends, but outside of some correspondence they exchanged, I’ve never read anything that indicates they actually spent time in each other’s presence.

© 2012 Barry Ergang

A Derringer Award-winner, Barry Ergang’s fiction, poetry and non-fiction has appeared in numerous publications, print and electronic. Some of his work is available at Smashwords and Amazon. His website is

Review: WATCH ME DIE (originally THE MAN WITH THE IRON-ON BADGE) (2005) by Lee Goldberg

At twenty-nine, Harvey Mapes has largely resigned himself to having little in the way of a life. Having been a security guard in an exclusive Southern California community since he was in college, he spends from midnight to eight a.m. six days a week in a stucco shack outside the gates of the Bel Vista Estates, watching a monitor to make sure people don’t run the stop sign at an intersection within the community. If they do, he’s required to write them “courtesy tickets” when they come through the gate.

The job gives Harvey a lot of time to read, and his favorite genre is the detective story–specifically, the hardboiled private eye story. He’s also fond of catching reruns of old private eye series on the TV Land channel. Among his favorite detectives, literary and televised, are Travis McGee, Shell Scott, Elvis Cole, Spenser, Joe Mannix, Magnum, and Dan Tana from “Vega$.” His fantasy is to be a private eye and have a life as fraught with excitement as theirs are.

Fantasy becomes reality when Bel Vista resident Cyril Parkus hires Harvey to trail his beautiful wife Lauren and report to him about her activities. It doesn’t take long to discover that Lauren is being blackmailed, though Harvey doesn’t know the blackmailer’s name or what he has on her. His pursuit of the man earns Harvey a severe beating, but it doesn’t dissuade him from eventually learning the man’s identity. When he reports what he’s discovered to Cyril Parkus, Parkus says he’ll take it from here. This doesn’t sit well with Harvey because, to his way of thinking, the case has just gotten under way, and his literary and television idols wouldn’t quit at this point in a case. Thus, thinking he can help both his erstwhile client and his wife, he once again trails Lauren. When she drives to a freeway overpass, gets out of her car, climbs onto the railing, looks directly back at Harvey, and then dives into the traffic below, Harvey can only stare back in shock and horror.

Beset with guilt, despite realizing with the rational part of his mind that he’s done nothing to feel guilty about, and again because his fictional heroes wouldn’t leave a case unresolved, Harvey is determined to uncover the secret that drove Lauren to her death and, if he can, bring her blackmailer to justice. His quest takes him to Seattle and other areas of Washington state, where he encounters murder, a variety of quirky characters, and some stunning revelations.

I’ve read and enjoyed a number of the novels Lee Goldberg has written based on the TV series “Monk,” so I know he’s adept at writing humor. There is a good deal of that in Harvey Mapes’s first-person narrative, one full of self-deprecating remarks and wry perspective on his particular world. What I initially thought I was getting in Watch Me Die was a fluffy screwball comedy about a private eye wannabe who’d blunder his way through a “case” populated by idiosyncratic characters and wacky events. What I got was far different: a love story (yes, it is that, too) that becomes very dark, violent, and sometimes flat-out nasty; that is as much about Harvey’s maturation and insights into himself and others as it is about solving a mystery. Goldberg skillfully manages the delicate transition from levity to gravity as Harvey probes–and sometimes occasions–events.

This well-paced page-turner is not a cozy, so readers who dislike raw language, sexual situations, and onstage violence will want to avoid it. Those who can handle those elements will be rewarded with a story that amuses, surprises, and lingers in the mind long after it ends.

It’s available in both trade paperback and Kindle editions.

© 2012 Barry Ergang

A Derringer Award-winner, Barry Ergang’s fiction, poetry and non-fiction has appeared in numerous publications, print and electronic. Some of his work is available at Smashwords and Amazon. His website is