The Mammoth Book of Movie Detectives and Screen Crimes is indeed big, but not mammoth when compared to Otto Penzler’s Big Lizard books on pulp mysteries. Also it’s a fast reading book.
Let’s first talk about what this book isn’t, though, because there’s a little misrepresentation here. The back cover states “Here are original stories of crime and detection that were the inspiration behind some of the best-loved screen successes.” By this I thought these stories were actually the bases for TV and movie mysteries. In reality, these stories were written by authors who created TV and movie detectives, but the stories themselves were not necessarily the basis for the movie or series.
Having gotten that out of the way, The Mammoth Book of Movie Detectives and Screen Crimes is an worthwhile book, now that your expectations are set. Peter Haining, who has written much about pulp fiction of all genres knows what he’s doing.
The best story in the book was It Had to be Murder by Cornell Woolrich which was the basis for Alfred Hitchcock’s Read Window. However, this story has no romantic plot to it; no Grace Kelly blond tending to the wheelchair bound James Stewart. The film basically followed the story and I kept picturing Raymond Burr as the would-be murderer.
The second best story which immediately follows Rear Window is Forbidden Fruit by Edgar Lustgarten and is a James M. Cain-esque story of a man and woman plotting her husband’s murder—think The Postman Always Rings Twice. It has the same darkness to it and a similar ending. Lustgarten introduced the British series, Scotland Yard, but this story was not a part of the series.
Authors included in the anthology count as a partial who’s who of mystery writers: Edgar Wallce, Eric Ambler, George Harmon Coxe, Evan Hunter (aka Ed McBain), Erle Stanley Gardner, Georges Simenon and Ruth Rendell. Hunter’s story was the basis for the movie the Blackboard Jungle which certainly is not a detective/mystery story and Rendell’s excellent story has no corresponding TV or movie.
The authors are credited with creating some of the great detective series or movies including Columbo, Little Caesar, Naked City, Perry Mason (although this was not one of the better stories), and Maigret. A lot of the series are British and the dates range from the 1920s to the 1990s. At the beginning of each story is a short bio of the author and an explanation of the series for which he/she is credited.
The Mammoth Book of Movie Detectives and Screen Crimes is not your run of the mill mystery anthology. It contains stories and authors you may not have heard of and mentions series that you may be unfamiliar with. It’s a nice way to broaden your mystery horizons. I think the next mystery author I’m going to tackle is Cornell Woolrich. I’ve read some of his stories but not enough. So move over Hammett and Chandler, I’m going to dig up some Woorich.
I highly recommend this book.
Read Full Post »