The Sleeping Car Murders
Sebastian Japrisot, now dead, had a more recent hit with the fantastic A VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT, but in 1963 he wrote my favorite of his novels, THE SLEEPING CAR MURDERS. The story starts out with a
single murder on the night train from Marseilles to Paris. A woman is discovered dead on its arrival. Inspector Grazzi determines the murderer must be one of the five other occupants of the sleeping car and sets out to track them down. As he locates them, they begin to die too.
Combining both the train and locked room story setups yields great fun in the hands of such a skilled story teller. This was made into a movie that I have yet to see.
Ed Lynskey is the author of the newly released LAKE CHARLES.
The Burned Man by Bart Spicer. Bantam Book, 1967.
Bart Spicer who won an Edgar in 1949 for his debut PI Carney Wilde novel The Dark Light was a decorated World War Two vet. He went on to work as a successful full-time commercial fiction writer until his death in 1978 from throat cancer. Making the leap from the pulp fiction of the 1950s to the larger blockbuster novels emerging during the 1970s accounts for extending his career. A few years ago, I had a chance to talk to Spicer’s stepdaughter about his career and life.
Spicer’s spouse Betty often worked with him on writing projects. They collaborated under the joint husband-wife pseudonym Jay Barbette (the surname a combination of the letters in their first names, Bart and Betty) to publish four novels.
Spicer seems to have done some snoop work for the CIA. That and his exile in Spain inspired his writing The Burned Man (1966). Its front cover plugs the book as “the new high-voltage novel of international intrigue.” Set during Franco’s autocratic regime, Colonel Peregrine “Perry” White makes his return from 1955’s novel, Day of the Dead (though this time Perry is oddly spry and not encumbered with a limp and cane). An accomplished, tight book, its plot is understated with Franco’s anti-American feelings seething in the background.
A nebulous Communist terrorist cell cooks “the burned man” in a radioactive barbecue (from the makings of an atomic bomb), and Perry is sent to investigate the matter. Art Scott viewed this spy fiction as “a vigorous, complex espionage novel, unmarred by post-Bondian cliché.” Library Journal called it a “timely, rugged adventure.” Saturday Review (“excellent” and “fast action”) and San Francisco Chronicle (“crisp”) highlighted similar strengths. I was struck by the protagonist Perry’s wry tone and resigned acceptance of the military’s red tape.
I’ve enjoyed all the Spicer novels I’ve read. His later courtroom dramas like Kellogg Junction and The Adversary (made into a TV mini-series) are first-rate. Act of Anger advertised on the front cover of The Burned Man is an intriguing legal fiction but also unfortunately marred by its homophobia. To his credit, Spicer later recanted his attitude there.
\You can find him here.
Champagne for One by Rex StoutBill Crider
Steve Lewis/Barry Gardner
J. Kingston Pierce