Mignon And More In Mystery Scene

Mystery Scene 160 - 2019

I know there are no books by Mignon G. Eberhart on shelf at my local public library. I checked. But then, the list of well-known mystery/crime fiction writers missing from the shelves there would too long to start counting.

Another Mans Murder

The latest issue of Mystery Scene magazine is full of the usual features and excellent interviews and articles, and didn’t disappoint. But it rarely does. Michael Mallory’s article “Mystery’s Enigmatic Mistress – Mignon G. Eberhart” was a pretty in depth look at a woman who was a bit of mystery herself. Born Mignonette Good in Lincoln, Nebraska in 1899, Eberhart went on to write nearly 60 mystery novels along with numerous short stories and plays, beginning with the Sarah Keate medical mystery series in the 1920’s. By the time of her death at 97 in 1996, Eberhart was considered one of the highest paid mystery writers in the field, yet biographical information remains pretty sparse, with very few interviews ever conducted. Mallory’s excellent article provided just enough info to get me intrigued, and I’ve been digging up some of Mignon G. Eberhart’s mysteries since, some of which have been reprinted in multiple editions and are readily available.

On a more somber note, Nancy Bilyeau’s “Berlin Noir – Philip Kerr’s Novels Of The Third Reich And After” gives an overview of Kerr’s incredible Bernie Gunther series, in which the Chandler-esque Berlin homicide detective navigates the rise of Nazism, the horrors of WWII and its aftermath, and struggles to find a place in a postwar world through 14 always-entertaining but incredibly thought provoking novels. Philip Kerr, of course, sadly passed away in March of 2018. The publication of his 13thGunther novel Greeks Bearing Gifts just a month after his death was a bittersweet event for his ardent fans (count me among them), and presumed to be the final work from this master. But there was one more, Metropolis, published just this April, and surprisingly, a kind of origins story set in 1928 when the horrors to come were only glimpses of still unimaginable anomalies in Weimar Germany, where cynical Berlin cop Bernie Gunther was still working his beat, eager to please and, if a smart ass at heart, not yet the hardened world weary soul readers came to love across a dozen-plus novels.

So with one magazine’s issue, I learn about a prolific writer I never knew much about (but will, soon enough) and bid farewell to a writing hero whose work I’d grown to love. Can’t ask for more than that from a magazine.

Bramanto’s Femme Fatale

Julius Bramanto 1

Assisted by Reza Bustami and Phillip Kwok, photographer Julius Bramanto’s photo suite, called simply “Femme Fatale”, looks  right out of a 1990’s erotic thriller, and is a reminder that pickups and hookups don’t always end well, since love (or lust) can be a deadly affair.

Julius Bramanto 2Julius Bramanto 3Julius Bramanto 4Julius Bramanto 5

A Second Row of Birthday Candles For Mrs. Peel, Please.

Diana Rigg 3

We’ll light another round of birthday candles, these for English actress Diana Rigg, born today on July 20th, and perhaps best known for playing Emma Peel in the 1965-1968 BBC series The Avengers with Patrick MacNee, a role she didn’t particularly like, with sudden celebrity status (and unexpected publicity as a sex symbol) she didn’t particularly welcome. Rigg auditioned on a whim after the original actress was dropped after only two episodes, and was shocked to discover by the first season’s end that while she was a co-star with (and frankly, much more popular than) Patrick MacNee, she was being paid less than some crew members and had a real fight on her hands to gain equal pay, eventually tripling her season one salary. But for U.S. audiences, Rigg’s Mrs. Peel was British Invasion Mod-Chic personified, gun and judo flips always ready for the bad guys, and always managed in sleek black catsuits and wild op-art mini-dresses. ABC broadcast The Avengers in the U.S. to replace the groundbreaking series Honey West with Anne Francis (‘G.G. Fickling’s 1950’s-60’s PBO ‘stiletto gumshoe’), once the network execs learned they could buy the British spy-flavored show for less than it cost to produce Honey West.

Diana Rigg 6The Avengers may be what Diana Rigg is most known for, but only a small part of her long acting resume, which is heavy on UK stage drama along with British and American television and film roles. She was also the host of the PBS Mystery series from 1989 through 2003 and even had  a recurring role in Game Of Thrones. Rigg was made a Commander Of The Order Of The British Empire (CBE) in 1988 and a Dame Commander Of The Order Of The British Empire (DCBE) in 1994, and thankfully, is still with us.

Diana Rigg 5

Happy Birthday, Natalia

Natalie Wood 1963

No, she never played a ‘stiletto gumshoe’. Never appeared in a noir, and to call any of her films mystery or crime movies would be a stretch at best. Say she doesn’t belong here, and I say too bad. I’m a star-struck fan, always have been.

Many writers model characters on recognizable celebrities, TV and film stars, at least for their general appearance. It keeps an easily recalled image in mind when writing, may even help the reader, and can be a kind of shorthand to avoid overly detailed descriptions. I chose a young Natalie Wood as the physical model for my current project’s main character, Sharon Gardner (real name Sasha Garodnowicz), the ‘Stiletto Gumshoe’, who’d only be a year older than Natalie Wood as the first novel opens in the Spring of 1959, and who concedes that she looks like the actress. Well…sort of. Here’s a short bit, for instance, the opening paragraphs from the in-progress sequel to the first novel, when Sharon Gardner wonders why she headed out to a neighborhood cocktail lounge she’d been avoiding for months…

The woman didn’t throw a dirty look my way when I eased atop the last open seat at Silky’s bar. But she didn’t exactly look pleased either, probably looking for someone else to grab that empty barstool, someone handsome and with a billfold handy.

The cocktail lounge was packed, as it ought to be on a Friday night, and she played to the crowd when she slid her things over to make room for me, making a real production out of arranging her purse, smokes and a fancy lighter on the bar, then rearranging herself with a tug on the hem of her shiny sea green dress, crossing her legs dramatically once she was done. While I tried to catch the bartender’s attention, the woman winked at me, eyes a shade darker than the dress, and her red lips managed something like a smile. So I gave one back. I guess I could have offered more, said thanks or maybe introduced myself.

I would’ve, if I’d known she’d be dead later that night.

The bartender slid a highball my way before I even had a chance to order. Which confirmed I was a regular, or at least, used to be. It had been over four months, after all. I popped my purse open, but he patted my wrist and shook his head, so I pulled out my Viceroys instead of my wallet.

Maybe it was the change of seasons? Who knew what lured me back, but I just couldn’t take another Friday night mixing my own seven-and-seven’s with 77 Sunset Strip on the television for company. I was already curled up the living room sofa with a glass in hand when I changed my mind and ran a bath instead. I only fussed a little. Well, maybe a little more than a little. Twisted a few curlers into my hair while I got ready, tried a touch more makeup than I’d wear to the office, and a spritz of perfume from the row of Avon samples on my dresser. My one decent black dress had been hiding inside a dry cleaners bag for months, and it almost seemed to sigh when I slipped it off the hanger. It was an unremarkable thing, but it fit me like a glove, and once I stepped into my heels and grew a few inches, I knew I looked somewhere on the pretty side of cute. Hell, a fellow could almost mistake me for Natalie Wood.

Well, Natalie Wood minus some curves.

If the lights were dim and he’d already had a few, that is.

And the lights were always nice and dim at Silky’s. When I stepped inside, it was like coming home.

Love With A Perfect Stranger 1963

For me, it’s Natalie Wood in 1963’s Love With The Proper Stranger with Steve McQueen, for which she received an Oscar nomination. Sure, it’s four years late for my project’s 1959 setting, but styles didn’t change all that much till the British Invasion erupted later and the whole mod thing swept the U.K. and America.

Miracle On 34thStreet, Rebel Without A Cause, West Side Story, Splendor In The Grass, Love With The Proper Stranger, This Property Is Condemned…what a resume. She didn’t do costumed dramas. There were no Elizabethan courts or frontier women that I can think of. But I sure do wish she’d managed a film noir, or at least a noir-ishly flavored crime caper, or took a turn as devilish femme fatale. One can only imagine what Natalie Wood might’ve done with that.

Natalie Wood was born Natalia Nikolaevna Zakharenko on this date, July 20th, 81 years ago in in 1938. She was taken from us at only 43, her death still shrouded in mystery, one which may never be solved, in fact. But like so many great actors and artists, she’s not really gone, with a body of work that will live forever. And she’s in my mind often, darn near every time my fingers are poised over the keyboard and I’m about to get some work done, always seeing Natalie Wood in one scene or another from Love With The Proper Stranger (which I’ve watched more times than I can count) or even those New York publicity shots shown above that she took to promote the film.

So, Happy Birthday, Natalia.

 

 

Milton Luros

Early Luros

Milton Luros was one of the ‘golden age’ pulp cover illustrators, his work often misattributed to Norman Saunders or Mort Kunstler. One of his cover paintings (a 1944 painting, shown below) was actually part of the inspiration for my ‘Stiletto Gumshoe’ series character (still in the works, alas) with a gun-toting bad guy bursting in on a woman processing incriminating photos in a dark room. I’ve had a file of that pic lurking in my computers’ image archives for ages.

1944

Milton Luros (1911-1999) was born Milton Louis Rosenblatt and grew up in Brooklyn, studying art at the Pratt Institute following high school. He got his start doing B&W interior spot illustrations for western pulps, and by the late 1930’s was earning a decent living as a freelance cover painter for numerous pulp magazine publishers and titles, doing everything from crime to cowboys, spicy’s to science fiction. After marrying his wife Beatrice, Luros set up a studio on West 67th Street, where his neighbors included Rafael DeSoto, George Gross and Norm Saunders…heady company, indeed! Serving as a Tech Sergeant for the Army Corps Of Engineers during WWII, Luros returned to freelance illustration work in the late 1940’s, eventually becoming the art director (and primary cover and interior illustrator) for Columbia Publications’ Famous Detective magazine. With the pulps in decline, Luros opened New York’s American Art Agency in 1955, but soon relocated to the west coast seeking more lucrative film studio poster work.

Crack Detective 1944

He soon took over the art director roles for two new men’s magazines, Adam and Knight, and eventually launched his own men’s magazine, Cocktail, which by 1959 expanded into a multi-title syndicate, Parliament News Distributors. However, ten years later, Luros and his firm became embroiled in obscenity charges, during which time he was depicted in the press as “the world’s richest pornographer”, which surely was a stretch. Ultimately, the charges were dropped, the initial convictions overturned on appeal, and Milton Luros continued to work both as a publisher and illustrator till his death in 1999. While certainly not as famous as some of his pre-WWII pulp marketplace counterparts, this artist is actually responsible for more of the classic pulp era’s memorable covers than we may realize.

THrilling Detective 1944

The Police Women’s Bureau

The Police Women's Bureau

Book reviews claim a novel is a ‘real page turner’ all the time, but I’m here to tell you that Edward Conlon’s The Policewomen’s Bureau is precisely that: A page turner. My proof? I started the book after work on Monday, and stayed up ridiculously late both Monday and Tuesday nights devouring this novel. Yes, a little groggy in the office Tuesday and Wednesday mornings, but it was worth it.

Edward Conlon’s a former New York City cop himself, and even after retiring was called back, currently the Director Of Executive Communications for the Police Commissioner. His own memoir Blue Blood was a bestseller and award finalist. The man can write, and he knows what’s what when it comes to being a cop and has an uncanny feel for effectively setting a scene — a hectic Italian family gathering, an authentic squad room, holding cell or gritty New York street scene.

Decoy 1957

I knew I’d like this book from the very beginning of the first page, which is a quote from the groundbreaking 1957 TV series Decoy (see link below for more about that), which starred Beverly Garland in the very first network crime drama led by a woman, the first filmed on location in New York, and told the story of Officer Casey Jones, an NYPD policewoman working different cases in each episode, sometimes undercover, sometimes in uniform. It’s a perfect choice to kick off Conlon’s novel, which is based on real life policewoman Marie Cirile’s own memoir and here tells the story of Marie Carrara, young wife, mother and member of a large and very traditional Italian family. Marie’s a cop, though policewomen are largely relegated to women’s wing jail matrons and occasional undercover assignments, enduring relentless taunts, hassles and worse  from their male counterparts, and institutional discrimination from the higher-ups. The book opens in 1958, spanning a ten-year-plus period through 1969 as Marie moves up the ranks, fighting superiors along with the crooks, while suffering through horrifying abuse from her ultra-traditional maximum-macho Italian husband (also a cop, and clearly a slightly crooked one), which goes beyond his flagrant infidelity, verbal abuse and routine physical violence, then culminates in a brutal rape. It’s grim stuff. But Marie perseveres, devoted to her kid and the job. Which is incredibly exciting stuff, tricking mobsters and working sympathetic snitches, trading blows with drug dealers and chasing junkies. Finally partnered up with two precinct oddballs, the threesome quickly grow into an unbeatable team with stellar arrest records, and form an unbreakable bond in the process.

The Policewomen’s Bureau is a terrific crime fiction novel, a maddening tale of how-things-were seventy years ago (enough so to dispel any warm nostalgia one might have for the ‘good old days’) and a truly moving saga of a quiet hero, a regular woman’s struggle against relentless injustice and discrimination. Do check it out, and give Beverly Garland a peek in 1957’s Decoy while you’re at it.

https://thestilettogumshoe.com/2019/02/06/decoy-retro-tvs-first-woman-with-a-badge/

 

Some Vintage ‘Stiletto Gumshoes’

Klassik Komix Holywood Detective Front

Mini-Komix’ (or is it Klassik Komix?) Hollywood Detective is a 100-page trade paperback combining several Dan Turner – Hollywood Detective stories (most of which I already had in other compilations or pulp reprints) with some relative rarities, including genuine ‘stiletto gumshoes’ from the 1940’s – 50’s. Now I’m no vintage crime comics historian, but I think the non-Dan Turner pieces aren’t from Dan Turner – Hollywood Detective magazines, but from the vintage crime pulp Speed Detective, which included (and actively promoted) a comics section in most issues, including Ray McClelland’s “Gail Ford – Girl Friday” and Gene Leslie’s “Queenie Starr – Glamour Girl Of Hollywood” along with Newt Alfred’s “Ray Hale – News Ace”.

3 Super Detectives

This book includes all of those, plus a “Betty Blake” four page shortie. H. L. Parkhurst’s Betty Blake was a contemporary of Alphonse Barreaux’ Sally The Sleuth, both launched in the Spring of 1934, though Betty only managed to survive for a half dozen appearances while Sally The Sleuth continued (in evolving forms) well into the 1950’s. Additionally, Betty, the daughter of a New York police inspector, somehow managed to keep her clothes on while solving crimes, unlike Sally The Sleuth. I’d tell you more, but Hollywood Detective includes no introduction, back matter, dates, details…nothing. There’s a write-up on this early female detective pulp/comics character from Kevin Burton Smith at the Thrilling Detective site. Check it out.

Gail Ford

For me, the real treats in this slim book are the Gail Ford – Girl Friday story, “Girl Snatchers” (a sample page shown above) and the three Queenie Starr – Glamour Girl Of Hollywood stories. I’d read little snippets here and there about these characters, perhaps seen some random panel art (typically unidentified or credited) at a Tumblr blog, Pinterest or elsewhere. But now I finally got to read a few complete pieces. If you’re into the roots of female detectives, cops, reporters and sundry snoops from the mid-twentieth century, they were a real find.

Queenie Starr

McClelland’s Gail Ford and Leslie’s Queenie Starr (Ms. Starr shown right above) have a bit of the era’s pervy peekaboo Good Girl Art feel to them, no question. Queenie Starr in particular, seems to spend a lot of time posing for cheesecake photos or sunning poolside in a bathing suit…reasonable enough, perhaps for a ‘Hollywood Glamour Girl’. But not unlike Barreaux’ Sally The Sleuth, she spends an inordinate amount of time getting dressed and undressed. Unfortunately for the various Hollywood crooks, schemers and murderers she gets mixed up with, prancing about in negligees or lingerie doesn’t seem to hinder her ability to solve Tinsel Town’s crimes. All in all, quirky retro stuff, but very interesting.

Super Detective May 1950

 

 

Still Room In The Trunk?

eugenio recuenco

A gangster and his gun moll? Could be that she’s the leader of the gang, her boy carting luggage and loading the trunk (hopefully not shoving a body or kidnap victim aside to make room for her bags). So lets not make assumptions. A nifty B&W from photographer Eugenio Recuenco. And a pretty nifty Citroen too.

 

Another Writer’s Digest In The Mailbox

Writer's Digest Sept 2019

“Primarily I’m writing to entertain, right?” Karin Slaughter, bestselling author of a book a year since 2001, says just that in her interview with Ericka McIntyre in the September 2019 issue of Writer’s Digest magazine. “If I could change the world, with what I’m writing, then I would write very different books.” Still, she explains that there are things in her books that go beyond storytelling, issues she hopes readers will confront, things she’d like men to know about women, experiences she’d like to validate for female readers. But this is only a brief part of the three-page interview (with more online at writersdigest.com). Slaughter’s remarks on writing discipline and productivity are particularly worth noting, considering that her book-a-year output has added up to over 120 million copies sold in 37 languages.

I was pleased to see the new issue of Writers Digest magazine in my mailbox, keeping my fingers crossed that the financial woes which recently took down its parent company, F+W Media, are being resolved in a way that enables the magazine to continue publication. I’d really miss WD if it vanished. This September 2019 issue is “The Big Idea Issue”, with interesting articles on “Mastering High Concept”, how to effectively deploy subplots and more. My favorite this issue was Simon Van Body’s “Becoming A Multigenre Master”, with some guidance on how to work concurrently on multiple projects in completely different genres. I have no burning desire to pen a western or a steampunk romance, but there are times when I’d consider starting something outside my usual areas of interest, perhaps even something measurably ‘steamier’ than I’m what currently doing, even if only for fun or self-publication. “The many voices that make you up but which cannot be reconciled into one single voice all the time can most definitely be channeled into different ways of telling stories,” Van Body assures writers, sounding so certain in his article that I might just be tempted to give it a try.

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