The Lethal Sex

the lethal sex 1959

This important (and overlooked for decades) 1959 anthology was reissued by The Mystery Writers Of America in 2018, and is available in print and Kindle editions. Something tells me equal representation for women writers wasn’t top of mind for editors, publishers or even the MWA sixty years ago.

The original paperback edition showcases a wonderful Robert McGinnis cover illustration, though in keeping with the times and then prevailing trends, it’s a needlessly sexy picture for the deliciously dark but not necessarily saucy content of the 14 stories selected by MWA Grandmaster (though not at the time this book was done) and editor John D. MacDonald, who only broke out of the pulps himself and into the big time (relatively) just nine years earlier with The Brass Cupcake, then went on to bigger success with The Executioners, filmed as Cape Fear in 1962, and of course, his long running Travis McGee P.I. series. MacDonald provides a terrific introduction as well as lead-ins for each of the fourteen stories written by women, some of them full-time mystery/crime fiction writers, some working in other genres from science fiction to romance and even children’s books. MacDonald adopts an appropriately apologetic stance, noting that some of the talented writers in the anthology deserved much wider recognition.

Some did get it (back then, at least), while some, sadly, did not. So there are some names I’ve never heard of and been unable to learn more about. And there are luminaries from that era, like Margaret Millar, the 1956 Edgar Award winner for Best Novel, who wrote more than two dozen mystery novels including three different series. Somehow Millar (previously Margaret Sturm) managed to snag Mr. Kenneth Millar in between pounding out successful novels, the Mister better known as ‘Ross MacDonald’, hard-boiled maestro of Lew Archer fame.

Death In High Heels Montage

And there’s the incredibly prolific Christiann Brand, who wrote more books than I can count, with multiple mystery series, stand-alone novels, general fiction, children’s series and more. Her Death In High Heels (above) is a favorite. In fact, The Lethal Sex gives fair representation to U.S. as well as UK writers like Brand. The book was published later in Britain, though from the look of it, lost some of the stories along the way.

The LEthal Sex UK Edition

The complete US edition of The Lethal Sex also included stories by Ursula Curtis, Bernice Carey, Margaret Manners, Anthony Gilbert, Jean Potts, Miriam Allen DeFord, Gladys Cluff, Carolyn Thomas, Neda Tyre, D. Jenkin Smith, Veronica Parker Johns and Juanita Sheridan. I had a crumbling 1959 paperback bought on Ebay in a bulk-books purchase which barely made it through an initial reading, so I was thrilled to see that it was re-issued, and in mighty handsome packaging this time, even if it’s not a McGinnis painting. Look for this one. It’s a worthwhile read.

The Lethal Sex 2018 Edition

 

Crime Reads: The State Of The Mystery

The State Of The Mystery

Linked from Crime Reads (crimereads.com) via Literary Hub: Part One of a must-read roundtable discussion among twenty mystery writers — specifically, the 2019 Edgar Award nominees — on everything from topics like genre ghettoization to publisher consolidation, their own earliest influences and some sage advice to newbie writers. The second part of this dialog will be posted tomorrow, 4.25.19. If you’re a mystery/crime fiction fan or writer (which I’m guessing you might be if you’re reading this) or not, it’s a lively and informative read, with interesting comments from Lisa Black, John Lutz, Leslie Klinger, Lori Rader-Day, Jacqueline Winspear, Lisa Unger and others. A link is below for the first part…you can follow up on Part Two on your own, I’m sure! But do check it out.

https://crimereads.com/the-state-of-the-mystery-a-roundtable/

Lady Killer: Joelle Jones

Lady Killer 1

I never say this person’s the best artist, the best writer, the best actor, etc. But I’m not timid about saying who are my favorites, and the brilliant Joelle Jones is on that list. Incredibly skilled with design and composition as well as an artful stylist, Jones isn’t content being a terrific artist, but has to be an inventive and creative writer as well…the show-off. Some handiwork of her best project so far (IMHO) shown here: Lady Killer, about 1960’s suburban housewife Josie Schuller, who’s also happens to be a lethal hit woman.

Lady Killer 2Lady Killer 3

Save Me From Dangerous Men

Save Me From Dangerous Men

S.A. Lelchuk’s Nikki Griffin loves books.

She can quote classic writers to grad students, has a huge storage locker crammed so full of books that she needs straps to keep the shelves from tumbling over. She even owns a Bay Area used bookstore, the kind of place that only seems to exist in novels, where quirky patrons congregate for hours, hold literary meetings, sip complimentary coffee and (hopefully) buy something once in a while.

But it’s also a destination for abused women. Somehow word gets around about Nikki Griffin. Because she tracks dangerous men. Men who hurt the women they claim to love. And Nikki is particularly skilled at teaching them what it feels like to be hurt and helpless, and making sure that they never, ever hurt those women again.

Lelchuk’s Save Me From Dangerous Men hooked me mere sentences into the opening pages, with a tense scene that set the pace for the entire novel. That the book eventually took an unexpected turn and found Nikki Griffin embroiled in something much bigger than another threatened or abused wife or girlfriend could’ve been a disappointment in less capable hands, but the author skillfully interweaves Nikki’s day job, her poignant backstory, her ‘side business’ along with a more conventional private investigation job she accepts with misgivings, which not surprisingly, spirals into global thriller territory.

When I bought this book the week before last, one of four that I carried to the register, the cashier asked if it was for me or someone else. It seemed like an odd question. I told her it was for me, and her face immediately lit up as she told me she’d just finished it, assuring me I would like it. A lot. And she was right. I guess she just wanted to share.

There’s no setup to segue conveniently into a sequel, but I get the feeling S.A. Lelchuk’s got another Nikki Griffin novel in the works. I sure hope so. A couple online reviews I read actually griped about the author being a man writing a woman’s book and in first person POV no less. Oh, screw them. We all hear “this one’s a real page-turner” bandied about a lot, but Save Me From Dangerous Men truly is, and Lelchuk has created a very memorable, troubled, vulnerable yet lethal character who gives the notion of ‘stiletto gumshoes’ another rich layer: part bibliophile, part investigator, part vigilante, but very, very human throughout. Look for this one and check it out…I can’t imagine you’ll be disappointed.

I Still Miss Hayley Atwell

Print

Lesson learned: Never get hooked on a TV show. The damn networks will just cancel it once you’re fully invested.

Some handsome artwork above by Arne Ratermanis of Hayley Atwell as Agent Peggy Carter, complete with that wonderful red hat of hers.

Farrah & Friends

Farrah Fawcett

It might look like a publicity still from the first season of Aaron Spelling’s kitschy 70’s ABC TV series Charlie’s Angels. But it’s actually Farrah Fawcett (RIP) in a Halston fashion photo from ’round about that same time. Almost reminds me a bit of the edgy images shot by Helmut Newton for the 1978 film Eyes Of Laura Mars. Below are the three original Angels themselves: Kate Smith, Farrah Fawcett and Jaclyn Smith, elegantly attired and fashion-shoot ready, even if they are armed with purse-size pistols and what must be a pre-cell phone era walkie-talkie. Talk about ‘stiletto gumshoes’.

Charlies Angels 1976 2

There’ll soon be three more Angels to add to the growing mix with the Elizabeth Banks directed Charlies Angels reboot due in November. Kristen Stewart, Naomi Scott and Ella Balinska are the new trio, with Banks herself not only directing but playing agency manager Bosley.

 

 

Easter Bunnies

The Playboy Club 2

Femmes fatales and stiletto gumshoes simply don’t mix well with Easter.

Molly Odintz explains (somewhat tongue in cheek) why Passover is the most ‘noir’ of all Jewish holidays in a 3.20.19 CrimeReads.com article, “10 Reasons Why Passover Is The Noirest Holiday”, though she winds up concluding that, after all, most Jewish holidays can be summed up as “They tried to kill us. We survived. Let’s eat.” Go to Crimereads.com for some serious thoughts along with a seasonal chuckle.

The Playboy Club 1

While Odintz managed handily, I’m stumped trying to find anything remotely connected to both Easter and noir culture. Springtime, marshmallow eggs or coconut covered lamb cakes just don’t belong with dark alleys, gunsels and gun molls or shadowy hot-sheet hotel rooms. The best I can do is to riff on the Easter Bunny, or ‘bunnies’ of a sort…so, alas: Playboy Bunnies.

The Playboy CLub 4

NBC’s short-lived 2011 series The Playboy Club only aired three episodes before it was cancelled, though seven were started, with five in the can. Apparently network execs assumed the popularity of AMC’s critically acclaimed Mad Men meant that everyone wanted more of that early 60’s vibe, so ABC brought out the similarly short-lived Pan Am and NBC launched The Playboy Club, set in 1961 and shot on location in Chicago.

The Playby Club 3

The show wasn’t even on my radar at the time, but I have since seen the pilot or first episode online (everything is online somewhere, isn’t it?) and have to say that A) it wasn’t nearly as offensive as religious conservatives and irate women’s groups contended and B) it was actually pretty good, sort of an eye-candy soap opera melded (much to my surprise) with a healthy dose of neo-noir-ish flavored Second City mobsters and Chicago political corruption (the two going more or less hand-in-hand in real life). But I suppose the few folks who tuned in did so to ogle Amber Heard in a satiny corset and bunny ears, but not enough of them to keep the show afloat for more than three weeks.

Well, I sure as hell wasn’t going to tempt fate with any Easter-related religious noir, and couldn’t come up with any legit Easter-Noir, so bunnies it is, even if only from a cancelled TV series.

In Comes Death

In COmes Death 1951 copy

This 1952 paperback edition of Paul Whelton’s In Comes Death is actually an abridged version of his 1951 hardcover (also released in the UK in 1952), the last in his six-book Garry Dean series, Dean a tenacious, hard-nosed reporter for Belle City’s Press Bulletin.

In Comes Death Hardcovers

Here Dean witnesses a young woman faint right in the courtroom when she hears that her boyfriend, Leo Parrish, will be charged with manslaughter for the hit and run death of one David Muriel out on deserted Frog Lane. She knows he’s innocent, and although Dean’s editor and the police are sure Parrish is their man, the reporter investigates, coming up against some mighty dangerous types determined to frame young Parrish for the murder, and racing to protect Parrish’s girlfriend when she’s marked for death as well. The cover art (uncredited, as best I can verify) depicts an actual scene from the novel (now there’s a rarity!) with the real killer stealthily creeping up on the girl, about to strangle her with one of her own stockings.

Other novels in Paul Whelton’s Garry Dean series included Call The Lady Discreet, Women Are Skin Deep (AKA Uninvited Corpse) and Pardon My Blood.

Paul Whelton montage

 

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