Detectives In The Shadows.

Georgetown University professor Susanna Lee’s Detectives In The Shadows (2020 Johns Hopkins University Press) is subtitled “A Hard-Boiled History”, and some may quibble with that. Lee’s 216-page hardcover (the last 46 pages comprised of appendices and footnotes) is less a ‘history’ of fictional hard-boiled detectives and more a close look at how a shortlist of exemplary private eye characters from literature and broadcast media represent and echo their eras. 

If you’ve been burned in the past by academics’ books, I can relate. Susanna Lee previously authored Hard-Boiled Crime Fiction And The Decline Of Moral Authority, but also Proust’s Swann’s Way and Stendahl’s The Red And The Black among other titles, and those might give anyone the willies if they’re disinterested in a return to high school and college required reading lists. (You say ‘Proust’ and I’m automatically fleeing the other way, one particularly disastrous college term paper still nagging at me to this day.)

But, fear not. Detectives In The Shadows is engaging and readable throughout, and I for one would’ve been happy with another 100 pages to devour. She selects a key hard-boiled detective to represent different periods, starting with Carroll John Daly’s Terry Mack as the start of the hard-boiled detective sub-genre, soon supplanted by that same writer’s more popular Race Williams, both of them Black Mask magazine staples. Dashiell Hammett’s Continental Op and Sam Spade embody the late 1920’s and early Depression years, Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe represents the 1930’s-40’s, and Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer violently echoes the post-WWII Cold War era. Lee dismisses the 1960’s altogether, considering its social upheavals unfriendly to hard-boiled private eyes’ rugged individualism and quasi-vigilanteism. She jumps to the 1970’s with Robert Parker’s Spencer and his first appearance in The Godwulf Manuscript in 1973.  From Parker’s Spencer, Lee switches from fiction to the screen with HBO’s The Wire and True Detective series, and lastly, Netflix’ Jessica Jones. Brief mentions of broadcast television’s The Rockford Files and David Janssen as Harry O may still leave some readers scratching their heads. Wither Kinsey Milhone and V.I. Warshawski? Lew Archer and Easy Rawlins? The roster could continue, but again I’ll point out that Susanna Lee didn’t assemble a laundry list of hard-boiled detectives, but instead, aimed to show how the uniquely American literary invention of the lone-wolf hard-boiled P.I. represents evolving periods in modern history. 

Coming from a steady diet of cozies and ready to take a peek at the dark, violent world of hard-boiled detective literature? Then pick another non-fiction book to provide you with an overview, but keep Susanna Lee’s Detectives In The Shadows on hand for a later read when you want to delve deeper into what these iconic characters represent.

Denis McLoughlin.

Several consecutive posts in early August talked about Henry Kane’s late 1950’s ‘stiletto gumshoe’, Marla Trent, the “Private Eyeful” (link below). The paperbacks were graced by cover art from postwar illustration greats like Robert Maguire and Mort Engle, but I did once have a hardcover with much simpler (and a little less leering) art by Denis McLoughlin, which in its way was all the more striking.

British artist Denis McLoughlin (1918 – 2002) was as much a graphic designer as an illustrator, doing spot illustrations for a mail order catalog firm when WWII broke out and he became a gunner at a suburban London Royal Artillery Depot. There he was also ‘drafted’ to do officers’ portraits and produce murals around the base. After the war, McLoughlin began a long association with UK publisher T.V. Boardman, Ltd., his book cover work what he’s best known for, though he also did many magazine illustrations and even worked in comics. Fascinated by the swiftly evolving photo-mechanical color separations processes, McLoughlin was known for eking out striking results with limited colors, something pretty foreign to contemporary designers and illustrators working in a CMYK digital environment. 

Like many of the unsung heroes of the postwar commercial art world, Denis McLoughlin was all too often underpaid for his efforts. In his case it meant being forced to work way past retirement age. Tragically, his eyesight faded in his 80’s, Soon, he began to lose dexterity in his right arm. Fearing he’d be unable to draw and paint, Denis McLoughlin committed suicide using a studio prop pistol that only had one bullet in it. 

https://thestilettogumshoe.com/2020/08/01/no-really-where-did-marla-go/

Mystery, Money & More.

There’s not much reason to be familiar with Racine, Wisconsin. Unless you’re a fan of old-time radio shows, that is, and remember Fibber McGee & Molly’s sponsor, the Johnson Wax company of Racine, Wisconsin (S.C. Johnson today, mega-corporate marketers of Windex, Pledge, Glade, Drano, Saran Wrap, Raid, Ziploc bags, Off and many other branded products probably lurking somewhere around your home). There’s a chance if you attended college anywhere from Chicago to Milwaukee that you might’ve taken a field trip to the Frank Lloyd Wright designed S.C. Johnson corporate campus for an architecture class. But that aside, Racine has been eclipsed lately by its small city/big town neighbor just a short hop down the road, Kenosha Wisconsin, which has been in the news much more than it would like.

I’ve been to Kenosha and Racine and all points in between Chicago and Milwaukee, that 100 mile+ stretch along lower Lake Michigan’s western shoreline, more or less one continuous metro area straddling two states (even been to that diesel-punk shrine S.C. Johnson campus numerous times on day job chores). But I never expected to see Racine mentioned in the pages of Mystery Scene magazine, much less to learn that one of my wordsmith heroes resided on the north side of that town for a year and half back in the mid-1960’s.

With his writing career briefly stalled, Lawrence Block (a name mentioned often enough here at The Stiletto Gumshoe) found himself relocating from Buffalo, New York to Racine, Wisconsin for a year and half, working a regular day job at Whitman Numismatic Journal (numismatics being coin collecting). The job offer was based in part on one particular 1964 article Block wrote: “Raymond Chandler And The Brasher Doubloon”. That essay (also available in Block’s collection of non-fiction pieces, Hunting Buffalo With Bent Nails, 2019), is reprinted in the latest Fall 2020 issue of Mystery Scene magazine, and it’s an intriguing read for Block fans and Raymond Chandler enthusiasts alike. Whether you know Chandler’s story from his 1942 Philip Marlowe novel The High Window or the 1947 film adaptation (the second, actually) The Brasher Doubloon with George Montgomery and Nancy Guild, do check out Block’s essay. 

This Fall 2020 Mystery Scene issue is full of the usual tasty stuff, including all the new book release ads and reviews, some of which I’ve added to the orders refilling the writing lair’s to-be-read endtable. But there’s more, of course, like Pat H. Broeske’s excellent (but all too short!) “Love On The Run” article, which takes a look at some of the many Hollywood films inspired at least in part by the notorious exploits of the real-life Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, including Joseph Lewis’ Gun Crazy (1957), Arthur Penn’s Bonnie & Clyde (1967) naturally enough, Nicholas Ray’s incredible They Live By Night (1948) and others. They Live By Night is a particular fave of mine and overdue for a fresh viewing soon. It’s odd that such a noir classic is mostly seen in cheesy omnibus disk set editions found in bargain bins. If you haven’t seen this one, perhaps Italian illustrator Averardo Ciriello’s gorgeous film poster art below will send you off to find this incredible piece of doomed, dark romance with Farley Granger and Cathy O’Donnell. The faces Ciriello painted for that poster are truly haunting.

As for Mystery Scene magazine, go get your own copy of the Fall 2020 Mystery Scene now…

The Phineas Poe Trilogy.

Don’t let a noir protagonist’s quirky name fool you. Will Christopher Baer’s Phineas Poe is not Auguste Dupin or Hercule Poirot. Hell, he’s not even Mike Hammer or Jessica Jones. The mean streets of Manhattan or L.A. have nothing on Phineas Poe’s darkest nightmares. If you want to read something uplifting – or at least reassuring – move on. The closest familiar comparison I can offer you to Baer’s three Phineas Poe novels would be Peter Medak’s unrelentingly dark (and almost surreal) 1993 neo-noir thriller Romeo Is Bleeding, scripted by Hilary Henkin.   

Baer’s Phineas Poe is a former cop and drug addict fresh from the psych ward and promptly mixed up with Jude, a classic noir femme fatale who abandons him (and I won’t tell you precisely what he discovers has occurred when he awakes to find her gone), and his tortuous, violence filled quest to find her – to reunite, to rescue her or to seek revenge – takes Poe on a dark journey through drug induced dreams and violent episodes populated by two-bit crooks, Goths, hackers, sociopaths and killers. It all plays out in a nightmare landscape that may be Denver, Colorado and desert-noir Texas, but is more like Dante’s nine circles of hell. Sound like fun?

It is. Oh, it really, really is. 

There are three Phineas Poe novels: Kiss me, Judas (1998), Hell’s Half Acre (2000) and Penny Dreadful (2004), each readily available individually both new and used and also conveniently offered in three-novel omnibus editions. The reader may take a while to adjust to Baer’s writing style, its rapid-paced yet surreal language and almost bratty taunting with ‘normal’ structure, punctuation and grammar. But a few pages in, Baer’s dark poetry will have you hooked, and structural norms largely forgotten. 

I was shocked to discover Baer’s Phineas Poe books (individual editions and one omnibus…I’m not a collector but always acquisitive) missing from the writing lair’s too-many and overstuffed bookcases, presumably squeezed out by new additions at some point in recent years. Shame on me. But that’s a mistake that’s easily rectified. I have Greg Levin’s Criminal Element article “12 Neo-Noir Authors Too Good Not To Be Crazy Famous” (see the preceding post) to thank for prompting me to look for my Baer books and to order new ones right away. There’ll be other new books ahead of Baer’s Phineas Poe trilogy, but now I can’t wait to get really weirded out all over again.

Dark, Dangerous And Crazy-Good.

The to-be-read pile on the writing lair’s endtable looked ready to topple over by late August, mystery/crime fiction titles strangely absent in the imposing stack. Though I expected late Summer to be short on reading time (due to day job and daily life stuff rudely intruding) I’ve managed to work through most of the heap, from a depressing list of current events/politics titles to Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste – The Origins Of Our Discontents, and winding up with a real change of pace for me, Lisa Morton and Leslie Klinger’s new anthology Weird Women – Classic Supernatural Fiction By Groundbreaking Female Writers 1852 – 1923. But even while I whittled the pile down, I’d phoned in over a dozen new books to the local indie for curbside pickups, ordered a few more direct from their specialty press publishers, and still more – ‘pre-owned’ books and POD-only editions – from the Seattle behemoth. Some of these are showing up quicker than expected, the to-be-read pile re-growing quickly. 

‘Course, that doesn’t mean I can’t always make room for more…

Linked via Crime Reads, Greg Levin’s 9.9.20 “12 Neo-Noir Authors Too Good Not To Be Crazy Famous” at Criminal Element (link below) was just what I needed to help with the replenishing. Levin looks at a dozen edgy contemporary noir writers, like Sara Gran, one of my faves, though as much as I love her Claire DeWitt series, her third novel Dope (2006) eclipses even those for me and remains one of my all-time beloved books. Craig Clevenger, Lindsay Hunter, Holly Goddard Jones and others have spent time on that same to-be-read pile in the past, and Levin’s article prompted me to add a couple of them to my current book ordering frenzy (have to get ready for Autumn, don’t I?) even if they’ll be re-reads. But in particular, Levin prompted me to look at Will Christopher Baer, maybe the darkest on his neo-noir list, and for me, way overdue for a re-read. More about Baer’s magnificent Phineas Poe novels in the next post…

The Tomb Of The Unknown Illustrators.

More from some anonymous residents of the “Tomb Of The Unknown Illustrators”: Three B&W interior illustrations by (sadly) unidentified artists from the November 1942 issue of Spicy Detective Stories, including “Too Many Clubs” by John Wayne (I’m assuming it wasn’t The Duke) above, and below, “Riddle In Red”, a Robert Leslie Bellem Dan Turner – Hollywood Detective story, and “Dead Girls Can’t Talk” by John Ryan.

Rest In Peace, Dame Enid.

Dame Enid Diana Elizabeth Rigg: (7.20.1938 – 9.10.2020), with a long and creative stage, TV and film career dating back to 1959, but best known to many for her fondly remembered run as agent Emma Peel on The Avengers back in 1965 -1968. Rest in peace, Ms. Rigg…

Loles Romero

Loles Romero has her share of dark fantasy and SF pieces like so many artists doing concept work and illustration for film and gaming clients, but this Ibiza, Spain artist has a way with the ‘noir-ish’, and I hope she’ll have opportunities to do more. These two examples were done as illustrations for stories by Hector Espadas. Look for her work at Art Station.

Tula, Felia & Cyd…And The Girl Hunt Ballet.

Doing a double-check of Hollywood movie trivia for some writing-in-progress, I had to pause when I stumbled across “The Girl Hunt Ballet” sequence from Vincente Minelli’s 1953 MGM musical The Band Wagon. Call me a procrastinator, but I just had to watch it a couple of times. Now, musicals aren’t really my thing. But if you haven’t seen this stunning 12-minute homage to then controversial Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer hard-boiled novels, you’re missing a treat. In the mini-movie-within-a-movie, Fred Astaire’s a dapper but dangerous New York gumshoe and Cyd Charisse may be the most bewitching femme fatale to ever melt a movie screen. For more about “The Girl Hunt Ballet”, follow the link below to a December 2018 post here at The Stiletto Gumshoe.

As for Cyd Charisse, that would be Tula Ellice Finklea from Amarillo, Texas, who first went by Felia Sidrova and later Maria Istomina while dancing with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in her late teens and early twenties (when she married fellow dancer Nico Charisse). She became ‘Cyd’ when talent scouts lured her to Hollywood…though even that would be after a brief stint going by Lily Norwood. A woman of many names, indeed. That Charisse was a dancer (and one of Hollywood’s all-time greats) is doubly amazing considering that she began studying ballet to build up her body during a sickly childhood and a bout with polio. 

If an MGM musical star still needed any more mystery/crime/noir cred after her memorable “The Girl Hunt Ballet” performance, check out Nicholas Ray’s 1958 Party Girl, where Charisse is a cynical Chi-Town showgirl mixed up with gangsters and falling for a crooked mob lawyer. It didn’t do so well here in the U.S. and is rarely listed among better known postwar film noir and crime melodramas, but oddly enough it’s gained some sort of cult following among European crime film fans. As luck would have it, Party Girl airs on Sunday evening 9.6.20 (this post being written days ago).

https://thestilettogumshoe.com/2018/12/29/the-girl-hunt-ballet/

Renato Fratini

Born in a small town outside of Rome, Italy in 1932, Renato Fratini studied at the Accademia di Belle Arti de Roma and began his commercial art career in the early 1950’s, originally doing comic strips and spot illustrations for the Guerri Brothers studio. But in 1952 he moved to the competing Favelli Brothers agency, which had a contract with Rome’s Cinecitta Studios, allowing Fratini to work on a number of now iconic European film posters.

He continued doing a lot of film promotion work there and later for other studios throughout the fifties, while also expanding into paperback book cover art. That work led Fratini to London, where he dived into his most productive period, churning out popular film poster, magazine illustration and book cover art assignments in a unique mixed media combining acrylic underpainting layered with inks and gouache. Some bio’s wonder how the artist managed to produce so much work throughout the 1950’s and 60’s, notorious for living it up in the swinging sixties Rome and London party scenes. Sadly, his lifestyle caught up with him, and Renato Fratini passed away at the young age of 41 in 1973. 

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