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/

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.

 

 

The Dames

pulp fiction the dames

Otto Penzler’s Pulp Fiction: The Dames is a follow-up to his previous anthologies Pulp Fiction: The Crimefighters and Pulp Fiction: The Villains. My copy shown here is a 2008 Quercus UK edition, a big fat 500+ page trade paperback which includes 22 stories plus two saucy Sally The Sleuth comic strips from 1930’s – 40’s pulp fiction magazines, including the top tier mags like Black Mask, Dime Detective and Detective Fiction Weekly, right down to the bottom rung in publications like Gun Molls, and Spicy Romantic Adventures. Penzler’s preface and Laura Lippman’s well-written introduction frame the material well. As she writes, “The pulps of the early 20thcentury will never be mistaken for proto-feminist documents…(but) there is just enough kink in these archetypes of girlfriend/hussy/sociopath to hint at broader possibilities for the female of the species.” Indeed, the roots of V.I. Washawski, Kinsey Millhone and even Lippman’s own Tess Monaghan can be traced right back here.

Pulp Fiction The Dames Back

The anthology opens with a terrific Cornell Woolrich 1937 tale, Angel Face, about a chorus girl trying to keep her wayward younger brother out of trouble, but when he’s framed for murder, she ignores the cops and does her own sleuthing to nab the mobster she’s sure did the deed. It may end abruptly and even a bit implausibly, but every sentence absolutely sings with vintage slang and retro word-smithing that’s a dark delight. That’s followed by Leslie T. White’s Chosen To Die from 1934 with husband and wife team of P.I. Duke Martindel and attorney Phyllis Martindel, the well-intended gumshoe relying on his savvy spouse to get him out of jams with the law. The book includes stories from Dashiell Hammett, a Lars Anderson’s Domino Lady tale, a T.T. Flynn Trixie Meehan story and even Raymond Chandler’s 1935 Killer In The Rain, which he cannibalized (along with material from other short stories) for The Big Sleep. Read it and see if you don’t spot some mighty familiar scenes and passages, even if the private eye isn’t named Marlowe.

‘The Dames’ from pulp fiction aren’t all snoopy reporters, private investigators or even uniformed cops (rare as those were). The bad girlz might be some of the more memorable characters in this anthology, from gun molls to gang leaders. Unlike Penzler’s recent – and enormous – The Big Book Of Female Detectives (see link below for a post on that book) this one’s strictly vintage pulp fiction. Which isn’t always literary, can sometimes be a little squirm-worthy, but is almost always entertaining, and the female private eyes, girl reporters, sleuthing secretaries and, yes — even former chorus girls – make for one terrific tale after another.

https://thestilettogumshoe.com/2019/03/09/the-big-book-of-female-detectives/

And The Real Nancy Drew Is…?

Pamela Sue Martin - Nancy Drew

Bonita Granville, Emma Roberts and then only last month, Sophia Lillis as Nancy Drew in the Katt Shea-directed feature film (which kind of vanished in a blink). Now there’s Kennedy McMann, who’ll assume the role of the plucky ‘girl detective’ in the upcoming CW series due this Fall, which from all advance news sounds more like Veronica Mars meets Riverdale than a Carolyn Keene novel, which may not be an entirely bad thing, after all.

Pamela Sue Martin - Playboy

But there’s still one more Nancy Drew we shouldn’t forget: Pamela Sue Martin, who played the part in the late 1970’s The Hardy Boys-Nancy Drew Mysteries series on ABC, which alternated between Parker Stevens and puppy-love heartthrob Shaun Cassidy as the Hardy Boys one week, then Pamela Sue Martin as Nancy Drew the next. A largely forgotten bit of 70’s era TV, perhaps, but episodes are actually all over the place online, and I assume available as DVD’s…I mean, every  television series good or bad seems to be. Martin went on to do some films (the original The Poseidon Adventure, for instance) and more TV series, initially stirring up quite a to-do when she tried to rev up her clean-cut ingenue image by posing for several men’s magazines including France’s Lui and U.S. Playboy. Now Pamela Sue Martin will join the CW’s Nancy Drew series, playing Harriet Grosset, a psychic who assists the teen detective with her murder investigation, though the clues will lead to some seemingly otherworldy mysteries.

Playoby 1978

The CW network seems to enjoy inside-TV nostalgia casting. Supergirl, starring Melissa Benoist as Kara Danvers/Kara Zor-El/Supergirl has included Helen Slater (star of the one-shot 1984 film Supergirl) as Kara’s earth stepmother Eliza Danvers, while Dean Cain (Clark Kent/Superman in ABC’s Lois & Clark: The New Adventures 1993-1997) as her stepfather, and Terri Hatcher (Lois Lane on that same show) was a villainous alien mother of Supergirl’s season two love interest. Oh yeah, and Linda Carter, star of ABC’s kitschy 70’s Wonder Woman series, played the President (who turned out to be an alien).

Tinsel Town

Masthead

I never saw this five-issue series from Alterna Comics which apparently ran last year, and just happened to stumble across it recently at a blog. I’ve looked for it since with no luck. But a trade pb collecting the whole series is due out this summer, though not till the end of July (which could just as easily mean anywhere from August through Autumn). I suppose I’ll pre-order now.

 

Tinsel Town 1 Cover

 

Sure looks interesting: David Lucarelli writes a story drawn by Henry Ponciano set in the silent film era, when Abigail Moore dreams of becoming a police officer. Of course, women weren’t welcome then, but she takes a job as a studio security officer, where soon enough she’s mixed up in a noir-ish behind the screen mystery. Well, that cover art’s a little bright for ‘noir-ish, but I’m still eager to check this out.

HIT 1955 – 1957

Hot 1955 #1

HIT, from BOOM Comics, written by Bryce Carlson with art (and some of the series covers) by the great Vanesa R. Del Rey.

There are two HIT series: 1955 and a follow-up, 1957. Both are dark, noir-ish hard-boiled crime fiction at its very, very best. The set-up’s reminiscent of James Ellroy’s L.A. Confidential, and films like Mulholland Falls or Gangster Squad, dealing with LAPD Detective Harvey Slater, who’s an undercover member of the secret Hit Squad, lawless thugs with badges on a top-brass-endorsed mission to purge Los Angeles of organized crime. But Detective Slater’s due for real trouble when the woman from his past returns to L.A., none other than Bonnie Brae, who just happens to be his Captain’s daughter. Brae’s pure trouble in a dress, and one of the finest femme fatales to appear in comics in years.

Hit 1955

Like many comic trade paperbacks, the HIT books include extras, like a Duane Swierczynski introduction and cover alternates from Erik Gist, Trevor Hairsine, Terry Dodson and Ryna Soo. But best of all, both of these have bonus short stories, which were a real treat. I loved both series, loved Carlson’s storytelling and Del Rey’s art, but most of all, I loved Bonnie Brae, and I bet you will too.

Hit 1957

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