Block & Pochoda In Mystery Scene.

mystery scene 164

You’ll find Ivy Pochoda (These Girls, 2020) and Lawrence Block (Dead Girl Blues, 2020) in the current Mystery Scene magazine, issue 164. Pochoda nabs this issue’s cover, and is treated to an excellent four-page profile by Oline H. Cogdill. Lawrence Block appears with “A Burglar’s Future”, a Bernie Rhodenarr story from the new The Burglar In Short Order 2020 release. Honestly, there’s not a page to be skimmed over in this particular issue, even including a review (the lead review, that is) for the novel I just finished, Pip Drysdale’s new The Sunday Girl (see an upcoming post for that one).

Prezio’s Crime Scenes.

victor prezio. the scene of the crime

Victor Prezio (born 1924) is one of those unsung heroes of the postwar pulp and paperback cover art era, largely eclipsed by better known names but responsible for a lot of illustrations you’ve likely seen many times at leading retro-art and kitschy-culture sites. These two Prezio pieces almost bookend the artist’s evolving style: Early on, working as richly shadowed and every bit as painterly as a James Avati cover illustration, like the grim piece above appropriately titled “Scene Of The Crime”. Then later, much more casual (and surely faster and for less money) brushwork dashes out the scary image below for a sleazy 1966 Real Men magazine cover. Westerns, gothic romances, and no shortage of women-in-peril illustrations for the “men’s adventure” magazine market, Prezio did it all, and is (I think) still with us, but presumably retired by now.

victor pezio real men cover sept 1966

From Muskrat To Mink To Murder.

Howell Dodd 1953

This work week’s enough to drive me to drink. And it calls for a really large drink (and I’m not much of a buzzer, mind you).

Just like the gal down to her last few smokes in the Howell Dodd illustration from the June 1953 issue of True Fact Crime magazine, I could use a large one too. In fact, I’d be happy to pay more than thirty cents for it. But we all know that two bits and a nickel will only buy trouble, and in her case, will lead her down a bloody road “from muskrat, to mink, to murder” as the magazine’s lurid teaser lines stated.

You just gotta love those old pulp magazine copywriters.

The Vegas That Was.

Maximum Rossi

Two business trips to Las Vegas don’t qualify me as an expert gambler, only squandering some dough on the slots and not much more. Writer Paul W. Papa, on the other hand, knows his way around a casino, with books on vintage and even haunted Las Vegas to his credit. So if some portions of Papa’s novel Maximum Rossi (2020) occasionally read like a Las Vegas travelogue or gambling tutorial, a reader’s likely to forgive him. Papa’s fondness for “the Las Veags that was” bleeds through lovingly on every page of the novel.

This book was the prefect remedy for a diet of depressing current events titles and one dense literary novel. Maximum Rossi is a fun, fast read, harkening back to any number of 1950’s-60’s era PBO’s featuring private eyes, troublemakers, adventurers, men-about-town and shady anti-heroes mixed up with bad guys, mysteries and dangerous dames. Here Massimo ‘Max’ Rossi, son of a Boston mob fixer but not in the life himself, lingers in Las Vegas after a bachelor party and winds up deep in trouble with both the law and organized crime families after intervening to save a gangster’s mistress from a bruising. Noble? Yes. But certain to cause trouble. So when that same mobster is found murdered later that night, all fingers point to Max, and the race is on to solve the crime and somehow stay alive.

Flipping back through the book, I don’t see a specific year noted, but will place it comfortably in the mid to late 1950’s. A Ford Thunderbird tells me it could be no earlier than 1955, while Chicago mob chief Tony Accardo references suggest a 1957 (or thereabouts) cut-off. Whatever the year, it seems to be comfortably set in a pre-Rat Pack era that’s ripe with criminal fun.

Specialty press HPD Publishing’s cover art from Darned Good Covers (which I believe is a self-publishing and small press stock cover graphics resource) might be a little misleading. Oh, Vegas dancers and chorus girls waltz in and out of Max Rossi’s troubles (or may even be at the heart of them, and I’ll say no more than that), but you’ll find no saucy scenes intruding on the fistfights and gunplay here. Mind you, I’m quite fond of some sexy sizzle stirred in with the more sinister goings-on. Just as Maximum Rossi the novel fits in well with a 1950’s-60’s style of crime fiction, the book’s cover art maintains that era’s tradition of packaging paperbacks in saucy come-on covers that didn’t always match the stories inside.

It looks like Max Rossi’s Vegas adventures will continue in a sequel, Rossi’s Gamble, due out later this summer (the book included a teaser for that new novel), and I’ll be buying it. You should too. If you get a kick out of what you browse through here with The Stiletto Gumshoe, you’re bound to get a kick out of Paul W. Papa’s Max Rossi.

Her Predicament.

her predicament victor olson 1957

I think (but can’t verify) this 1957 Victor Olson illustration is for a glossy magazine short story called “Her Predicament”. Which leads to all kinds of questions about precisely what her predicament might be: Fiction being what it is, a crime may have been committed. Or, is she just surprised to discover a woman in her bed?

Sometimes They Got It Right.

Startling Detective 1952

Given a choice, I’ll always go for illustration over photography when it comes to vintage pulp fiction and true crime magazines and paperback covers. Frankly, I’ve never really gotten into the whole true crime magazine arena anyway, finding the oldies a little ho-hum and most of the ‘modern era’ stuff really, really creepy. (Though that’s based on browsing only a few issues, to be fair.)

But, I’ll be the first to concede that the genre boasted its share of nifty covers, many of the artists working interchangeably between the mystery/crime fiction titles and true crime mags. The photographers? Well, they were usually a bargain-basement lot shooting on the cheap in low-rent set-ups with models who definitely hadn’t just come off Vogue assignments. Still, there are some good ones, and the March 1952 issue of Startling Detective magazine happens to be one of my favorites.  I may have no interest in reading about the “Murder Trail Of The Roving Rapist”, “Irma’s Night of Horror” or any of the other gruesome stories inside, but Fawcett art director and art editor Al Allard and Phil Cammarata got got it right for that issue.

Anybody Can.

1938

Originally from Drive In Theater Of The Mind (via Browse The Stacks) at Tumblr: Apparently no one had to wait for Kindles, Nooks, 99-cent eBooks or bargain-priced bundles to pen their deathless prose for every possible perversion. The “Famous Jack Woodford” already knew way back in 1938 that anybody can write a sex novel.

Damn, I think I’ve been wasting my time agonizing over these noir-ish hard-boiled crime manuscripts all along…

Lily Renee: Fighting The Axis With A Sable Brush.

L Renee 1

Fiction House’s Senorita Rio waged a war of vengeance against the Nazis in Fight Comics during WWII, eager for revenge against all fascists after the death of her Navy Ensign fiancé at Pearl Harbor. Though Rio was launched by Morgan ‘Jo’ Hawkins and Nick Cardy, it’s artist “L. Renee” who is most closely associated with the character, and who had her own very personal reasons for bringing the Allies’ most lethal lady agent’s adventures to life.

Fourteen year old Vienna teenager Lily Renee Wilhelm was horrified when the Anschluss united Austria with Nazi Germany. The daughter of a well-to-do Jewish family, her father lost his job as the director of a prestigious cruise line, she was expelled from school, their home and possessions were soon confiscated and they were forced to move into a cramped shared apartment in the new Jewish ghetto. Knowing things would only get worse, Lily’s parents got her out of the country in the Kindertransport program that allowed Jewish children to emigrate overseas. Knowing very little English, Lily was taken in by a British family just before war broke out in 1939, unaware that the host family was actually more interested in a free house servant than aiding Europe’s endangered Jews. Ill-used and nearly starved, Lily fled, but with Britain and Germany at war now, she was picked up by the authorities and incarcerated as an enemy alien. A distant relative intervened and Lily got a job as a nurse’s aid in a military hospital. Unaware if her parents were still alive, working 12 hour shifts, shunned by her British coworkers, still unfamiliar with the language, it was a brutally lonely life for the young teen, her only solace found during her rare off hours when she indulged her amateur interest in art, drawing on any scrap of paper she could find.

L Renee 3While England endured the Blitz, Lily was shocked (but thrilled) to discover that her parents had, in fact, managed to escape Austria and arranged for her to join them in America. A perilous cross Atlantic freighter voyage dodging storms and German U-Boats finally reunited the family in New York. They found an apartment in Manhattan’s Upper West Side, Lily’s father got a job as an elevator operator, while she pitched in by hand painting Tyrolean scenes on knick-knacks while going to night school, even as the U.S. joined the war. Splitting her time between modeling jobs for fashion designers and classes at The Art Students League and The School Of The Visual Arts, Lily landed an apprentice position at an agency doing illustrations for Woolworth’s catalogs, but her mother was convinced she could do better, eventually prodding the young girl to answer a want ad for comic book artists. Lily balked, certain a woman wouldn’t be considered, particularly one so young, and still convinced while she waited with her portfolio on her lap in the Fiction House reception area surrounded only by men.

L Renee 4

But she was hired and soon found herself working side by side with pioneering women comic artists like Nina Albright and Fran Hopper, doing prep work and backgrounds, clean-ups and inking for the princely sum of $18 a week. Eventually she was assigned to draw some Jane Martin, Pilot issues, then given The Werewolf Hunter horror title, a series she often scripted without credit.

After Nick Cardy moved on to other titles, random artists temporarily filled in on Fight Comics popular Senorita Rio series till it was handed to young Lily Renee. She usually signed her work only as “L. Renee”, and her fan mail (much of it from servicemen) confirmed that most readers assumed she was a man. Lily Renee continued to do the Senorita Rio series for most of its run, finally leaving for other titles after the war, and eventually leaving the comics industry for textile design and other artistic endeavors.

L Renee 2But who could be better suited to drawing this iconic WWII era character, a woman so distraught over her fiancée’s death at Pearl Harbor that she abandons her glamorous, successful Hollywood career, fakes her own death and goes undercover as a government agent combatting fascist spies and saboteurs in her native South America. Lily Renee knew a thing or two about the dangers of Nazi tyranny, and drew Senorita Rio with relish as she rooted out evil German agents and collaborators, dispatching the bad guys (and a lot of nasty femmes fatales) with a compact automatic hidden in her garter holster, and always doing it in style, often as not in Senorita Rio’s trademark red dress and matching heels.  Not quite as skilled a draftsman as Nick Cardy was, young Lily Renee still celebrated Rio’s athleticism and daring, while embracing the one-time Hollywood starlet’s very apparent sensuality. In Renee’s hand, Rita Farrar/Senorita Rio surely got more than a few WWII era reader’s pulses racing in slinky peekaboo scenes that graced most stories. And like all good Golden Age comics heroines, Rio was frequently captured by the bad guys, but she was never a helpless damsel in distress waiting to be rescued. Notable among that era’s female characters, it was Senorita Rio herself who did the rescuing, and always triumphed over the enemy.

In 2007, Lily Renee was nominated to the Comic-Con International Hall Of Fame, and as of this writing, is still with us at age 99.

Senorita Rio

Rio 1

Hollywood’s stunned when Tinsel Town’s latest sensation, Rita Farrar, dies mysteriously on the eve of the South American premier of her latest movie, “Lady, Dance No More”, apparently falling overboard and lost at sea on an Argentina-bound cruise. But what no one knows is that Rita’s faked her own death in order to go undercover as a U.S. agent, bent on revenge against the forces of fascism following the death of her Navy Ensign fiancée at Pearl Harbor. Discarding her stage name and even her real name, Consuela de las Vegas, Rita becomes “Senorita Rio – Queen Of The Spies”, one of America’s most lethal operatives, rooting out Axis spies and Nazi saboteurs throughout South America.

Rio - 2

Created and scripted by Morgan ‘Jo’ Hawkins, Senorita Rio first appeared as one of numerous rotating characters in Fight Comics #19, eventually taking over the covers for about a year, and ran in almost every issue throughout the WWII years, continuing her adventures with a slightly reworked origin story in the early postwar period. The Gwandanaland Comics The Complete Senorita Rio is an enormous oversize 470-page trade paperback, the third of these Golden Age comics collection books I’ve gotten (following Crimes By Women and Betty Bates). While the publisher could invest a little time/money with even an entry-level graphic artist for some rudimentary Photoshop clean-up of their page scans (heck, they could even be color balanced and sharpened in Preview, when it comes down to it), and there are no extras – introduction, background, writer/artist bio’s, etc. – these Gwandanaland books are still a tremendous bargain. If, like me, you’re always on the hunt for the women detectives, girl reporters, female costumed superheroes and ‘stiletto gumshoes’ from the mid-twentieth century comics, pulps and paperbacks, you’d have to spend a fortune to collect the entire Senorita Rio series.

Rio 3

The initial series was beautifully drawn with real verve by Nick Cardy, who must’ve moved on to other projects while Senorita Rio was handled by a rotating team for a few issues, then handed over to comics pioneer Lily Renee, who had her own special reasons for doing a daring and deadly Axis-fighting heroine. More about that in the next post…

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