In A Man’s World.

The Innocent Bottle

Lucy Beatrice Malleson (1899 – 1973) wrote general fiction under the Anne Meredith pen name, but more famously as “Anthony Gilbert”, with over 70 mystery novels to her credit, most of those featuring the somewhat groundbreaking (kind of hard-boiled and vulgar) London lawyer Arthur Crook, that long running series beginning in 1936 and continuing to the last novel in 1974, released after the author’s death. Several of Malleson’s Anthony Gilbert novels were adapted to British films in the 1940’s, as well as a 1963 Alfred Hitchcock Hour episode, and two of her short stories were Edgar Award nominees.

Breaking into the crowded field of what many consider the ‘golden age’ of both British and American crime fiction, Lucy Malleson decided to adopt a male pen name and stuck with it, apparently quite successfully…going so far as to pose for her author photo dressed as a man.

Anthony Gilbert Books Montage

I first spotted her re-released Orion Publishing memoir Three-A-Penny — In A Man’s World: The Classic Memoir Of A 1930’s Writer, with a new introduction by Sophie Hannah, at the Crime Fiction Lover blog’s e-newsletter. It looks like the UK edition comes out before Christmas, though a U.S. trade paperback isn’t due till April, 2020. Not sure I can wait till Spring for this one. Methinks some bookstore clerk’s going to be pestered once again this week.

Three-A-Penny

 

PW’s Book Shopping List.

PW

A mid-November issue of Publishers Weekly was stuffed full of interesting things, particularly two special features on mysteries, thrillers & true crime in, “Out Of The Shadows” by Michael J. Seidlinger, and “Open Wounds” by Bridey Heing. The thrust of those two meaty multi-page articles: Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl has sold nearly four million copies in seven years, during which time the mystery/crime fiction/thriller marketplace might feel overtaken by a glut of domestic thrillers helmed by similarly imperfect narrators. But the genre, its subsets and offshoots are an incredibly rich and diverse landscape of distinctive voices, inventive plot devices and milieus, so both Seidlinger and Heing showcased a wide selection of now-debuting and soon-to-arrive novels and true crime titles that aren’t necessarily Gone Girl derivatives (or even include ‘Girl’ in the title, which so many new releases have been doing). I was pleased to spot some I’d already ordered, reserved or even had in hand. And, just as pleased to see more in Seidlinger and Heing’s articles and the adjacent ads for books I mean to get, including:

After All -

After All by Robert Arthur Neff

Are Snakes NecessaryDouble Feature

Hard Case Crime’s Are Snakes Necessary by Brian DePalma and Susan Lehman, and Double Feature by Donald Westlake

Bonita Palms

Bonita Palms by Hal Ross

That Left Turn At Albuquerque

That Left Turn At Albuquerque by Scott Phillips

The Wrong Girl

The Wrong Girl by Donis Casey: ‘The Adventures Of Bianca Dangereuse’

The Beauty DefenseAnd for some non-fiction, The Beauty Defense – Femmes Fatales On Trial by Laura James

 

 

Death on The House.

Dime Detective June 1947

Adapted from Peter Paige’s “Death On The House” opening two-page spread, which appeared in the June 1947 Dime Detective magazine, as seen at the always excellent pulpcovers.com site. I really wish the pulps credited the interior artists. Pulp experts are usually able to ID the cover artists, but the countless stunning (and sometimes, not-so-stunning) B&W interior spot illustrations are mostly doomed to anonymity.

Give this cocktail lounge coquette a simpler hairstyle with bangs, put her in a pair of plain pumps, and this illustration could almost be a new ‘Stiletto Gumshoe’ avatar.

Carrie Cashin

Crime Busters July 1939 - Carrie Cashin

I read my first Carrie Cashin story in Bernard Drew’s excellent Hard-Boiled Dames anthology, but finding more is a challenge, unless you’re ready to fork over significant dollars for collectible pulps (which I’m not). I only recently spotted two Carrie Cashin tales (“Black Queen” and her debut, “White Elephant”) in The Shadow #133 and #138 at Bud Plant’s budsartbooks.com. They’ve been added to my Christmas list, though I suppose I’ll end up ordering them myself after the holidays (no one ever wants to stuff my Christmas stocking with the real fun stuff).

Carrie Cashin 1

Created by Theodore Tinsely, Carrie Cashin appeared in over forty stories in Street & Smith’s Crime Busters and Mystery pulp magazines between 1937 and 1942.  A former department store detective, Carrie looks “like a demure brown-eyed stenographer in a tailored jacket and tweed skirt”, and often defers to her “broad-shouldered assistant Aleck, to allay any clients’ concerns about a woman detecting” when they’re with clients. But Miss Cashin is the real head of the Cash & Carry Detective Agency, the first to leap into danger, and clearly the brains of the outfit. Like Lars Anderson’s Domino Lady, Carrie has a derringer strapped to her thigh beneath her skirt, sometimes surprises with a bigger weapon hidden in her purse, and rarely balks when the bad guys are up for some fisticuffs.  The Hard-Boiled Dames anthology included Tinsley’s “The Riddle In Silk”, in which Carrie (with assistant Aleck in tow) investigates a bloody murder in a remote mansion on the requisite dark and stormy night, which leads them back into the city and ultimately to the waterfront docks on the trail of a stolen pair of silk stockings which “may mean the difference between peace and war in Europe”, the hose containing secret coded messages.

I’ll have to keep looking for an affordable pulp reprint or anthology I’ve overlooked to locate Carrie Cashin in “The Man With The Green Whiskers” novelette from the July 1939 Crime Busters magazine depicted above at the top. Looks like the bad guys got the drop on Carrie this time, and maybe her lilac frock and slip contain something they want bad enough to hold her at gunpoint. Fear not: Carrie will get out this predicament.

Carrie Cashin

 

Guilty Pleasures, And Not A Noir: Love With The Proper Stranger (1963)

Love With The Proper Stranger 1

No, not a film noir or even a crime melodrama, Love With The Proper Stranger is one of my guilty pleasure movies. I suppose we’d call it a romance, and though there are multiple scenes that are — if not downright comedic, then certainly played for laughs – it’s hard to think of it as a period rom-com. This is the story of young Angie Rossini, a Macy’s store clerk eager to spread her wings and escape the crowded family apartment shared with an overbearing mother and two vigilant older brothers, all of them anxious to lock her into marriage with a bumbling neighbor. But Angie’s recent one-night stand with roving jazz musician Rocky Papasano (Steve McQueen) leaves her pregnant, so she tracks him down for the name of a doctor and money for a backroom abortion. Doesn’t actually sound like the setup for a light-hearted romance, does it?

Directed by Robert Mulligan from an Arnold Schulman script, the film is unrelentingly gritty and claustrophobic, capturing mid-twentieth century big city life beautifully…beautifully grim, that is. Released on Christmas Day in 1963 (and often listed as a 1964 release), the film may not have been a huge financial success, but did snag five Oscar nominations, including one for Natalie Wood. Schulman penned a novelization of the film, which may have been an expanded version of the original treatment, including some scenes handled differently or not even in the movie, the story told more from Rocky Papasano’s POV.

Love With The Proper Stranger 2

I’ve mentioned elsewhere on this site that a late 1950’s/early 1960’s Natalie Wood became the model for my imaginary ‘Stiletto Gumshoe’ character, and specifically, it’s her performance in Love With The Proper Stranger – her look, wardrobe, demeanor, and the neatly crafted juxtaposition of assertiveness and vulnerability.  Natalie Wood is stunning here in an incredibly real everyday person kind of role, one that countless young women surely could relate to back in 1963. If you get a chance to see this one, check it out.

Poster

Remembering Natalia (11.29.1981)

Natalie Wood 2

Born Natalia Nikolaevna Zakharenko in 1938 in San Francisco, the Russian emigre family name later changed to Gurdin, but we knew her as Natalie Wood, first appearing on film at age 4, lighting up the screen in the original Miracle On 34th Street at only 8, later to create memorable screen roles in Rebel Without A Cause, Splendor In The Grass, West Side Story, This Property Condemned, and my personal favorite, Love With The Proper Stranger from 1963/1964…earning three Oscar nominations along the way.

Sadly, it was on this date, November 29th in 1981, that Natalie Wood drowned off the Catalina coast in a boating accident that’s still shrouded in mystery.

Natalie Wood 1

Natalie Wood 4

To say I’m a fan isn’t quite enough. Of course, Wood never played a true ‘femme fatale’, much less a gun moll, film noir heroine or even a real crook, unless you want to count the silly mid-sixties farce Penelope. But for some reason, it was always Natalie Wood that I pictured when envisioning my own creation, ‘The Stiletto Gumshoe’ – Sharon Gardner (real name Sasha Garodnowicz, changed for obvious reasons), a 22-year old trying to make her way in the gritty brown-bricked bungalow rows of Chicago’s ethnic southwest side in 1959. Specifically, it’s the look of Natalie Wood from the early 1960’s, and her Angie Rossini character from Love With The Proper Stranger, like the NYC publicity shots shown above from that film. As Sharon Gardner herself relates, surveying the crowd from her all-too-familiar perch on a barstool in Silky’s cocktail lounge:

“…A decent looking type out for a few snorts after work on a Thursday evening was more likely to go for the loudmouthed lushes squeezed into their sparkly cocktail dresses. But enough liquor can turn me into Natalie Wood, when a fellow wants to believe it. Minus a few curves. And if it’s dark. Which Silky’s usually is.”

Natalie Wood Dance 1

Maybe she got screwed by producers when it came to showcasing obvious singing and dancing talents. Maybe it took a while for her to acquire well-deserved cred for her acting ability and to overcome the child-star label. No question that her prime years included some silly roles, the kind every star was arm-twisted into during the waning days of the studio system. But I just refer anyone unfamiliar with Wood’s work to some of those key films listed above. ‘Nuff said.

Natalie Wood: July 20, 1938 – November 29, 1981. Gone at only 43. We can only imagine the work she left undone at such a young age, but will always have the work she left us with. Yeah, I’m a fan, and always will be.

Natalie Wood Dance 3

No Pumpkin Pie? We’ll Make Do With Cheesecake.

Marilyn Monroe 3

There’s little to be found in the way of “Thanksgiving Noir” so you’ll forgive me if I serve up some cheesecake instead of pumpkin pie.

1950’s – 60’s sad siren Marilyn Monroe packing a gun would make for an iconic film noir photo. But when the rod’s a blunderbuss, and the cheesecake photoshoot’s scanty attire is a barely-there pilgrim costume instead of a fetching femme fatale’s frock, the results will be what they’ll be. I believe these were shot by Bert Stern in 1950, back when Ms. Monroe still had to put up with this nonsense.

marilyn monroe 2

But it’s intriguing to note that Marilyn Monroe had some legit pilgrim credentials, supposedly a distant descendant of John Alden and Priscilla Mullins, certainly some of the most famous among the Mayflower’s passengers. If I’ve read things correctly, Monroe was a seven-times-great-granddaughter of the Aldens through their eldest child, Elizabeth. Of course, neither Priscilla nor Elizabeth were known for showing off their shapely gams in back-seamed fishnets.

And with that, a Happy Turkey Day to you too.

marilyn monroe 1Marilyn Monroe 4

 

Blues In The Dark

Blues in The Dark

L.A. indie film producer Karissa Glover is in the final stages of a messy divorce from a B-grade action film star and needs a new place to live. Like now. Coincidence (or is it?) leads her to an old mansion in West Adams Heights, available at a ridiculously low rent. The house has remained vacant since its prior owner, Ultimate Studio’s overnight star and film noir femme fatale Blair Kendrick, was murdered in the late 1940’s.  The now forgotten star’s furniture and mementoes all remain, and Karissa soon uncovers one mystery after another, all related to Kendrick’s then-taboo relationship with an African-American jazz musician. Obsessed, Karissa begins developing a film based on the actress’ life story, attempting to solve the mysteries surrounding her death. And some mighty dangerous people definitely do not want anyone digging into Blair Kendrick’s death or the mysterious disappearance of her lover.

You’d have to turn in your ‘I-Read-Mysteries’ I.D. card if you don’t see where this one’s going. But that’s not intended as a criticism. Like a fun road trip, sometimes it’s all about the journey, not the destination. And I don’t mean that I anticipated all the twists, turns and details in Raymond Benson’s tale, only that I guessed at its ultimate resolution early on. But that just made me all the more eager to learn how we’d get there. No surprise; Benson’s a good storyteller, done here in chapters that alternate between modern day Karissa Glover’s efforts to learn more about the mysterious 1940’s star, and Blair Kendrick’s postwar Hollywood milieu, in which she tries to avoid the casting couch, falls hard for a handsome jazz pianist, and their desperate attempts to elude period prejudices, lethal studio enforcers and even the mob. Benson knows how to handle this alternating chapter structure well. His multi-book Black Stiletto series (each of which I literally gobbled up) about a 1950’s costumed vigilante employed the technique skillfully.

It bears mentioning that Blues In The Dark’s Karissa Glover is an adoptee, her birth parents unknown, only that she is of mixed racial heritage. Like maybe a beautiful blue-eyed blonde film noir actress and an African American jazz musician. Hmmm…

If you like retro Hollywood settings, a good mystery and a well-told tale, it’d be hard not to like Raymond Benson’s Blues In The Dark.

Dead Fashion Girl

dead fashion girl copy

I’m not sure precisely what “A Situationist Detective Story” is, and rarely read true crime, preferring to indulge in make-believe murder and mayhem. A noir-addict ought to be comfy with unhappy endings, which no one expects in true crime books. We can only look for some satisfactory resolution: The suspect arrested, the crime solved, the guilty tried and sentenced with some measure of justice done for the victim.

There’s no such satisfaction with Jean Mary Townshend’s 1954 murder. Fred Vermorel’s Dead Fashion Girl (2019) deals not only with the crime and initial police investigation, but what the author considers a six-decade cover-up of bungled inquiries and period prejudices, the book as much a look at prim and proper postwar middle-class England and the hush-hush decadence of mid-1950’s London bohemian culture.

Twenty-one-year-old aspiring fashion designer and sometimes model Jean Mary Townshend worked as a theatrical costumer in London’s west end, commuting by train to her parents’ South Ruislip home. Following some after-work fun, she was last seen alive walking home late at night. Her body was discovered the following morning, evidently strangled with her own scarf. Although it was reported at the time (1980’s documents indicating otherwise) that there were no signs of sexual assault, Townshend’s fully clothed body was found with her shoes and underthings carefully removed and left nearby. Other incidents occurred right in this same vicinity over the next few years, with suspicion initially falling on U.S. servicemen from a nearby Air Force base to members of the well-to-do set. Efforts to reopen the investigation or obtain records have been rebuffed and the case remains unsolved.

Dead Fashion Girl is filled with minute details and numerous photos. Yet, what makes the book more interesting than a by-the-numbers police procedural for a true crime neophyte like myself are the portions devoted to the mid-fifties milieus Jean Mary Townshend inhabited along with the authorities’ fixation on the decadent London scene, proto-beatnik and artsy cliques. Vermorel’s known for so-called “anti-biographies” and pop culture books covering the Sex Pistols, Gary Numan, Adam Ant, Kate Bush, Vivienne Westwood, Kate Moss and others. His Dead Fashion Girl provides a good glimpse (especially for an uninformed Yank) of a pre-Mod/pre-Profumo affair London scene. It may leave you uneasy and even furious that Townshend’s killer was never brought to justice and now, over sixty years later, most likely never will be. Sadly, there’s no justice for the Dead Fashion Girl.

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