Milton Luros

Early Luros

Milton Luros was one of the ‘golden age’ pulp cover illustrators, his work often misattributed to Norman Saunders or Mort Kunstler. One of his cover paintings (a 1944 painting, shown below) was actually part of the inspiration for my ‘Stiletto Gumshoe’ series character (still in the works, alas) with a gun-toting bad guy bursting in on a woman processing incriminating photos in a dark room. I’ve had a file of that pic lurking in my computers’ image archives for ages.

1944

Milton Luros (1911-1999) was born Milton Louis Rosenblatt and grew up in Brooklyn, studying art at the Pratt Institute following high school. He got his start doing B&W interior spot illustrations for western pulps, and by the late 1930’s was earning a decent living as a freelance cover painter for numerous pulp magazine publishers and titles, doing everything from crime to cowboys, spicy’s to science fiction. After marrying his wife Beatrice, Luros set up a studio on West 67th Street, where his neighbors included Rafael DeSoto, George Gross and Norm Saunders…heady company, indeed! Serving as a Tech Sergeant for the Army Corps Of Engineers during WWII, Luros returned to freelance illustration work in the late 1940’s, eventually becoming the art director (and primary cover and interior illustrator) for Columbia Publications’ Famous Detective magazine. With the pulps in decline, Luros opened New York’s American Art Agency in 1955, but soon relocated to the west coast seeking more lucrative film studio poster work.

Crack Detective 1944

He soon took over the art director roles for two new men’s magazines, Adam and Knight, and eventually launched his own men’s magazine, Cocktail, which by 1959 expanded into a multi-title syndicate, Parliament News Distributors. However, ten years later, Luros and his firm became embroiled in obscenity charges, during which time he was depicted in the press as “the world’s richest pornographer”, which surely was a stretch. Ultimately, the charges were dropped, the initial convictions overturned on appeal, and Milton Luros continued to work both as a publisher and illustrator till his death in 1999. While certainly not as famous as some of his pre-WWII pulp marketplace counterparts, this artist is actually responsible for more of the classic pulp era’s memorable covers than we may realize.

THrilling Detective 1944

The Police Women’s Bureau

The Police Women's Bureau

Book reviews claim a novel is a ‘real page turner’ all the time, but I’m here to tell you that Edward Conlon’s The Policewomen’s Bureau is precisely that: A page turner. My proof? I started the book after work on Monday, and stayed up ridiculously late both Monday and Tuesday nights devouring this novel. Yes, a little groggy in the office Tuesday and Wednesday mornings, but it was worth it.

Edward Conlon’s a former New York City cop himself, and even after retiring was called back, currently the Director Of Executive Communications for the Police Commissioner. His own memoir Blue Blood was a bestseller and award finalist. The man can write, and he knows what’s what when it comes to being a cop and has an uncanny feel for effectively setting a scene — a hectic Italian family gathering, an authentic squad room, holding cell or gritty New York street scene.

Decoy 1957

I knew I’d like this book from the very beginning of the first page, which is a quote from the groundbreaking 1957 TV series Decoy (see link below for more about that), which starred Beverly Garland in the very first network crime drama led by a woman, the first filmed on location in New York, and told the story of Officer Casey Jones, an NYPD policewoman working different cases in each episode, sometimes undercover, sometimes in uniform. It’s a perfect choice to kick off Conlon’s novel, which is based on real life policewoman Marie Cirile’s own memoir and here tells the story of Marie Carrara, young wife, mother and member of a large and very traditional Italian family. Marie’s a cop, though policewomen are largely relegated to women’s wing jail matrons and occasional undercover assignments, enduring relentless taunts, hassles and worse  from their male counterparts, and institutional discrimination from the higher-ups. The book opens in 1958, spanning a ten-year-plus period through 1969 as Marie moves up the ranks, fighting superiors along with the crooks, while suffering through horrifying abuse from her ultra-traditional maximum-macho Italian husband (also a cop, and clearly a slightly crooked one), which goes beyond his flagrant infidelity, verbal abuse and routine physical violence, then culminates in a brutal rape. It’s grim stuff. But Marie perseveres, devoted to her kid and the job. Which is incredibly exciting stuff, tricking mobsters and working sympathetic snitches, trading blows with drug dealers and chasing junkies. Finally partnered up with two precinct oddballs, the threesome quickly grow into an unbeatable team with stellar arrest records, and form an unbreakable bond in the process.

The Policewomen’s Bureau is a terrific crime fiction novel, a maddening tale of how-things-were seventy years ago (enough so to dispel any warm nostalgia one might have for the ‘good old days’) and a truly moving saga of a quiet hero, a regular woman’s struggle against relentless injustice and discrimination. Do check it out, and give Beverly Garland a peek in 1957’s Decoy while you’re at it.

https://thestilettogumshoe.com/2019/02/06/decoy-retro-tvs-first-woman-with-a-badge/

 

Some Vintage ‘Stiletto Gumshoes’

Klassik Komix Holywood Detective Front

Mini-Komix’ (or is it Klassik Komix?) Hollywood Detective is a 100-page trade paperback combining several Dan Turner – Hollywood Detective stories (most of which I already had in other compilations or pulp reprints) with some relative rarities, including genuine ‘stiletto gumshoes’ from the 1940’s – 50’s. Now I’m no vintage crime comics historian, but I think the non-Dan Turner pieces aren’t from Dan Turner – Hollywood Detective magazines, but from the vintage crime pulp Speed Detective, which included (and actively promoted) a comics section in most issues, including Ray McClelland’s “Gail Ford – Girl Friday” and Gene Leslie’s “Queenie Starr – Glamour Girl Of Hollywood” along with Newt Alfred’s “Ray Hale – News Ace”.

3 Super Detectives

This book includes all of those, plus a “Betty Blake” four page shortie. H. L. Parkhurst’s Betty Blake was a contemporary of Alphonse Barreaux’ Sally The Sleuth, both launched in the Spring of 1934, though Betty only managed to survive for a half dozen appearances while Sally The Sleuth continued (in evolving forms) well into the 1950’s. Additionally, Betty, the daughter of a New York police inspector, somehow managed to keep her clothes on while solving crimes, unlike Sally The Sleuth. I’d tell you more, but Hollywood Detective includes no introduction, back matter, dates, details…nothing. There’s a write-up on this early female detective pulp/comics character from Kevin Burton Smith at the Thrilling Detective site. Check it out.

Gail Ford

For me, the real treats in this slim book are the Gail Ford – Girl Friday story, “Girl Snatchers” (a sample page shown above) and the three Queenie Starr – Glamour Girl Of Hollywood stories. I’d read little snippets here and there about these characters, perhaps seen some random panel art (typically unidentified or credited) at a Tumblr blog, Pinterest or elsewhere. But now I finally got to read a few complete pieces. If you’re into the roots of female detectives, cops, reporters and sundry snoops from the mid-twentieth century, they were a real find.

Queenie Starr

McClelland’s Gail Ford and Leslie’s Queenie Starr (Ms. Starr shown right above) have a bit of the era’s pervy peekaboo Good Girl Art feel to them, no question. Queenie Starr in particular, seems to spend a lot of time posing for cheesecake photos or sunning poolside in a bathing suit…reasonable enough, perhaps for a ‘Hollywood Glamour Girl’. But not unlike Barreaux’ Sally The Sleuth, she spends an inordinate amount of time getting dressed and undressed. Unfortunately for the various Hollywood crooks, schemers and murderers she gets mixed up with, prancing about in negligees or lingerie doesn’t seem to hinder her ability to solve Tinsel Town’s crimes. All in all, quirky retro stuff, but very interesting.

Super Detective May 1950

 

 

This Is A Stickup.

A Half Interest In Murder 1960 raymond johnson cover copy

I’ve never been a victim of a crime. Not really. Not violent crime, at any rate.

Our home was broken into twice when I was a teenager, our garage on another occasion. Such is life in the city. Fresh out of college, my nifty new car was stolen, found two months later in a snowbank in rural Indiana, stripped and vandalized. A few years later, my workplace was broken into, once in the city with some professional camera gear stolen, and once again when out in the suburbs, some computer equipment taken and needless vandalism done, the crooks probably kids since they only stole whatever was closest to the door and left all the valuable stuff behind. That time the suburban police ‘invited’ everyone at work to be fingerprinted, which was actually pretty interesting. (They were investigating a string of break-ins in the area, but nothing ever came of it.) I’ve had SE European ID thieves whack both a company charge card and a personal credit card on separate occasions, with lots of charges rung up quickly, none of which I was responsible for.

But I’ve never had a gun pointed at me, never been mugged or assaulted, stalked or abused, thank God. The incidents listed above barely qualify me to claim that I’ve been a crime victim for a jury duty voir dire (though it did get me out of sitting on a jury once…whew).

So, this hardly qualifies as a ‘crime’, but…

Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog

Check out Chris The Story Reading Ape’s Blog (link below) and his 7.11.19 post “Copyright Infringement, Again!”. The excellent “Reader-Writer-Resources-& More” blog featured a post from poet Kevin Morris’ K Morris – Poet blog (link below) about Kiss Library (kisslibrary.net). Morris occasionally browses online to see if his work has appeared anywhere or snagged a review, which I suspect many of us do. He was shocked to discover one of his titles for sale on Kiss Library — for which he never granted permission, listed the title, uploaded files, or will receive any payment. Browsing further about Kiss Library, he uncovered (not surprisingly) posts and articles which seemed to indicate that the site was, at best, questionable, accused of listing pirated eBooks and PDF downloads. Morris’ post provides a link to Sara F. Hawkins – Attorney At Law’s site (link below) and then Dale Cameron Lowry’s site (again, link below) for more info about Kiss Library, the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) and the pretty complex process an author or publisher can pursue to attempt to get an ISP to remove illegally appropriated content. Follow the links, read up on it, but I’m sure you’ll agree: It ain’t easy.

K Morris - Poet Blog

I’ve read quite a bit lately about pirated content being sold on Amazon in particular, and the frustration authors and publishers – large and small alike—have with the online behemoth’s failure to police things better. We read about them so much because they’re so big. Clearly there may be others. Intrigued, I went to Kiss Library myself, and plugged in a prior pen name of mine.

Sure enough, two books popped up, both for sale as eBooks and downloadable PDF’s. I’d never even heard of Kiss Library, and definitely never listed any books there, authorized them to sell my work, or received a notice or payment from them. Basically, they were stolen, if not by the site, then by someone stealing the content and cover art images and listing them at Kiss Library.

Bottom line: Theft. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.

Dale Cameron Lowry

Sarah F Hawkins

“The Stiletto Gumshoe” — the first completed novel, its halfway completed sequel and a hoped-for noirishly hard-boiled P.I. series — are my current projects. But I’m not entirely new to writing or publishing, though hardly a seasoned pro. Working under a pen name, I’ve had a number of short stories published in chapbooks, zines, magazines and anthologies, each of which snagged darn good reviews along with payment commensurate with those kinds of venues. I’ve had three novels published by a small press. One sold out its first and second printing and was an award nominee. The other two sold out their print runs, and one of them sold foreign rights (though only for one country). All garnered excellent reviews which I’m still quite proud of. But like many small presses, that one disbanded. Nonetheless, I made respectable money, sold around 10,000 copies altogether, held onto my reviews, and some time later, put two of those novels out on my own, even able to access the original cover art files for one of the books, creating new art for the other. (Doesn’t hurt to work in the marcom profession for the day job and have all the proper software for building cover art, formatting text, etc.) Both books went up as eBooks and POD hard copy editions at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. I don’t ‘market’ or promote them, had no expectations of selling many, but just didn’t want cherished early work that I was still proud of to simply vanish. So, every couple of months I get a direct deposit or two, enough to buy a Grand Slam breakfast at Denny’s or to feel less guilty when I splurge at a bookstore. And for me, that’s good enough.

As for Kiss Library? The two books listed there as of 7.11.19 were both the reformatted editions of my own, not the original small press publisher’s versions, selling for $5.97 and $5.86 US (the cheapskates). I read that Kiss Library is located in The Republic Of Belarus (formerly Byelorussia) sandwiched between Poland, Lithuania and Russia (Minsk is the capital, if that helps the geographically challenged). However, on its site, it lists its location in Canada. I screen-capped the page with my two books, so I have a record of that. But when I returned to the site on 7.13.19, they were gone, with no info appearing by title or author searches.

Think I should’ve ordered one of each to see what I actually would receive? Oh sure, like I’m going to hand over credit card info to what may be a questionable pirated content site. I’ll pass.

But the point of this lengthy link-filled post is this: Clearly some of the visitors and followers of this blog are writers. I’ll bet you periodically search your own work online (and if you say you don’t, I say you’re fibbing). Keep an eye out for Kiss Library. If you feel brave, pop over to see if your work appears there. And keep an eye out in general for pirated content everywhere.

Hopefully C. J. Thomas’ The Stiletto Gumshoe series will sell at some point (and soon, I say with fingers crossed) and not just to some micro-publisher. But who knows what may occur, or if I’ll find myself buried in Adobe Illustrator, InDesign and Acrobat files again,  formatting my work for Amazon, B&N and elsewhere. But if I do, I’m sure as hell going to keep an eye out for crooks. And I do plan to revisit Kiss Library once in a while to see what’s up or if my titles mysteriously reappear.

Multiple links below…

Chris The Story Reading Ape’s Blog:

https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/10519297/posts/2341125149

Kevin Morris’ kmorris – Poet Blog:

https://kmorrispoet.com/2019/07/11/copyright-infringement-again/

Sara F. Hawkins – Attorney At Law Blog (How To File A DMCA Take Down Notice):

https://sarafhawkins.com/how-to-file-dmca-takedown/

Dale Cameron Lowry’s Blog:

https://www.dalecameronlowry.com/piracy-alert-seller-stealing-books-kisslibrary-com/

Illustration at the top: Raymond Johnson’s illustration for A Half Interest in Murder, 1960

 

Secret Agent Chic

Sasha Luss 1

Guy Aroch’s behind the camera, Vadim Galaganov handles styling duties and Sasha Luss is the very lethal looking secret agent in this July 2019 photo editorial for Elle Russia magazine. A clandestine meeting and planned briefcase exchange apparently goes bad, but I suspect that Sasha-the-spy (and her scary looking automatic) resolved things in the end.

Sasha Luss 2Sasha Luss 3Sasha Luss 4Sasha Luss 5Sasha Luss 6

The Howdunit Series

scene of the crime

I suppose Writer’s Digest Books “Howdunit Series” ought to be mandatory reading for every mystery/crime fiction writer, but the fact is, they’re quite entertaining for crime fiction fans as well. And very informative, if you like to be well-versed in grisly trivia.

I only have two: Keith D. Wilson’s Cause Of Death – A Writer’s Guide To Death, Murder & Forensic Medicine, and just added Anne Wingate’s Scene Of The Crime – A Writer’s Guide To Crime-Scene Investigations this past weekend. That the books are nearing 30 years-old doesn’t bother me, since my current projects are set in 1959. Things probably weren’t even up to 1990’s standards at that time anyway.

Private Eyes

What’s your pleasure? Poisons? Firearms? I really need to locate a clean copy of Private Eyes – A Writer’s Guide To Private Investigators by Hal Blythe, Charlie Sweet and John Landreth, though I’m sure things were quite different for P.I.’s sixty years ago when my ‘Stiletto Gumshoe’ hung up her shingle. The fact that I don’t see these books on shelf in used bookstores very often tells me that once bought, they’re kept. Sure, everything you ever wanted to know is online. But it’s nice to have details and info handy from reliable sources, not just a Wikipedia entry.

3 Books4 books

Mafiosa

Mafiosa Cover

Spotted at Crime Fiction Lover (and you just have to love the straightforward name of that site, dontcha?):

Planned for a first issue to be released in August 2019, Mafiosa is scripted by Sunshine Barbito with art by Debora Carita. Set in Prohibition era Little Sicily, it tells the story of 18 year old Nicoletta Marchesi, daughter of a made man who aims to join the family business herself. From the description I read, it sounds like this mafiosa is more lethal than any mafioso, and I’m anxious to see more.

Looks like the book’s launch is relying on a Kickstarter campaign. There are some sample pages and a handy link to Mafiosa’s Kickstarter page at Crimefictionlover.com (link below). Check it out for info on this forthcoming comic, or just to learn more about Crime Fiction Lover, “The Site For Die Hard Crime And Thriller Fans”, if you’re unfamiliar with the spot-on news, reviews, interviews and features you’ll find there.

https://crimefictionlover.com

Cigarette Girls

Cigarette Girl

Back in mid-May I mentioned Susanna Calkins’ new novel (the first in a new series, I think), Murder Knocks Twice, a period mystery set in early 1929 Chicago. Struggling to care for her ailing father, young Gina Ricci takes a job as a cigarette girl in a local speakeasy, only to learn that the girl she’s replaced was recently murdered, and the club’s brooding, mysterious photographer turns out to be an estranged cousin from the family that disowned her and her dad. When Gina witnesses that same enigmatic photographer brutally murdered, she obeys his dying words and takes his camera, then learns to process film, and that’s only the start of the multiple mysteries that erupt in Calkins’ novel, all of which is set against a backdrop of the Capone-Moran gang wars, the book’s final pages playing out just as the infamous St. Valentine’s Day Massacre occurs. It’s a fun read, leisurely paced (or methodically, depending on your assessment) and brimming with red herrings and subplots. Some may think Calkins’ tale is a little light on mayhem and Roaring Twenties decadence, considering the time, place and characters. But if so, it certainly didn’t detract from her good storytelling.

MURDER KNOCKS TWICE copy

Two things struck me as I read Murder Knocks Twice.

First: how Calkins used photographs and her hero’s urgent need to learn photography and film processing as a crucial driver in the narrative. That intrigued me, since it’s similar to things going on in both the first The Stiletto Gumshoe novel currently making the rounds and its sequel, still underway. A female protagonist, a Chicago setting — albeit with thirty years separating the two, my tale set in 1959 – it’d be presumptuous of me to say ‘great minds think alike’. I will say it was nice to see another author use photos and processing the way Calkins did.

4 cigarette girls

Second: Calkins wise choice of a nightclub cigarette girl for her main character (and what looks like a series character at that). It got me thinking about just how few cigarette girls have helmed mystery/crime fiction novels, when it’s such an obvious role. If you’re writing period crime fiction, which understandably may involve speakeasies, casinos, roadhouses and nightclubs, a cigarette girl is ideal for a character that needs to be right in the middle of the action. I’ve thought about it, I’ve browsed my own bookshelves and I’ve surfed online, but found precious few (if any) cigarette girl characters, much less lead characters, even among vintage pulps. So, hats off to Calkins for finally giving a vintage crime milieu fixture her proper due!

Cigarette Girl Pulps

And while we’re at it, congrats to her for a job well done. If you insist on non-stop gunplay, grisly violence or sizzling bedroom hijinks, (and frankly, I often do!) then Murder Knocks Twice may not be the next book you’ll consider. But, consider it nonetheless. It really is a good read.

P.S. Yes, that’s a young Audrey Hepburn in the cigarette girl costume in the quadrant of photos above.

 

The New Pulpeteers

taya ferdinand shutter - pulpeteers

The July 2019 issue of The Writer magazine’s cover story was focused on literary agents – “Pulling Back The Curtain – What Does A Literary Agent Really Do?” by Kerrie Flanagan, followed by a nice interview with agent Donald Maas (a name that ought to be familiar to any querying writer, genre writers in particular), plus Ryan G. Van Cleave’s article on literary agent contracts. Savvy pro’s might groan and say they’ve read it all before. Newbies might lap it all up, and as for myself — somewhere in between — I always find some bit of new info in these articles, no matter how often I’ve retread the same ground in writers’ magazines or blogs. And seriously, how can you go wrong with an interview with a sage like Donald Maas?

But the article that really caught me by surprise in this issue was Heidi Ruby Miller’s “Introducing The New Pulp…Pulp Fiction Is Back, Baby”, a nice three page look at the resurgence of pulp fiction, distinguishing between the classic pulp era and contemporary writers and starting by acknowledging what was worrisome about mid-twentieth century pulpdom. Defining new pulp, Miller quotes Tommy Hancock of Pro Se productions: “Fiction writing with the same sensibilities, beats of storytelling, patterns of conflict, and creative use of words and phrases of original pulp, but crafted by modern writers, artists and publishers.”

Mystery Weekly Magazine

Most of Miller’s overview addresses adventure pulps like Doc Savage, Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan, Pellucidar and Barsoom novels, SF/Fantasy material from vintage Lovecraft, Bradbury and Campbell, etc., as opposed to the mystery/crime fiction pulps. And after all, one could argue that crime pulp never really went away, merely migrated online and into periodic anthologies. Even with the disolution of so many 1930’s – 1960’s pulp magazines, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine are still out there, pulpy paper and all. Maybe the writers appearing inside don’t want to be classified as ‘pulpeteers’, or who knows? Maybe they’d be proud to wear to wear the mantle. After all, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine has been emblazoned with a violator on the cover for a while now noting “With Black Mask”, and I can’t think of anything that evokes the classic crime/mystery pulp era better.

three modern pulps

Miller’s article concludes with a list highlighting new pulp resources: Sites, cons, podcasts and even print/online pulp publishers, though again, those are more adventure/fantasy pulps than crime. That’s OK. ‘Pulp’ ala Dan Turner – Hollywood Detective, Sally The Sleuth and The Domino Lady may have faded away, or only live in reprints and some questionable revivals, but the noir-ish and hard-boiled flavor of the classic pulp era is still alive in a lot of talented mystery/crime fiction writers’ novels. Still…it sure would be nice if some well-heeled entrepreneur like the fellows who launched the original Hard Case Crime paperback line got a bright idea to launch a for-real ink-on-paper mystery/crime pulp magazine…wouldn’t it?

(Taya Ferdinand illustration from The Writer magazine)

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