No, Really: Where Did Marla Go?

Private eyeful 1

Not a collector but always acquisitive, I once had four editions of Henry Kane’s Private Eyeful, (none pristine collectibles, mind you) including the striking 1960 UK version with its Denis McLoughlin cover at, the original 1959 US paperback edition with a frequently seen Robert Maguire illustration, a 1960 reissue with Mort Engle cover art, and even a Lancer pb edition from years later (75 cent cover price, so let’s guess late 1960’s or even 1970’s) with a period-sexy nearly nude model posing in no more than a holster for the Howard Winters cover photo.

But a years-ago mishap with apartment windows left open all day while at work – a day plagued by thunderstorms – turned my Private Eyefuls and a number of other books into soggy messes with nowhere else to go but the trash. All I have now is an inexpensive replacement copy of that awful Lancer photo cover edition, a disintegrating book at that, with all but a few pages completely loosened from the binding. Proof once again why it’s best that I never became a collector.

Private eyeful 2

Now, not everyone’s a Henry Kane (1918 – 1988) fan, but I’ll admit to being one. Like writers as diverse as pulp maestro Robert Leslie Bellem (Dan Turner – Hollywood Detective) and eminent literary bad-boy James Ellroy (L.A. Confidential, etc., etc.), Kane’s writing has a uniquely musical quality to it. Not quite Runyon-esque, but sometimes syncopated and sometimes sing-songy, it almost demands to be read out loud, and then could get your fingers snapping once you find the writer’s rhythm. If some critics assert that the prodigiously productive pulp and paperback original writing machine (like Erle Stanley Gardner, Scott Turow, John Grisham and others, originally a lawyer before he was a writer) can be painfully smarmy or annoyingly glib, I’d only counter that countless postwar era mystery/crime fiction writers were as well, the spinning paperback racks crammed with wise-cracking coastal private eyes like Kane’s Peter Chambers back then.

Roughly midway in the writer’s successful series of smart-assed NYC gumshoe novels, Henry Kane paused to crank out Private Eyeful in 1959. Why? Who knows. Prodded by an agent or editor, perhaps, hoping to give “G.G. Fickling’s” Honey West some competition. But let’s be frank: Henry Kane, like so many other writers from the same era, could be dismissive at best and downright misogynistic at worst when it comes to female characters, so the decision to write an entire novel about a female private eye remains a puzzler to me.

Private eyeful 3

Kane’s Marla Trent is the super-successful owner of Manhattan’s Marla Trent Enterprises, capably assisted there by big, smart and handsome William Winkle (AKA Wee Willie) and stern middle-aged secretary Rebecca Asquiff. This is no struggling pair of gumshoes dodging bill collectors. The agency’s offices are plush and well located, the revenue stream steady and lucrative, and as for Marla Trent herself? She’s blue-eyed and blonde-haired with curvy measurements that are incessantly relisted, a one-time beauty pageant contestant but also a Vassar graduate, with a Masters from NYU and a PhD from Columbia. Previously (and briefly) married to Andrew King, then of the FBI and now of the NYPD, 28-year-old Marla Trent is quite comfortable with her luxurious Manhattan penthouse, sports car and seemingly endless wardrobe courtesy of a large six-figure inheritance from her deceased inventor father.

Let’s be clear: Marla Trent is smart, savvy and capable, but most of all, Marla is attractive, as the reader is reminded over and over and over again as characters fawn over her, flirt with her, attempt to seduce her and literally are dumbfounded by her looks, all in increasingly squirm-worthy ways throughout the novel.

In Private Eyeful, Trent deals with one case in the book’s opening pages that swiftly morphs into an altogether different – and more troubling – case, initially helping model and actress Katrina Jurillo prove her ne’er-do-well brother’s innocence in an armed robbery (said brother already doing time in Sing-Sing). But this turns into an even more serious situation when his appeal goes bad and the assistant D.A. is shot dead right in the court room. Marla has to navigate a particularly puzzling (and loooong) list of culprits, lots of red herring clues, goofy coincidences and leering late fifties naughtiness, culminating in a credulity-straining trial scene. Most of the nod-and-a-wink sauciness leads nowhere, though there’s an oddly unexpected romp with Marla’s ex right in his precinct office during the work day, and the novel does end as bedroom hijinks are about to commence (this time with a handsome doctor who popped up late in the tale to facilitate all that strained credulity in the climactic court room scene).

Is it a good mystery, or even good P.I. crime fiction? Well, I’ll let readers decide on their own if they choose to dig up their own copy of Private Eyeful. Henry Kane’s novels are an acquired taste, as are so many postwar private eye series. I’m not about to canonize Brett Halliday, Carter Brown or Frank Kane either. But I happen to have a fascination with the much-too-short list of mid-twentieth century ‘stiletto gumshoes’ from the pre-Grafton and Paretsky era, even if digging up their novels, pulp tales, comics, movies and TV shows can feel like an archeological dig. They’re not all high-art, but for me they are pop-cultural touchstones.

Private Eyeful 4

Like Henry Kane’s Peter Chambers novels, Private Eyeful and the Marla Trent character are sorta fun and kinda sassy in a silly way, period pieces with all of the baggage that implies. That the book is set in 1959, the same year I open my own The Stiletto Gumshoe works-in-progress, is more coincidence than inspiration, and I’d be quick to point out that Kane’s blonde bombshell and my own Sharon Gardner (real name: Sasha Garodnowicz) have no more in common than occasionally running down the bad guys in heels.

So, why just the one Private Eyeful novel? Again, who knows. It may have been no more than a whim for Henry Kane. It might not have sold well enough to interest Pyramid Books in a series. The novel’s much better than many mystery/crime fiction PBO’s I’ve read from that era, and no worse than others, though no one would consider it a crime fiction classic. Maybe male readers preferred their saucy crime hijinks told from a comfortably male POV, while female readers were too smart to fall for sexified cartoons. So, Henry Kane’s Marla Trent had its one shot in 1959 (with reissues) but otherwise vanished.

Or did she? Tune in tomorrow for Marla’s return…

‘Sin Money’: What Crime Fiction Dreams Are Made Of…

robert bonfils

I’m a softie for compromising photos as a mystery/crime fiction caper staple, enough so that they were the go-to starting point for my own Stiletto Gumshoe’s initial plotting. Just upgrade those B&W glossies to smartphone screens, JPG’s and some frillies that aren’t over fifty years old, and this could still be a sleazy scene from a savvy blackmailer’s or modern-day peeper P.I.’s playbook. But it’s a Robert Bonfils illustration for Don Elliott’s (Robert Silverberg) Passion Pair, a 1964 Leisure Books paperback: “The blackmailers are Jim and Lois MacIntyre, smooth and polished in all the tricks of the trade…and their trade is love…until the pictures are developed. Then the shame and degradation of their victims becomes reflected in a negotiable check…the only true sin money.”

Ahhh, ‘sin money’. It’s what steamy crime fiction dreams are made of.

robert bonfils 1964

Words & Pictures

The Brass Cupcake 2

Book titles have been on my mind lately. While doing some routine computer housekeeping to finally read, file or toss the zillion things I collect, I found myself marveling at so many retro mystery/crime fiction novel and pulp magazine story titles. Say what you want about vintage genre fiction, but those writers sure could concoct some terrific titles.

The fact is, I’d been struggling with titling my own projects, originally doing some querying with just a working title (Surprise: “The Stiletto Gumshoe”) but then fretting that the title might give the wrong impression. Considering that queries and subs often garner no more than a few seconds of a busy agent or editor’s attention – if that – did I really want to stick with a title that sounds more like a ‘mystery-lite’ novel or shopaholic mystery about a modern-day well-heeled dilettante running down clues in her Louboutins?

Sure, cover art ultimately brings a book’s title to life and telegraphs the novel’s message. But in the manuscript stage, the ‘cover art’ is 12 pt. Times New Roman type on plain white 20 lb. bond or much more likely a screen…or something even more generic keyed into online submission/query forms.

Publishers Weekly

Jim Milliott reported on the importance of book titles in last week’s Publishers Weekly: “Judging A Book By Its Title” (link below), sub-headed with, “A recent test found that titles can be more important than cover art in attracting prospective readers”. Milliott writes about a Codex Group research study presenting over 50 upcoming titles to some 4,000 participants in order to probe what piqued readers’ interest or might impact purchase decisions. Book buyers being word lovers by nature, it might come as no surprise that titles, not cover art, prompted decision making, at least according to the Codex Group study. Reading Milliott’s article further, though, I’m not so sure, particularly when he quotes an Amazon creative director, who recognizes the importance of “the interplay between the title of the book and the visuals on the cover”.

The Brass Cupcake Barye Phillips 1958

If you’re reading this and follow or visit here, you already know I’m fixated on cover art…contemporary or retro, photo or illustrated. I pondered some mystery/crime fiction titles I’ve always loved…John D. MacDonald’s The Brass Cupcake came to mind as just one particular fave, for example, and I peeked at different editions of that book, from what I think is its first release from 1950 (at the top of this post) to what may be the best known, a 1958 edition with a Barye Phillips illustration (just above) and various other editions. Each says something a little different, accurate or not.

Brass Cupcake - Montage

If you’re a published writer, you may have books on shelf with covers so beautiful they could make you weep, and others you prefer to hide in your sock drawer. Or, if you’re still looking forward to the day when your name will be emblazoned on your first book, you’ll have ample time to fret about the cover art…and little voice in what it ends up as, no doubt. And if you’re an avid reader squandering too much dough on books (like me) you know how titles and cover art have lured you in…happily, sometimes…and sometimes not.

I’m experimenting with titles right now, sending out with “Title A” vs. “Title B” to see if it matters, naturally petrified that the options are awful. “The Stiletto Gumshoe” doesn’t have the zing of The Brass Cupcake. But then, what does?

https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/bookselling/article/82381-judging-a-book-by-its-title.html

 

A Broken Heart To Go…

Martinis And A Broken Heart To Go

Mid-January: Snowflakes started falling mid-afternoon Friday, and by Saturday morning (not especially cold) a thick coating of snow turned streets and sidewalks treacherous. But by mid-afternoon today, the temps plummeted into the 20’s, headed for the frigid teens by tonight, with gusty winds whipping people right down icy driveways.

The writing lounge sounds like the place to be tonight, maybe tomorrow as well. Maybe there’s no reason to poke my nose out the door till I head back to work on Monday. The keyboard beckons, and there’s work to be done. There’s a freshly refilled thermal carafe of coffee on my desk, the ashtray’s in reach, and though they’re only CD’s (vinyl would be better) the Jazz Noir compilation and 1997’s Martinis And A Broken Heart To Go (complete with Richie Fahey case art) ought to do the trick to keep things warm while I pound the keys.

There are worse ways to spend a weekend…

Jazz Noir

She Could Be “The Stiletto Gumshoe”…

by mike redman

So well composed and deceptively simple looking, this piece by UK artist Mike Redman is almost as much a graphic design as it is an illustration. I think it always catches my eye because it reminds me so much of my own in-progress work on ‘The Stiletto Gumshoe’, Sharon Gardner (real name Sasha Garodnowicz) described as “more comfy atop a barstool than behind a receptionist’s desk”.

This art pops up frequently at Pinterest, Tumblr and random blogs…it’d be nice if Redman’s name accompanied the image more often…

Resolutions: None. Only An Agenda.

New Years Eve 2020

With that clock ticking closer to midnight, this duo looked more apprehensive than enthusiastic. Perhaps, like many, they failed to make a suitable list of New Year’s resolutions for 2020.

Count me among that lot.

I have no resolutions for this new decade (which I realize technically doesn’t commence until 2021), knowing from prior experience that I’d never keep them anyway. My vices are few, drinking modestly (if even that), donut shop coffee my drug of choice, reasonably thrifty, diligent in the day job, unfailingly (and happily) faithful in my relationship.

Confession: I smoke, and resolving to quit would be the very best resolution. But I know I won’t, at least not now, so why kid myself? So then…what else? Eat healthy? Exercise more? Be more charitable, kinder to strangers, start going to church?

I don’t do resolutions, but I do have an agenda for 2020.  Not so different than my 2019 agenda, with some tweaks to my writing endeavors: Table The Stiletto Gumshoe’s sequel temporarily, concluding it’s presumptuous to work on the second book of a planned series when the first hasn’t even been sold, much less agented yet. But the agenda includes a refusal to lose heart while continuing the humbling (or soul-crushing) querying process. It’s not rejections that sting. Those are fairly few and, often enough, come with genuinely encouraging remarks. It’s the non-responses that bruise some, and it seems they’ve become the industry norm. But the agenda’s full with short fiction projects for The Stiletto Gumshoe and other things, coupled with a renewed zeal to pay more attention to short fiction markets, contests and competitions, anemic or non-existent compensation aside. Keeping up with all that while aiming for some better balance of ‘real’ writing time and lazy-ass blog-hobbying time is enough of an agenda for my 2020. So, here’s hoping for a happy and productive 2020, for me and all of you!

See You In The Next Decade.

Montage copy

The Stiletto Gumshoe will be away till the next decade (2020), enjoying an overdue holiday-over-the-holidays.

This eerily foggy Christmas Eve morning feels more like Autumn than December, likely to hit the mid-50’s this afternoon. But last I checked, there’s just a whisker-shy of two feet of snow on the ground where I’m headed, and that ought to be suitably seasonal. While I won’t exactly be ‘off the grid’, I’ll be darn close, with no cable, satellite dish, streaming or internet/email, and wi-fi’s a ten-mile drive away. Heck, cell/text is a bit spotty. That might not sound good to you, but I can’t wait. The halls have already been decked with boughs of holly…or at least, a tree, wreaths and other stuff. Ample provisions have been stowed away, a good supply of firewood piled up, a selection of Xmas CD’s and movies have been packed, the latter a mix of Christmas classics and darker noir and neo-noir-ish faves set at Christmas time (The Stiletto Gumshoe can’t survive on White Christmas alone).

Family will be close at hand. No skiing or snowmobiling planned, but with an aged but beloved furry four-footed friend likely to be having his last Christmas, there’ll be some romps among the snow-covered pines, I’m sure. What there won’t be are day job commutes, last minute client emergencies-that-aren’t, mall trips, parking lots, UPS/FedEx tracking of overdue presents, obligatory extended family get-togethers or jousting with MAGA hat wearing relatives. And no querying, blogging, texting or emailing. If I get the urge, I can always fire up the laptop to pound some keys beside the tree. Fireside reading in a comfy chair? I’m bringing Benjamin Moser’s hefty 800+ page bio of Susan Sontag, Sontag – Her Life And Work, Scott Beatty, Chuck Dixon and Marcos Martin’s Batgirl – Year One: The Deluxe Edition hardcover and my first-ever Danielle Steele novel, her new release, Spy. And odd mix? Yeah, I suppose so.

There’ll be a merry missive here tomorrow, but that aside, this is it for 2019. So, my very sincere holiday wishes to all visitors, lurkers and especially my followers here at thestilettogumshoe.com both at WordPress and Tumblr. See you in 2020!

Maybe Next Year…

Maybe Next Christmas

No, The Stiletto Gumshoe won’t be in anyone’s Christmas stocking this year, least of all mine. Perhaps I spent 2019 being naughty when I should’ve been nice. Still, I’m thinking positive thoughts for 2020, and am one of those naive types who truly believe that diligence pays off (even if I’ve been proven wrong in the past). So I know what I hope to find under my tree next year: Not baubles or bangles. Just a book, and one book in particular…

Happy Anniversary…To Me.

Paper Anniversary

So, I see that the traditional one year anniversary gift is paper. Well, wedding anniversaries, at any rate. Which I guess means that I can treat myself to a ream of 20 lb. bond at Staples.

I don’t know the precise date I originally launched The Stiletto Gumshoe site at Tumblr (short-lived as that was) but I do know that later I re-launched things at WordPress on December 10th, 2018. So a happy one-year anniversary to me, and a big thanks to the many visitors, browsers, lurkers, readers and especially the followers (both here and at Tumblr). I never expected to hook very many followers. Just as well, since I really haven’t, though I cherish each and every one. In fact, as of yesterday, I acquired as many at Tumblr in only four+ months as I have here at the main site in a full year (not counting the many suspicious followers with empty blogs or eyeball-melting porn posts).

For several months now, I’d promised myself that at the one-year mark I’d learn to relax a bit with a more leisurely posting pace. Not out of laziness, but only to allot more time for ‘real’ writing activities. I have an aggressive 2020 agenda in mind on that front. But the WordPress and Tumblr blogospheres will be no worse off for me skipping a day here and there.

So again, a sincere thanks to everyone who’s popped in to ‘The Stiletto Gumshoe’ for a peek or a visit, and especially to those of you who linger to root around the archives and to become followers…and a Happy Anniversary to…well, me.

It’s C.J. (Not that it really matters).

C.J. THomas

I was pleased as could be a couple weeks back to see The Stiletto Gumshoe site mentioned with a link at J. Kingston Pierce’s essential The Rap Sheet blog (8.9.19). It was only later that I realized that my still new-ish blog was referred to as “the anonymously composed blog”.

Certain that I’d introduced myself early on, I scrolled all the way back through December 2018 posts to double check. Uhm…ooops. No such post. But remembering that The Stiletto Gumshoe was originally launched at Tumblr and only lingering there for a few weeks before migrating over to WordPress (though now cross-posting back to Tumblr, with WordPress and Tumblr soon to be some sort of siblings anyway), I did introduce myself in one of the original Tumblr blog’s first posts. But not every Tumblr post made it intact to WordPress when I relaunched things here.

So, not that it ought to matter much to anyone, but the name’s C.J. Thomas (as the visual above suggests). It’s only a pen name, but if it’s good enough at the top of a manuscript or signed to the bottom of a query, it’s good enough here. You’ll understand if I daydream about seeing it emblazoned in 72 pt. type across a book’s front cover.

Pen Name Infographic Screen Cap

Some writers wouldn’t dream of publishing under their own name, while others can’t understand what all the fuss is about. I got a kick out of Scott McCormick’s recent piece at the Book Baby blog, seen via Chris The Story Reading Ape’s Blog, a pretty reliable daily read for all things writerly. (Links below.) McCormick’s “Pen Names: How And Why To Use Them” covered familiar ground for many writers, listing famous scribes who’ve employed pen names and providing some guidance on how to come up with one of your own. I’m intrigued by writers who’ve adopted pen names simply because they considered their own names too long or too foreign for the English language market, as illustrated by the cute pen name infographic included in McCormicks piece, which highlighted some well-known writers’ names going back to the 1700’s. Not that I considered Isak Dinesen’s name that easy to pronounce (I’d just as soon not say it out loud and have some smarmy literary type correct me with a snicker), but seeing as how her real name was Karen Christence Dinesen, Baroness Blixen-Finecke, I kinda get it.

Naturally the church’s choirmaster will want a pen name for her sizzling Kindle erotica shorts, and a school board member might feel a little queasy putting her real name on a blood-soaked cops-n-robbers shoot ‘em up series making the rounds. Sometimes it’s just a handy way to keep the day job and ‘real life’ separate from writing endeavors – in-progress or published — and sometimes it’s as simple as a do-over on a long, clunky or perpetually mispronounced name. For the record, my own is only one syllable, yet people have been butchering it since grade school. Go figure.

Nonetheless, hello from C.J. Thomas, host of The Stiletto Gumshoe, and hopefully the name that’ll appear in jumbo type on the front cover of a book by the same name. Well, someday.

https://thestoryreadingapeblog.com/2019/08/29/pen-names-how-and-why-to-use-them-by-scott-mccormick/

https://blog.bookbaby.com/2019/08/pen-names-how-and-why-to-use-them/

 

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