Walter Stackpool’s Larry Kents

its hell my lovely larry kent 1960

England had Reginald Heade, Australia had Walter Stackpool.

Australian artist and illustrator Walter Stackpool (1916 – 1999) grew up in Queensland and, armed with a scholarship, set off to study art at the Queensland Art School in 1939. But he never finished the course, signing up for the army instead once WWII broke out. After the war, he quickly found work as a sought-after illustrator for book covers, well known for his many, many westerns done for Cleveland Publishing Company, as well as the Invincible Mysteries series in the early 1950’s, and especially the popular Larry Kent series from the mid-1950’s clear through the 70’s. More about that hard-boiled P.I series soon, which ran about 400 titles!

homicide sweet homicide larry kent 1959

A diverse talent, Stackpool was also a popular children’s book illustrator, and later in his career, a respected wildlife artist. Here are three paintings which I believe are all from the Larry Kent “I Hate Crime” paperback originals series, including “It’s Hell, My Lovely” from 1960 (at the top), “Homicide, Sweet Homicide” from 1959 above, and “The Pushover” from 1963 below.

the pushover larry kent 1963

 

Book Riot’s Favorite P.I.’s

Book Riot 9 Best Noir Retellings copyVia Book Riot: Matthew Turbeville writes about “Crime Fiction’s New Favorite Private Eyes” with a good list to bring along the next time you’re headed to the bookstore or to have handy when you’re ready to shop online. That this list happens to include a number of ‘stiletto gumshoes’ of one sort or another is incidental. Turbeville sees the mystery/crime fiction genre evolving (or, already evolved) so that Chandler’s and Hammett’s iconic private eye’s aren’t so much supplanted by other characters, but merely taking their place alongside them. He points to Sara Gran’s Claire DeWitt (who he mentions has at least two more novels in the series, and here’s hoping!) as an example: “…while Philip Marlowe may fight with gunfire, DeWitt is the woman who takes a bullet, pries it from her body, and continues on with her journey to solve every mystery possible.”

book riot

Turbeville’s list includes a diverse group of writers and their P.I. creations, but most of all, memorable characters deserving of ongoing mystery/crime fiction series. Six he lists (and we all know there are others, and we all have our own faves) are Steph Cha’s Juniper Song series, Alex Segura’s Pete Fernandez series, Erica Wright’s Kat Stone series, Kristen Lepionka’s Roxane Weary series, Julia Dahl’s Rebekah Roberts series, and Kellye Garrett’s Dayna Anderson – A Detective By Day series. Look for Turbeville’s article at Book Riot (link below), with links to the individual authors’ books.

3 books 23 books 1

https://bookriot.com/2019/04/24/crime-fictions-new-favorite-private-eyes/

Can’t Go Wrong With EQMM

EQM519-Cover

I understand why publishers prefer readers to subscribe to their magazines, which can sidestep costly distribution and retailer discounting and enable better readership forecasting and print runs. But I happen to like buying my Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine (still called the original title Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine on the perfect-bound spine) at the store. There’s something delightfully retro about those digest-sized books with their flimsy cover stock and pulpy interior paper. Paying a cashier (in cash) and walking out with a copy just feels right, somehow. Like I should be buying a pack of filterless Luckies and some Beechnut gum to go along with it.

EQMM March April 2019

EQMM has been at it for nearly eighty years now. That’s a heck of a lot of crime fiction, and almost too many writers to count when you think about it. I’ve heard some folks dismiss the publication as too soft, old fashioned, or even ‘cozy’, though my response to that is simply, “Hey, have you actually read it?”

The fun of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine is that you get to read a little bit of everything, and can do so at a reasonable price. I don’t have the new May/June 2019 issue yet and actually just finished the March/April issue, with tales from Bill Pronzini, Joyce Carol Oates and Carolyn Hart. Harley Mazuk’s “The Road From Manzanar” was a sprawling and thought-provoking piece of literary fiction about a former volunteer in the Spanish Civil War now faced with combat again as the U.S. enters WWII, and Mazuk somehow managed to condense this amazing tale down to 18 perfect pages. R. J. Koreto’s “The Girl On The Roof”, a delightfully dark bit of adultery and murder with a good ‘gotcha’ ending, and Robert S. Levinson’s bittersweet Golden Age Hollywood tale “All About Eve” were particular favorites this issue.

In a way, EQMM and the companion digest, Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine are the closest thing we still have to the old pulp magazines. Sure, I could get either for my phone or tablet. But what’s the fun of that? The print digests simply feel right in my hands. There’s that subtle but tangible scent of that newsprint paper stock. And I’m still hoping I’ll stumble across a downtown newsstand or Mom-n-Pop corner store where I can buy my next copy…maybe with a pack of filterless Luckies and some Beechnut gum.

Heck, I don’t even smoke filterless Luckies…

EQMM Dec 1953

 

 

Who’s Rescuing Who? Just Askin’…

CNDA G-Men Detective Nov 1948 copy

Pulp magazine cover illustrations can be beautiful, lurid, hokey or sexy, though they don’t always make perfect sense. Still, it can be fun to decode them. Browse a few and see for yourself if you aren’t occasionally befuddled by just who’s the hero, who’s the villain and who’s the victim. Case in point: The November 1948 issue of G-Men Detective with a colorful action-filled illustration by pulp-maestro Rudolph Belarski (A Canadian edition shown here, I think).

 Scenario 1: Racing to free the woman on the sofa, the woman in the red dress has just removed her gag and is about to untie her friend when the gangster, kidnapper or generic gun-wielding gangsterish bad guy appears. Or…

 Scenario 2: That green scarf wasn’t a gag at all. The fellow with the cigarette tucked between his lips and brandishing the .45 automatic is no gangster. He’s a cop, private eye or generic good-guy, arriving just in the nick of time to rescue the the blonde haired woman in white who’s struggling on the sofa, about to be strangled by the evil woman in red. Or…

Oh hell, you could come up with another scenario for this one.

One Of My First: House Of Flesh

House Of Flesh - Original

This was one of the very first vintage paperbacks I ever bought. Only a teenager, with no knowledge at all of pulp magazines, barely a passing awareness of mid-twentieth century crime fiction and paperback originals, just starting to dig on retro hard-boiled and ‘noir-ish’ crime novels, I wouldn’t have known a Robert Maguire cover from a Robert McGinnis to save my life then. Cain vs. Kane? This MacDonald vs. that MacDonald or Chandler vs. Hammett? Only names that I was just beginning to digest. But I remember buying this book at a now long-shuttered strip mall used bookstore, the ancient (and kind of scary) proprietor eying me up suspiciously the entire time I browsed his cluttered aisles, probably a victim of too many smart-ass high school kids stuffing books down their pants. Looking back now, I’m surprised he didn’t shake his head no when I brought a handful of books to the register. I really expected him to, particularly once he eyed up the sorta-sleazy cover art on each one.

But he didn’t.

CC Beall House OF Flesh 1950 Art

And though I could read things that were a hundred times more explicit than Bruno Fischer’s 1950 House Of Flesh and in countless books right from the library (even the school library) or any Walgreens or grocery store book display, this one resonated with me. The cover art played a part in that, I’m sure. There’s just enough evocative detail in the painting to get a vintage-noir newbie revved up: The wrinkled bedsheet yanked off the seedy striped mattress…no more than a blurred brushstroke or two suggesting one black shoe lying loose on the floor…the young blonde’s blouse half-on and half-off and revealing a shadowy hint of her black slip or brassiere…holding onto that bottle of something-or-other clenched between her stockinged legs. Her entire stance looks world-weary, frustrated, anxious, even. Not frightened, but apprehensive, perhaps?

The book wasn’t in great shape when purchased, and college and multiple moves consigned it and too many other treasures to the trash. I’ve kept my eye out for an affordable (and sturdier) replacement copy. I know there’ve been other editions from Dell (with different cover art) and even one more current reissue from Black Mask books. Not a collector, as I’ve often noted here, I still need that original Dell #123 edition with what I now know to be a C.C. Beall cover painting.

House Of Flesh Dell 3rd Issue

I’d no idea at the time what the “Shudder Pulps” were, and surely assumed the novel I bought was going to be a tasty bit of retro saucy stuff. Well, based on that cover, at least. But the so-called Shudder Pulps are precisely where author Bruno Fischer (1908 – 1992) got his start with fiction. Fischer, who came to the U.S. from Germany as a toddler, was actually a rabble-rouser, ardent socialist, reporter and editor who took to writing pulp stories on the advice of a friend to make some extra money. And what were the Shudder Pulps? Also called “Weird Menace” pulps, those were the pre-WWII pulp magazines that offered a bit of horror, a bit of mystery, some exotic foreign adventures and various demonic cults, their covers typically adorned with unclad damsels in distress, ready to be abducted, ravished, tortured or killed by sinister foreigners and mad doctors. Fischer churned out dark mysteries for those rags along with some conventional hard-boiled crime fiction, ultimately penning over 300 pulp magazine stories through the 1950’s. But he began writing novels, including one private detective series, when he sensed the pulps’ heyday was waning. A referral from John D. MacDonald helped get House Of Flesh published by Dell’s new paperback original line.

House Of Flesh - New Dell Edition

This is a very weird but very good novel, chock full of pretty sinister and steamy stuff for its time. It’s not a straight crime novel, traditional mystery or even a horror novel. In fact, it’s been called “Male Gothic” by some, and I think that’s a pretty good label. Much like the gothic novels flooding the market throughout the 1960’s and 70’s – those ubiquitous ‘women running from houses’ paperbacks – House Of Flesh puts a relative innocent in a remote locale teeming with dark mystery, where forbidden love and hints of eerie goings-on abound. Only here the ‘innocent’ isn’t a young governess, the love interest isn’t a brooding Bronte-esque Heathcliff type, the forbidden love isn’t merely smoldering glances or fiery kisses, and all the dark mystery is pretty gritty stuff.

Still smarting from a bitter divorce and a humiliating championship defeat, pro athlete Harry Wilde escapes to the tiny town of North Set in upstate New York for the summer. But rural and remote don’t necessarily mean relaxing. An ominous mansion in the hills is home to a weird veterinarian who keeps a pack of vicious dogs. It’s also home to the vet’s second wife Lela, a classic noir femme fatale if ever you encountered one – brooding, demanding, manipulative and literally simmering with passion. The vet’s first wife? Rumor is the vet did her in and fed her remains to his dogs. When a local woman goes missing, and Harry discovers some human bones in the woods, suspicion falls on him, even while he and Lela flirt, spar and inevitably indulge in a passionate affair in smart banter and some splendid circa-1950 steamy prose. In their own way, Harry and Lela are as good a match as Walter Neff and Phyllis Dietrichson in James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity or Frank Chambers and Cora Smith in his The Postman Always Rings Twice. And 1950’s pocketbook purchasers must’ve agreed, since House Of Flesh sold just shy of 2 million copies.

House Of Flesh Black Mask Books Reissue

No gunsels or mobsters, no gin joints or shadowy big city alleys here. This is noir, but a kind of horror-noir, dark rural noir, or even ‘Male Gothic’ if you prefer. This was one of the firsts for me, and I blame that striking piece of C.C. Beall cover art for luring me in. Heck, this book and a few others bought back then are responsible for my whole fixation. I’m grateful for that, and will keep up my search for a crisp, clean but affordable copy of that 1950 original, C.C. Beall cover art and all.

 

Mosley, Ziskin & More In Strand Magazine

strand magazine feb - may

Short fiction by hard-boiled maestro Walter Mosley (not that short, actually), plus a terrific interview with neo-noir author Don Winslow, who James Ellroy has labeled “the master of the dope war novel”.

And more: A short and dark delight by one of my absolute favorites, James W. Ziskin, author of the incredible Ellie Stone mystery series. I humbly confess that Ziskin’s series triggered (or perhaps validated) some of my initial thinking for my own ‘Stiletto Gumshoe’ work, suggesting that a female protagonist in the late 50’s/early 60’s could be every bit as intriguing as the more often deployed Roaring Twenties, Depression-era Thirties, Postwar Forties and early Fifties…and thank you Mr. Ziskin for that!

All that and more is in the new February – May 2019 issue of Strand Magazine, which I just picked up after work Monday.

L.A. Noire: The Collected Stories

L.A. Noire 7 - Book

From game to book: Rockstar Games’ popular L.A. Noire game adapted to an anthology: L.A. Noire – The Collected Stories, from Mulholland Books, with 8 hard-boiled/noir-ish tales from some real heavy hitters: Megan Abbott, Lawrence Block, Joe Lansdale, Joyce Carol Oates, Francine Prose, Johnathan Santlofer, Duane Swierczynski and Andrew Vachss.

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.

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