More from some anonymous residents of the “Tomb Of The Unknown Illustrators”: Three B&W interior illustrations by (sadly) unidentified artists from the November 1942 issue of Spicy Detective Stories, including “Too Many Clubs” by John Wayne (I’m assuming it wasn’t The Duke) above, and below, “Riddle In Red”, a Robert Leslie Bellem Dan Turner – Hollywood Detective story, and “Dead Girls Can’t Talk” by John Ryan.
Originals? Yeah, sure. Like I have that kind of dough. No, they’re all Adventure House Spicy Detective trade paperback reprints, handsome books with crisp reproduction, using the original page layouts with the ads included and all. That these particular 1930’s and 1940’s era issues all happened to include Robert Leslie Bellem “Dan Turner – Hollywood Detective” stories should come as no surprise to observant followers here. About time to get my mitts on a few more, I think.
As I write this, we’re about to head into ‘Phase Three’ of the pandemic response ’round here, and will soon be able to re-enter shuttered retail stores (in limited numbers, masked and distanced, even gloved if you prefer, which I do). It’s none too soon for me. Bookstore phone orders and curbside pickups have been a Godsend, but obviously there’s no browsing, a crucial part of the book-buying (and money squandering) experience.
Early in the ‘sheltering in’, the always-excellent Kevin Burton Smith’s The New Thrilling Detective Web Site recommended a long list of hard-boiled/noir-ish/private eye mystery/crime fiction anthologies. I managed to track down several and have just now finished the last one, Tough Guys And Dangerous Dames, a hefty 1993 Barnes And Noble Books hardcover edited by those small press and retail bookstore instant-remainder anthology mavens, Robert Weinberg, Stefan Dziemianowicz and Martin Greenberg. The E.T. Steadman cover art is a handsome pre-Adobe CS/Adobe CC digital photo-illustration, though you’d think they’d have gone for an actual public domain 1930’s – 1950’s era illustration, mindful of the anthology’s content. (These days, small presses, the self-published and no shortage of scammers seem happy to steal whatever vintage illustrations they want to ‘appropriate’.)
The trio of editors selected nearly thirty stories from Black Mask and other familiar hard-boiled crime fiction pulp magazines, penned by a star-studded list of that era’s writers, including Robert Bloch, Leigh Brackett, Hugh B. Cave, Raymond Chandler, Earle Stanley Gardner, William Campbell Gault, Robert E. Howard, Fritz Leiber and John D, MacDonald. Pulp fiction luminaries notwithstanding, The Stiletto Gumshoe’s followers/visitors won’t be surprised to hear that I first flipped to Robert Leslie Bellem’s “Homicide Hunch”, a Dan Turner Hollywood Detective tale. Here the story opens with the rock ‘em – sock’em hard-boiled L.A. private eye falling for a villain’s old trick, and finds himself trussed up hand and foot in a plush penthouse, with a lovely blonde tied up much the same way on the sofa across the opulent room. But no matter what we’re led to believe, she’s no damsel in distress and it’s all an elaborate plot to make Turner the patsy for a murder. It takes a few pages worth of delightfully silly Bellem word-smithing for Dan Turner to puzzle it all out and set things right after a suitable amount of punches and gunplay. What can I say? I loved it.
Not to nitpick, but while the ‘tough guys’ abound, the ‘dangerous dames’ are actually few and far between and I’d have happily taken a few more. But that didn’t make the reading any less fun. But now I’m all out of my pandemic-procurement curbside pickup treasures, the writing lair’s endtable to-be-read spot is bare once more, and I’m jonesing for stepping through a bookstores doors again…like now.
This May 1941 Spicy Detective is another Adventure House reprint from 2008 (I assume they’re actually POD editions, my copy fresh from Monee, Illinois with a January 2020 date), includes the original pulp magazine’s full issue, ads, Allen Anderson cover art and all. There are stories from Luke Terry, Henri St. Amur, Max Neilson, Walton Grey, Stan Warner and Paul Hama, but the best would surely be Carl Lenox’ “Dressed To Kill” and a must for Spicy Detective, a Dan Turner – Hollywood Detective tale from Robert Leslie Bellem: “Future Book” opening at Hollywood Park Racetrack and dealing with an illegal betting operation, a dead race horse and murder. As always, it’s Bellem’s colorful wordsmithing that makes me enjoy these zany and often implausible yarns so much. Here, Turner follows one dame-in-danger into the track’s stables, only to find another woman there, already dead:
“A caterwauling scream tortured my eardrums like a bandsaw ripping through a hardwood knot. I said: “What the hell –!” and lanced my poundage inside the building. A minute later, I drew up short; felt my solar plexus turning handsprings. Mary Foster was standing there with a silenced roscoe in her trembling mitt. There was a stink of burned cordite in the air and a sprawled feminine form, ominously motionless, on the stable’s concrete floor.
That sprawled form was all that remained of Arlynne Quistan. She was as dead as the skull on a sinus doctor’s desk. Even defunct, the blonde Quistan bimbo was a copious kick in the optics. From the appearance of things, she must have put up a terrific brawl before getting chilled. Her dress was ripped to pennants and you could see practically everything she possessed in the way of she-male blandishments. Her sleekly tapered stems melted into flawless thighs as cream-smooth and tempting as the illustrations in a lingerie ad. Where the bodice of her costume was torn open, the lacy ruins of an uplift brassiere snuggled around curves as perfect as sculpture. It wasn’t until your glance came to her face that you got the horrors. The .38 slug had ripped diagonally northward from chin to temple, finally finding lodging in her think tank.”
If you’ve never actually read any 1930’s/40’s era crime pulps, Bellem’s way with words pretty much tells you all you need to know about the genre’s incredible, albeit squirm-worthy, writing. Mind you, there’s no shortage of florid, meandering and darn-near un-readable stuff tucked amongst the gems. But if you can compartmentalize all normal 2020 sensibilities long enough, there’s something to be learned from these pulp masters.
An Adolphe Barreaux Sally The Sleuth four-pager is included. “Crime On Campus” finds Sally going undercover as a college co-ed to trap a campus killer. Barreaux’ Sally The Sleuth stories weren’t really mystery comics so much as abbreviated damsel-in-distress shorties. Panel four from the tale’s opening page says it all: “Why, her undies are on backwards. It’s murder, chief!” Sally manages to lounge about in her undies with some dorm mates before being snatched by a murderous med school maniac and rescued in the knick of time.
Kinky vintage kitsch at its best…pretty twisted at its worst…but I confess, I’m kind of hooked on these things.
I’ll skip Dickens’ A Christmas Carol again this year and just do a re-read (or at least a thorough re-browse) of Reverse Karma Press’ 146-page trade pb Hard-Boiled Christmas Stories, collecting multiple holiday-themed stories from the 1930’s – 1940’s pulp magazine heyday.
The anthology includes crooked Santa Clauses (spell-check, please), holiday homicides and seasonal scams from John K. Butler (writer of the hard-boiled L.A. cabbie Steve Midnight tales), Steve Fisher (1941’s I Wake Up Screaming), Henry Leverage (editor of Sing Sing prison’s in-house publication, where he was a ‘resident’), West Pointer Lt. John Hopper, newspaperman Jack Kofoed, and several others. The book leads off with a Dan Turner – Hollywood Detective yarn, but not by Turner’s creator Robert Leslie Bellem, this homage tale penned instead by the anthology’s editor John Wooley, who also edited the first-ever Dan Turner collection. I’ve talked about my love affair with Robert Leslie Bellem’s sing-songy slang-filled snappy banter before, and Wooley does the artful word-smith’s style justice here in “Santa’s Slay Ride”. Why no Bellem original? Though he knocked out literally hundreds of Dan Turner short stories and comics scripts, the Hard-Boiled Christmas Stories editors concluded that Bellem had never written a Christmas story for the hard-boiled Hollywood private eye. Go figure.
I don’t know why Santa Claus and his elves would want to leave a 1930’s pulp cover style damsel-in-distress all ‘wrapped up’ under the Christmas tree, but that cover art was done by David Saunders, son of the late pulp, paperback and pinup illustrator Norm Saunders, intended to emulate the familiar style of mystery and crime pulp maestro H.J. Ward.
The September 1941 issue of Spicy Detective magazine (an Adventure House facsimile edition 128-page reprint shown here) may not have been that magazine’s best issue, but it’s certainly representative of that title and the era’s material, complete with the usual cast of hotel house dicks, low-level mugs, scheming femmes fatales and even a phony haunted house. Having read a few Spicy Detectives now via these Adventure House reprints, my tally concludes that this particular issue might just have more florid descriptions of women’s scanty apparel than any other from that period, and considering how the writers could go on and on with that stuff, that’s really saying something.
This time it’s a fellow instead of a ‘frill’ who gets trussed up on the cover, which isn’t as unusual in 1930’s – 1940’s crime pulps as you might assume. But the illustration still includes the obligatory damsel in distress, her frock obligingly aflutter while she struggles with a menacing thug. Actually, that cover art could apply to several stories inside, since more than one gumshoe finds himself jumped, socked or sapped and ends up hogtied by the bad guys. Fear not: This is an equal opportunity issue of Spicy Detective…the women end up much the same way in most of the stories.
There are seven tales here, with magazine regular Robert Leslie Bellem’s Dan Turner – Hollywood Detective in “Barmecide Bride” as well as stories by William B. Rainey, C.A.M. Deane, Randolph Barr, Walton Grey, Bob Leeson and Stan Warner. Plus, Adolphe Barreaux’ Sally The Sleuth makes an appearance in the four-page strip “She Keeps Her Head”, which deals with an axe murderer, and thus, the title. All in all, a lot of reading for two bits, even when a quarter was worth something.
It’s too bad the pulps rarely credited the artists. Pulp and golden age illustration aficionados have ID’d so many cover paintings from 20thcentury magazines and paperback originals, but the pulps’ interior illustrations are mostly doomed to anonymity. A few from this issue are shown here, ripe with all the ‘spice’ that gave the magazine its name.
Spicy Detective Stories is a used bookstore find, a 1989 Malibu Graphics trade paperback reprinting six stories and a Sally The Sleuth strip from various 1935 – 1937 issues of the iconic pulp magazine of the same name, all re-typeset, but including the original interior B&W illustrations. It leads off with a Robert Leslie Bellem Dan Turner – Hollywood Detective story, “Temporary Corpse”, the dialog and period slang a real treat. Not Bellem’s best, perhaps, but still fun. In fact, the book’s Tom Mason foreword notes, “This collection of Spicy Detective Stories is not intended to be a ‘best of’ collection. It’s more like a ‘better of’, a sampling, as close to a better-than-average issue of the real thing”.
Uhm…well, if they say so.
Strangely, the book doesn’t use a piece of cover art from the era…something by H. J. Ward or Norm Saunders would seem in order. Instead, there’s an original contemporary illustration by “Madman” (don’t know who that really is) which is nice, though looking like a better fit for a Spicy Mystery or Spicy Adventure pulp reprint than Spicy Detective. The book closes with a short 13-panel 1937 Sally The Sleuth strip, “Matinee Murder”, where Adolphe Barreaux’ sassy snoop finds herself (no surprise) in jeopardy, but being tied up in lacy lingerie never stopped Sally from landing a well-placed kick to the snoot of any villain, and then solving the crime. All in a dozen-plus panels, mind you.
I don’t know if this was a stand-alone book or part of a Malibu Graphics series. I’ve noted before that I don’t collect pricey pulp magazine originals, but I do have some Adventure House trade paperback reprints, those being complete single issues using the original typesetting, capturing all the original art and even the hilarious ads, right down to the classifieds. They’re not “best of’s” or even “better of’s”, but a pretty affordable way to understand the 1930’s – 40’s pulp era in all its tawdry glory. I’ll profile some of those here soon…promise.
Okay, I’ve waded through snow at home three times so far this season, and this weekend I’ll be a few hundred miles further north where some heaps of white stuff await. So I guess that means there’s no hope of Indian Summer returning before Autumn ends. It’s really December. And almost Christmas.
There are always loads of cozy Christmas themed mysteries released around the holidays. Instead, how about Hard-Boiled Christmas Stories, edited by John Wooley and John McMahon, a 2012 Reverse Karma Press release with 10 holiday themed hard-boiled crime stories from 1930’s and 40’s pulp magazines including Detective Fiction Weekly, Dime Detective, Phantom Detective, Popular Detective and G-Men Detective. This also includes a new “Dan Turner – Hollywood Detective” story penned by John Wooley and emulating the style of the character’s creator, Richard Bellem. The book’s 8-page introduction incudes some nice background and bio info. The Dan Turner tale’s B&W illustrations and the book’s cover art are by David Saunders, son of golden age illustrator Norman Saunders, though he notes that he was trying to do one in the style of H.J. Ward.