Turner’s Warshawski

v i warshawski kathleen turner

Kathleen Turner as one of the 90’s best ‘stiletto gumshoes’, here in a publicity shot for the 1991 film V. I. Warshawski, the movie adaptation of Sara Paretsky’s award-winning hard-boiled Chicago private detective series.

Still More About Mavis…

Seidlitz And The Super SPy 1967 orig - spanish

Still more about Carter Brown’s female private detective, Mavis Seidlitz (see the preceding post):

Why did Carter Brown choose such an odd name for this character? Sure, many twentieth century names can seem a little clunky today: Bertha, Edna, Sophie, Norma, Bernice, Lottie and many others. But…Mavis? Mavis Seidlitz? Consider some of the 1930’s – 1960’s era women private detectives, cops and crime fighters from film, fiction and comics. Honey West. Torchy Blane, Sally O’Neil, Jill Trent, Starr Flagg, Tony Gayle. They have a little more zing to them, don’t they? Lets assume Yates settled on ‘Mavis Seidlitz’ to be cute. The clumsy name suited an often clumsy and ‘daffy’ character.

Mavis - France?

So, are the Mavis Seidlitz novels any good? Well, a lot of postwar era paperback original crime fiction is an acquired taste. The Carter Brown books are pretty slim, typically 128 pages, so more like novelettes by today’s measure. Mavis’ undercover work strains credibility in some cases. The mysteries can seem a little convoluted sometimes. Red Herrings abound. They may seem hastily written, with that vintage ‘first draft is the only draft’ feel. If you’ve read your share of the genre, you know what I mean. I won’t say that I like them. But I do plan on reading the rest of the series.

Still…120 million books.

Mavis Seidlitz won’t make V.I. Warshawsky, Kinsey Millhone or Ellie Stone nervous. But the character still commands an important place in the history of women detectives, cops and crime-fighters, particularly back in a time when any ‘stiletto gumshoes’ were woefully few and far between.

None but the lethal heart - aus - 1959 orig

And, More About Mavis…

The Bump & GRind Murders 1964 originally

And more About Carter Brown’s Female Private Detective, Mavis Seidlitz (see the preceding posts):

The early Mavis Seidlitz novels were published with pretty typical paperback original crime fiction style cover art. I don’t think any single artist handled the series, but I’ll leave that to the collectors and experts to clarify. In the 1960’s, the books were ‘branded’ with consistent designs featuring provocative glamor girl paintings by master illustrator Robert McGinnis. No doubt, the fetching cover art had a lot to do with the series sales, even if they had little to do with the novels’ plots, often as not. McGinnis actually did just shy of 100 Carter Brown books. By the 1970’s, original cover art paintings remained popular in romance, western, science fiction and sword & sorcery/fantasy genres, but had largely fallen out of favor for general fiction and the mystery genre. Carter Brown titles, including the Mavis Seidlitz series, were reissued then in photo covers.

More in the next post…

none but the lethal heart (1959 originally)

the loving and the dead (1959 originally)

Tomorrow Is Murder 1960 originally


More About Mavis…

and the undead sing 1974

More About Carter Brown’s Female Private Detective, Mavis Seidlitz (see the preceding post):

Mavis Seidlitz appeared in a dozen paperbacks written between 1955 and 1974 by ‘Carter Brown’, pen name for English-born Australian writer Alan Geoffrey Yates (1923 – 1985), who wrote over 320 ‘Carter Brown’ novels alone, selling more than 120,000,000 copies in over a dozen languages. Check those numbers: three-hundred-and-twenty novels. Additionally, Yates wrote science fiction, westerns and other crime novels under alternate pseudonyms, including Todd Conway, Raymond Glenning, Sinclair MacKellar, Dennis Sinclair and Paul Valdez. He favored U.S. settings, yet he’d already written more than 30 detective novels set in America before ever visiting the States.

Prolific? Driven? It’s unclear, but for a while, Yates was under contract to deliver one short novel and two long novels to his publishers each month. Nonetheless, he was an admitted procrastinator and frequently suffered from total writer’s block, often sitting down at the typewriter mere days before a manuscript’s deadline and plowing through (allegedly) with the aid of a little Dexedrine.

What writer wouldn’t be humbled by Yate’s prodigious output? The writing, publishing and bookselling marketplaces are very different today than they were in the postwar heyday of paperback originals. Now writers hope their small press publisher’s 2,000 to 5,000 copy trade paperback print run will sell out in a couple years with tolerable returns. Self-published and hybrid authors obsessively monitor anemic Amazon sales-ranks. A lucky few achieve bigger mass-market levels, but do so via a shrunken network of independent book retailers, one online behemoth and only one viable national chain.

But just how can any writer get their head around the notion of selling over 120 million books?

More in the next post…

The Bump & Grind Murders - Photo cover

Mavis Seidlitz

lament for a lousy lover 1960

Carter Brown’s Mavis Seidlitz female private eye preceded G. G. Fickling’s (husband and wife team of Gloria and Forest Fickling) Honey West character by a couple of years, with two or even three ‘Mavis’ novels released by the time Honey debuted in This Girl For Hire in 1957.

As the junior partner in Rio Investigations, Mavis is often relegated to receptionist chores for owner Johnny Rio, then finds herself volunteered for undercover duty on most cases: Impersonating a superstar pop singer, pretending to be an endangered heir’s wife or hired as the on-location babysitter to a man-hungry TV series leading lady. Clumsy, clueless and unlike most series private eyes, she isn’t particularly bright. Frankly, she’s kind of ‘daffy and dizzy’ as the books describe her, more likely to literally stumble into jeopardy through sheer klutziness, often solving crimes completely by accident. It was intended to be funny. Fifty years later, it doesn’t necessarily succeed and will inevitably offend some contemporary readers.

No surprise, Mavis manages to lose some or all of her clothes when she’s fleeing killers or captured by thugs…I think this occurs not just once but several times per book (though to be fair, I’ve only really read four Mavis Seidlitz novels and skimmed two others so far). The books’ cover copy always teases that she’s “mad for money and men” or “a curvy blonde who’s heavy on sex, light on sense and sure-fire in a clinch”, but she actually does relatively little cozying up with the many handsome men – good and bad guys alike – who populate the books, which is peculiar, considering all the ‘sexy’ teasing. Even by the later entries in the series during the late 1960’s and into the 70’s, the content is mired in a leering tone that can either seem quaint or awkward and outmoded.

Almost, I said.

More in the next post…

The Loving And The Dead 1959

Pistols And Petticoats

Pistols And Petticoats

Pistols And Petticoatsby Erika Janik (Beacon Press hardcover, 2016)

The back cover says, “Fiction and reality meet and mingle in this fascinating work of cultural history. Who are the great female detectives in literature? Who were their historical precedents? How did they make their way in a predominantly male world, whether we’re talking about the Pinkerton Detective Agency in 1861 or SVU on NBC?”

Wisconsin NPR producer Erika Janik’s Pistols And Petticoats – 175 Years Of Lady Detectives In Fact And Fiction covers a lot of ground in 200+ pages: The emergence of women in official law enforcement, as well as women investigators – private eyes, plucky girl detectives and police women – in literature, film and TV. The book is organized more or less in chronological order, starting with a juxtaposition of some key police women alongside various literary female sleuths from the 19thand early 20thcentury, then breaking into chapters that chronicle the rise of women as integral parts of official law enforcement agencies while combatting constant harassment and discrimination, and the increasing appearances of female crime solvers in pulp fiction, mid-20thcentury cinema, comics and crime fiction. There are a lotof people to keep track of here, including many fictional characters that I never heard of and now need to learn more about.

Pistols And Petticoatsis a very readable book, deftly merging scholarly details and insights without being dry or pendantic. Frankly, it almost feels like it deserved to be a two-volume set, one a history of women in police work and the other a companion piece chronicling sleuths in literature film and pop culture. A couple hundred pages with a detailed list of sources can’t possibly cover every character, of course, so readers shouldn’t be miffed if their own favorites are overlooked or short-changed. Inevitably, books like this become obsolete the moment they hit the shelves, since new novels, characters, films and television shows constantly appear. But for real historical ground-breakers and familiar late 20thand early 21stcentury literary entertainment characters, it’s an excellent primer.

In the book’s final chapter, Janik notes, “Though television would have you think there is a woman homicide detective in every police department in America, only 15 percent of homicide detectives are women. Real women have fared far worse professionally than their fictional sisters. We’re far more comfortable with powerful, competent police women in books and on television than in real life”.

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