The Best Of Manhunt

The Best of Manhunt

I pre-ordered my copy of The Best of Manhunt – A Collection of The Best of Manhunt Magazine edited by Jeff Vorzimmer earlier in the summer. The book arrived weeks ago, but eager as I was to dive right in, I was already committed to other reading, and reluctantly set it aside. Typically juggling two books at once, anthologies often find their way to my car. Short stories are ideal for a quick read over the AM coffee-to-go, during workday breaks or while waiting for an appointment. With 39 stories to devour in this nearly 400-page book, I figured it would hold me for a week or more for sure. Once I got around to it, that is.

The hell with that…I blew through this book in two days, and feel like I’ve just been given an incredibly humbling how-to course in the craft of mystery and crime fiction writing from some of the genre’s masters, and all for a little over twenty bucks instead of a fat tuition check.

Yes, I was puzzled about the story sequence and why Mr. Vorzimmer decided not to put them in chronological order. And yes, I was a teeny-tiny bit disappointed that the book wasn’t illustrated (excluding two small sample page reproductions and one amusing illustration in the editor’s intro). That’s not me grousing about anything, just wondering aloud. This handsome volume from Stark House Press more than makes up for it by not skimping on other extras, including an entertaining anecdotal foreword from Lawrence Block, an explanatory story selection front piece from the editor, Vorzimmer’s 9-page introduction, a reprint of Scott & Sidney Meredith’s introduction from the 1958 The Best From Manhunt paperback (see below) and a reflective afterword from Barry N. Malzburg to close the book.

The author list reads like a rogue’s gallery of postwar mystery and mid-twentieth century short fiction luminaries, including: Nelson Algren, Lawrence Block, Gil Brewer, Erskine Caldwell, Harlan Ellison, Fletcher Flora, David Goodis, Evan Hunter, Frank Kane, John D. MacDonald, Richard Prather, Mickey Spillane, Donald Westlake and Harry Whittington…and that’s only about a third of the roster.

Favorites? Don’t ask, there are too many. Okay, twist my arm and I’ll say that David Goodis’ 1953 “Professional Man” just might be my fave, a dark tale about an always-reliable hit man forced to kill his own lover. And for me, Gil Brewer’s 1955 “Moonshine” was far and away the most disturbing tale in the anthology, dealing with a cuckolded husband driven to murder…make that murders, plural. The closing scene, after he’s killed one of his wife’s lovers, surprised yet another (literally hiding in the bedroom closet) and shot him, murdered his wife, and then, with the still smoking .45 automatic in hand, calls his two children into the room. I’m still getting chills picturing that grim closing scene.

If you think you know the crime pulps based on the 1930’s-40’s detective magazines – and I’ve read and enjoyed my share of those via reprints as you may have noticed from material appearing here – trust me when I tell you than the stories in Manhunt were quite different. Oh, there are some rogue cops, hard-boiled detectives, gunsels and femmes fatales, of course. Some familiar postwar private eye series characters even make appearances, including Richard Prather’s Shell Scott and Frank Kane’s Johnny Liddell. But they’re hardly indicative of the creatively diverse stories you’ll find here. I’m neither an expert nor an authority on postwar mystery/crime fiction, only an avid fan. But I can think of no better book to provide an overview of what the genre was capable of in the 1950’s than this The Best of Manhunt – A Collection of The Best of Manhunt Magazine as put together by Jeff Vorzimmer. And you’ll just have to indulge me for a few subsequent posts while I celebrate the magazine’s 14-year run with some random covers worth viewing.

Below is the 1958 ‘Best of’ paperback, with its Ernest Chiriacka cover:

best from manhunt 1958 ernest chiriacka cover

 

Manhunt

The Best of Manhunt

I think it’s great that publishers promote forthcoming titles in advance. But I don’t know how the hell I’m supposed to wait until late July for The Best Of Manhunt. Subtitled: “A Collection Of The Best of Manhunt Magazine”, the book is edited by Jeff Vorzimmer, with a foreword by writer Lawrence Block and an afterword by Barry Malzberg, and collects 39 stories from the pages of mid-1950’s pulp magazine that many rightly regard as one of the very best of mystery/crime fiction magazines.

Manhunt 1

The pulp magazine era had mostly died by the time Manhunt magazine debuted in 1952. Mystery and crime fiction migrated to the new and booming paperback market in the postwar era, their garish, spicy covers replaced on the newsstands by countless ‘true crime’ magazines, many of which soon switched to increasingly explicit photo covers and ‘fact-based’ stories full of gruesome and period-sexy photographs.

Manhunt 2

But Manhunt magazine continued to offer monthly doses of hard-boiled short stories and serialized novels from the era’s best writers. Just look at the covers of a few issues…they read like a who’s who of postwar mystery/crime fiction masters: James Cain, Harlan Ellison, Bruno Fischer, Fletcher Flora, David Goodis, Brett Haillday, Evan Hunter, Frank Kane, Henry Kane, Richard Prather, Mickey Spillane, Jack Webb and others. In fact, the magazine even did it’s own ‘best of’ as a Perma Books paperback (see image below) with 13 stories from its pages.

The Best From Manhunt

I may get a real kick out of vintage crime fiction, particularly of the postwar hard-boiled variety, and have bought a number of 1930’s-40’s pulp reprints and trade paperback collections. Doing so has taught me that a lot of the content didn’t quite meet the expectations of the cover art, and was, in fact, kind of dreary. I’m acquisitive, but fortunately, no collector, and unwilling to hand over serious cash for seventy-year-old magazines with questionable contents.

Manhunt 3

One nearby used bookstore occasionally shelves vintage magazines and had a few copies of Manhunt for sale ($25 to $40 each as I recall) and though I didn’t buy, I was allowed to browse, and can say that Manhunt at least looked a cut above the hurried cut-n-paste hack jobs that many of its ‘true crime’ contemporaries really were. But I know from reading about it at many a blog, site and mystery/crime fiction book that Manhunt was considered the one postwar pulp title that gathered together some of the era’s very best talents.

Oh, I’m pre-ordering this book, you can bet on that, five months to wait or not. Till then, enjoy some retro mayhem from the covers of Manhunt magazine, here and in the following post.

Manhunt 4

 

 

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