More Dangerous Dames, Please.

tough guys and dnagerous dames

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.

Thank You, Mr. Hammett.

dashiell hammett

Samuel Dashiell Hammett, born this day, May 27thin 1894, passed away in 1961, and what else can someone like me say but a very large thank you to one of the creators of hard-boiled detective fiction and this thing I like to think of as ‘noir culture’.

dashiell hammett books

Close Up.

close up amanda quick

When I first spotted Close Up (2020) on more than one of the too-many mystery/crime fiction and book sites I follow, I was expecting “Casey, Crime Photographer” in heels, and scheduled it for a bookstore curbside pickup. I’ve been making it a point lately to try big name authors whose books I’ve bypassed, partly to see what I’ve been missing and partly to find out what I can learn for my own writing.

Amanda Quick is well-known Seattle, Washington author Jayne Krentz. With over fifty NYT bestsellers to her credit, Krentz writes ‘romantic suspense’, with her ‘Amanda Quick’ pen name reserved for historical romantic suspense (which apparently just recently transitioned to more recent history, like Close Up, which is set in the 1930’s), and works as ‘Jayne Castle’ (oddly enough, the author’s real name) for paranormal romantic suspense. From this I’ll glean that the latter isn’t horror as such, the Quick books aren’t quite ‘noir’ or crime fiction, and the Krentz novels not quite thrillers. These are romance novels however you want to label them, not that this is a bad thing.

In Close Up, Vivien Brazier flees a pampered but claustrophobic heiress’ life in San Francisco to pursue a career as a fine arts photographer in Los Angeles. She pays the bills by moonlighting as a crime scene photographer, following police radio calls at night and elbowing the boys club aside at fires, auto accidents and murder scenes, spending her days working on a provocative series of male nudes with a steady stream of Muscle Beach buff-boys lined up outside her beachfront home studio. Smarter and more observant than the rest of the camera jockeys, Vivien helps the police I.D. a high-profile serial killer only a few chapters into the novel. But this spins off into a more puzzling murder mystery, and pairs her with dapper but troubled private (and apparently psychic) investigator Nick Sundridge and his loyal dog Rex. An elaborate if ill-conceived scheme to ensnare this new and even more diabolical killer takes them to the upscale oceanfront resort town of Burning Cove, where romance blossoms even as they to elude – then uncover – the murderer.

A snippy critic might complain that the plot takes some mighty implausible turns, the characters continually do incredibly improbable things and the entire business is rife with an endless list of writerly no-no’s that would guarantee an agent’s or editor’s swift and dismissive rejection for any unknown. But with a looong list of successful books to her credit, I don’t think Quick/Krentz/Castle needs to worry about any of that, and just aims to tell a good story in her own way.

Still, I’ll confess that I kind of wished the author trusted the nifty setup she initially created and left intriguing, no-nonsense Vivien Brazier right where she was when the book began: prowling the means streets of 1930’s Los Angeles on the hunt for grisly crime scenes with her big Speed Graphic camera in tow, bantering with the cops and the lensmen, and living the Boho life by day as a fine arts photographer, even though she has to endure the gallery elite’s sneers at her figure study photos. But Quick/Krentz/Castle knows what she’s doing, even when she chose to hightail it out of that intriguing milieu for a remote movie star hideaway resort and something more like a Golden Age drawing room mystery (albeit one laced with some sex). Bottom line: What the hell do I know? When I have fifty NYT bestsellers under my belt, I’ll make suggestions.

Whether you only enjoy its beginnings or stay on board for the rest of the ride, I bet you’ll agree that Quick’s Close Up is a fun read. I just hope some other writer picks up where Amanda Quick began and brings us an engaging, no-nonsense ‘girl crime photographer’ in a retro urban setting…Close Up was really onto something there. Hey, don’t look at me. I’m already wrestling with my own no-nonsense ‘stiletto gumshoe’ in a retro urban setting. You give it a try.

The Right Book At The Right Time: Three-A-Penny.

Three-A-Penny

April showers might bring May flowers, but around here they’ve mostly brought monsoons, ‘sheltering-in’ a moot point when you’d drown if you stepped outside.

Other things large and small that we’ll just lump together under “Pandemic Fatigue” conspired to drag me down for several days. But before I could descend into any self-indulgent woe-is-me mindset, Golden Age British mystery author Lucy Malleson came to the rescue with her 1940 memoir Three-A-Penny, the 2019 US edition just out here this May.

Subtitled “In A Man’s World: The Classic Memoir of A 1930’s Writer”, this 80-year-old work reads more like a novel, arriving serendipitously as the perfect prescription to chase my own blues away. It’s hard to be bummed-out by the trivial when you’re reading a memoir from someone who endured real woes.

A contemporary of better-known British mystery writers like Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers, Lucy Malleson wrote some sixty novels under the Anthony Gilbert pen name, along with numerous other books under her own and other names, plus thirty radio plays and an impressive number of short mysteries, most of those published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. Her engagingly written memoir recounts the stressful times of the First World War’s horrors, the 1918 Flu Pandemic and England’s interwar economic chaos, which Lucy Malleson overcomes while enduring persistent gender discrimination at every turn. Struggling to get by on a secretary’s subsistence pay, she began writing short poems, then stories and finally sold her first novel, The Man Who Was London, inspired in part by a performance of the popular play The Cat And The Canary.

No matter the challenge, Malleson responds optimistically with unrelenting pragmatism . There’s no self-pity to be found in her memoir, only an utterly practical, determined person working her way through life in a man’s world. Her decision to pitch her first novel under a male pen name (and how she cooked up the ‘Anthony Gilbert’ moniker) is an absolute treat to read. But once the novel was due for publication, she was caught off-guard by the publisher’s request for an author bio – including publicity photos. Undeterred, Malleson got fitted for a custom wig and beard at a theatrical agency, posed for some photos and dreamed up a suitable background for ‘Anthony Gilbert’, an identity she carefully protected for years.

The Three-A-Penny title comes from fellow British mystery novelist Dorothy Sayers, who wrote, “You must remember, Anthony Gilbert, that although authors are three-a-penny to us, they are quite exciting to other people”. The book ends when Malleson is only halfway through her productive career, still brimming with optimism that her next story, next novel, or next script will be the one that finally achieves the fame and fortune that eluded her throughout her career.

“I don’t feel guilty that my books don’t sell ten thousand copies,” Malleson wrote in her memoir’s conclusion, “though I should love them to, and so would my publishers. When I was young, I confidently thought they would; when they didn’t, I was astounded. But it never occurred to me, when my average sales were 1,250 copies, to abandon writing and do something more lucrative. Besides, one day they may.”

Hammer Time.

masquerade for murder

Thank goodness for indie booksellers doing their best with curbside pickup.

My last bundle of books (in a free tote, no less) included Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins’ new Masquerade For Murder – A Mike Hammer Novel. It’s no secret here at this site: I’m a Mickey Spillane fan and proud to defend the much-maligned writer to literary-leaning mystery/crime fiction readers and authors. And, I happen to be a Max Allan Collins fan as well, loving his long-running Nathan Heller series along with Ms. Tree, the Maggie Starr series (please write some more of those, Mr. Collins) and others.

With a new title out, it’s no surprise that you’ll see Collins appearing here and there. I recommend “My Five Favorite Private Eyes” at Criminal Element (link below), those detectives including Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade, Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe Rex Stout’s Archie Goodwin, (not surprisingly) Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer and Max Allan Collins’ own Nathan Heller. Confession: I’m not a huge Nero Wolfe fan. And for me it’ll always be Chandler/Marlowe all the way over Hammett/Spade. But, lets not argue about it. They’re all great.

criminal element

Also turn to Mystery Fanfare (Mystery Readers Inc.) for “Completing Mike Hammer” by Collins himself (link also below), in which the author provides some background on the 1950’s publishing sensation (225 million books sold), how his association with Spillane came about and some insights into the process of fleshing out incomplete Spillane materials.

mystery fanfare

As for Masquerade For Murder? I’d have devoured this novel in an evening or two if day-job responsibilities hadn’t intruded (pandemic sheltering-in notwithstanding). The 220-page Titan Books hardcover was a quick read, as a Mike Hammer novel ought to be. Collins concedes that he had less to go on in the way of Spillane’s notes, partials, outlines, etc. for  this one, in which a slightly older, wiser but no less dangerous Mike Hammer witnesses the suspicious hit-and-run of a prominent financial wunderkind, which leads him and Velda Sterling through a maze of Wall Street brokerages and decadent 1980’s New Wave nightclubs, tangling with wealthy traders, brutal bank robbers, a blackmailing call girl and a particularly lethal martial arts murderer. Spillane loved ‘gotcha’ endings, and although the ‘bad guy’s’ identity isn’t all that much of a secret here, Collins still cooked up a zinger in the final pages, with a femme fatale getting her just desserts, followed by a more tragic ending.

Bottom line: If you revere Mickey Spillane like I do, or at least enjoyed his Mike Hammer novels, you’ll go for Masquerade For Murder. No, it’s not from the hands of the master, but it is channeled through and lovingly crafted by a friend, credible expert, hard-core enthusiast and one heck of good writer.

https://www.criminalelement.com/my-five-favorite-private-eyes/

http://mysteryreadersinc.blogspot.com/2020/05/completing-mike-hammer-by-max-allan.html

Meese’s Ann Avery.

The Murder Of Ann Avery - Art

Gorgeous James Meese 1956 cover art for Harry Kuttner’s (1915-1958) The Murder Of Ann Avery,  the second in the Michael Gray psychoanalyst murder mystery series, which lasted for only two more novels before the author’s untimely passing at age 43.

Script For Scandal

Script For Scandal Ordered

‘Renee Patrick’s’ Script For Scandal is the third Lillian Frost & Edith Head Mystery, this time a Severn House (UK) library style edition with a glossy full color hardcover binding plus matching dustjacket. Renee Patrick? That’d be the husband and wife team of Rosemarie and Vince Keenan, the latter a familiar name here since he’s the new editor of The Film Noir Foundation’s Noir City e-magazine, which ought to lend some genuine cred to the series’ Golden Age Hollywood trivia. And there’s a lot.

Lillian Frost is a New York transplant in Hollywood, fired from her department store job in the first novel and now working as the social secretary for a quirky Tony Stark style zillionaire inventor. Striking up a friendship with Paramount Studio’s (not yet) famed costume designer Edith Head, the duo get mixed up in Golden Age Hollywood mysteries, impulsive Lillian foolishly stepping into danger and more cerebral Edith, often as not, figuring things out from afar. The late 1930’s film studio milieu provides ample opportunities for guest appearances by silver screen luminaries, here including Billy Wilder, Paulette Goddard, Bette Davis, George Raft, Joan Crawford and Fred MacMurray.

In Script For Scandal, it’s MacMurray who’s slated to star against-type as a smooth-talking bad guy in a proto-noir (this being only 1939), using artful lighting and deep shadows to mask the project’s budget and add some German Expressionist inspired sense of ominous dread. But the film is based on a real-life 1936 bank robbery in which the loot’s still missing and the crooks all wound up dead, along with an L.A.P.D. detective…none other than Lillian Frost’s own boyfriend’s previous partner. The D.A.’s digging into the case again, and three new murders start pointing guilty fingers at Frost’s squeeze.

These Renee Patrick novels certainly aren’t hard-boiled, much less anything you’d call ‘noir’. While I flee from cozies, I’m open minded when it comes to retro settings, 1930’s – 50’s era Hollywood and NYC in particular. If Script For Scandal, like the two prior novels in the series, may be light on gunplay, action, sexy sizzle or anything dark-n-heavy, they’re genuine ‘page-turners’ with complicated mysteries that are…well, just plain fun. I don’t know why the series changed publishers for book number three, but I hope it’s strictly for good reasons, because I, for one, definitely want to see more books in this Lillian Frost & Edith Head mystery series.

In David Goodis’ Own Words…

Goodis Crime Reads

Molly Odintz’ “David Goodis’ Bleak, Beautiful Vision of Humanity” at Crime Reads this week (link below) is timed for the writer’s March 2, 1917 birthday. Crime Reads’ Senior Editor Odintz opens by recalling a post-college splurge on a Library of America collection of David Goodis novels, only to spill a drink on the precious treasure. But, as she notes, Goodis himself wouldn’t have minded, being a writer who “saw the best of humanity at its worst”. Lets face it: Goodis’ characters probably spilled a drink or two in their time. Odintz’ article is a great read, but the best part may be David Goodis’ own words, over a dozen excerpts chosen from the writers’ work, some of the “bleakest and most beautiful reflections on humanity, all drawn from his noir oeuvre”.

Confession time: I’ve always had mixed feelings about David Goodis, on one hand well aware of noir-hipster cliques’ reverence for the man and his work, yet oddly disappointed by some of it. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t devoured my share, and consider Goodis one of the go-to sources for inspiring doses of troubling yet poetic darkness that is this thing called noir…it’s core themes, not its clichés. Odintz quotes Ed Gorman (R.I.P.): “David Goodis didn’t write novels, he wrote suicide notes.”

Yep, that sums it up pretty well.

David Goodis Screen Shot

If you like, follow the last link below to a David Goodis post from this time last year, with yet another link there to a Los Angeles Review of Books article on the noir maestro, but more importantly, go to Crime Reads to read Molly Odintz’ article, and most of all, David Goodis’ own words.

https://crimereads.com/david-goodis-bleak-beautiful-vision-of-humanity/

https://thestilettogumshoe.com/2019/03/02/david-goodis/

 

More From Eileen Walton

Shadows Dont Bleed - E Walton 1967

More work from talented British artist and illustrator Eileen Walton, sister of fellow artist Barbara Walton, both women enjoying prolific periods from the late 1950’s through the late 1970’s. As the examples show here, and in the preceding posts, it’s interesting to see how their work evolved and became increasingly ‘graphic’ vs. the more traditional illustrative styles of the earlier work. Be sure to browse backwards through the preceding posts to view their stunning work.

Miss Turquoise - E WaltonA Real Killing - E Walton 1976Accessory To Murder - E Walton 1968Conquest In Ireland - E Walton 1969

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑