Chicago 1946 – 1957

46 chicago

Late 1950’s Chicago wasn’t much on my radar back in 2000 when Steve Monroe’s ’57 Chicago came out. I’ve probably seen it on shelf in used bookstores, even recently when I’ve been laser focused on 1959 Chicago for my own projects (as in, The Stiletto Gumshoe). Even if I have spotted Monroe’s debut novel, I probably decided to pass, not being much of a fan of the boxing scene, which is the what that novel deals with.

But, it’s on order through my local bookseller now, in the newer 2015 trade pb edition. I requested it along with some other books when I was barely 20 pages deep into Monroe’s second novel, ’46 Chicago from 2002, which I recently bought at a used bookstore. Boxing scene or not, if Monroe’s debut is even half as good as his follow-up, I know it’ll be good.

’46 Chicago deals with semi-rogue cop Gus Carson, recently returned to the force after a harrowing time in the Pacific war, only to find himself suspended over an off-duty shooting in a whorehouse. Where he was a patron at the time. So, let’s be clear: Gus is no angel. Tempted by five hundred easy but obviously suspicious dollars from a Chicago bigwig endorsed by the police brass, Gus is tasked with locating the man behind the numbers game on the south side…who’s been kidnapped. Or, may be dead already. Who’s behind it? The cops? Rivals? The mob? Gus’ search drags him down through the underbelly of the city and up to the sprawling estates of the North Shore’s millionaire power brokers, forced to confront his own violent and less than honest past along the way. He may solve this mystery, but there’s no redemption for Gus Carson at its end. It’s all loosely based on the Chicago mob’s real-life takeover of the south side numbers/policy racket, engineered by Sam Giancana under Tony Arccado’s leadership.

57 chicago

Monroe’s novel is truly harder than hard-boiled, darker than the most noir-ish of noirs, utterly grim and gritty throughout. I just finished ’46 Chicago after work tonight (Tuesday), and now I’m itching for ’57 Chicago to arrive, so I can dive in to that one, fight scene and boxers or not. But only three of the five books I’d ordered have come in so far (those picked up today), ’57 Chicago still en route. Steve Monroe did one more novel in 2015, Pursuit, in what looks like a contemporary setting. According to his website (stevemonroebooks.com) there are a couple more languishing in a file cabinet, including a sequel to ‘46 Chicago. I don’t know if Monroe’s retired (he is or was a successful real estate broker) or if the current publishing/bookselling marketplace conditions have those projects permanently stuck in limbo, but I hope they see the light of day. Some day.

Side note: I did buy ’46 Chicago at a used bookstore, my copy a like-new hardcover with a perfectly clean dustjacket. Only a little way in, what should tumble out from between the pages? The author’s own day-job business card, which may well have been hiding in there since the book’s release in 2002. (The company’s since been absorbed by another in a mega-merger.) And based on the card and his title at the time, I don’t think Mr. Monroe’s hurting for a tight-fisted publisher’s advance minus agent’s commission. Just guessing.

 

EQMM: An October Anniversary

llery Queen Mystery Magazine May 1957

Not quite eighty yet, but damn close. Crime Reads’ 10.1.19 masthead notes that Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine’s first issue debuted 78 years ago this week on October 1, 1941. Technically it was titled Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine then, losing the ”’s” in 1991, I think.

Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine January 1966

The pseudonymous writing team of Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee who’d been publishing under the pen name “Ellery Queen” since 1929 had already tried and failed with one magazine in 1933: Mystery League. Still determined to give the reigning crime fiction pulps some high-quality competition, they gave it another go in 1941, and this time things clicked. That first issue with seven short stories, including pieces by Dashiell Hammett and Cornell Woolrich, sold 90,000 copies. Helmed primarily by Dannay, who continued as editor till his death in 1982, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine started out as a quarterly, then bi-monthly, and went monthly in 1946.

Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine 2

I recently took a chance on an Ebay mixed lot of EQMM back issues, the buy-now price not much more than the big box’s postage. I’ve been burned and burned bad a couple times on Ebay, and yes, a few went in the trash, too demolished or mildewed to hold onto. But I still ended up with an assortment of issues from the 1950’s through the 1990’s, and will probably try my luck again soon. And I usually buy the current issues, edited by Janet Hutchings for almost thirty years now. Sure, I like some issues better than others, but I’ve never had one that disappointed, and consider nearly 200 digest-sized pages with that wonderfully tactile and nostalgic newsprint paper for a mere $7.99 a genuine bargain.

Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine December 1951

From that first issue that sold for two-bits 78 years ago with Hammett and Woolrich, consider some of the talent that’s appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine over the years: Jorge Luis Borges, Agatha Christie, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, Patricia Highsmith, Stephen King, W. Somerset Maugham, David Morrell, Manly Wade Wellman, P.G. Wodehouse…oh, and Phyllis Diller (seriously). To say nothing of how many incredible emerging talents who got their first major credit in EQMM. Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine is now the longest running mystery fiction magazine, and has teamed up with Black Mask to include that publication’s material in each issue as well. I’ve never submitted, and doubt that I ever will, but you can call me a fan, ‘cuz I truly am. 78 years is quite a legacy.

Elery Queen Mystery Magazine

L.A. Noir Gets No Darker

Dead Extra

Contemporary or retro, a lot of “L.A. Noir” stories, novels and films claim they’ll take you on a tour of the dark underbelly of Los Angeles. Sean Carswell’s Dead Extra (Prospect Park Books, 2019) drags you into the worst, and then rubs your nose in it…in a good way.

I already forgot where I spotted Carswell’s new book. Crime Reads? Thrilling Detective? The Rap Sheet? Bottom line: I follow or subscribe to a few too many mystery/crime fiction sites/blogs, so it’s hard to keep track. But one of them recommended Dead Extra and I’m glad I asked the local bookstore to get me a copy (small press titles so rarely found on-shelf anywhere but in specialty shops).

Presumed to be killed in action, WWII U.S. Airman (and former LAPD uniformed cop) Jack Chesley has finally returned to Los Angeles after a two-year stint in a Nazi POW camp, only to discover that both his father and his wife, Wilma, are dead. The wife’s demise was ruled an accident, but her twin sister Gertie knows better. Wilma was murdered, and at that only after enduring a couple years of exploitation and abuse at the hands of silver screen big shots bankrolling sleazy prostitution and blackmail rackets.

The story unfolds in alternating points of view, one chapter for Jack in the 1946 present day as he begins to investigate Wilma’s death, and one for Wilma in 1943 and 1944, telling her horribly degrading story: Going off the deep end after getting that telegram from Uncle Sam, committed to a sanitarium, tricked into performing for a no-tell motel’s striptease sex club in order to escape, and then on the run from a murderous gang of pimps and blue movie blackmailers.

There’s nothing titillating about this seamy underworld, and while vengeful Jack Chesley’s investigation covers familiarly gripping hard-boiled ground, it’s really Wilma’s story (as well as her twin sister Gertie’s in the ‘present day’) that will ensnare the reader. I’d have been content with a book that let Wilma tell her own tale…it’s a novel in itself.

Cozy mystery fans would surely faint a few chapters into Dead Extra, but retro crime fiction fans – especially those enjoying period hard-boiled So-Cal material ala Chandler to Ellroy – will probably find themselves comfortably at home here. It’s rough stuff in many places, but I’ll assume that’s only because the author decided not to pull any punches. And the novel has its share of punches and gunshots to go along with the 1940’s era sleaze. Do look for Sean Carswell’s Dead Extra. And let’s prod Sean Carswell into taking a whack at a novel that tells the story of another ‘Wilma’ or ‘Gertie’…he did it well here and I’d love to see more.

 

Mosley’s New One.

elements of fiction

When a writer’s first published novel is a literate hard-boiled masterpiece like Devil In A Blue Dress (1990), that’s a person with something to tell us and we all ought to listen, writers and readers alike.

I reserved a copy of Walter Mosley’s new Elements of Fiction last week, due in on the 17th or 18th along with some other books I ordered at the same time. But there it was calling out to me from the new releases shelf during a library stop last weekend. Oh, what the hell.

Elements of Fiction is a short book, though not necessarily a quick read. Mosley calls it a monograph. The dustjacket labels it a treatise. To me it felt as if I’d signed up for an intimate lecture series with the crime fiction master. This isn’t at all like his previous This Year You Write Your Novel, or most other writer’s how-to books, for that matter. No bullet points, infographics, charts and tables, so some might think it’s targeted to experienced writers and the aloof MFA program crowd more than a newcomer. I’d disagree. Newbie or pro, there’s rich and endless inspiration and guidance here, focusing on process, showing how to channel your thinking when it comes to plot, dialog, character and all the other fundamentals. And after all, isn’t helping others to learn how to think what most good teaching is really all about?

Well, I plowed through the short 115-page hardcover on Sunday, and back to the library it’ll go this weekend. Yes, I still got my own copy mid-week when my multi-book order arrived at a local bookseller, and yes, I’ll read it once again and soon. A man who can come up with Easy Rawlins is a man to heed. Walter Mosley’s Elements of Fiction will be sitting out by my work area for a while, I suspect, ready to turn to when the mood strikes or the writing goes bad. Perhaps it’ll be like reading The Bible for the religiously inclined…flip it open anywhere and darn near any page will offer something inspirational.

 

Dig It: The Dead Beat Scroll

the dead beat scroll

A feature at The Rap Sheet blog (link below) is a good enough recommendation for me, and even though I only saw Shamus and Barry Award nominee Mark Coggins’ piece about the Beats, Jack Kerouac and his new August Riordan novel The Dead Beat Scroll on a Monday, I knew I had to have it. The book was in my hands that Wednesday A.M., which is mighty quick, and I dove in that evening. Indie mystery/crime fiction publisher Down & Out Books did a fine job with this handsome trade pb, each chapter offset with evocative full-page B&W photos shot by the author himself.

Private investigator August Riordan is out for vengeance when his former partner is murdered. But that investigation leads him to an unresolved missing person case and more gruesome murders, all pointing to a lost Jack Kerouac manuscript, presumably worth millions. Specifically, that most famous of Kerouac manuscripts, and if you need clarification on that then you need to do some reading up on Kerouac and the Beats. This was my first time with a Coggins’ novel, my intro to his August Riordan character, and I’m glad I took a chance on a hard-working writer who never got on my radar for some reason. A contemporary setting doesn’t make him pull back on some fun hard-boiled banter, thank goodness:

“Then why did number one son pull a gat on me as soon as I walked through the door?”

Brendan shrugged. “Guns were the language we were speaking until now…”

Research into Chicago’s more provincial late 1950’s Beat scene has been among the things I’ve had to dig into for my own projects lately, and while Coggins’ novel isn’t that kind of a retro setting, it’s fitting in nicely and tidbits about Kerouac, the manuscript and the Beat scene are sprinkled throughout. So this was a timely read for me. I really enjoyed The Dead Beat Scroll and I bet you will too if you check it out. But do look up author (and photographer, BTW!) Mark Coggins’ site (link below). The stunning shots framing each chapter of The Dead Beat Scroll are his and are definitely worth a look.

https://therapsheet.blogspot.com/

https://www.markcoggins.com/

Terry Beatty’s Ms. Tree

Deadly Beloved Art

Artist Terry Beatty’s work for Ms. Tree, the pioneering 1980’s woman detective character he co-created along with writer Max Allan Collins. Shown above, the cover illustration for Collins’ Hard Case Crime standalone 2007 Ms. Tree paperback novel Deadly Beloved.

 

 

 

 

Spicy Detective, Back in ’41

Spicy Detective September 1941

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.

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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.

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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.

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Still More From Manhunt

Manhunt Dec 1958

Manhunt magazine (1952 – 1967) not only published many of mystery/crime fiction’s best writers, it offered covers that rivaled the best of the era’s competing mystery and private eye series paperbacks, promising chills and sexy thrills the same way the 1930’s – 40’s era crime pulps did, but in a less cartoonish and much more sophisticated style. Check out the preceding posts for more on Manhunt, and I promise I’ll move on to other topics now.

manhunt dec 1953manhunt juy 1956 walter popp covermanhunt m spillane 1953Manhunt Nov

More From Manhunt

Manhunt 5 April 1953

Celebrating Manhunt, the postwar mystery/crime fiction magazine that ran from 1952 to 1967, here with a few exemplary covers. Get your hands on Stark House Press’ new The Best of Manhunt – A Collection of The Best of Manhunt Magazine edited by Jeff Vorzimmer, even if only to read the editor’s excellent introduction, “The Tortured History of Manhunt”, which almost reads like a crime story itself!

The issue above is one of my favorite Manhunt covers, and not because it included stories from two of my personal postwar idols, Mickey Spillane and Henry Kane. No, the cover art just manages to include everything the period’s hard-boiled niche of the genre was about, in all its pulpy glory, but does so in what feels to me like a darker and more mature way than the 1930’s – 40’s crime pulps ever managed to do. Just one fan’s POV, mind you.

Manhunt 1Manhunt 3Manhunt 4Manhunt 6Manhunt 7

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