More from Stephen Mooney, from his IDW/creator-owned delightfully dark yet daffy “dames, danger and dinosaurs” (with Nazis, for good measure) series Half Past Danger from 2013/2014.
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.
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’.
I think Hollywood Babylon was the second storyline in the DC Vertigo American Century series, spanning issues #5 through 9. I have the entire American Century series, but it took some doing. I was originally ensnared by a couple random comics, eventually lucking into three shrink-wrapped back issue bundles that equipped me with almost every issue. I’ve since filled in the gaps with trade pb’s.
Written by Howard Chaykin along with David Tischman, the art was sketched and thumbnailed by Chaykin, then fleshed out and inked by quite a team that included Marc Laming, Warren Pleece, Dick Giordano and Job Stokes. The covers for these five issues of the American Century series were done by John Van Fleet. In the Hollywood Babylon storyline, Chaykin and Tischman’s cynical Korean War era adventurer Harry Kraft lands in Hollywood, wearing a Quality Studios night watchman uniform and shacking up with an L.A. widow and her kid. The writers somehow manage to squeeze in a load of early 1950’s Tinseltown lore under various guises and fake names, including a troubled Martin & Lewis style comedy duo, a Rita Hayworth clone, a vintage television superhero, crooked HUAC politicos, mobsters and more…and all in less than a hundred pages. The trade pb concludes with Harry bidding the glittery So-Cal set goodbye and motorcycling Route 66 into a standalone rural roadside diner story, where “a femme fatale offers him a piece of her pie, if he’ll kill her husband”.
You just gotta love it.
The American Century series traveled from Central America to Paris, Manhattan to the backwoods bootlegger southern states. It’s an adventurer’s tale, but less Steve Canyon and more Wally Wood’s Cannon…but with a brain. Chaykin and Tischman’s Harry Kraft is a fascinating, bitterly bad-assed rogue “with a gun in one hand and a garter belt in the other”. Someday, I really mean to stack the whole damn collection in a big pile on the writing lair’s endtable, then hunker down to read the entire thing in sequence from start to finish, uninterrupted.
The whole time I whined about the forlorn looking empty spot on my writing lair’s to-be-read endtable, I completely forgot that three Bold Adventure Press Larry Kent POD trade paperbacks had arrived right before the shutdown and shelter-at-home directives. I’d tucked them away on a bookshelf, and there they were even while I was getting the shakes with nothing new to read. Found them last night while re-shelving books (the to-be-read heap piled high now, with still more to come or be picked up, thank goodness). Each of these three books contains two Larry Kent adventures, this one with Crimson Lady and Sidewalk Empire.
Kent, of course, started out as a half-hour radio show on the Macquarie Network, inspired in part by Carter Brown’s successful books, which in turn spawned an incredibly successful book series for Cleveland Publishing, most Larry Kent novels penned by Don Haring (a Yank living down-under) and Australian native Des R. Dunn, ultimately comprising over 400 titles between 1954 and 1983. While the radio show was set in Australia, the Larry Kent novels are mostly set in the U.S. (or various international locales).
I think there are seven of these Larry Kent double-books so far. I got three, and will find some time to say more once I’ve read them. I’m not expecting War And Peace. Hell, I’m not even expecting Frank Kane or Brett Halliday. If they’re a notch above a Carter Brown book, I’ll be content. And there appears to be some other interesting offerings from Bold Venture Press I’ll need to checkout…
“Stag Fiction” by Jack Q. Lynn in a 1956 issue of Stag magazine – This Is Santa Claus: “…The city was in Christmas wrapping, budding with bubbling brats, struggling parents, bells, hymns and good will. Only I wasn’t having any…I was going to collect plenty of Christmas loot, thanks to a ripe sucker, a tape recorder and two lush dames.”
Ho-ho-ho to you too. I’m no fan of the so-called ‘mens sweats’, but who can overlook a Robert Maguire illustration not often seen, the master artist known for so many and memorable paperback original covers, but clearly just as adept with a one-color palette and a horizontal canvas.
This book may be targeted to writers, but I’m certain any fan of the classic pulp magazine era would love it. Blood ‘N’ Thunder Presents: The Penny-A-Word Brigade – Pulp Fictioneers Discuss Their Craft edited by Ed Hulse is a 2017 200++ page oversize trade pb from Murania Press, the publishers of Blood ‘N’ Thunder. In addition to being the editor-in-chief and publisher of Blood ‘N’ Thunder (and the head-honcho at Murania, I think), Hulse is the author and editor of over 30 books (maybe many more) on vintage pulp magazines, cliffhanger serials and retro Hollywood stars.
Hulse collected 28 articles written by pulp magazine writers, editors and agents that originally appeared in Writer’s Digest, The Writer, Author & Journalist and other magazines between 1922 through 1949. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Pulp writers groused about one and two cents-per-word pay rates then, which writers today might be happy to get instead of payment-in-copies for chapbooks and zines or no-pay at all for online publications. The writers’ and editors’ how-to articles may use obsolete references and point to unknown authors long gone, but the info resonates today as well as it did eighty and ninety years ago.
If you’re a mystery/crime fiction reader (and obviously, if you’re a pulp fiction fan), you’ll get a kick out of this book. And if you’re a mystery/crime fiction writer or wannabe, there’s a lot of mighty useful info here. And, take a moment to check out Murania Press’ site (link below) for a treasure trove of Blood ‘N’ Thunder back issues, books, collectibles, links and more.
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.
Adapted from Peter Paige’s “Death On The House” opening two-page spread, which appeared in the June 1947 Dime Detective magazine, as seen at the always excellent pulpcovers.com site. I really wish the pulps credited the interior artists. Pulp experts are usually able to ID the cover artists, but the countless stunning (and sometimes, not-so-stunning) B&W interior spot illustrations are mostly doomed to anonymity.
Give this cocktail lounge coquette a simpler hairstyle with bangs, put her in a pair of plain pumps, and this illustration could almost be a new ‘Stiletto Gumshoe’ avatar.
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.