Sign Me Up.


Hey, I want some ‘solid evenings of first-rate entertainment’ too. A one-year subscription to the pulp magazine Two Complete Detective Books for only $1.75? Sounds like a bargain, till we start adjusting for inflation, perhaps. But with magazines shrinking (when they’re not vanishing altogether) today into what can seem like little more than pamphlets, two-bits an issue was a pretty good deal. (Do the math, though. Unlike current magazine subscriptions, it’d be cheaper to buy 6 issues at the newsstand for a buck-fifty total.) Guessing from the artist’s signature that this ad showcases an illustration by George Gross, who shared a Tribeca studio with another well-known pulp and paperback cover artist, Mort Kunstler, for a while in the 1950’s.

two complete detective books

The Cheaper The Crook, The Gaudier The Patter.

cheaper the crook

Alan Axelrod packs a lot of info into this digest-sized 200 page trade pb, The Cheaper The Crook, The Gaudier The Patter: Forgotten Hipster Lines, Tough Guy Talk, And Jive Gents. The title comes from the 1941 Warner Brothers proto-noir classic The Maltese Falcon. I’d have to get out of my comfy chair to rifle through my bookshelves to see if it’s in Dashiell Hammett’s novel (which I’m not going to do, sorry). Humphrey Bogart’s Sam Spade gets this particular gem, spoken in reply to weasel of a gunsel Wilbur Cook’s idle threats.

This isn’t a dictionary or laundry list of period slang so much as an light-hearted but still detailed etymology of 1930s through 1950’s expressions, phrases and buzzwords. And if you’re a writer working in period settings, books like this one are as useful as your thesaurus when the dialog starts to feel bland, or worse, a little too ‘now’. If you’re not, it’s still fun, so you can sprinkle period slang into your own words an see if anyone knows what the hell you’re talking about.

Vixens, Vamps & Vipers

vixens vamps & vipers

I adore 1930’s – 50’s crime comics and even some costumed superheroes from that period…well, one at least: Batman. But it was a boys’ club, after all, and it takes some digging to uncover the era’s ‘stiletto gumshoes’, with not a lot to show for the search. Mike Madrid has done a lot of the digging for us, in his first book The Supergirls: Fashion, Feminism, Fantasy And The History Of Comic Book Heroines, then Divas, Dames & Daredevils: Lost Heroines Of Golden Age Comics.

supergirls & divas

A year later, Madrid decided to give the villainesses their due, and rightly so, since it may be that crime and villainy were just about the only way mid-twentieth century women in comics could assert themselves, after all. Vixens, Vamps & Vipers: Villainesses Of Golden Age Comics is a handsome 250+ page book from Exterminating Angel Press and should be a must-read for fans of vintage comics, and in particular, anyone interested in women’s roles in mid-20th century pop culture. The book reproduces 22 different 1940’s-50’s comic stories along with well researched but very readable background information on the characters themselves, their superhero/crime fighter opponents, and the writers and artists who brought them to life. Notable female villains like Madame Doom, Veda The Cobra Woman And Skull Lady are here, but more prosaic crooks and femmes fatales were the most fun for me. For example, National Comics’ 1943 Idaho, who reminds me of a wisecracking Barbara Stanwyck in a 1930’s screwball comedy or crime caper. As the book states, these characters “both transcend and become ensnared in a web of cultural stereotypes”. Female superheroes and women crime fighters from the capes & tights variety (and demure little skirts, in most cases) to the plucky girl reporters, private eyes and DA’s were few enough. Perhaps the only way for female characters to be allowed to fully assert themselves alongside or against the era’s goody two shoes heroes was as villainesses, and there are some memorable ones in this book that’ll surely send you poking around online and digging in vintage comics bins for more.

madame doom

Femme Fatale: Sable Sin Cyr

femme fatale sable sin cyr

Pinups, Cosplay, art, fashion…model Sable Sin Cyr apparently has a diverse resume and portfolio. Here she is in an ominous photo tinged with imminent danger, titled “Femme Fatale” by Twilight Images.

Hellcats, Vixens & Vice Dolls

hellcats vixens and vice dolls

Hellcats, Vixens & Vice Dolls – Women, Crime And Kink Of The Fifties, is a companion volume to editor David Jacobs’ Hoodlums, Hopheads & Hepcats, both books collecting particularly sleazy examples of 1950’s true crime magazine stories. It’s unclear where all of the 50 pieces in this 350+ page book originally appeared. There’s only a brief 3-1/2 page introduction from Jacobs, but the individual stories don’t list what magazine they came from, or even what year they appeared. The only clues are in the book’s front matter, where Police Dragnet Cases magazine issues from 1955 through 1961 are noted as the source for a lot of stories…possibly all of them. To tell the truth, I’m really not sure. But then, this is no scholarly tome. It’s a sleaze-read all the way, and many (though by no means all) of the pieces are retro-raunchy fun. It’s divided up into three sections: “Dope” with 7 pieces, “Vice” with 20, and “Mayhem” with the rest, those including various thieves, murders, gun molls and general bad girlz. Sure, it’d be nice to have each piece credited with a tidbit or two about the authors, their pen-names, the magazines…something. Still, reading this collection is a lot cheaper than buying up a few dozen issues of musty overpriced collectibles.

Angel City

Angel City 1 NYC Exclusive

Janet Harvey’s Angel City, drawn by Megan Levens with colors by Nick Filardi.

Harvey pens a tale that’s pure retro L.A.-Noir, set in 1930’s Hollywood, where former big-screen hopeful Dolores Dare, now a mob enforcer, discovers a friend who’s been murdered, her body left in a dumpster. Dolores’ investigation pits her against corrupt cops, studio bigwigs and her own gangland connections. Shown here are covers for an NYC Comic-Con exclusive edition, other issues and a promotional page. A terrific read, brought to life with some nifty stylized artwork by Levens that’s part Tim Sale, part Joelle Jones. Check it out.

Angel City

Angel City 3

Lillian Frost

Design For Dying

My own tastes in mysteries and crime fiction run more from hard-boiled (the harder the better) to noir – classic, ‘neo’ and everything in between. For some reason though, I’ll happily embrace softer or lighter-toned material (though rarely so-called ‘cozies’) in retro settings. I don’t know why flipping the calendar back a few decades dials up my interest level, but it always has.

Perfect example: Renee Patrick’s Lillian Frost & Edith Head series, with two novels released so far, Design For Dyingand Dangerous To Know. Set in late 1930’s Hollywood, the first in 1937 and the next the following year, the novels introduce Lillian Frost, a New York transplant trading dreams of silver screen stardom for a job in a department store, initially poking into the murder of a former roommate found wearing an elegant gown stolen from the Paramount Pictures costume department, domain of Edith Head, who’s not yet the multi-Oscar nominated designer. The books include cameos from famous Golden Age stars and do an excellent job of portraying this often used location and time period.

Dangerous To Know

Renee Patrick is actually a pen name for the husband and wife team of Rosemarie and Vince Keenan (shades of G.G. Fickling of Honey West fame). Their well-drawn lead, Lillian Frost, is a classic ‘plucky’ girl detective type, celebrating the clichés while paving some new ground at the same time. The able assistance of designer Edith Head is a brave but inspired choice. Hard-boiled or noir-ish? Not a bit. But both books were absolute delights, and I hope there’ll be more. Try them, or go to to learn more about the series.

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