“…A Silenced Roscoe In Her Trembling Mitt.”

Spicy Detective May 1941 Allen Anderson cover

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.”

too many women henri st. maur

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.

Sally The Sleuth

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.

No Christmas Cozies Here.

Hard boiled christmas stories

I’ll skip Dickens’ A Christmas Carol again this year and just do a re-read (or at least a thorough re-browse) of Reverse Karma Press’ 146-page trade pb Hard-Boiled Christmas Stories, collecting multiple holiday-themed stories from the 1930’s – 1940’s pulp magazine heyday.

The anthology includes crooked Santa Clauses (spell-check, please), holiday homicides and seasonal scams from John K. Butler (writer of the hard-boiled L.A. cabbie Steve Midnight tales), Steve Fisher (1941’s I Wake Up Screaming), Henry Leverage (editor of Sing Sing prison’s in-house publication, where he was a ‘resident’), West Pointer Lt. John Hopper, newspaperman Jack Kofoed, and several others. The book leads off with a Dan Turner – Hollywood Detective yarn, but not by Turner’s creator Robert Leslie Bellem, this homage tale penned instead by the anthology’s editor John Wooley, who also edited the first-ever Dan Turner collection. I’ve talked about my love affair with Robert Leslie Bellem’s sing-songy slang-filled snappy banter before, and Wooley does the artful word-smith’s style justice here in “Santa’s Slay Ride”. Why no Bellem original? Though he knocked out literally hundreds of Dan Turner short stories and comics scripts, the Hard-Boiled Christmas Stories editors concluded that Bellem had never written a Christmas story for the hard-boiled Hollywood private eye. Go figure.

I don’t know why Santa Claus and his elves would want to leave a 1930’s pulp cover style damsel-in-distress all ‘wrapped up’ under the Christmas tree, but that cover art was done by David Saunders, son of the late pulp, paperback and pinup illustrator Norm Saunders, intended to emulate the familiar style of mystery and crime pulp maestro H.J. Ward.

 

 

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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The Poetics Of Pulp.

Spicy Detective Reprint

The Poetics Of Pulp? A couple weeks ago, I commented about precisely that (link below).

Each mystery/crime fiction enthusiast (or writer) has to find their own way to process what’s merely retro-fun vs. what’s infuriating in mid-twentieth century pulp fiction. I noted in that prior post that W.M. Akers, author of the newly released novel Westside (just got my copy a few days ago) grappled with this very issue when using old pulp tales to do research for his re-imagined hard-boiled fantasy 1920’s New York City. The rampant racism, homophobia and relentless misogyny that was so pervasive in old pulp tales is hard to digest, yet the allure of the rapid-paced storytelling and slang-filled vintage prose can be so addictive.

It’s the language that always gets me, rarely the plots. Imagine yourself a 1930’s – 1950’s pulp scribe, churning out tales month after month for multiple titles and publishing syndicates in order to reliably put three squares on the table. The most imaginative writer might dream up some nifty set-ups and create a compelling scene or two for each story, but eventually it would become increasingly difficult to concoct genuinely unique solutions for so many mysteries. Inevitably, things start to become contrived, maybe even outlandish, if not downright silly.

So be it. While the best of the bunch might still suffer from those contrived plot resolutions, they were wrapped up nice-n-neat in wonderful language brimming with authentic (or entirely fabricated) street vernacular that could sometimes be — dare I say it – ‘pulp poetry’ when done right.

There aren’t many actual pulp magazines in my bookcases, not being a collector. Reprints and omnibus books? Those I have. Adventure House reprints of Spicy Detective and Spicy Mystery, for example, are a real treat since they’re cover-to-cover reissues of the original magazines, complete with all ads, illustrations and even the crummy two-column linotype typesetting that can make your eyeballs spin.

The July 1941 Spicy Detective Stories (a 2005 Adventure House reprint, 128 page glossy cover perfect-bound trade pb) has seven stories plus a four-page “Sally The Sleuth” comic strip. A couple of the stories are a snore, a couple are actual stinkers. But the two that lead off the book are gems (albeit gems with ridiculous conclusions). “The Second Slug” by Justin Case (get it?) is from that writer’s long-running “Eel” series about a gentleman thief of “courageous action and questionable morals”. Here the Eel earns an easy C-note just to accompany racketeer Knuckles Orio to an after-hours nightclub audition of a naïve young fan dancer, supposedly to ensure that Knuckles behaves himself. But it’s just a setup to provide the gangster with an alibi when his fiancée is murdered. The ‘Eel’ has to keep the law at bay and duke it out with Knuckles’ thugs, but manages to romance the young fan dancer while solving the crime. Some clues and even the final resolution are a bit far-fetched, but what makes the fast-paced story sing is the Damon Runyon style prose. ‘Justin Case’ – one of several pen names used by writer High B. Cave – was an ardent fan of the Bard of Broadway’s stylish “present-tense, first-person narrative style”.

Next up is Robert Leslie Bellem with a Dan Turner – Hollywood Detective story, “Death By Arrangement”. Bellem’s Dan Turner tales are notorious for logic-defying solutions to their crimes, and this one’s no different, a spin on the locked-room mystery with a pistol rigged up to a grand piano’s keyboard. I adore Dan Turner pulp stories and even the Dan Turner comics, though I’m tempted to skip right over the final paragraphs or panels when the crimes are finally solved. But Bellem’s language always gives me a thrill. Here’s the opening of “Death By Arrangement”, where the Tinsel Town gumshoe has just arrived at a Hollywood bigwig’s swanky cocktail party:

“The read-haired cupcake in the low cut emerald evening gown dished me a kiss that jostled me all the way down to my fallen arches. And then somebody hung a hand on my shoulder, spun me around and measured me for a swift poke on the horn.” Dan recovers his composure before returning the blow. “But I braked my duke when I tabbed the bozo who was trying to paste a mouse on my smeller…it isn’t polite to lower the boom on a half-pint drip like him, not with my dimensions. You don’t drive tacks with a sledgehammer.”

 I can only fantasize about crafting a phrase as cool (and as corny) as “paste a mouse on my smeller”.

Adolphe Barreaux’ Sally The Sleuth series was a Spicy Detective staple with two to four page B&W comic strips in each issue. In “Dangerous Delivery”, Sally investigates a refugee murdered over a rare stamp worth $35,000, and of course manages to end up in trouble and out of her clothes by the second page. This July 1941 Spicy Detective issue’s cover by Allen Anderson depicts a damsel in distress who could almost be Sally The Sleuth herself, and not unlike Sally, isn’t waiting to be rescued but using a conveniently placed candle to burn through her bonds…and also just like Sally, is doing so in powder blue silkies.

Hate ‘em. Love ‘em. Or simply find a way to compartmentalize the vintage pulps to process the bad and savor the good. Me, I’ll stay conflicted even while binging on the ‘poetry of pulp’.

https://wordpress.com/post/thestilettogumshoe.com/1841

The Last Comics.

dan turner

Dan Turner – Hollywood Detective: The Last Comics: This is a Fiction House Press trade pb collecting fifteen Dan Turner tales from the late 1950 through March 1953 Crime Smashers comics, all written by Robert Leslie Bellem, illustrated by Adolphe Barreaux (of Sally The Sleuth fame), Robert McCarty, Max Plaisted or Tony Tallarico. Bellem was the creator of the Dan Turner character, originally appearing in a 1934 issue of the pulp magazine Spicy Detective and later having his own title that ran from 1942 to 1950. But these aren’t prose pulp tales — they’re short 8-page comics stories and, no surprise, the mysteries are pretty contrived and sometimes more than a little repetitious. The fun, though, is in the period dialog. To a starlet being framed for a murder, whose only alibi is a secret tryst: “You’re in a jackpot, kitten. To nix a murder rap, you’ll have to confess you were indulging in neckery with a boyfriend”. When Dan discovers the gun used in a murder: “And here’s the croakery weapon, begosh!” Interrogating a female suspect: “I’ll have another chin-fest with the Laverne quail”. And so on.

dan turner - girl fight

Actually, many of the individual panels from these very stories have been circulating all over comics and other sites and blogs for ages, particularly the girl-fight scenes, of which there are quite a few, the stories all set among Hollywood studios, and it is Dan Turner – Hollywood Detective after all. The five-panel piece above, for example, depicts Fifi Valcour (I swear, I’m going to steal that name for something!) and Brenda Lee staging a Paris café brawl for a movie scene they’re shooting, which results in the murder of Monarch Pictures director Baldy Boyd. Fun stuff.

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