Vengeance is Hers.

vengeance is hers

Dangle a shiny bauble in front of me, and I’m completely in your power. Well, if the bauble’s a book, that is, and one with an eye-catching cover.

There’s a long list of books I’ve bought based on their covers alone, only to be disappointed by the books themselves. There are so many cozies, anemic thrillers and bland whodunits masquerading as edgy hard-boiled or saucy neo-noir tales. Used bookstores make out pretty well with my discards, their alluring covers ready to ensnare the next victim.

So, it’s a thrill when I get an unassuming little book that turns out to be a gem. I need more ‘baubles’ like Vengeance Is Hers, a 1997 anthology from Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins, one more of the anthologies I spotted over a month ago at The New Thrilling Detective website. The cover art? Meh. And it’s just a rack-sized pocketbook at that. But this collection of 17 mystery/crime fiction stories by women writers – plus one gate-crasher from co-editor Mickey Spillane himself to open the book – was a cover-to-cover treat. Sure, some stories felt a little anachronistic, the book over twenty years old, after all. But the talented roster of writers including Joan Hess, J.A. Jance, Wendi Lee, Sharyn McCrumb, S.J. Rozan and others, delivered surprisingly different spins on the notion of vengeance. From uniformed cops to (then) modern private eyes and traditional femmes fatales, the stories cover the bases, with some genuine head-scratching mysteries, liberal doses of edgy violence and thoughtful storytelling throughout. The real jewel in the book may be mystery maestra Dorothy B. Hughes’ last completed work, “Where Is She? Where Did She Go?”. Hughes paints a vivid picture of the mid-twentieth century L.A. Boho jazz scene, and leaves the reader unsure at the end if a crime actually occurred or not. For his part, Mickey Spillane delivers a story that oozes trademark Spillane hard-boiled-isms throughout, but foregoes any gunplay, fistfights or violence, and is a surprisingly thoughtful piece.

A ho-hum cover on an easily overlooked pocketbook? This sure was, and if it hadn’t been shown in The New Thrilling Detective website, it would’ve remained off my radar. Glad I spotted it there and took a chance, even without anyone waving a shiny bauble before my usually gullible eyes.

The Dark End Of The Street.

The Dark End Of The Street

There’s a big difference between pulpdom’s fixation on “sexy crime” stories and an anthology like The Dark End Of The Street from Jonathan Santlofer and S. J. Rozan, which offers 19 stories “of sex and crime”. One will likely be about titillation, shoehorning sex scenes into mysteries or sprinkling some peekaboo male gaze voyeurism into hard-boiled tales, perhaps with a token femme fatale tossed in for balance.

But I don’t think novelist and artist Jonathan Santlofer and Edgar/Shamus award winner (and MWA and Sisters In Crime board member) S.J. Rozan would’ve been content with that. “There is much more to this collection than dark-haired vixens and crimes of passion,” the book says. Much, much more.

The Dark End 1

There are no author bio’s or notes included, but with a roster listing the likes of Lawrence Block, Lee Child, Michael Connelly, Laura Lippman, Val McDermid and Joyce Carol Oates, just to name a few, I suppose no introductions were needed. Pro-since-forever Block appears second in line with a story that at first feels like it could’ve been comfortably at home in a vintage issue of Manhunt magazine…but it really couldn’t at all and belongs in much more nuanced company like this antho. The Hereditary Thurifer by Stephen L. Carter’s is provided generously ample space to slowly lay out a unique and genuinely creepy ecclesiastical mystery. Co-editor Santlofer’s own Ben & Andrea & Evelyn & Ben is a deliciously dark twist on sunshiny Mad Men era suburban adultery. Well, the list goes on.

The Dark End 2

This 2010 Bloomsbury quality trade paperback really is a handsome book, from its Marina Drukman designed cover to the unexpected but darkly delightful India ink wash illustrations by editor Santlofer himself, a few of those shown here.

There are no sexy romps in The Dark End of The Street (not that there’s anything wrong with those, and I enjoy some saucy mayhem myself…in fiction, that is). The 19 stories are more likely to trigger dark thoughts in your brain than any stirrings between your legs. Relentlessly grim throughout, this anthology may not have been the best choice for the isolated, gloomy times we’re in, but I loved it. But then, I’m usually comfiest on ‘the dark end of the street’ myself.

The Dark End 3

Dangerous Dames Are Heading My Way.

Dangerous Dames Ordered

The to-be-read pile on the writing lair’s endtable is usually stacked high, but I’d been whittling it down the past week or two, and got caught empty-handed just as we were all directed to burrow into our shelters. No libraries. No local indies or Barnes & Noble, no Half Price Books, no comix shops…nothin’.

So, I spent some weekend time burning through my credit limit for items from multiple sites from small press publishers to Amazon, for curbside bookstore pickup and elsewhere. First up: Some nifty noir-ish and pulpy anthologies spotted at The New Thrilling Detective Web Site with handy links to Amazon for these (presumably) used OOP gems.

“Twelve Lively Ladies…Twelve Deadly Dolls!” it says up above on the cover of 1955’s Dangerous Dames.  Okay, I’m in, even if it’s a pretty fair assumption that ‘Mike Shayne’ had no hand in the selection process. I’d have probably gone for The Dark End Of The Street based on the cover alone, and I’m kinda miffed that I missed that one before. “New Stories Of Sex And Crime” sounds like a nice mix of the noir and the naughty, and who couldn’t use that when we’re all so social-distanced?

Dark At The End Of The Street Ordered

I know I’ve seen Otto Penzler’s Murder For Love but don’t know why it’s not in my bookcases.

Murder For Love Ordered

Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins may seem like a puzzling duo to some, but thank goodness the scribe from Iowa befriended everyone’s hard-boiled hero while Spillane was still among us. I definitely did not know about this particular anthology, and very much want to see how those two managed to narrow things down to only twelve “hard-boiled, hard-hitting women writers”.

Vengeance Is Hers

Last up, an oldie from the Martin Greenberg anthology factory, which put out some terrific as well as some been-there-done-that anthologies in its heyday. But then, who knows how long the great sheltering may last…apparently past Easter Sunday, contrary to some hare-brained podium bluster. I’m betting I’ll find something I like in a book titled Tough Guys And Dangerous Dames.

Touch Guys And Dangerous Dames Ordered

I tried for Dolls Are Murder, a 1957 pocketbook from The Mystery Writers Of America, but someone else got there first and it was no longer available.

More books are en route from elsewhere and via pickup, and the writing lair’s to-be-read endtable shouldn’t look quite so forlorn pretty soon.

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