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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Gail Ford – Girl Friday

Gail Ford

Homicide Bureau Inspector Madson’s able assistant Gail Ford is rarely seen slogging through routine office chores or clerical duties, more typically enlisted to go undercover to help the police solve vexing cases, palming herself off as everything from a greasy spoon waitress to a department store clerk, a personal maid or a fresh-off-the-bus rube just arrived in the big bad city.

Gail Ford – Girl Friday was created by Gene Leslie and first appeared in Crime Smashers in 1950. Or, depending on the source, she was created by Ray McClelland, and also appeared in Smash Detective magazine as one of that crime fiction pulp’s comics features. I’ll have to leave it up to vintage pulp and comics experts to confirm authorship and venues, none of which matters much to a non-collector like myself. But the 15 stories included in this Gwandanaland trade paperback are supposed to be from 15 consecutive Crime Smashers issues running from 1950-1953. A couple are credited to Pierre Charpentier and Keats Petree.

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Unlike some near-contemporaries like Adolphe Barreaux’ well-known Sally The Sleuth or Queenie Starr, Gail Ford – Girl Friday managed to chase crooks and solve crimes without losing all of her clothes. A smart investigator and quite the daredevil, she kept a revolver handy in her purse and knew how to use it, and had to trade blows more than once with menacing thugs, most of whom learned the hard way just what a high heel can really do when there’s a full-force Gail Ford kick behind it. She almost seems like a prototype for Mickey Spillane’s Velda, right down to the shoulder length Bettie Page style hairdo, complete with neatly trimmed bangs.

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The Gwadanaland book includes no intro, front or back matter, just scans of the comics pages themselves. But it’s a nicely printed book and the material is all quite crisp and readable, considering. The firm aims to publish largely forgotten public domain material, and I’ll be getting more from them for sure.

 

Some Vintage ‘Stiletto Gumshoes’

Klassik Komix Holywood Detective Front

Mini-Komix’ (or is it Klassik Komix?) Hollywood Detective is a 100-page trade paperback combining several Dan Turner – Hollywood Detective stories (most of which I already had in other compilations or pulp reprints) with some relative rarities, including genuine ‘stiletto gumshoes’ from the 1940’s – 50’s. Now I’m no vintage crime comics historian, but I think the non-Dan Turner pieces aren’t from Dan Turner – Hollywood Detective magazines, but from the vintage crime pulp Speed Detective, which included (and actively promoted) a comics section in most issues, including Ray McClelland’s “Gail Ford – Girl Friday” and Gene Leslie’s “Queenie Starr – Glamour Girl Of Hollywood” along with Newt Alfred’s “Ray Hale – News Ace”.

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This book includes all of those, plus a “Betty Blake” four page shortie. H. L. Parkhurst’s Betty Blake was a contemporary of Alphonse Barreaux’ Sally The Sleuth, both launched in the Spring of 1934, though Betty only managed to survive for a half dozen appearances while Sally The Sleuth continued (in evolving forms) well into the 1950’s. Additionally, Betty, the daughter of a New York police inspector, somehow managed to keep her clothes on while solving crimes, unlike Sally The Sleuth. I’d tell you more, but Hollywood Detective includes no introduction, back matter, dates, details…nothing. There’s a write-up on this early female detective pulp/comics character from Kevin Burton Smith at the Thrilling Detective site. Check it out.

Gail Ford

For me, the real treats in this slim book are the Gail Ford – Girl Friday story, “Girl Snatchers” (a sample page shown above) and the three Queenie Starr – Glamour Girl Of Hollywood stories. I’d read little snippets here and there about these characters, perhaps seen some random panel art (typically unidentified or credited) at a Tumblr blog, Pinterest or elsewhere. But now I finally got to read a few complete pieces. If you’re into the roots of female detectives, cops, reporters and sundry snoops from the mid-twentieth century, they were a real find.

Queenie Starr

McClelland’s Gail Ford and Leslie’s Queenie Starr (Ms. Starr shown right above) have a bit of the era’s pervy peekaboo Good Girl Art feel to them, no question. Queenie Starr in particular, seems to spend a lot of time posing for cheesecake photos or sunning poolside in a bathing suit…reasonable enough, perhaps for a ‘Hollywood Glamour Girl’. But not unlike Barreaux’ Sally The Sleuth, she spends an inordinate amount of time getting dressed and undressed. Unfortunately for the various Hollywood crooks, schemers and murderers she gets mixed up with, prancing about in negligees or lingerie doesn’t seem to hinder her ability to solve Tinsel Town’s crimes. All in all, quirky retro stuff, but very interesting.

Super Detective May 1950

 

 

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 Dames

pulp fiction the dames

Otto Penzler’s Pulp Fiction: The Dames is a follow-up to his previous anthologies Pulp Fiction: The Crimefighters and Pulp Fiction: The Villains. My copy shown here is a 2008 Quercus UK edition, a big fat 500+ page trade paperback which includes 22 stories plus two saucy Sally The Sleuth comic strips from 1930’s – 40’s pulp fiction magazines, including the top tier mags like Black Mask, Dime Detective and Detective Fiction Weekly, right down to the bottom rung in publications like Gun Molls, and Spicy Romantic Adventures. Penzler’s preface and Laura Lippman’s well-written introduction frame the material well. As she writes, “The pulps of the early 20thcentury will never be mistaken for proto-feminist documents…(but) there is just enough kink in these archetypes of girlfriend/hussy/sociopath to hint at broader possibilities for the female of the species.” Indeed, the roots of V.I. Washawski, Kinsey Millhone and even Lippman’s own Tess Monaghan can be traced right back here.

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The anthology opens with a terrific Cornell Woolrich 1937 tale, Angel Face, about a chorus girl trying to keep her wayward younger brother out of trouble, but when he’s framed for murder, she ignores the cops and does her own sleuthing to nab the mobster she’s sure did the deed. It may end abruptly and even a bit implausibly, but every sentence absolutely sings with vintage slang and retro word-smithing that’s a dark delight. That’s followed by Leslie T. White’s Chosen To Die from 1934 with husband and wife team of P.I. Duke Martindel and attorney Phyllis Martindel, the well-intended gumshoe relying on his savvy spouse to get him out of jams with the law. The book includes stories from Dashiell Hammett, a Lars Anderson’s Domino Lady tale, a T.T. Flynn Trixie Meehan story and even Raymond Chandler’s 1935 Killer In The Rain, which he cannibalized (along with material from other short stories) for The Big Sleep. Read it and see if you don’t spot some mighty familiar scenes and passages, even if the private eye isn’t named Marlowe.

‘The Dames’ from pulp fiction aren’t all snoopy reporters, private investigators or even uniformed cops (rare as those were). The bad girlz might be some of the more memorable characters in this anthology, from gun molls to gang leaders. Unlike Penzler’s recent – and enormous – The Big Book Of Female Detectives (see link below for a post on that book) this one’s strictly vintage pulp fiction. Which isn’t always literary, can sometimes be a little squirm-worthy, but is almost always entertaining, and the female private eyes, girl reporters, sleuthing secretaries and, yes — even former chorus girls – make for one terrific tale after another.

https://thestilettogumshoe.com/2019/03/09/the-big-book-of-female-detectives/

Not The Best, Only The Better

Spicy Detective Stories

Spicy Detective Stories is a used bookstore find, a 1989 Malibu Graphics trade paperback reprinting six stories and a Sally The Sleuth strip from various 1935 – 1937 issues of the iconic pulp magazine of the same name, all re-typeset, but including the original interior B&W illustrations. It leads off with a Robert Leslie Bellem Dan Turner – Hollywood Detective story, “Temporary Corpse”, the dialog and period slang a real treat. Not Bellem’s best, perhaps, but still fun. In fact, the book’s Tom Mason foreword notes, “This collection of Spicy Detective Stories is not intended to be a ‘best of’ collection. It’s more like a ‘better of’, a sampling, as close to a better-than-average issue of the real thing”.

Uhm…well, if they say so.

Strangely, the book doesn’t use a piece of cover art from the era…something by H. J. Ward or Norm Saunders would seem in order. Instead, there’s an original contemporary illustration by “Madman” (don’t know who that really is) which is nice, though looking like a better fit for a Spicy Mystery or Spicy Adventure pulp reprint than Spicy Detective. The book closes with a short 13-panel 1937 Sally The Sleuth strip, “Matinee Murder”, where Adolphe Barreaux’ sassy snoop finds herself (no surprise) in jeopardy, but being tied up in lacy lingerie never stopped Sally from landing a well-placed kick to the snoot of any villain, and then solving the crime. All in a dozen-plus panels, mind you.

I don’t know if this was a stand-alone book or part of a Malibu Graphics series. I’ve noted before that I don’t collect pricey pulp magazine originals, but I do have some Adventure House trade paperback reprints, those being complete single issues using the original typesetting, capturing all the original art and even the hilarious ads, right down to the classifieds. They’re not “best of’s” or even “better of’s”, but a pretty affordable way to understand the 1930’s – 40’s pulp era in all its tawdry glory. I’ll profile some of those here soon…promise.

The Big Book Of Female Detectives

The Big Book Of Female Detectives

From the well-known anthologist, author and master of all things mystery, Otto Penzler: The Big Book Of Female Detectives, which proudly claims to be “The Most Complete Collection Of Detective Dames, Gumshoe Gals & Sultry Sleuths Ever Assembled”. I’m not qualified to say if it is or it isn’t, only to point out that it is indeed one big, fat book at 1,115 pages.

Now keep in mind that this isn’t necessarily a collection of tales written by women, but about women detectives, cops, reporters and various sleuths, and understandably the women writers are better represented in more of the contemporary material.

The book includes 74 stories, arranged chronologically with each section and story accompanied by informative introductions written by the master himself. Victorian/Edwardian – British Mysteries and Pre-World War One – American Mysteries comprise the early era. Those are followed by The Pulp Era, The Golden Age and The Mid-Century, and the longest section, The Modern Era. But Penzler’s not done yet, and closes with a final section devoted to women on the other side of the law, Bad Girls. Of course, there’s no way to assemble a book like this without some critics complaining that their favorite character was left out or questioning why a particular writer was included at all. So let them quibble. For myself, I’ll confess that I sped through the early eras’ sections and really get hooked in The Pulp Era, with one of my personal favorites from that period, Lars Anderson’s Domino Lady in “The Domino Lady Collects”, and surprised to see two Adolphe Barreaux Sally The Sleuth strips, including “Coke For Co-Eds”…you just have to love that title. Familiar names crowd the Modern Era, including Sue Grafton, Sara Paretsky, Laura Lippman, Max Allan Collins, Nevada Barr, Lawrence Block and others.

I got this book before the holidays and only just wrapped it up now, dipping in for a story here and a story there at a leisurely pace. Finishing it was almost bittersweet – I got used to seeing that big ol’ book on the endtable. If you see it, get it. I can’t think of better ‘textbook’ overview of women detectives (and crooks!) in one book.

 

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