Into The Night

Into The Night - Woolrich - Block

As I understand it, Into The Night was an unfinished Cornell Woolrich novel manuscript, not only missing an ending, but the opening and some passages in the middle (which doesn’t leave very much, if you think about it). It fell to Lawrence Block to complete the novel. I know I have this book somewhere (if you ever saw my bookshelves, you’d understand) but had to rely on a search engine image for the picture above.

Time for candor, even if it gets me in trouble: I’m not the biggest Woolrich fan, and I know that’s sacrilegious in noir and crime fiction circles.

It’s been a while, so if I get the plot mixed up a little, I’ll beg your forgiveness now. In Into The Night, a woman’s failed suicide attempt goes awry, though she’s actually relieved that her gun jammed. But when she drops the weapon, it accidentally goes off anyway, the bullet shooting right through the window where it finds an unintended target, another woman merely passing by.

That’s an interesting if perhaps implausible premise. From what I’ve read, some readers didn’t care for Lawrence Block’s upbeat ending, preferring something more Woolrich-ish…i.e. dreary and downbeat. Still, this one can be an entertaining read for hardcore Woolrich buffs, if only to try to pinpoint the original manuscript’s portions and Block’s rewrites/additions.

Hatchett: Just A Few Years Too Early?

Hatchett

Just a few years too early? Perhaps. Lee McGraw’s 1976 novel Hatchett introduces hard-as-nails ex-cop turned private detective Madge Hatchett, a denim-n-boots gal with more than a bit of Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Milhone about her, and running her M.L. Hatchett Investigations detective agency in Chicago like Sara Paretsky’s V. I. Warshawski. But unlike Grafton or Paretsky’s groundbreaking and now iconic female detective characters who both arrived a mere six years after, Madge Hatchett only managed to appear in one book. Also unlike those two authors, Lee McGraw’s gender-neutral moniker is a pen name for Paul Zakaras.

This is an action-packed crime novel, full of gunplay, fistfights and explosions. Madge Hatchett is no ‘blonde bombshell’ or teasing sexpot ala G.G. Fickling’s Honey West, Carter Brown’s Mavis Seidlitz, much less the many saucy-naughty-downright-porny female super sleuths and spy series cluttering paperback racks at the time Hatchett was released, like The Baroness, Cherry Delight or The Lady From L.U.S.T. There’s a fair amount of squirm-worthy vintage sexism, poking fun at ‘women’s lib’ and the like, but no more than you’d encounter in an episode of a retro-seventies sitcom like The Mary Tyler Moore Show or Rhoda. To the author’s credit (considering the era) Hatchett’s troubles with the law are due more to the fact that she’s a combustible troublemaker than a woman.

Hatchett’s lured into an ever-widening mystery after a murder in her own apartment building is pinned on an ex-con and recovering junkie she’d befriended. Determined to prove the cops wrong, she soon finds herself in the middle of a gangland war when a mysterious freelance non-Mafia kingpin attempts to take over Chicago’s crime syndicate (an unlikely scenario with the Chicago mob very much alive and well at this time). Hatchett navigates her way through the underworld of drug dealers, pornographers and pimps with her Beretta as much as her investigative prowess. So it’s a little disappointing that three-fourth’s through the novel, the otherwise smart and gutsy private eye falls prey to some seemingly requisite damsel-in-distress business, which in vintage crime novels always demands that the hero loose her clothes: “So, I was lying on a bed. In a totally dark room. And it was obvious why I couldn’t pick myself up: I was wearing a pair of ropes. One holding my hands behind my back, the other wrapped around my ankles. Wearing ropes and nothing else, a perfect costume for a kinky foldout. Or that last scream scene in a snuff film.” Fear not, though. Madge Hatchett needs no rescuing, blasts her way free and burns down or blows up the crooks’ lairs and leaves not only the aspiring ‘Mister Big’ but sundry Mister-In-Between’s full of bullet holes.

The cover art is a puzzler, if only for the Ballantine Suspense line art director’s choice for an illustrator. Not that it isn’t good. But the illustration’s by well-known Peruvian fantasy/SF/sword & sorcery artist Boris Vallejo, who along with his own spouse Julie Bell, Frank Frazetta, Ken Kelly, Sanjulian and several others more or less defined 1960’s through 1980’s fantasy painting. Vallejo’s known for his sword-wielding barbarians and armor-clad Amazons, so he seems like an odd choice. While Madge Hatchett is described at one point as resembling Sophia Loren, in general she’s smokes like a chimney, likes her booze, enjoys a joint and favors practical private eye attire, not lilac jersey dresses. Looking at this cover art and knowing Vallejo’s style, it’s easy to swap a spear for the revolver, a magic goblet for the glass of whiskey, a throne for the chair, and to turn the two dead dudes lying beneath Hatchett’s chunky 70’s heels into vanquished goblins. Then it’s a Boris Vallejo painting.

Euro-Pulp: Michel Gordon

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French illustrator Michel Gourdon was every bit as prolific as many of the more familiar names from 1930’s through 1970’s American pulp magazine and paperback cover art masters like Robert Maguire, Robert McGinnis, Mort Kunstler, Earl Norem and so many others. But biographical or any other info about the artist seems pretty scarce. What I can dig up is in French, and even four years of high school French (mostly forgotten) only equips me for some useless word-here-and-there hunting and pecking. Google translating docs yields gibberish for the most part.

flueve noir duo

What I can glean is that Gourdon was born in 1925, spent most of the WWII years studying at the Bordeaux School of Fine Arts, then headed to Paris in 1946, working for the next fifty years or more as one of France’s most popular pulp magazine, men’s magazine, Giallo digest and paperback cover illustrators, while also pursuing more lucrative advertising and film poster assignments. Michel’s brother Alain was also a popular French illustrator, going by the name ‘Aslan’, known mostly for quite explicit pinup art, along with some book and magazine cover work, most of that also pretty racy stuff. Michel Gourdon passed away in 2011.

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Myself, I’m an ardent fan of retro illustration. Mind you, I’m not foolish enough to elevate what were hastily executed commercial assignments to fine art status, nor blind to how salacious so much of it was, nor naïve about just how utterly perverse the 1930’s pulp magazine covers and 1960’s men’s “sweats’ magazines in particular really were. I mean seriously, I understand the value of the hunky hero and damsel-in-distress (or undress) thing to sell crime magazines on a crowded Depression era newsstand, but for all the weirdly fetishistic perversity, American pulps and postwar paperbacks have absolutely nothing on the postwar ‘Euro-Sleaze’ marketplace. If you disagree, just browse some work by Italian illustrators like Alessandro Biffignandi and Emanuele Taglietti for sheer twistedness. Perhaps the French exhibited a little more class. Uhm…a little.

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Books on Michel Gourdon are hard to come by, at least in the U.S., though vintage digests, paperbacks and magazines with Gourdon covers are available for the deep-pocketed collector crowd (which I don’t belong to). There’s much to be found online, not that I’ll post it all here. Some of the work steps over the line between ‘tawdry-retro-kitsch’ and dangerously warped…heck, a couple of these images might be tip-toeing around that line. But pulp-art is what it is, and for good or bad, Michel Gourdon was one of Europe’s postwar pulp masters who surely deserves more recognition among U.S. fans.

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No Luck For A Lady.

no luck for a lady

My copy of Floyd Mahannah’s No Luck For A Lady is a 1958 second printing of the 1951 paperback (of the 1950 hardcover titled The Golden Hearse) and my scan above doesn’t do the gorgeous Robert Maguire cover art justice. The original edition (don’t know the artist on that one, sorry) is shown below.

Some sites bill the book as a ‘Cassie Gibson’ detective novel, but that’s stretching it a bit. Oh, there’s a character called Cassie Gibson, and she really is a private detective. But the novel’s really Nap Lincoln’s story, a fellow en route to San Francisco to embark on a year-long South American construction job when he loses his shirt in Reno. Broke and hitchhiking at night, he’s picked up by a big yellow Cadillac convertible driven by a beautiful redhead – Miss Cassandra Gibson (strangely, she’s described as both a redhead and a blonde in an example of some very rushed copy editing). But Cassie’s Caddy has a flat, and when Nap looks in the trunk for the spare, he discovers a corpse and a stash of narcotics. Nap learns that Miss Gibson is a licensed P.I. who’s trying to keep the agency her father started afloat, now on a case that has her mixed up with gamblers and gangsters. Soon enough Cassie and Nap are on the run from the local law while duking it out with some mighty scary Reno crooks.

no luck for a lady - original

This ought to be Cassie’s book, but Nap Lincoln is the hero of ths ‘Cassie Gibson Detective Novel’, with the lady P.I. playing second fiddle all the way. It’s too bad, because her character is an interesting one. It’s all the more frustrating then to read the closing scene, with Cassandra and Nap about to go their separate ways, only to ‘fess up about their feelings for one another. Before they have the last paragraph’s climactic kiss, Cassie tells Nap, “I’ve had enough detecting to last the rest of my life. I don’t want to be a detective, Nap. I want…to be a woman.”

The two being mutually exclusive in 1950, apparently.

 

No Business For A Lady

No Business For A LAdy copy

James L. Rubel’s No Business For A Lady (1950) is a frustrating novel. While the book’s front and back covers tease with “Meet Eli Donovan, lady detective and easily the most beautiful shamus living”, and “Most detectives have angles, but here’s one that has curves”, we’d expect postwar paperbacks to pitch a female private detective that way. What’s frustrating is 1) that a genuinely interesting female P.I. character that preceded G.G. Fickling’s Honey West and Carter Brown’s Mavis Seidlitz couldn’t garner her own series, and 2) that a well-conceived character could be dropped into a plot that relies on an utterly implausible crime, albeit in an otherwise well-told tale.

Rubel’s Eli Donovan is a licensed L.A. private investigator earning a comfortable living on routine cases like background checks and debt collections. Nothing glamorous or exciting, but it’s enough to pay for a nice wardrobe, a sporty coupe, a handsome apartment and to indulge her weakness for hats – the fancier and frillier the better (this is still the era when men and women alike wore hats darn near everywhere). Actually, based on the novel’s description, neither woman depicted on the book covers shown here resemble her at all.

Now, don’t be fooled: Eli’s no daffodil. She’s a former Marine, former cop and, oddly enough, a former chorus girl (briefly). She packs a Walther automatic and can take care of herself. A war widow, Eli Donovan fell in love with a fellow Marine who went missing on Tarawa, was finally declared dead and supposedly buried there according to the Corps. She didn’t make it through WWII unscathed herself, and was seriously injured in a Jeep accident, requiring plastic surgery. With her appearance changed, she also switched from a “mousey brunette” to a blonde to start fresh after the war (and so, she doesn’t resemble either of the women depicted on the books’ covers).

Early in the novel, Eli has a chance to earn a bigger than usual fee from a wealthy but stern and unattractive businesswoman (“with a face that looked like it was sired by a horse”) who admits to being insanely jealous over her handsome cad of a husband, who she suspects of being unfaithful. Well, so far, so good. The setup could lead to delicious vintage mystery/crime fiction fun: adultery, murder…all the good stuff.

And it does. Well…sort of. Because the main plot device here is that the unfaithful (and very flirtatious) hubby is a dead ringer for Eli Donovan’s dead husband. In fact, it turns out that he actually is her husband, who really wasn’t killed on Tarawa after all. Yet for a good 50 – 75 pages, he apparently doesn’t recognize Eli as his former wife. And she’s not sure he’s her husband…she only suspects he might be. Now don’t you suppose you could instantly recognize your spouse, even after a 5-6 year absence? And I don’t mean from a distance, or in a brief encounter, but in multiple meetings, over drinks, dinner and romantic one-on-ones? The whole business comes off kind of silly, and torpedoes this otherwise well done novel.

That nonsense aside, the story is well told with interesting secondary characters, some twists and turns, and most of all, an otherwise credible and well-drawn heroine. The novel’s conclusion feels open ended enough to lead to a sequel and a series. At the very end, Eli and her police chief pal go over details of the case when he asks if she still has feelings for her ex, now a felon wanted not only by the police, but the Marine Corps. Eli assures him she’s over him.

“Then find yourself a nice guy and settle down to raising a family,” he suggested. “This is no business for a lady.” I shook my head and smiled at him. He was a swell friend and I liked him. But he hadn’t analyzed me correctly. I liked men. I loved the way they whistled when they saw me. I was still young and I had a lot of years ahead of me before my hair turned gray, my face got lined and the whistling stopped. I couldn’t picture myself living in semi-poverty surrounded by wet diapers and screaming infants. Maybe someday I’d be lucky enough to meet the right man. Until I did…? I said, “Sorry, Bill. But I’m not a lady.

 (Scan of my pretty solid 1950 edition at top, the 1965 edition below (that one’s not mine.)

No Business for a Lady 1965

Gun In Cheek

Gun In Cheek 2

Some say that Bill Pronzini has read everything there is to read in mystery and crime fiction. So, who better to share not only the best, but also the worst of the genres? Gun In Cheek (1982) is an “Affectionate Guide To The Worst In Mystery Fiction”. Evidently there was enough genuinely bad material to warrant a sequel, which was Son Of Gun In Cheek (1987). Anyone who’s popped for postwar paperback crime fiction or been suckered in by a vintage pulp magazine’s come-hither cover illustration knows that there’s been some squirm-worthy word-smithing that ripped out of a writer’s typewriter carriage, somehow got past an editor and actually made it into print. The classic pulp magazine and postwar paperback era may have been breeding grounds for titans of the genre. But for every one of those, there were a dozen fast-fingered hacks churning out some mighty dreadful stuff. Pronzini has selected some, doesn’t attack but lovingly teases, framing the writers’ deathless prose with his own insights and informative background info, and it’s really worth reading. And damn funny too.

Gun In Cheek - Alt

Writers are always encouraged to read everything we can. It’s the best way to learn. While I’m not sure if reading bad writing is equally instructive, maybe seeing some of the worst can help us craft some of the best. Or at least, manage not to repeat prior sins.

Shown above is a 2018 trade paperback edition and a special edition of the same. Below is the follow-up title.

Son of gun in cheek

And, More About Mavis…

The Bump & GRind Murders 1964 originally

And more About Carter Brown’s Female Private Detective, Mavis Seidlitz (see the preceding posts):

The early Mavis Seidlitz novels were published with pretty typical paperback original crime fiction style cover art. I don’t think any single artist handled the series, but I’ll leave that to the collectors and experts to clarify. In the 1960’s, the books were ‘branded’ with consistent designs featuring provocative glamor girl paintings by master illustrator Robert McGinnis. No doubt, the fetching cover art had a lot to do with the series sales, even if they had little to do with the novels’ plots, often as not. McGinnis actually did just shy of 100 Carter Brown books. By the 1970’s, original cover art paintings remained popular in romance, western, science fiction and sword & sorcery/fantasy genres, but had largely fallen out of favor for general fiction and the mystery genre. Carter Brown titles, including the Mavis Seidlitz series, were reissued then in photo covers.

More in the next post…

none but the lethal heart (1959 originally)

the loving and the dead (1959 originally)

Tomorrow Is Murder 1960 originally

 

More About Mavis…

and the undead sing 1974

More About Carter Brown’s Female Private Detective, Mavis Seidlitz (see the preceding post):

Mavis Seidlitz appeared in a dozen paperbacks written between 1955 and 1974 by ‘Carter Brown’, pen name for English-born Australian writer Alan Geoffrey Yates (1923 – 1985), who wrote over 320 ‘Carter Brown’ novels alone, selling more than 120,000,000 copies in over a dozen languages. Check those numbers: three-hundred-and-twenty novels. Additionally, Yates wrote science fiction, westerns and other crime novels under alternate pseudonyms, including Todd Conway, Raymond Glenning, Sinclair MacKellar, Dennis Sinclair and Paul Valdez. He favored U.S. settings, yet he’d already written more than 30 detective novels set in America before ever visiting the States.

Prolific? Driven? It’s unclear, but for a while, Yates was under contract to deliver one short novel and two long novels to his publishers each month. Nonetheless, he was an admitted procrastinator and frequently suffered from total writer’s block, often sitting down at the typewriter mere days before a manuscript’s deadline and plowing through (allegedly) with the aid of a little Dexedrine.

What writer wouldn’t be humbled by Yate’s prodigious output? The writing, publishing and bookselling marketplaces are very different today than they were in the postwar heyday of paperback originals. Now writers hope their small press publisher’s 2,000 to 5,000 copy trade paperback print run will sell out in a couple years with tolerable returns. Self-published and hybrid authors obsessively monitor anemic Amazon sales-ranks. A lucky few achieve bigger mass-market levels, but do so via a shrunken network of independent book retailers, one online behemoth and only one viable national chain.

But just how can any writer get their head around the notion of selling over 120 million books?

More in the next post…

The Bump & Grind Murders - Photo cover

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