What’s Old is New Again.

My pre-Halloween reading (an illustrated edition of Bram Stoker’s Dracula) wrapped up a few days before the holiday, and I was tempted to grab another horror classic as we headed closer to the 31st. But the to-be-read pile on the writing lair’s endtable still had a few books, with one right on top I was anxious to get to, the sleek Rui Ricardo cover art calling to me each time passed by. 

“Fortune favors the bold” is a Latin proverb, and frequently used as a slogan by the military and on European coats of arms. Fortune favors the dead? Well…

I didn’t know much about Stephen Spotswood’s new Fortune Favors The Dead, only that it was set in post-WWII NYC and had been likened to a gender-bending version of Nero Wolfe, all of which sounded good to me. As it turned out, the only disappointment with Spotswood’s debut novel came once I reached the end. No tap dancing around things here: I loved this book, did not want it to end, and insist that Spotswood hunker down on a follow-up…like now.

Fortune Favors The Dead introduces a memorable detective duo: Lillian Pentecost, an already well-known and successful New York private investigator and all-around ‘fixer’ who’s reserved, insightful, and unfortunately, suffering from worsening MS. Finding a very special person to mentor as an assistant is essential. In a sort-of prologue set three years before the novel’s main storyline, we meet the narrator, Willowjean “Will” Parker, a teenage runaway roving the country with a small-time circus, earning some extra pocket money during its New York stay. In an exciting opening scene, Willowjean’s knife throwing skills save Lillian Pentecost, and land Will in jail.

The real story picks up right after the end of WWII, with the Pentecost agency enlisted to investigate the murder of a wealthy industrialist’s widow (the industrialist having offed himself earlier). The killing took place right after a spooky séance at a Halloween costume party and is a genuine locked room mystery with plenty of suspects.

What’s old is new again in Spotswood’s capable hands, situating his debut novel in comfortable territory and populating it with familiar types. Mind you, none of this is done in a derivative manner. Quite the contrary, Spotswood turns Golden Age mystery fiction and film tropes on their ear, reinventing everything in a way that honors genre roots but feels entirely fresh and new, most notably by replacing cerebral Nero Wolfe and streetwise Archie Goodwin with an intriguing detective duo like Lillian Pentecost and Willowjean Parker, than taking things still further with Will’s risky attraction to a possible suspect — the pretty party girl stepdaughter of the murder victim — and even further still with the ultimate resolution of the crime(s). An admission: I didn’t figure out even one tiny bit of the mystery on my own and clumsily fell for every single red herring the author inserted along the way. Credit to Stephen Spotswood.

Is Fortune Favors The Dead a standalone? I really hope not. I want to return to Lillian Pentecost’s well-appointed headquarters home and tag along with Willowjean Parker, whether she’s getting herself in trouble (which she does) or getting in too deep with a pretty face. Come to think of it, those are both the same thing.

Cordelia On Screen.

P.D. James’ young London private detective Cordelia Gray debuted in the 1972 novel, An Unsuitable Job For A Woman (see the preceding post for more about that book). Twenty-two, just this side of broke, partnered with a former Scotland Yard detective in a none-too-successful P.I. agency, Cordelia suddenly must take over when she finds her one-time mentor and former boss dead in his office. 

The first Cordelia Gray novel was not only a bit of a groundbreaker, being a decade ahead of some more well-known mystery series led by women detectives, but also a darn good read. So, it’s surprising that writer James (1920 – 2014) only penned one more Cordelia Gray novel, and that one came ten years later. But presumably the character resonated with fans nonetheless, first in a 1982 film that quickly came and went (and if it’s still lurking out there somewhere, I haven’t found it), then, fifteen years later, Cordelia reappeared, and this time more successfully. 

The UK 1997 – 2001 BBC series of feature length episodes started out based in part on James’ novel, but the rest used original stories, though intended at least to maintain the novelist’s tone and stay true to the character. To be fair, there really were only two Cordelia Gray novels to adapt. Some sites suggest that P.D. James wasn’t entirely thrilled with the film/TV adaptations and remained determined to undermine anymore attempts (thus, refusing to write another Cordelia Gray novel). True or myth, I can’t say. I can say that the series lead, Helen Baxendale, does a very credible job of portraying Cordelia Gray. Baxendale may be more familiar to U.S audiences (or at least Gen-Xr’s and syndicated rerun channel watchers) as Emily Waltham, David Schwimmer/Ross Geller’s unlucky British girlfriend/fiancée/wife from the NBC mega-hit sitcom Friends. Baxendale’s real-life first pregnancy may have cut short her stint on that US series, but was neatly written in to An Unsuitable Job For A Woman. So, Ms. Gray joined the select club of literary/TV/film/comics private eyes and cops mothers and moms-to-be. 

Joan Mason – Reporter

Joan Mason 1

Joan Mason – Reporter from Victor Fox’ Fox Features Syndicate appeared in about 16 Blue Beetle comics as an on-again off-again girlfriend and sometimes foil of the superhero, eventually getting her own feature stories. Yet, for all of her investigative reporting and sleuthing skills, Joan never managed to figure out that Dan Garrett was actually the Blue Beetle.

Mason worked for various newspapers, depending on what the writers (or even the letterers) came up with, oddly enough, even the Daily Planet in some stories, though it’s not intended to be Clark Kent and Lois Lane’s paper (or to tempt fate with DC Comics’ lawyers). Most often depicted in a stylish red suit and hat with long blonde hair, Joan Mason suddenly had a mid-1940’s makeover in a new (and much better) artist’s hands, briefly sporting a black bob, though still sticking with the bright red suit.

Joan Mason 3

The Joan Mason Reporter Treasury shown at the top is another Gwandanaland Comics POD book (they seem to be pumping them out nearby in Monee, Illinois), 126 pages with 18 stories, most from 1944 – 1950 Blue Beetle comics. Writers? Artists? You got me — nothing’s credited, and the book’s intro is only a brief paragraph. But, some online sources list Charles Nicholas as Joan’s creator. Actually, most of the writing and art aren’t exactly the best, and only one story in this book, “Joan Mason Reporter In The Wandering Atomic Bomb” is done by someone who can really wield a pencil and sable brush, with a style somewhere between a Bill Ward and a Matt Baker’s look.

Joan Mason 4

Mason’s usually assigned to look into (or just stumbles upon) a corny mystery, gets caught by the crooks, rescued by the cops and solves the crime in the last panel or two. Many are only six-pagers. Still, for someone determined to poke around mid-twentieth century pulps, PBO’s and comics to uncover the era’s ‘stiletto gumshoes’ (few as there may have been), these Joan Mason stories are interesting artifacts.

Joan mason 2Joan Mason 5Joan Mason 6

Like Christmas In January.

Turn To Stone

I may have to vanish for a week, or at least play hooky from the day job, it being like Christmas in late January for me.

Just got my mitts on James W. Ziskin’s new Ellie Stone mystery, Turn To Stone, (a bit beefier than the preceding six books at nearly 350 pages) with the NYC-via-upstate New York small town newspaper reporter jetting off to Italy in 1963. Ziskin’s savvy and engaging Eleanora Stone played a part in nudging me to get to work on my own projects, validating the notion of a female mystery/crime fiction protagonist in a setting other than the much more common Roaring Twenties, Depression era 1930’s, WWII and postwar late 40’s/early 1950’s…or today, for that matter.

The Words I Never Wrote

But the Christmas In January stocking holds more than just Ellie Stone. I now also have Jane Thynne’s new The Words I Never Wrote. How bittersweet to flip to her author bio on the dustjacket’s back flap to read “…the widow of the author Philip Kerr”. I’m still grieving Kerr’s loss and the thought of never reading another new Bernie Gunther novel again. I devoured each of Thynne’s excellent Clara Vine series books, and am eager to see what this non-series novel will be.

More to say about these once done, though I know I’ll be completely humbled both masters’ work.

Not Maguire, McGinnis, Schaare or Lesser, Maybe. But Still…

This Girl For Hire

Honey West? You name it, I have it: Multiple editions of the original Gloria and Forrest Fickling novels from 1957 through 1972. The complete 1965-66 TV series DVD set. Moonstone comics from the early not-too-bad ones through the sillier stuff and used to have a totally beat-up copy of the 1965 Gold Key comic. Okay, I don’t have the Honey West Ideal board game or the Gilbert ‘Private Eye-Ful TV Figure doll or accessories. The novels seem pretty easy to locate and usually affordable, whether the nifty paperback originals, later reissues or various and more recent trade pb editions (all of which may or may not be fully authorized, I don’t know).

A Gun For Honey

Ordering some items from the online behemoth in Seattle this week, I saw several Kindle eBook editions of the Honey West novels from Deerstalker Editions, which seems to be a division of California-based Renaissance E Books Inc. (though I wasn’t able to dig up much on them, only some blogs that have been inactive for quite some time). Eight Honey West titles are listed in the eBooks’ cross-sell copy, though I only see these four mid-2019 releases available at this time. What’s it all about? Who knows, and honestly, I’m not really an eBook person, aside from the occasional how-to title. Still the covers for these – love ‘em or hate ‘em – seem to use original art, though I’ll remain partial to the iconic images of Anne Francis (1930 – 2011) or the original paperback series’ Harry Schaare, Robert McGinnis, Robert Maguire and Ron Lesser renditions.

Girl On The Loose

I have a lot to say about Honey West – the character’s importance in postwar era paperback detective novels, the groundbreaking but still flawed short-lived TV series, the more contemporary comics, both good and bad, etc. The Fickling’s creation was flawed but fun and unquestionably influenced still more important things to come some years later. Whatever the Honey West character’s and novels’ shortcomings may be (and there are some), we’re talking about the most familiar ‘stiletto gumshoe’ from that era. But,  it’s all more than I have time to cobble together right now, so we’ll have to table Honey West talk for now…

Honey In The Flesh

Dangerous Dames

Pulpster copy

The Pulpster No. 26, a 2017 PulpFest publication: Not that I attended PulpFest, only being greedily acquisitive, not really a collector and generally steering clear of cons and swap meets.

But I wanted this particular “Dangerous Dames” issue with Ron Goulart’s survey of early crime and mystery pulps’ female detectives, including Hulbert Footner’s Madame Storey, Cleve F. Adams’ Violet McCade, D.B. McCandless’ Sarah Watson, and of course, Theodore Tinsley’s Carrie Cashin, the most successful of the bunch with nearly 40 stories appearing in Crime Busters and Street & Smith’s Mystery Magazine between 1937 and 1942. Prolific author and pop culture historian Ron Goulart was the perfect choice for this piece with his mile-long fiction resume and a dozen or more non-fiction books including The Hard-Boiled Dicks: An Anthology And Study Of Pulp Detective Fiction (1967) and The Dime Detectives (I have a 1980’s edition of that book). You may know him from a roster of pen names including Howard Lee, Jillian Kearny and several others. Goulart’s piece was followed by Bill Pronzini’s “Women In The Detective Pulps”, a look at women crime fiction writers working in the pulp magazines’ boyz club, including Marjorie Stoneman Douglas, Carolyn Wells, Dorothy Dunn and others.

Black Mask July 1949

The Pulpster wasn’t a newsstand magazine, to my knowledge, and at only 40 pages, a bit pricey, but well worth it for those two articles. Well, those, and the nifty Norman Saunders cover illustration, which was from the July 1949 issue of Black Mask, and still available as a poster at the artist’s website (normansaunders.com). BTW, that bloody hand print really is the artist’s own hand covered with red paint, according to Saunders’ son.

Carrie Cashin

Crime Busters July 1939 - Carrie Cashin

I read my first Carrie Cashin story in Bernard Drew’s excellent Hard-Boiled Dames anthology, but finding more is a challenge, unless you’re ready to fork over significant dollars for collectible pulps (which I’m not). I only recently spotted two Carrie Cashin tales (“Black Queen” and her debut, “White Elephant”) in The Shadow #133 and #138 at Bud Plant’s budsartbooks.com. They’ve been added to my Christmas list, though I suppose I’ll end up ordering them myself after the holidays (no one ever wants to stuff my Christmas stocking with the real fun stuff).

Carrie Cashin 1

Created by Theodore Tinsely, Carrie Cashin appeared in over forty stories in Street & Smith’s Crime Busters and Mystery pulp magazines between 1937 and 1942.  A former department store detective, Carrie looks “like a demure brown-eyed stenographer in a tailored jacket and tweed skirt”, and often defers to her “broad-shouldered assistant Aleck, to allay any clients’ concerns about a woman detecting” when they’re with clients. But Miss Cashin is the real head of the Cash & Carry Detective Agency, the first to leap into danger, and clearly the brains of the outfit. Like Lars Anderson’s Domino Lady, Carrie has a derringer strapped to her thigh beneath her skirt, sometimes surprises with a bigger weapon hidden in her purse, and rarely balks when the bad guys are up for some fisticuffs.  The Hard-Boiled Dames anthology included Tinsley’s “The Riddle In Silk”, in which Carrie (with assistant Aleck in tow) investigates a bloody murder in a remote mansion on the requisite dark and stormy night, which leads them back into the city and ultimately to the waterfront docks on the trail of a stolen pair of silk stockings which “may mean the difference between peace and war in Europe”, the hose containing secret coded messages.

I’ll have to keep looking for an affordable pulp reprint or anthology I’ve overlooked to locate Carrie Cashin in “The Man With The Green Whiskers” novelette from the July 1939 Crime Busters magazine depicted above at the top. Looks like the bad guys got the drop on Carrie this time, and maybe her lilac frock and slip contain something they want bad enough to hold her at gunpoint. Fear not: Carrie will get out this predicament.

Carrie Cashin

 

Stumptown: And So It Begins.

Stumptown

And so it begins: A new Fall television season, this time with some real treats. Batwoman, the new Nancy Drew series, and ABC’s Stumptown for starters. It’d be easy to distrust a broadcast network to adapt a hard-boiled graphic novel properly, but any advance word I’ve noticed online about Stumptown sounds optimistic. I’m rarely watching television at 9:00 PM CST, much less a broadcast channel. But I’ll be there tonight to check this out, fingers crossed. Oline Cogdill weighs in on Stumptown at Mystery Scene magazine’s website (link below). As this piece says upfront, the show “has the kind of crime fiction pedigree that’s been missing from TV for several years”. I mean, it’s Greg Rucka, after all.

Rucka’s Dex Parios was a damn fine creation, flawed but heroic in her way. Cobie Smulders’ resume may be dominated by a sitcom, but I’m betting she’s going to be fine. Cogdill said, “Brash and often out of control, Dex is the kind of character seen more on cable shows than a mainstream network. I am looking forward to that edgy character and I have high hopes as Rucka’s source material is solid”. The few stills and set shots I’ve seen may look a little lighter than the dark, crooked Portland I’d envision, but again, lets see the show.

Fingers crossed…

https://mysteryscenemag.com/article/6594-greg-rucka-s-stumptown-comes-to-tv

Terry Beatty’s Ms. Tree

Deadly Beloved Art

Artist Terry Beatty’s work for Ms. Tree, the pioneering 1980’s woman detective character he co-created along with writer Max Allan Collins. Shown above, the cover illustration for Collins’ Hard Case Crime standalone 2007 Ms. Tree paperback novel Deadly Beloved.

 

 

 

 

One Mean Mother

Ms Tree Front

Finally got my Ms. Tree trade paperback after a long wait. I’ve been pining for this book since March. This first trade pb, Ms. Tree: One Mean Mother re-introduces us to writer Max Allan Collins and artist Terry Beatty’s groundbreaking character, Ms. Michael Tree, widow of murdered cop Mr. Michael Tree (they shared first names), and an even more formidable detective than her beloved husband ever was as she goes to war with the criminal syndicate responsible for his death.

Bottom line: Ms. Tree (get it: Miss-tree…Mys-ter-y) appeared in 1981 like a breath of fresh (albeit hard-boiled and noir-ish) air on comic shop racks overloaded with the capes-n-tights crowd, delivering a woman detective who could mix it up with the bad guys but was still a three-dimensional person and not just a cartoon…and certainly not another spandex clad beauty pageant refugee. That she really is ‘one mean mother’ can be taken quite literally…how many bad-ass detectives pound the pavement when they’re pregnant? (In the comics, I mean.)

Both Collins and Beatty have worked on syndicated comic strips, and that’s evident in the artist’s work with its clean, simple narrative storytelling style, traditionally executed back in a pre-Adobe era. Intentional or not, the look is reminiscent of 1950’s era crime comics, and it really works.

Ms Tree Back

One Mean Mother is a nice ‘n fat beautifully printed book from Titan Comics’ Hard Case Crime line, with cover art by Denys Cowan, an introduction from writer Collins, an afterword titled “Ms. Tree (Almost On Film)” about the character’s screwed up path from comics to television (which never worked out) and a bonus 1994 Ms. Tree short story, “Inconvenience Store”. Looks like Titan’s Hard Case Crime line isn’t done with MWA Grand Master Max Allan Collins and Terry Beatty’s Ms. Tree yet, with Book 2: Skeleton In The Closet due in 2020 and what looks like more releases still to follow. I sure hope they come through.

skeleton in the closet

Dial back to my March 2019 post about Max Allan Collins, Terry Beatty and their pioneering character, Ms. Tree:

https://thestilettogumshoe.com/2019/03/14/ms-tree-2/

 

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