KERMIT JAEDIKER – Hero’s Lust. Reprinted in A Trio of Lions, Stark House Press, softcover, 2016, in a “Classic Noir” collection with The Man I Killed, by Shel Walker, and House of Evil, by Clayre & Michel Lipman. Introductions by Gary Lovisi and Dan Roberts. Originally published as a paperback original: Lion #156, 1953.

   The connection between the three novels in this recent collection from Stark House is that while nobody but the most fanatic paperback collector will have heard of any of them, including the authors who wrote them, they are also prime examples of the toughest, most hardboiled fiction you can find outside the line of Gold Medal paperbacks being published (and far more well-known) at the same time, roughly 1949-1957.

   If ever a book could be both hardboiled and noir at the same time, Kermit Jaedicker’s Hero’s Lust would be it, ranking close to a ten on both scales, out of ten. What’s more, it manages to be both without even being a crime novel, unless you consider graft and city corruption a crime, which I suppose it is. I stand corrected.

   The story is that of newspaper reporter Red Norton, who’s wholly in the pocket of Crescent City’s crime boss, Mayor Gowan, who’s up for re-election, but with the money he has and the favors he can hand out, who can stand a chance against him? Well, maybe there is someone, and Norton is semi-recruited by an old colleague and a semi-friend to work on the side of the opposition.

   But Red doesn’t recruit that easily, even going so far as to go along with a double-cross. But as fate would have it, as in the best noirish fashion, there is a girl, a TB patient who is going to undergo an operation and whom Red is writing a series about. Ann Porter is a sweet young thing, and pretty soon Red has her convinced that life is worth living after all. Is Red able to respond in equal fashion?

   A lot of things come together at the end of this rather intense tale that I would have you read than tell you any more about. Jaediker has an almost crude, definitely unpolished writing style that is extremely effective for the book at hand. If you are like me, you will be reading the final few chapters as fast as you can turn the pages.

   As for what is known about the author, there is a long column about him on the Mystery Writers of American website. If I’ve intrigued you a bit about the book, the column will intrigue you as greatly about Jaediker himself.

REX STOUT – Bad for Business. First published in The Second Mystery Book, Farrar & Rinehart, hardcover, 1940. Paperback reprints include: Dell #299, mapback edition, 1949; Pyramid #R1166, A Green Door Mystery, April 1965; as well as several others.

   There is a story behind the publishing history, and if I have any of the details wrong, please inform me. This is the second of three novels Stout wrote about New York City private eye Tecumseh Fox. When offered to The American Magazine for prior publication in abridged form, the editor rejected it and would accept only if Stout was able to rewrite it as a Nero Wolfe story.

   Needing the money, so I have been led to believe, Stout agreed, and the story appeared in the November 1940 issue of the magazine as the first Nero Wolfe novella, “Bitter End.” The latter did not appear in book form until after Stout’s death in a limited edition collection titled Corsage (1977).

   I haven’t read the shorter version, so I don’t know, but it must have been quite a rewrite job. Tecumseh Fox may live in the same world as Nero Wolfe (although the latter isn’t mentioned, Dol Bonner is, and several of the very peripheral players, including Rusterman of NYC restaurant fame) are, but he’s (apparently) independently wealthy, gregarious, and certainly most unlike Wolfe, possessing a very definite eye for the ladies.

   Which is how he gets hooked on solving this case of a murdered owner of a food products emporium (Tingley’s Tidbits): one of Dol Bonner’s female associates is also the niece of the murdered man, and a small incident on a busy Manhattan street brings both Fox and Amy Duncan most coincidentally together.

   Maybe it was me, but I don’t think the story reads like a Nero Wolfe tale, either. It’s a pure puzzle story from beginning to end, for one thing, without anything remotely resembling the connection that exists between Wolfe and Archie, and nothing like the jaunty and often witty way in which Archie tells his tales.

   The story’s quite enjoyable, nonetheless, but any reader expecting another Nero Wolfe novel in only subtle disguise is going to end up disappointed.

REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:


WILL C. BROWN – The Border Jumpers. E. P. Dutton, hardcover, 1955. Dell #878, paperback, 1956. Reprinted as Man of the West, Dell #986, paperback, 1958.

MAN OF THE WEST. United Artists, 1958. Gary Cooper, Julie London, Lee J. Cobb, Arthur O’Connell, Jack Lord, John Dehner, Royal Dano, Robert Wilke. Screenplay by Reginald Rose, based on the novel The Border Jumpers, by Will C. Brown. Directed by Anthony Mann.

   Lincoln Jones, on an uncomfortable train journey from Crosscut to Fort Worth, finds himself beset by Beasley and Billie: a tin-horn gambler and a saloon chanteuse trying to separate him from $600 the citizens of his small town have scraped together for him to hire a schoolteacher. But that’s the least of his worries as the train is robbed at a wood stop, speeds off, and he finds himself abandoned in the wilderness with the two con artists.

   Even that pales, however, when it develops that the train robbers, still close by, are the remains of an outlaw clan run by the notorious killer Dock Tobin — Linc’s uncle.

   We quickly find that Linc was raised by his Uncle Dock; raised to be a killer like the rest of the family, until the day he escaped and started making what’s known in Westerns as a decent life for himself. That life is shattered now as the demented (and still very lethal) old man takes him back into the fold, despite his glowering cousins Claude and Coaley, who would as soon kill Linc and Beasley (“I say we open ‘em up and leave ‘em here.”) and indulge themselves with Billie.

   It’s a situation rife with tension and dramatic potential, and author Brown develops it with the speed and precision of an able pulp-writer, fleshing out characters and background colorfully and adding bits of unexpected excitement to keep us off-balance — there are two brutal and unsettling strip-tease scenes — until he wraps the thing up a bit too patly. But it’s even more fascinating to see how director Anthony Mann and screenwriter Reginald Rose turned it into a piece of Pure Cinema.

   Gary Cooper brings his graceful authority to the role of Linc, along with a certain aging melancholy perfectly suited to the situation. He’s matched evenly with Julie London, projecting that sexy disenchantment she could do so well. Surrounded by murderous degenerates, she shoots them a look that seems to take it as just another bad hand in a crooked game. Arthur O’Connell, on the other hand, is delightful as a scrabbling, scheming angler, frightened and desperate, his agitation pitched perfectly against Ms. London’s weary composure.

   Among the bad guys, Lee J. Cobb has the showiest part as mad Dock Tobin, but I prefer the typecast meanness of Robert Wilke, Royal Dano’s off-beat lunatic and Jack Lord’s wolfish juvenile delinquent. Best of all though is John Dehner as Claude, the smartest and most dangerous member of the clan. There’s a really fine scene where Linc and Claude have a quiet talk and Coop tries to make him see the insanity of living like this while Dehner insists on loving and protecting the crazy old man. It’s a moving and sensitive moment (much like the one between Robert Ryan and Terrence Stamp in Billy Budd a few years later), and it lends dramatic weight to the shoot-out when the characters have to confront each other.

   Said shoot-out is a high point in the work of a director who excelled in complex action scenes, as the characters maneuver through a ghost town, running, jumping and throwing shots back and forth as they jockey for position until, weary and near death, they pause for a final sad exchange before finishing it off.

   This confrontation is set in a ghost town, the perfect visual metaphor for the waste and emptiness confronting our hero. And where the book wraps things neatly, the movie leaves a lot of emotional loose ends to dangle intriguingly in the viewer’s mind. Indeed, as the two survivors make their way to the fade-out through a bleak landscape, one recalls the tension, brutality and emotional rawness of this thing and asks, “What the hell just happened?”

   What happened was a great movie.

JONATHAN STAGGE – Death, My Darling Daughters. Doubleday Crime Club, US, hardcover, 1945. Michael Joseph, UK, hardcover, as Death and the Dear Girls. No paperback edition. Bestseller Mystery B164, digest-sized paperback, 1953. (Thanks to Bill Kelly for the latter information.)

   In cool, analytical fashion Stagge methodically bares the dabbling fraudulency underlying the cultural legend pretended to by an ultra respectable New England family. The august Benjamine Hilton was once Vice President of the United States, and two generations later his family still finds delight in dropping names from the political and literary past. Their influence is used in hushing up the mysterious death of the family nanny during a secret scientific conference they are conducting, but their assumption that murder is beneath them is a disastrous one.

   The unlikely investigator on the scene is Dr. Westlake, only physician for the small town of Kenmore, but this is not, however, the first case of murder he’s had to deal with. Occasionally great Freudian profundities rear their ugly heads, but as a detective puzzle it’s more than fair. Overall, though, an oversimplified view of life from another age.

Rating: C plus

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 2, No. 4, July 1978.


Bibliographic Notes: “Jonathan Stagge” was one the many tangled pen name/collaborations between Richard Wilson Webb & Hugh Callingham Wheeler (also variously Q. Patrick and Patric Quentin). This is the seventh of nine Dr. Westlake novels published between 1937 and 1949.

From this jazz pianist’s 1989 album New Beginnings, with Gary Peacock on bass and Tony Williams on drums:

SELECTED BY JONATHAN LEWIS:


WILLIAM SHARP “The Graven Image.” First collected in The Gypsy Christ and Other Tales (Stone and Kimball, 1895). Reprinted in Great Tales of Terror, edited by S. T. Joshi (Dover, 2002). (Follow the link to read the story online.)

   Sometimes a story can leave you with an indelible sense of horror, indeed of terror. Skilled horror writers know exactly what imagery and settings can instantly evoke a sense of dread in the reader. Locales such as an abandoned mansion, a campground at twilight, and an uncharted island all can be utilized to great effect in transporting the reader into a realm of literary danger.

   In William Sharp’s “The Graven Image,” the reader is treated vicariously to a night’s stay in a haunted bedroom, a setting that should lend itself to a solidly constructed short story. Unfortunately, the setting itself is unable to carry the story to a satisfying conclusion.

   The tale follows the narrator, Cornwall native James Trenairy, as he recounts his disquieting stay at “The Mulberries,” an old house in Kensington, London inhabited by both the living … and the dead. Although the story is most certainly a well written and captivating supernatural tale, it nonetheless feels incomplete, as if it’s more of a vignette than a complete short story. The reason for this is as simple as it is oft neglected, particularly in stories that aim more for shock value than for dramatic effect. Other than resolving to never stay in the house again, the protagonist undergoes no fundamental character or life change as a result of his experiences.

   That’s not to say that Sharp wasn’t more than capable of both building tension in the story and envisioning a situation that surely would evoke a sense of horror in readers. It’s just that the story concludes without us wondering exactly how this horrible experience, described in exquisite detail, will affect the psyche of one James Trenairy.

REVIEWED BY BARRY GARDNER:


J. A. JANCE – Without Due Process. J. P. Beaumont #10. William Morrow, hardcover, 1992. Avon, paperback, 1993.

   I’d read a couple of Jance’s books about the Seattle policeman before without being too impressed; didn’t dislike them, mind you, just wasn’t really impressed. Evidently a lot of people are, because this is the tenth in the series.

   The current book opens with a policeman and his family, along with a visiting child, being brutally murdered. One child survives. There are indications that the dead cop, Beaumont’s current partner’s best friend, may have been corrupt. If that wasn’t bad enough, evidence surfaces that point toward one or more other policemen also being involved in the murder. It’s a dirty case, and it gets dirtier.

   I liked this quite a bit more than I had the previous two I’d read. Jance’s writing is relatively straightforward and unadorned, and she paced the story well. Beaumont has become a well-fleshed out character, and others were also nicely done. Based on what I know about how at least one metropolitan police department operates. which is a fair amount, I don’t believe too much in Jance’s depiction of Seattle’s; but who knows, she may have it down pat. Overall, a good read.

— Reprinted from Fireman, Fireman, Save My Books #5, January 1993.



Bibliographic Notes: There are currently 23 novels and novellas in Jance’s J. P. Beaumont series. She has also written five books about ex-sheriff Brandon Walker, 18 about Arizona sheriff Joanna Brady, and 13 about ex-television journalist Alison Reynolds.

REVIEWED BY WALTER ALBERT:


PAUL MALMONT – The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril. Simon & Schuster, hardcover, 2006; softcover, June 2007.

   I picked up my copy of this novel, set in the pulp era and featuring as rival protagonists, Walter Gibson and Lester Dent, at the 2006 Pulpcon, where most of the feedback from readers was not encouraging.

   At 370 pages and managing the (I would have thought) almost unimaginable feat of making Gibson relatively unlikable, the novel crams in so many pulp writers and references that it finally collapses under their cumulative weight during an unwieldy and protracted climax.

   Dent’s wife Norma plays a major role in the developing plot and Gibson’s exotic lady friend adds a modicum of spicy but tame sexual nonsense. Otherwise this is for the boys, especially those who want to recapture the thrills and color of the pulps second-hand.

   My advice? If you really want to savor the elusive perfumes of the pulps, try the real thing. There are numerous anthologies and facsimile reprints of the magazines that will let you sample their multi-hued wares and, as cheesy and far-fetched as some of them may be, they have more flavor and drive than anything you will find in the pages of this clearly affectionate but tedious tribute.

Bibliographic Note:   The sequel to this, Paul Malmont’s first novel, was The Astounding, the Amazing, and the Unknown (2011) which features science-fiction authors Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov as its two primary protagonists.

Bridget St. John is an English singer-songwriter, best known for a small handful of LPs recorded between 1969 and 1974. Ask Me No Questions is the first of the four:

Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:


BURN, WITCH, BURN. Anglo-Amalgamated Films, UK, 1962; American International Pictures, US, 1962. Originally released in the UK as Night of the Eagle. Peter Wyngarde, Janet Blair, Margaret Johnston, Anthony Nicholls, Colin Gordon, Kathleen Byron. Screenplay by Charles Beaumont & Richard Matheson (and George Baxt uncredited), based on the novel Conjure Wife by Fritz Leiber. Director: Sidney Hayers.

   At times Burn, Witch, Burn, aka Night of the Eagle, feels as if it’s an extended and psychedelically revved up episode of The Twilight Zone. I suppose that’s not all that surprising given the fact that Richard Matheson and Charles Beaumont, both of whom contributed to the famed CBS series, co-wrote the screenplay for this offbeat supernatural horror film. Although filmed in a noticeably flat black and white, making it highly adaptable to television screens in the early 1960s, Burn, Witch, Burn retains a Gothic, strikingly off kilter atmosphere that I found to be quite effective.

   Adapted from Fritz Leiber’s novel Conjure Wife (1943), the movie stars Peter Wyngarde as Norman Taylor, a sociology professor at a British medical college who discovers that his wife has taken to witchcraft. This is especially troubling for Taylor as he vehemently denies the existence of the supernatural. After he forces his wife, Tansy (Janet Blair) to part with her magical paraphernalia, things start going really badly for the both of them. Could it be that Tansy was correct that her spells were protecting him from a greater evil in their midst? If so, what does that mean for Taylor’s skepticism, let alone their marriage?

   Alternatively creepy and self-consciously ludicrous, the film also features another character, albeit a decidedly uncredited one: a stone eagle statuette perched on top of the college where Taylor works. Perhaps the less said about that mighty bird the better. Keep in mind that when there are witches afoot in England, inanimate objects don’t always stay inanimate — especially at night.

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