Pulp Fiction


SELECTED BY JONATHAN LEWIS:


GASTON LEROUX “The Woman with the Velvet Collar.” First published in English in Weird Tales, October 1929. Reprinted in Startling Mystery Stories, Spring 1969, and in several anthologies of weird fiction since. Originally published in French as “La femme au collier de velours” in 1924.

   Although it took me a while to become fully immersed in Gaston Leroux’s “The Woman With the Velvet Collar,” by the story’s end I was left with the indelible impression that I had just read a well-crafted horror tale. First appearing in English translation in Weird Tales, Leroux’s conte cruel transports the reader to Corsica, a land known for its vendettas and its cultural and physical separateness from mainland France.

   “The Woman With the Velvet Collar” unfolds with a discussion between two sailors, a sea captain named Gobert and his friend, Michel. The two men are discussing Corsican vendetta stories, with Gobert assuring Michel that he has a story that is far more horrifying than any run of the mill vendetta. The tale further unfolds as Gobert begins to tell a story within a story, about his experiences in Corsica in which he encountered a ghost like woman dressed all in black and with a black velvet ribbon around her neck.

   As it turns out, the woman was named Angeluccia and she was married to a local Corsican official. But she kept a secret from her husband! She was secretly romantically involved with her cousin, one of her husband’s employees. Without giving too much of the plot away, let’s just say that the guillotine makes a bloody appearance in this fiendishly clever tale about what happens when a costume party in which Angeluccia dresses up as Marie Antoinette turns into the beginning of a dark foray into the supernatural.

Bibliographic Note:   Captain Michel also appeared in three additional stories:

       Le noël du petit Vincent-Vincent (1924); The Crime on Christmas Night (1930).
       Not’ Olympe (1924); The Mystery of the Four Husbands (1929).
       L’auberge épouvantable (1925); The Inn of Terror (1929).

SELECTED BY DAVID VINEYARD:


ROBERT A. HEINLEIN “The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag.” First published in Unknown Worlds, October 1942, as by John Riverside. Reprinted many times, most notably in the Gnome Press collection having the same title (1959).

   The impact of the hard-boiled school of writing can be seen today in many literary voices, but not surprisingly, it first made itself felt in genre fiction, and not just in the mystery genre. In the 1930’s the voice began to appear in the Western, in Hollywood films, and in science fiction, particularly in that branch of science fiction known as Campbellian after editor and writer John W. Campbell Jr. It was only natural then that as the lines blurred the genres would blend together somewhat, and by the 1940’s, it was well established in most genre fiction.

   Unknown (later Unknown Worlds) the companion to Campbell’s science fiction pulp Astounding Science Fiction, published a great deal of fantasy and horror, but all along the Campbellian ideal of well worked out logical fiction, many of the works appearing there the best of the writers’ careers and among the best and most loved stories of its age.

   Most of the major writers from Astounding contributed to Unknown as well, L. Sprague de Camp, L. Ron Hubbard, Isaac Asimov, A. E. Van Vogt, and some earlier writers like Jack Williamson and Henry Kuttner. Humor, horror, adventure, and high fantasy went hand in hand. De Camp and Pratt’s “Incomplete Enchanter,” Hubbard’s “Fear,” “Death’s Deputy,” and “Typewriter in the Sky,” Williamson’s “Darker than You Think,” Eric Frank Russell’s “Sinister Barrier,” and many other classics first saw light there. Among those who wrote for the new market was Robert A. Heinlein, dean of the Campbellian science fiction movement, who wrote this little novelette under the name John Riverside.

   In it Teddy Randall and his wife Cynthia (Cyn) are private investigators approached by Mr. Jonathan Hoag, a prim and somehow unsettling individual they both take an instant dislike to, but his money is good and the case seems simple enough if a bit whacky. Mr. Hoag, it seems, has a memory problem.

   No, not amnesia, at least not exactly. Mr. Hoag doesn’t know what he does during his days. They are a complete blank, so when he finds what he fears is blood under his fastidious finger nails he hires the Randalls to follow him. Whacky, as I said, but the the Randalls aren’t the scrupulous type, and money is money. They take the case. So what if their client doesn’t appear to have any fingerprints.

   The Randalls work together, a well oiled and capable little investigative team, and part of the enjoyment is watching the duo think and work. They are a sort of sexy slightly larcenous Nick and Nora or Pam and Jerry North, an attractive addition to the subgenre of married sophisticated sleuths that delighted mystery fans in the years following the debut of Hammett’s Nick and Nora.

   And follow Mr. Hoag they do, until Randall discovers the address and the office in the Acme Building he followed Hoag to on the first day doesn’t exist and even the floor of the building he was on isn’t there. At first they suspect he was drugged by Hoag, or that worse, he was hypnotized when Hoag stopped and spoke to him, but Hoag genuinely doesn’t appear to remember the encounter or anything else Randall saw that day.

   Things get even more weird when Randall meets a threatening Mr. Stoles:

   “You are, shall we say, a minor item. We do not like your activity, Mr. Randall. You really must cease it.”

   Before Randall could answer, Stoles shoved a palm in his direction. “Don’t be hasty, Mr. Randall. Let me explain. Not all of your activities. We do not care how many blondes you plant in hotel rooms to act as complacent corespondents in divorce cases, nor how many wires you tap, nor letters you open. There is only one activity of yours we are concerned with. I refer to Mr. Hoag.” He spat out the last word. watched and waited.

   Randall could feel a stir of uneasiness run through the room.

   “What about Mr. Hoag?” he demanded.

   There was the stir again. Stoles’ face no longer even pretended to smile.

   “Let us refer to him hereafter,” he said, “as ‘your client:’ It comes to this, Mr. Randall. We have other plans for Mr. … for your client, You must leave him alone. You must forget him, you must never see him again.”

   Randall stared back, uncowed. “I’ve never welshed on a client yet. I’ll see you in hell first.”

   “That,” admitted Stoles, shoving out his lips, “is a distinct possibility, I grant you, but one that neither you nor I would care to contemplate, save as a bombastic metaphor.”

   Stoles than recounts a simply horrifying and ridiculous story, something about the Sons of the Bird, and Randall wakes up in his bed from the nightmare. He tries to shake it off, but things are getting weirder by the minute what with Hoag now telling them that he is being watched — from inside the mirror. Hoag even seems to attack Cyn the next time she follows him, and she can’t even defend herself despite having a gun. Then there’s the note neither of them wrote:

   What she saw was one of their letterheads, rolled into the typewriter; on it was a single line of typing:

            CURIOSITY KILLED THE CAT.

   She said nothing at all and tried to control the quivering at the pit of her stomach.

   Randall asked, “Cyn, did you write that?”

   “No.”

   “Positive?”

   “Yes.” She reached out to take it out of the machine; he checked her.

   “Don’t touch it. Fingerprints.”

   “All right. But I have a notion,” she said, “that you won’t find any fingerprints on that.”

   When they go to Hoag’s doctor things get even stranger.

   “…you have no conception of the depths of beastliness, possible in this world. In that you are lucky. It is much, much better never to know.”

   Randall hesitated, aware that the debate was going against him. Then he said, “Supposing you are right, doctor — how is it, if he is so vicious, you have not turned Hoag over to the police?”

   “How do you know I haven’t? But I will answer that one, sir. No, I have not turned him over to the police, for the simple reason that it would do no good. The authorities have not had the wit nor the imagination to conceive of the possibility of the peculiar evil involved. No law can touch him—not in this day and age.”

   And things are about to get stranger yet, when the Randalls discover a new full length mirror has been installed in their bedroom.

   Perhaps the best thing about “The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag” is that it doesn’t let the reader down. Heinlein pays off in a finale that is both disturbing and a bit funny, but also profoundly disturbing. Don’t blame me if after you read it you remove the mirror from your bedroom and handcuff yourself to your loved one every night at bedtime like the Randalls.

   Blame Heinlein, and Jonathan Hoag. While it isn’t horror, and you could even call it a satirical masterpiece, the story will leave you with more than a frisson in its profoundly disturbing implications. Like Fritz Leiber’s “Conjure Wife” and Jack Williamson’s “Darker Than You Think” from the same magazine the frights here lie in the implication more than the instrumentation.

   It rivals Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in that, as was written of that book, it is the rare mystery where the solution to the crime is more terrifying than the crime itself.

SELECTED BY JONATHAN LEWIS:


H. P. LOVECRAFT “The Terrible Old Man.” Written January 28, 1920, and first published in the Tryout, an amateur press publication, July 1921. Appeared in Weird Tales, August 1926. Reprinted many times.

   Although there really isn’t that much literary value in the story, H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Terrible Old Man” could certainly be built upon and skillfully adapted into a truly captivating Gothic horror film. Originally published in the amateur journal Tryout (1921) and subsequently reprinted many times, including Pirate Ghosts of the American Coast (1988), the very brief story is notable for its New England coastline setting, one that Lovecraft would return to time and again in his more sophisticated writings.

   The plot is simple, but loaded with noticeable xenophobic undertones that make this little known story even less valuable than it otherwise would have been in light of Lovecraft’s far more historically significant later works. While the titular character, the Terrible Old Man, is never given an identifying name, the men who plot to steal from the old mysterious pirate are most explicitly marked by their “ethnic” sounding names: Angelo Ricci, Joe Czanek, and Manuel Silva.

   Not only am I guessing Italian, Polish, and Portuguese, but that these three aforementioned nationalities were among Lovecraft’s least favorite immigrant groups in his home town of Providence, Rhode Island. For it is this gang of three men – three “foreigners” in Protestant New England – who seek to rob the story’s old man – a former sea captain – of his treasure.

   Yet, it is the sea captain who has the last laugh. For he is terrible indeed! Although the supernatural elements in the story are relatively attenuated, at least for an H.P. Lovecraft story, the reader learns that the three would be robbers are found murdered. The old man, clearly the responsible party, is said to have yellow eyes. Is he a ghost or a zombie? We never learn, which allows our imaginations to run wild.

   As I said at the outset, this is hardly a commendable work of literary fiction; in many ways, it is amateurish in the extreme. But there’s something there, some genuine imaginary terror lurking behind the terrible old man’s eyes. It’s a chilling little tale, one that I thought I’d soon forget after reading it, but oddly enough one that has stuck in my mind for a while.

SELECTED BY DAVID VINEYARD:


GORDON YOUNG “Born to Be Hanged, But…” Adventure, 03 December 1919.

   I was born to be hanged.

   So speaks young Don Everhard, the hero of Gordon Young’s tough novelette that headlined the December 3, 1919, edition of the great pulp Adventure. It was a pretty good issue too, Harold Lamb’s “Said Afzel’s Elephant”, and stories by J. Allan Dunn, and Arthur O. Friel, but it’s the Young novelette and Don Everhard the character that are of interest here.

   The story is pretty straight forward. Young Don Everhard, actually Don Richmond of a respectable San Francisco family, is a professional gambler with a fast and deadly gun in contemporary San Francisco. During an election year he comes upon an incriminating letter that would embarrass reform candidate Congressman Bryan and beautiful Helen Curwen and favor James H. Thorpe, a lumberman and Bryan’s opponent for the governor’s race. Everhard has a history with Thorpe and roundly hates him. (“If he was a Republican I would vote Democrat, and if he was a Democrat I would vote Republican”).

   In knightly style Everhard returns the letter unread to Mrs. Curwen, but when word gets out he had the letter he is approached by two men to buy it; one the mysterious Ellis, and the other an agent of Thorpe. Everhard isn’t having any of it, but when Thorpe tries to set him up in a poker game with a professional gunman, he kills the man and has to go to ground, which he does hiding out as a crew member on a ship, until the truth comes out.

   When he is cleared Mrs. Curwen approaches him. She is meeting with Thorpe to try and beard the lion over the letter, but when the meeting ends in a blaze of gunfire … well, as Everhard opens the story:

   I had been arrested on the eve of a state election, revolver in hand, a chamber empty, by the body of James H. Thorpe … tried, convicted, and sentenced to death, which in California means to be hanged.

   Of course he gets out of it and retains his honor and the ladies, but the really interesting part of this story is in the telling, because years before Carroll John Daly or Dashiell Hammett, the only thing distinguishing Don Everhard from the hard boiled private eye of a thousand pulp stories is that he’s a gambler and not a detective. The language is the same, all-American unsentimental (but actually very sentimental) voice of Twain and London, out of Bret Harte and the Dime Novel. Young is a better writer than Daly, but if Daly didn’t read these and Race Williams and wasn’t influenced by the diamond-hard fast-shooting gambler I would be greatly surprised.

   … there are not, and never were, honest gamblers who win by luck alone.

   As honest a man as ever palmed a card.

   My ears are keen, my hands are quick, and I seldom miss.

   The man called Smith lay face down in a witch’s mirror of blood.

   A “witch’s mirror of blood.” If that isn’t the hardboiled voice of Black Mask, I never heard it.

   Robert Sampson wrote more about Gordon Young and Don Everhard in Yesterday’s Faces, his massive work on the early pulps. Today Young is best remembered for his South Seas adventure tales about Hurricane Williams, with only one expensive edition of Everhard stories reprinted, but if Young and Don Everhard are not quite the hardboiled private eye that soon followed they are so close that the difference is difficult to measure.

   Like his private eye pulp descendants Everhard is a tough, no nonsense, cynical, fast-thinking, fast-shooting hardboiled egg with a soft center, an errant knight on the edge between respectable society and the underworld, a man with his own code and his own rules navigating a twisting course between the innocent and not so innocent and the truly guilty, brutal, corrupt, and dangerous.

   The voice and the idea may not be quite there yet, but like the last half of Conan Doyle’s Valley of Fear, we are so close to the hardboiled private eye we can feel his breath on the back of our neck. I would argue that with this story alone Young was already ahead of Daly’s “Knights of the Open Palm” or Three Gun Terry Mack by a mile.

WINDY CITY PULP CONVENTION 2016 REPORT
by Walker Martin


   Here it is about a week later after the convention, and I’m still limping around with back and leg pains. How did I survive another voyage? I’ve been asked by friends and relatives why do I sign up each year for another 14 hour drive to Chicago? I guess you have to be a collector to understand. Flying would be more convenient but then I would be limited in what I could buy and carry back. The rental van is quite large and roomy enough for all of us, dealers and collectors alike.

   My life has revolved around my book and pulp collection now for 60 years. I cannot imagine not attending Windy City and Pulpfest. One of these days I physically will not be able to make the trip, but hopefully that time is still off in the future somewhere. Attending these conventions is important not only because of the books and artwork available, but also because of the friendships that I value. These friendship lead to more books and art!

   This trip I did find some books I needed but not a single pulp magazine. I’ve been to so many conventions that there is not much I need, just a few scattered issues. But I did talk to two friends about possible deals involving large numbers of pulps. If these plans work out I’ll be able to continue one of my favorite occupations, the comparing of two issues of the same pulp, same date.

   However I did find eight pieces of original art from the pulps, paperbacks and digest SF magazines. The biggest find was a beautiful 1929 cover painting used for Western Story. The art is by George Wert and titled “Come Out With Your Hands Up.” It shows three hardboiled bank robbers caught in the act. These guys look tough as hell.

   Arriving home I immediately took down a Rafael Desoto painting and hung the Western Story in the family room. Unfortunately my wife did not appreciate it as much as I did, and when I went upstairs to read a book, she actually had the nerve to move The Three Tough Guys to a less conspicuous spot. Since she replaced it with a Walter Baumhofer painting, I managed to control myself. At least she did not replace it with a Walmart decoration, which has been known to happen.

   Actually when I first entered the dealer’s room I found an Earle Bergey painting within one minute. True it’s not from Startling or Thrilling Wonder, but it’s an early cover from a 1929 Popular Biography. Later on a found a weird drawing by one of my favorites, Lee Brown Coye. Then two drawings from Galaxy by Emsh.

   Another big art find was my discovery of not one, but three cover paintings for Raymond Chandler paperbacks. You can’t go wrong with anything connected with Chandler, and they were not expensive. The artist is Richard Waldrep.

   Speaking of art, Windy City is known for it emphasis on original art. There must of been a dozen dealers with art for sale, and as usual there was the large room devoted to an art exhibit. Mostly SF cover paintings, but also on display was the art of Jon Arfstrom. I met and talked to this fine artist at last year’s Pulpfest, but since then he unfortunately passed away. He was the last of the Weird Tales artists.

   The dealers’ room was amazing. Over 100 tables with at least 465 attendees in a large room. On sale were books, pulps, digests, vintage paperbacks, slicks, reprints, new pulp fiction, DVDs, and many pieces of original art. The hospitality room had plenty of beer and snacks.

   Ed Hulse put on his usual excellent film program, this time the theme was SF from the pulps. There also were three panels: paperback art collector Robert Wiener discussed The Art of Jeff Jones; artist David Saunders discussed The Art of Frank R. Paul; and I participated in a panel about Argosy‘s 120th Pulp Anniversary. Also on this panel were Ed Hulse, publisher of Blood n Thunder magazine, and Tom Roberts and Gene Christie from Black Dog Books. Somehow, in 45 minutes we managed to talk about a magazine that lasted over 2,000 issues and almost a hundred years. Several people told me they enjoyed the discussion, which is great because there is nothing I enjoy more than talking about the old back issues of the pulps!

   Tom Roberts must be congratulated for once again editing Windy City Pulp Stories. In 182 pages there are several excellent articles including Bob Weinberg talking about his 1979 tribute to Astounding project. I remember Bob telling me about this back then, and part of it actually did see the light of day. Mike Ashley’s index to Astounding was published but the book of essays never came out. Now finally after all these years we get to see two interviews with A.E. Van Vogt and Poul Anderson plus some other material.

   I also found two other articles to be of interest: The Story of the Argosy and The Making and Marketing of Munsey’s Magazine by Frank Munsey. This book is available from Black Dog Books.

   The auction is always a highlight of the convention and was held on Friday and Saturday nights. For many years I have listened to John Gunnison as the auctioneer, and I have to say he is excellent and keeps things moving with a sense of humor. This year will be the last year of the items from the Jerry Weist Estate Auction, and there was a nice booklet listing the auction items. There were hundreds of lots ranging from SF digests to Weird Tales. There plenty of SF pulps, Argosy‘s, and men’s adventure magazines. I’ve never seen so many Nazis menacing damsels in distress… After WW II the returning vets loved these covers. I still can’t read the “articles,” however, but I’m trying!

   Several books made their debut at the show including Ed Hulse’s second volume on the silent serials, Handsome Heroes and Vicious Vilains. If you love the old movies this book and Distressed Damsels and Masked Marauders are must buys. This new volume is 400 pages large size crammed with rare movie stills. and photos. You can get copies from amazon or Ed’s website, Murania Press.

   Also new at this show were the latest books from the big pulp reprint firms: Altus Press and Black Dog Books. Matt Moring and Tom Roberts are doing excellent work and I wouldn’t say this if it wasn’t true.

   Finally, I would like to thank Doug Ellis and Debbie and John Gunnison and Maureen for another great convention, the 16th! What’s next? We have to rent another van! Here comes Pulpfest in Columbus, Ohio July 21 through 24. Collectors and Readers, I’ll see you there!

Editorial Thanks:   Both Walker and I would like to thank Sai Shanker for allowing the use of all of the photos above taken at the convention. A fine job, indeed!

FIRST YOU READ, THEN YOU WRITE
by Francis M. Nevins


   If this column doesn’t appeal to you, don’t blame me. Steve Lewis thought some readers might be interested in my latest book, even though it has nothing to do with our genre. So I’ll start off this month recycling the book’s introduction, which I believe conveys what it’s about, and reveals an aspect of your columnist that may surprise many who think of me as just a mystery wonk.

***

   If you leave out the accident of my birth, the origin of They Called the Shots dates back to 1952. The Korean war was raging overseas, HUAC and Senator Joe McCarthy were raging on the home front, the blacklist was on full tilt, and I was nine years young, living in Roselle Park, New Jersey.

   One night my parents, taking me along, went out to an appliance store to buy their first television set. It was, if memory serves, an Admiral with a 12 -inch screen. The price was around $225 or $250. For the next several years that set drew me to it like a magnet.

   In the early Fifties the major movie studios considered TV the enemy, offering for nothing the same product that theaters charged admission for. They wouldn’t allow their old films to be shown on the small screen, and in their current pictures they often wouldn’t allow a set amid the furniture of a living-room scene.

   Growing up in the New York City area, I had access to seven channels: the CBS, NBC and ABC flagship stations (Channels 2,4 and 7 respectively), the short-lived DuMont network, plus three local independents. With the majors boycotting the medium and the number of made-for-TV series rather small, TV programmers starved for material on film had to fall back on the smaller fry among movie-making companies, mainly Republic, Monogram and PRC.

   During the Thirties and Forties those companies had put out an endless stream of B pictures, primarily but not exclusively Westerns, and Republic had also offered dozens of cliffhanger serials. This was the product, interspersed with Hopalong Cassidy movies (out of which William Boyd, the only actor to play Hoppy, made megamillions by buying the rights to those flicks and licensing them to stations across the country) and early made-for-TV series like The Lone Ranger and The Cisco Kid, that kept me glued in front of the set for hours every evening. I became a certified telefreak.

   On that tiny screen I watched movies featuring the exploits of various Western stars of previous decades over and over. Some were trio pictures with groups like The Three Mesquiteers and The Range Busters and The Rough Riders. Most starred a single hero: Gene Autry, Eddie Dean, Buck Jones, Ken Maynard, Kermit Maynard (Ken s less successful but perhaps more talented brother), Tim McCoy, Jack Randall, Tex Ritter, Roy Rogers and of course the young John Wayne.

   I got to the point where I could identify at sight dozens of the actors in B Westerns who usually fell to the heroes bullets or fists — Roy Barcroft, Tristram Coffin, Kenne Duncan, I. Stanford Jolley, Charles King, John Merton, Marshall Reed, Hal Taliaferro, Harry Woods, just to name a few at random. Eventually I caught on that the person usually named in a picture s final credit must be important, but what a director did and how he did it I hadn’t the foggiest.

   As I grew older I lost interest in shoot-em-ups and cliffhangers, considering them beneath the notice of a young intellectual such as I fancied myself to be.

   Years slid by. I completed college and law school, passed the bar, and eventually uprooted myself from the east coast to St. Louis where I was invited to become a law professor. And then, slowly but surely, a strange thing happened. I became interested in those old movies again. I had the pleasure of meeting in their golden years some of the actors whose younger incarnations I had watched for hours on end, magnetized by that 12 -inch screen.

   Most important of all, I began to meet and become friends with some of the men whose names were familiar to me from the final credits of those pictures. The ones who called the shots. The directors. I got to watch their films again, sometimes sitting beside them. I got to listen to their stories. Eventually I began to write about them.

   This book is the culmination of that process. It s taken me thousands of hours of viewing time and hundreds of hours of writing time but in my twilight years I still consider the time well spent. I hope I ve communicated what I’ve gotten from all those films, and from the people who made them, in the following pages.

   But perhaps I can spell out here what I’ve looked for, and often found, in pictures of this sort. Reduced to two words, what the first-rate films contain and what the first-rate directors infuse into their films is visual imagination or, in two more words, visual excitement. This quality is the alpha and omega of the kind of movies discussed here.

   Each chapter is self-contained and can be read separately. But many also throw light on other chapters, and to help readers navigate among them, the first time in any chapter the name of a director is mentioned who is the subject of an earlier or later chapter, that name is highlighted.

   For example, in the chapter on William Witney you can see highlighted names like John English or Alan James or Ray Taylor from Bill s point of view, and later you can turn to the chapters on those men and see Bill from their perspective.

   The directors I knew best tend to get the longest and most quote-filled chapters but, because they contributed so much to this book, I want to single them out for mention: in the order of their births, Spencer Gordon Bennet (1893-1987), Joseph H. Lewis (1907-2000), Thomas Carr (1907-1997), and my closest Hollywood friend, Bill Witney (1915-2002). A few others covered here, like Oliver Drake (1903-1991) and R.G. Springsteen (1904-1989), I knew but not all that well. Others, who died too soon, I never had the pleasure of meeting.

   Every director covered here is dead, and most of them died before the beginning of this century. In a sense this book is an assortment of flowers on their graves. In another sense it brings them back, I hope, to life.

***

   While we’re on the subject of shoot-em-ups, a reader of my last month’s column asked if any of John Creasey’s contributions to that branch of literature got published in the USofA. The answer is Yes. War on the Lazy-K, as by William K. Reilly — one of three bylines under which Creasey turned out (if I’ve counted right) 29 smokeroos for low-on-the-totem-pole English houses like Wright & Brown and Stanley Paul — first appeared in London in 1941, amid the carnage of World War II, and came out over here five years later under the imprint of Phoenix Press.

   Yes, the same Phoenix Press that at the same time was presenting to an indifferent world the novels of that incomparable wackadoodle Harry Stephen Keeler. I am the proud owner of a copy of the Reilly opus, picked up for 50 cents at a YMCA book fair in St. Louis twenty or more years ago. Another copy wound up in the hands of Bill Pronzini, who devotes a couple of pages to it in his tribute to badly written Westerns, Six-Gun in Cheek (1997).

   When I was in Wales back in pre-euro days I pungled up 50 pence apiece for each of several Creasey cactus epics published only in England, but that’s another story. Let’s stick to the one that made it across the pond.

   This one actually has a plot of sorts, but what I find most amazing is that a writer who had never yet visited the U.S. and knew next to nothing about the old West could hammer out so many books of this type in a few days apiece. The narrative passages of Lazy-K are readable enough, although pockmarked with exclamation points and lacking the urgency of the Inspector West and Dr. Palfrey novels Creasey wrote during the same war years.

   But Gad, the dialogue! Just about every one of the horde of characters in this book speaks in dialect—the same wacky dialect for the whole passel of ‘em! “Why’n hell can’t yuh old-timers stop arguin’ among yourselves?” “C’n yuh use a drink?” “Yuh ain’t got a touch of whiskey with yuh, by any chance?” “Yuh’ve heerd me.” The only characters who are spared this form of discourse are the Mexicans. “Thees ees a surprise, Kennedy. I was told that you wair dead.”

   “He wanted to be kept hidden until after Deegby was gone. But undair cover he negotiated with the other outfits.” There’s also one character who’s a Kiowa — or, as Creasey spells it, Kiawa — but him no speakum much. Can you imagine having to remember to misspell so often while pumping out ten or fifteen thousand words a day? What a delight to encounter the occasional rare moment when Creasey blinks and actually spells you y-o-u!

***

   At least one other among Creasey’s posse of pistol-smokers was published over here, but not in book form. Hidden Range (1946), published in England as by Tex Riley, takes up virtually the entire February 1950 issue of Real Western Stories, one of the Columbia chain of ultra-low-budget pulps edited by Robert A. W. Lowndes. I tripped over a copy of this one in a secondhand bookstore somewhere in Ohio and snagged it for another 50 cents.

   A quick look at the invaluable FictionMags Index website revealed a curious fact I hadn’t been aware of before. A year after Lowndes used Hidden Range in Real Western Stories, he used the exact same novel, this time retitled Forgotten Range, in the February 1951 issue of Western Action, another Columbia pulp. He must have been desperate for material that month!

   But could the Index be wrong here? According to other Creasey bibliographies in print and online, Forgotten Range is a different book, published in England as by Tex Riley in 1947. It strikes me as more credible that this is the title Lowndes ran early in 1951. In any event, he had earlier run another Creasey shoot-em-up, this time under the William K. Reilly byline, Brand Him for Boothill! (Western Action, July 1949), but what title and pen name this one sported in England remains a mystery.

   A word which brings us back to what this column is supposed to be about.

***

   Hundreds of Creasey’s crime novels were published in the U.S. from the early 1950s until well after his death in 1973, but only nine appeared here before he became a top name in the genre. Eight of these, chronicling the earliest exploits of Raffles-like John Mannering, a.k.a. The Baron, appeared under Creasey’s Anthony Morton byline between 1937 and 1940, although for some obscure reason the character’s nom de thief on this side of the pond was Blue Mask.

   The ninth, and the only book to bear Creasey’s own name on its spine until he became established over here years later, was Legion of the Lost (1944), one of the early espionage adventures of Dr. Palfrey and his colleagues, offered by a publishing house called Stephen Daye, Inc., which seems to have vanished into the mists a few seconds after it was born.

   At a time when I had little or no idea who Creasey was, I found a nice copy of this rarity in an old used bookstore in Elizabeth, N.J. that was a favorite hangout of mine in my formative years. What did the book set me back? One quarter. A wise investment, yes?

Reviewed by DAVID VINEYARD:         


WILLIAM PATRICK MAYNARD – The Destiny of Fu Manchu. Black Coat Press, hardcover, March 2012; paperback, April 2012.

   A confession before going farther with this review, Black Coat Press is my publisher, and I am friends on Facebook with William Patrick Maynard, but otherwise this review is as honest as I can make it.

   Pastiche is a difficult art at best. The writer usually will suffer in comparison to the original, and if he surpasses the original is too often denied the recognition he deserves. A perfect example is Barry Perowne’s pastiche of E. W. Hornung’s Raffles stories, where little that Hornung wrote is anywhere near as entertaining as Perowne’s stories, but Perowne is only a footnote today.

   Both Philip Jose Farmer and Fritz Leiber were better writers than Edgar Rice Burroughs when they tried their hands at Tarzan pastiche, and I don’t think anyone would argue Ian Fleming was anywhere near as good a writer overall as Kingsley Amis, Sebastian Faulks, or William Boyd who all tackled James Bond with varying grades of success. Having written several Arsene Lupin pastiche, I can tell you no matter how good the story is, you always come in second to the original.

   The saga of Sax Rohmer’s Dr. Fu Manchu has already suffered this humiliation earlier with Rohmer biographer Cay Van Ash writing two novels featuring Rohmer’s characters that both far exceeded the best work Rohmer himself did in terms of story, thrills, and sheer writing skill.

   I say this not to fault Rohmer, whose work I enjoy, but merely to state the obvious, that Rohmer himself never did justice to his own creation, in my opinion. His best books in the series do not come anywhere near Van Ash’s Ten Years Beyond Baker Street and The Fires of Fu Manchu.

   Now William Patrick Maynard has taken up the saga of the Devil Doctor, and like Cay Van Ash before him, has far exceeded the best Sax Rohmer had to offer.

   The Destiny of Fu Manchu does take a note from Rohmer in that it plunges right into the story with Dr. John Petrie, the Watson to the evil doctor’s nemesis Sir Denis Nayland Smith, pushed into the affair on his own doorstep.

   Next we are swept off to Corfu, and a new narrator, Michael Knox, an archaeologist who is a bit of a rotter with women, and hardly the most heroic of figures, stumbling on the kidnapping of Kara, Mrs. Petrie, and finding himself in the midst of the world of the Si Fan. He is thrown headlong into one incident after another, eventually finding himself about to be killed on the Orient Express by a homicidal dwarf traveling as a five year old girl.

   And we are off, Ethiopia, London, Egypt, Munich … as Knox finds himself a pawn in an increasingly dangerous and confusing game caught between a civil war for control of the Si Fan, Sir Nayland Smith, the weakness of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, and Hitler’s pre-War power grabs.

   At times who is on whose side is as confusing as an Eric Ambler novel, with Knox a pawn of Fu Manchu’s rival, the horribly disfigured Esteban Milagro, aka Thomas Valley, aka Khunum-Khufu, aka …; Helga Grauman, aka Fah lo Suee, Fu Manchu’s daughter, whose memory of that fact was removed by her father; Sir Denis Nayland Smith who just saved Hitler and Mussolini from assassination by the Si Fan; and of course Fu Manchu himself who may or may not be calling the shots and manipulating everyone to his own evil goal having been deposed from leadership of the Si Fan after his failure to kill Hitler and Mussolini.

   This is all splendid pulp, rapidly paced, and surprisingly as atmospheric as the original. Maynard’s imagination never fails him, and he manages to keep the complex plot in the air with remarkable ease. Characters from past Rohmer novels and from Cay Van Ash’s books make cameos or have full roles, and there is even a nod to Guy Boothby’s Italian Menace of an earlier age, Dr. Nikola.

   Everything turns on Fu Manchu’s plot to avert the coming war by so devastating the West with a terrible plague that he can seize power.

   To the extent he can, Maynard avoids the obvious pitfalls of anachronism. The term Oriental is tossed around freely as it would be in that day and age, and the characters are far from prescient. Nayland Smith is blind to everything but defeating Fu Manchu, though not unaware of other evils, the narrator redeems himself, but not without suffering, and in the end the world is saved from one terrible fate at the cost of another.

   Maynard’s willingness to allow this bit of historical irony to weigh on the otherwise satisfactory conclusion without any heavy-handed message is one of the book’s pleasures. He is well aware of our foreknowledge, but never allows that to color his characters or their actions. They are merely reacting in the moment as most people do in times of stress and danger.

   If you loved Rohmer, I think this will entertain you, and if, like me, you always thought Rohmer’s own Fu Manchu tales lacked a bit, then this should please you. Maynard has the voice down pat, and frankly he is a better storyteller overall than Rohmer, whose best work was not in the Fu Manchu series.

   This is full-blooded old-fashioned pulp writing, fully aware of all the flaws and evils of the Yellow Peril fiction it represents, but managing to both entertain and remind us of our own prejudices and those of the time it is set in at the same time.

   It is the best Fu Manchu novel Sax Rohmer never wrote.

Bibliographic Note: William Patrick Maynard is also the author of The Terror of Fu Manchu (2009).

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