Pulp Fiction


REVIEWED BY WALKER MARTIN:


LAURIE POWERS – Queen of the Pulps: The Reign of Daisy Bacon and Love Story Magazine. McFarland, paperback, September 2019.

   Have you ever received a book in the mail and immediately stopped what you were reading, stopped whatever you were doing and sat down and read the book? This is what happened when I received Queen of the Pulps. I had seen Laurie Powers work and do research on it for several years and finally here it is! She must of gotten sick and tired of me nagging her about the book and asking for progress reports.

   This book breaks new ground and stresses original research on the love and romance magazines. Recently there have been some excellent books about the pulps such as John Campbell and Astounding Science Fiction, Joseph Shaw and Black Mask (forthcoming from Altus Press/Steeger Books this November), and in a few months, Michelle Nolan’s book on the sport pulps. Many collectors have been saying that we live in the Golden Age of Pulp Reprints, well it looks like there is a Golden Age of Pulp Studies also.

   It’s exciting to realize that these books are not just run of the mill academic studies. They cover three of the greatest pulp editors: John Campbell, the greatest of the SF editors in the forties, Joseph Shaw, the greatest of the hard boiled detective pulp editors, and Daisy Bacon, the greatest of the love and romance pulp editors. Now all we need are books on Arthur Sullivant Hoffman, the greatest of the adventure pulp editors and Farnsworth Wright, the greatest editor of the fantastic and supernatural pulps.

   The book is a real beauty and very impressive looking. Laurie spared no expense and gathered over 80 photographs which are reproduced on high quality book paper and thus show up very well. She also has five color photos of Love Story covers. I like the way the photos are spread throughout the book and not just squeezed in a few pages. In the back of the book are around 300 chapter notes and footnotes documenting the facts, also an extensive bibliography and index. It is very obvious that this is a labor of love for Laurie and the excellent final results make all her hard work worth it.

   But in addition to the above, there is another reason why I love this book. Starting in 1972 I attended the yearly Pulpcon conventions where just about all the conversations centered around the hero pulps. Titles like The Shadow, Doc Savage, G-8 and His Battle Aces, Operator 5, etc. There also was some interest in science fiction and many of the old timers(all these great old pals now gone), loved Max Brand and Edgar Rice Burroughs.

   You might think this must have been a great time but for me, it was not. Though I ended up collecting just about all the hero pulps, I hated them with a passion. I know many of my collector friends will gasp in horror at such sacrilege, but I couldn’t stand the heroes and every attempt to read them defeated me because of the childish plots and dialog. At least with a love pulp you are dealing with a subject that makes the world go round. Love! But I positively disliked the silly Monk and Ham characters in Doc Savage and Bull and Nippy in G-8.

   So, in the early days of pulp fandom there was very little interest in other genres like detective, western, adventure, and sport fiction. And certainly there was absolutely no interest in collecting the love and romance pulps. Sure there were a couple lost souls like me, Digges La Touche, and even Steve Lewis. We picked up issues here and there over the years and now I guess I have a couple hundred Love Story issues without even trying.

   However, as the years and decades marched on, things began to change and collectors started to collect the other genres, the pulps that adults read and not just the hero pulps which were aimed at the teen-age boy market. I even did an informal survey in the seventies and eighties where I asked many non-collectors if they remembered the pulps. Many of the women remembered the love and general interest pulps and many of the men remembered and read Black Mask, Argosy, Adventure, Western Story, etc. When I directly asked them about the hero titles, the usual response was did I mean the “kid pulps”, or as one of my old time friends said “the magazines with the unreadable crap” (Harry–Damn it you said you would get back to me about the afterlife!).

   Now finally we have a book that back in the 1970’s I never thought would be published. It is not about the hero pulps, rehashing old tired comments but about one of the most successful editors, Daisy Bacon. For 20 years, 1928–1947, she edited Love Story which had the highest circulation of all the pulps, estimated to reach 600,000 per issue.

   Queen of the Pulps is not only about Daisy Bacon and Love Story, but also about editing in general at Street & Smith. Daisy edited seven other titles in addition to Love Story and though the main thrust of this book is about that magazine, Laurie Powers also discusses Daisy’s time editing Detective Story for most of the decade in the forties. She also covers her time as editor of the final issues of The Shadow and Doc Savage.

   It sounds like she enjoyed the change of pace from love to murder. For 25 years Detective Story had published a sort of bland and sedate detective story, just about ignoring the hard boiled style sweeping through the other quality detective titles like Black Mask, Dime Detective, and Detective Fiction Weekly. During this period, 1915–1940, the magazine avoided the tough, hard boiled fiction except for an occasional story from Carroll John Daly, Erle Stanley Gardner, and Cornell Woolrich, etc.

   But when Daisy Bacon took over as editor in 1941, Detective Story took on new life and she encouraged many of the writers from Black Mask and Dime Detective to write for Detective Story. Raymond Chandler, Dale Clark, T.T. Flynn, G.T. Fleming-Roberts, Julius Long, D.L. Champion, Norbert Davis, John K. Butler, Day Keene, John D. MacDonald, and others all appeared once or twice.

   It’s obvious she wanted to make the stories tougher, and she got Carroll John Daly to write six novelets, Fred Brown to write nine shorts, William Campbell Gault to appear 14 times, and her best author during the forties, Roger Torrey. Torrey had 13 novelets, all starring Irish private eyes, and these stories are worth looking up because they represent his very best work. Torrey unfortunate had a severe drinking problem and drank himself to death around 1945. I read about his death in one of his short story collections and it’s a real sad story.

   Daisy Bacon’s reward for all this? She was fired in 1949 during the bloodiest day in pulp history as Street & Smith killed off all its pulp titles (the one exception for some reason being Astounding). Western Story, over 1250 issues—Gone! Detective Story, over a thousand issues–Gone! It seems that the president of Street & Smith hated the pulps and saw the future as slick women’s magazines. These slicks are so dated and worthless that just about no one collects them nowadays. But the Breakers love them because they cut out the slick ads and sell them to housewives and men to frame them in their basement bars or kitchens.

    What is this guy’s name? Allen Grammer, who was hired by the family to run Street & Smith, the first such outsider in almost a hundred years of publishing. When he came on board in 1938, he had no interest in the pulps and almost from the very beginning worked to get them out of circulation. Needless to say, he and Daisy did not get along and he got rid of her along with the pulp titles.

   On a more personal note, I became involved with the Grammer family. What’s the odds of a non-collector having two pulp cover paintings and moving right next door to a collector with a house full of pulp art? A billion to one? Will it happened to me. In the mid-1990’s an elderly retired music teacher moved next door and had an open house for the neighbors to get acquainted. As my wife and I walked through his house we were stunned to see two original cover paintings from Western Story hanging on the wall of the den.

   They both were from 1938 and painted by Walter Haskell Hinton. I immediately cornered my host and discovered that his name was Paul Grammer and he was the nephew of Allen Grammer. It seemed his uncle was the head executive at Street & Smith back decades ago and Paul Grammer’s father also had a high position. Eventually when Allen Grammer died, Paul inherited the pulp cover paintings. Several years later Paul gave in to my pleas and sold me the two paintings. Every time I look at the one I still have, I think of Paul and wish he still lived next door.

   Over the years I had several conversations with Paul about his infamous uncle and I sure wish Paul was still alive because I have even more questions now that this Daisy Bacon book is out. Paul once showed me a photograph of Allen Grammer sitting behind his desk at the Street & Smith offices. Behind him was a large pulp painting by N.C. Wyeth. I commented that the painting was now worth a million dollars and Paul said one day his uncle went into the office and the painting was gone. Someone had walked out with it. I wish I had talked Paul Grammer into letting me have the photo because I see that Laurie does not have one of Allen Grammer in the book. I suspect Laurie sympathized with Daisy and also dislikes him. Thus no photo! (Or maybe she could not get the rights to publish a photo.)

   So, for several years I watched Laurie got deeper and deeper into the life of Daisy Bacon. More than once Laurie traveled from California to New York and New Jersey. She discovered the old records, photographs, diaries, and various papers that Daisy had kept all her long life. On one trip she even discovered the love nest built by Daisy’s long time lover in the woods of New Jersey. Laurie even came across and now owns, the one painting that Daisy kept by Modest Stein. By the way, love pulp cover paintings are rare. I’ve only found two: one for Love Book and one for All Story Love.

   The book is full of fascinating details and stories about Daisy, her half sister, Esther Ford, her mother, and her lover. Laurie has told a suspenseful story worthy of being published in Love Story magazine. Of course the part about the secret lover would have to edited out of the story. It has all the pulp story ingredients: love, attempted suicide, secret lives, success, depression, and failure.

   If you read the pulps, buy the pulp reprints, or collect the old magazines, this book is a must buy. Price is $40 but it’s worth the cost. This gets my highest recommendation and can be bought on amazon.com or the McFarland Books website. If you attend Pulpadventurecon in Bordentown, NJ on November 2, 2019 Laurie will have copies for sale.

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Bill Pronzini


RAYMOND CHANDLER – The Big Sleep. Philip Marlowe #1. Alfred A. Knopf, hardcover, 1939. Avon Murder Mystery Monthly #7, digest paperback, 1942; New Avon Library [#38], paperback, 1943. Movie photoplay edition: World, hardcover, 1946. Reprinted many times since. Film: Warner Bros., 1946 (screenwriters William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett, Jules Furthman; director Howard Hawks; Humphrey Bogart as Marlowe). Also: United Artists, 1978 (screenwriter-director: Michael Winner; Robert Mitchum as Marlowe).

   It is difficult to imagine what the modern private eye story would be like if a forty-five-old ex-oil company executive named Raymond Chandler had not begun writing fiction for Black Mask in 1933. In his short stories and definitely in his novels, Chandler took the hardboiled prototype established by Dashiell Hammett, reshaped it to fit his own particular vision and the exigencies of life in southern California, smoothed off its rough edges, and made of it something more than a tale of realism and violence; he broadened it into a vehicle for social commentary, refined it with prose at once cynical and poetic, and elevated the character of the private eye to a mythical status — “down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid.”

   Chandler’s lean, tough, wisecracking style set the tone for all subsequent private-eye fiction, good and bad. He is certainly the most imitated writer in the genre, and next to Hemingway, perhaps the most imitated writer in the English language. (Howard Browne, the creator of PI Paul Pine, once made Chandler laugh at a New York publishing party by introducing himself and saying, “It’s an honor to meet you, Mr. Chandler. I’ve been making a living off your work for years.”

   Even Ross Macdonald, for all his literary intentions, was at the core a Chandler imitator: Lew Archer would not be Lew Archer, indeed might not have been born at all, if Chandler had not created Philip Marlowe.

   The Big Sleep , Chandler’s first novel, is a blending and expansion of two of his Black Mask novelettes, “Killer in the Rain” (January 1935) and “The Curtain” (September 1936) — a process Chandler used twice more, in creating Farewell, My Lovely and The Lady in the Lake, and which he candidly referred to as “cannibalizing.”

   It is Philip Marlowe’s first bow. Marlowe does not appear in any of Chandler’s pulp stories, at least not by name: the first person narrators of “Killer in the Rain” (unnamed) and “The Curtain” (Carmody) are embryonic Marlowes, with many of his attributes. The Big Sleep is also Chandler’s best-known title, by virtue of the well-made 1944 film version directed by Howard Hawks and starring Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, and Elisha Cook, Jr.

   On one level, this is a complex murder mystery with its fair share of clues and corpses. On another level, it is a serious novel concerned (as is much of Chandler’s work) with the corrupting influences of money and power. Marlowe is hired by General Sternwood, an old paralyzed ex-soldier who made a fortune in oil, to find out why a rare-book dealer named Arthur Gwynn Giger is holding his IOU signed by Sternwood’s youngest daughter, the wild and immoral Carmen, and where a blackmailing abler named Joe Brody fits into the picture.

   Marlowe’s investigation embroils him with Sternwood’s other daughter, Vivian, and her strangely missing husband, Rusty, a former bootlegger; a thriving pornography racket; a gaggle of gangsters, not the least of which is a nasty piece of work named Eddie Mars; hidden vices and family scandals; and several murders. The novel’s climax is more ambiguous and satisfying than the film’s rather pat one.

    The Big Sleep is not Chandler’s best work; its plot is convoluted and tends to be confusing, and there are loose ends that are never explained or tied off. Nevertheless, it is still a powerful and riveting novel, packed with fascinating characters and evocatively told. Just one small sample of Chandler’s marvelous prose:

   The air was thick, wet, steamy and larded with the cloying smell of tropical orchids in bloom. The glass walls and roof were heavily misted and big drops of moisture splashed down on the plants. The light had a unreal greenish color, like light filtered through an aquarium. The plants filled the place, a forest of them, with nasty meaty leaves and stalks like the newly washed fingers of dead men. They smelled as overpowering as boiling alcohol under a blanket.

   That passage is quintessential Chandler; if it doesn’t stir your blood and make you crave more, as it always does for this reviewer, he probably isn’t your cup of bourbon.

         ———
   Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.

JOHN LAWRENCE “Broadway Malady.” Short story. Lt. Martin Marquis #1. First publisheded in Dime Detective Magazine, February 1937. Collected in The Complete Cases of the Marquis of Broadway, Volume 1. (Altus Press, 2014); introduction by Ed Hulse.

   This is the first in a series of 26 tales written by veteran pulp writer John Lawrence about the redoubtable Lt. Martin Marquis, the so-called “Marquis of Broadway,” and the gang of men he used to keep law and order in Manhattan’s famed strip of brightly lit theatres and night clubs in the 1930s and (mostly) pre-war 40s. All of them appeared in Dime Detective. The last would have been appeared in 1942, butr one last one was finally published in 1948.

   Always flashily dressed, the dapper Marquis was actually little more than a criminal himself, if not an out-and-out gangster, nor were the policemen in his squad any better, and maybe even worse. . Their methods were crude but effective. In “Broadway Malady,” however, one particular overly ambitious night club owner makes the mistake of crossing him, to his lasting regret only a few pages later.

   It seems as though the latter has taken a liking to a beautiful young singer who is in love instead with a bandleader whom the Marquis has taken under his wing. When the former is found beaten up rather considerably, the Marquis takes it personally.

   What’s most striking about this story, even more than its setting — what major thoroughfare of its era was more famous than Broadway? — the rather standard plot, is the terse, understated way in which it’s told. I think “Broadway Malad” comes as close to matching the subtext of Dasheill Hammett’s tales than almost any of the latter’s would-be imitators. Other writers may steal Hammett’s plots, but very few of them seem ever to master the essence of how he told his terse, hard-bitten tales.

   Or in other words, there is almost as much to be read between the lines in “Broadway Malady” as there is story itself. Lawrence makes no concession to the reader. I can’t imagine many getting to the end of this tale without having to go back to see what they missed. When the pieces finally fit together, and they will, the light goes on.

   Chandler is easy to imitate. Hammett less so. It’s a pleasure to read a story that’s so solidly told in the latter’s manner. There are now only 25 more stories of the Marquis left for me to read. Luckily two thick volumes of his “Complete Cases” have recently been published by Altus Press, making up just over half the run. More, I hope, are on the way.

JOHN JAY CHICHESTER – The Bigamist. Jimmy “Wiggly” Price #2. Serialized in seven parts in Detective Story Magazine between February 7 and March 14, 1925. Published in hardcover by Chelsea House, 1925. Reprinted by A. L. Burt, hardcover, 1927.

   You shouldn’t expect a detective story published in 1925 to be a modern day mystery, especially one published in Detective Story Magazine, a pulp that didn’t realize that hardboiled detective fiction was coming into play until the very late 1930s, some fifteen years after the fact.

   And yet … and yet … the opening of The Bigamist reminded me of a noirish novel I recently read by Day Keene, I believe, in which the protagonist was mixed up with two women, one in the city and the other, much more innocent, living on a farm (figuratively speaking, if not literally). The bigamist in The Bigamist, is no amoral character however, just a weak one who forsakes the women who loves him (and has waited over ten years for him) and marries a rich women he quickly finds he really doesn’t love.

   Learning that his first love is dying, he hurries home, and so that she can die in peace, still loving him, he goes through a phony marriage ceremony with her — only to have her miraculously recover. Enter a blackmailer, then a killer.

   The detective on the case is not the clown of a cop in the village where Dora lives, but a newspaper reporter from the city by the name of Jimmy “Wiggly” Price, first met in The Porcelain Mask (Chelsea House, 1924). His nickname comes from the fact that when he gets excited, his ears begin to wiggle uncontrollably. (No, I’m not joking. It can be done, but it takes practice.)

   Any hint of this being a noir novel has quickly disappeared by this time, obviously, and the dialogue between the participants is often antiquated at best. Since the number of these participants is strictly limited, if the killer isn’t the obvious one, there’s only one other person it could be. And yet .. and yet … the book is surprisingly readable, and only because the author, I submit, was a natural storyteller, fact that outweighs any other deficiencies he may have had. I have no other explanation.

        —

Bibliographic Notes:   John Jay Chichester was a pen name of Christopher B. Booth, noted in some circles as the author of the Mt. Clackworthy stories, discussed at length on this blog here and here. The third and final Jimmy Price novel was The House of the Moving Room (Chelsea House, 1926).

   L. M. MONTGOMERY “The House Party at Smoky Island.” Short story. First published in Weird Tales, August 1935. Reprinted in Startling Mystery Stories, Fall 1968, and Visions from the Edge: An Anthology of Atlantic Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy (Pottersfield Press, trade paperback, 1981). First collected in Among the Shadows (Bantam Starfire, paperback, 1991).

   Whenever I read a ghost story — which isn’t often, but on occasion I do — I want a story that gives me shivers and goosebumps. No gross out gruesome stuff for me. There’s an obvious difference between chills and shock and disgust. You know where the line is as well as I do, and “The House Party at Smoky Island” stays completely on the right side of it.

   It helps, though, when a tale takes place on an island somewhere in the isolated wilderness– of central Ontario, for example, and Lake Muskoka in particular. The manor house in full of people, but it has rained all week, and by Saturday night the guests have been on each other’s nerves for far too long.

   One of the married couples is especially on edge. She has become more and more obsessed with the thought that he killed his first wife. She does not know this for a fact. She only suspects it. As Saturday night arrives, with the wind howling and the rain pouring down, there is a call for each of the members of the house party to tell the rest of the company a ghost story, which only builds up to what happens next.

   And that’s all I can tell you without telling you the whole story, but if ever a ghost story can give you a brief shiver or shill at exactly the right moment, this one will.

   You may have recognized the author’s name, or you think you may have, and if so, you are correct. This is the same L. M. Montgomery who wrote Anne of Green Gables and all of its sequels, plus many other stories meant for children. She is one of Canada’s most well-known and beloved authors, and this is a rarity: the only story she wrote for the pulp magazines.

   Alas, I’ve been jammed up with too many things to do to be able to post Walker’s annual PulpFest report here on this blog in any timely fashion. We’ve asked Sai Shankar whether he’d be willing to post it on his Pulp Flakes blog, and he’s most graciously agreed. More than that, he’s done a masterful job.

   Here’s the link. Enjoy!

FREDERICK NEBEL “Wolves of the Wild.” Novelette. First published in Ace-High Novels, April 1932, Collected in Forbidden River (Black Dog Books, trade paperback, 2014).

   In this tale of the frozen North an old prospector named Shorty finagles the son of a good friend, wasting his life away as gambler in a Yukon saloon, into hitting the trail with him on his next expedition. He needs toughening up, Shorty thinks.

   There’s only one problem. Shorty has come into town with a pouch full of gold, and when others see gold as rich as this, they start thinking that there will be more of it at the other end of Shorty’s trail. They is a girl, too, and even though this is all the story there is, Nebel fills over 40 pages to tell it. Luckily he’s a good enough story teller that you don’t really notice how thin the tale is until 20 minutes later, when you’ve finished it.

   The second story in this same collection, which I’ll stick with for a little while longer, is “A Gambler Passes,” which first appeared in the January 1930 issue of Five Novels Monthly. The latter was an all-purpose magazine, usually with one mystery story, a western, a sports story, and a couple of adventure tales or maybe a romance. Since “A Gambler Passes” is less than 50 pages long in book form, you can easily realize that calling the stories “novels” is really only a case of exaggerated salesmanship.

   That the leading character in “Gambler” is, guess what, s gambler, should come as no surprise. That his name is Jack Cardigan is a bit startling, but only if you know that Jack Cardigan was also the name of his long-running private eye character later on in Dime Detective. In his long, informative introduction to this collection, publisher and editor Tom Roberts seems to suggest that the two are one and the same. They certainly could be, and it’s fun to think so, but without more evidence, I’m inclined to write it off as an author doubling up the use of a name that caught his fancy.

   I could be very wrong about that, and the more I think about it, the more likely I think I may be.

   In this story, the gambler Jack Cardigan is accused of killing the son of the man who has the small mining town of Lodestar. That it was an accident that occurred while the dead man was foisting his attentions too fiercely on the girl Cardigan loves makes no difference to the kangaroo court that is convened, and once convicted, Cardigan has to flee.

   And thus follows a lot of traipsing around in the snow-covered wilderness. One gets the feeling of how bitterly cold the weather that far north can be, but after a while one also begins to wonder how easily the main protagonists run across each other while fighting off blizzards and general fatigue. Still, a good story with a satisfying ending.

   Nebel takes a different approach in “Forbidden River,” reprinted from the June 1930 issue of Five-Novels Monthly. The primary protagonist is a lawyer from Chicago who is making a trip to the North country as part of a hunting vacation with a friend who has a lodge there.

   The trip is by train, and on the train the one other passenger is a young girl who appears to be of French heritage. When his back is turned she pulls the emergency cord, the train stops, and she jumps off. Going to the end of the train, he falls off as the train starts up to look for her, and he’s off and running in an adventure he never in his life dreamed of.

   I’ll not venture further into the plot, but all kinds of factions come into play, including murder and two Mounties, making it a detective story of sorts as well as a tale that once started is difficult to put down.

   There are two more stories in this collection: “The Roaring Horde” (Five-Novels Monthly, April 1932) and “Gold” (North•West Stories, May 1931). I confess that I’ve not read either, I’m sorry to say, but I’m sure I will sometime soon. Nebel was a good writer, and these frostbitten yarns make for perfect reading in these hot and muggy days of mid-August.

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


   THE VIRGIN KILLS (1932) was Whitfield’s third and final crime novel under his own byline and a sad comedown after his first two. Our narrator, sports columnist Al Connors, is invited to join a party on the yacht of shady gambler Eric Vennell (the “Virgin” of the title) as it makes its way up the Hudson from Manhattan to Poughkeepsie where the annual inter-university boat races are held.

   Accompanying Connors is Mick O’Rourke, a scar-faced Victor McLaglen type, who’s bodyguarded several top gangsters and has been recruited by Connors to perform the same function for Vennell, who claims he’s been threatened by racketeers after his investment firm lost a pile of their money on the stock market. Also on board the Virgin are a movie star, a bitchy female writer, a Lindberghesque aviator and some others.

   Not much happens until the big race, which the odds-on favorite California crew loses to Columbia thanks to its stroke—“the most important of the oarsmen”—collapsing and dying just before his crew’s “shell” reaches the finish line. An autopsy establishes that, either before or during the race, someone with a hypodermic needle had injected the victim under his left shoulder blade with a fatal dose of morphine.

   Not long afterwards, Vennell is found murdered in his cabin aboard the Virgin. The rest of the book is padded with endless speculations by the narrator, a Poughkeepsie cop and a Philo Vance type hired by the dead oarsman’s family. “He’s suave and very cold and superior….He’s the kind you read about in the books whose writers go in for annotations and such stuff.”

   Luckily for us, this character talks just like all the others in the book, making no attempt to ape that insufferable twit created by S. S. Van Dine. Eventually some movie footage of the race, shot from an airplane, comes to light and the murderer obligingly confesses everything. Since every moment of the action takes place on board the yacht, one might easily believe that the novel was originally intended as a stage play, with interpolated film footage at the climax.

   Whitfield is reported to have helped Hammett construct some of his plots, but I find this rumor hard to swallow considering how in THE VIRGIN KILLS he bungled some crucial physical details. At one point the Poughkeepsie cop asks: “Number Seven [the prime suspect among the California oarsmen] is right ahead of the stroke in a shell, isn’t he?” To which the captain of the Virgin replies: “He sure is.” This is confirmed by our Philo Vance stand-in, who tells us that Number Seven “was directly in front of [the morphine victim]—that is, ahead of him.”

   In that case, Number Seven would have had to reach behind him with one hand to puncture the victim, while rowing at full speed with the other. What an athlete! A page or so later Whitfield seems to have realized his blunder when he has the ersatz Vance character state that Number Seven’s “face was to [the victim’s] back….,” but he doesn’t bother to correct the earlier dialogue. We have to give Whitfield some credit for using “human” when he means “person” only a few times, but we must yank it back when he tells us over and over that the oarsman murdered during the race was “morphined.” If a different poison had been used, would we have been told that the poor guy had been arsenicked or strychnined to death?

   Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of THE VIRGIN KILLS is that the California crew’s physician happens to be named Doc Vollmer, which is also the name of the West 35th Street medico who is called in whenever a body turns up on or near the premises of Nero Wolfe. Either Rex Stout read this misfire of a mystery, and remembered, or we are faced with a full-blown Keeler Koinkydink.

***

   In 1933 Raoul and Prudence Whitfield were divorced. Did her long term affair with Hammett have something to do with the breakup? Hardly had the decree become final when Raoul married again, this time into the Vanderbilt family, and more or less retired from the words game. I have a sneaking suspicion that Hammett was tweaking Whitfield’s nose a bit when, early in THE THIN MAN (1934), he had Nick Charles say that he quit the PI game when his wife Nora inherited a fortune.

   Unlike Nick’s marriage, Raoul’s didn’t last long. Emily Whitfield filed for divorce in February 1935 but shot herself to death a few months later in their New Mexico ranch house, a chain of events on which Walter Satterthwait based his novel DEAD HORSE (2007). Thanks to her will, her estranged husband—who, being in California at the time, had a perfect alibi—morphed into a sudden millionaire.

   From then on he lived the high life and drank whiskey as if it were water. Eventually he married a third and much younger woman, a local barmaid who, in 1943, also killed herself. By this time Raoul had run through Emily’s Vanderbilt money and contracted tuberculosis, which took his life in January 1945.

***

   None of Whitfield’s three crime novels under his own name was reprinted in paperback during his lifetime. GREEN ICE appeared in softcover not long after his death (Avon Murder Mystery Monthly #46, 1947, as THE GREEN ICE MURDERS) and reappeared in the 1980s, along with DEATH IN A BOWL and THE VIRGIN KILLS, in the Quill Mysterious Classics series edited by Otto Penzler. Whitfield’s debut novel was also reprinted in hardcover by Gregg Press (1980) and, more recently, by Mysterious Press (2014).

   Between 1930 and 1933 the Knopf firm published three other Whitfield titles (WWI and aviation books apparently aimed at the juvenile market) and the obscure Penn Publishing Company issued another air adventure, but these have never been revived and are near extinct, as are the two crime novels issued by Farrar & Rinehart under the pseudonym of Temple Field (FIVE, 1931, based on the 5-part Black Mask serial published between June and October 1929, and KILLERS’ CARNIVAL, 1932, taken from the 6-part Black Mask serial published between August 1931 and January 1932).

   Of his 300-odd shorter tales the most easily accessible are the cases of the Filipino sleuth Jo Gar, certainly Whitfield’s most important character and probably the first ethnic detective after Charlie Chan. The eighteen genuine short stories about him were collected in JO GAR’s CASEBOOK (Crippen & Landru, 2002) and are also available, along with the two Black Mask serials in which he stars —one in six installments, the other in two—in WEST OF GUAM (Altus Press, 2002, expanded edition 2013).

   Most of Whitfield’s short stories featuring other series characters like Ben Jardinn or no such character at all are available to you only if your shelves are piled high with issues of Black Mask . Prudence Whitfield, the only one of Raoul’s three wives to survive him, prevailed upon Fred Dannay to reprint that six-part Jo Gar serial in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine (February-July 1949; originally in Black Mask, February-August 1931, with no installment in the June issue) and also three other tales (May 1948, November 1951, June 1953).

   I suspect it was also due to Prudence that editor Hans Stefan Santesson chose two more Whitfield stories for reprint in The Saint Detective Magazine (March and August 1956) and a third (March 1960) featuring Jo Gar. Not much of a showing when stacked up against the novels and stories of Hammett and Chandler, which have been reprinted on a regular basis for generations, but then Whitfield was never in their league.

   Still, a letter from him or a first edition of one of his scarcer books can command more than $3000 in the collectors’ market. Whether or not they’re worth that much, it can’t be denied that Raoul Whitfield remains of interest today to anyone who wants to understand the formative years of the literature we now call noir.


NOTE: Part One of this two-part profile of Raoul Whitfield can be found here.

ERLE STANLEY GARDNER “Night Birds.” Novelette. El Paisano, aka The Roadrunner #1. Argosy Weekly, August 5, 1933. Probably never reprinted.

   This is the first of five recorded adventures of yet another of Erle Stanley Gardner’s series characters he created for the pulp magazines in the 20 and 30s. Known as both El Paisano and the Roadrunner, and yet no other name, he is a man of mystery, flitting across the Mexican border and back with ease, invariably leaving dead villains, gang leaders and various henchmen in his wake.

   What makes him such a formidable foe is that he can see in the dark far better than most men. Whether better able to see unsavory characters with knives waiting for him in the night, or young beautiful women he can then follow across darkened rooms without them knowing, it makes his tales of adventure and narrow escapes all the more interesting.

   Being the first time any of Gardner’s readers had met this new hero, he spends considerable time making his abilities clear, but not to the expense of the story, which consists of a dead man in an alley, pursuit, rescue (in an inadvertent way) by a slip of a girl with her mind focused on a suitcase filled with a fortune in stolen money.

   It all ends well, but only once the young slip of a girl is fully convinced that the Roadrunner is on her side, which she finally does. There’s otherwise not a lot of depth to this tale, but I certainly wouldn’t mind reading another.

THOMAS WALSH “Murder Twist.” Short story. First published in Ace-High Detective, August 1936. Probably never reprinted.

   I haven’t taken the time to check this theory out, but it’s my sense of things that most Edgar winners for Best First Novel come from nowhere, so to speak, or in other words are brand new to the mystery field. Not so in the case of Thomas Walsh, whose novel Nightmare in Manhattan (Little Brown, 1950) was indeed a winner, but he’d been writing short mystery fiction since 1933, when a story titled “Double Check” appeared in the July issue of Black Mask magazine.

   Walsh gradually graduated to the slicks, magazines such as Collier’s and The Saturday Evening Post, many of them later being reprinted in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. Almost all of these, if not out-and-out police procedurals, were cases solved by policemen largely working alone but in their ordinary tours of duty.

   Such a one is “Mystery Twist,” in which a cop named Gannet — his only appearance, I believe — tackles what appears to be a straightforward suicide, that of a woman whose grieving husband claims she jumped out of a window on the 20th floor of an apartment building.

   Gannet is the kind of cop who doesn’t like to take anything for granted, however, but it takes some psychological prodding on the part of his immediate superior, Inspector Powell, to make sure he follows up on his instincts in cases such as this.

   As the title of the story suggests, there is a twist in tale, and I’m going to pat myself on the back by telling you that I figured it out as quickly as Gannet did. But if the story’s well told, and this one definitely is, then the facts should point to the conclusion all along the way, shouldn’t they?

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