Pulp Fiction

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?

J. ALLAN DUNN “In the Grip of the Griffin.” Novelette. Gordon Manning vs. the Griffin #30. First published in Detective Fiction Weekly, May 18, 1935. Reprinted in In the Grip of the Griffin: The Complete Battles of Gordon Manning & The Griffin, Volume 3 (Altus Press, 2015).

   The first of this long saga of 31 stories was, I believe, “The Crime Master,” which appeared in the November 30, 1929, issue of Detective Fiction Weekly. IN this and stories yet to come, Gordon Manning remained continually on the trail of the notorious madman and supervillain known only as the Griffin, his real identity unknown.

   Readers of “In the Grip of the Griffin” were treated to more of same — capture, escape, capture again, rescue, and so on — but what they didn’t realize it at the time, but there was but one more to go: “The Seventh Griffin” (DFW, Oct 5, 1935). I haven’t read that one, but I have been told that the series did have a finale, and I kind of hope it was a good one.

   The Griffin was the key reason why the series lasted as long as it did. It is the evil villain who attracts readers, not the mild-mannered adventurer (in this case Gordon Manning) whose sworn duty is to bring the mad killere to well-deserved justice. (Who remembers the fellow who chased Fu Manchu all around the globe, back in the day? Almost nobody.)

   In this case the Griffin sends one of his henchmen to break into Manning’s home — object: eliminate him — not knowing that Manning is ready and waiting for such a contingency. Once the tables are turned, however — and I hope I’m not revealing too much — the tables are turned again, with Manning bands in the hands of the Griffin. And in what better place to be held captive than a mausoleum located below an abandoned cemetery.

   All ends well for Manning, though, have no doubts about that. Narrow escapes in these kinds of stories are only to be expected. On the other hand, the Griffin is shot and wounded as he makes his own escape one more time. You shouldn’t expect a lot of characterization in stories such as this one, and in fact, there isn’t any at all. But they are in fact a lot of fun to read. Not too many at once, though!

  WILLIAM E. BARRETT “Skeleton Key.” Novelette. First published in Ace-High Detective, August 1936. Probably never reprinted.

   To pulp readers of long standing, William E. Barrett is best known for his fifteen stories in Dime Detective Magazine about a chap nicknamed Needle Mike. As described in relation to all fifteen being reprinted in two volumes by Altus Press, Needle Mike was “[A] millionaire playboy with a yen for excitement, young Ken McNally disguises himself as the gray-haired, gold-toothed, jaundiced-looking proprietor of a seedy tattoo parlor in the ‘tenderloin’ district of St. Louis. His unusual occupation frequently brings him into contact with underworld denizens who, willingly or accidentally, embroil him in criminal activities.”

   Totally outrageous and totally unforgettable. William E. Barrett, the author, however, were no mere pulp writer. He later became a well-known bestselling novelist, with [according to Wikipedia] three of his books made into films:

      The Left Hand of God, starring Humphrey Bogart.

      Lilies of the Field based on his novel The Lilies of the Field, featuring Sidney Poitier.

      Pieces of Dreams, based on The Wine and the Music.

   “Skeleton Key” was never made into a film, but perhaps it could have been. It begins on a dark and stormy night (not Barrett’s words, but is true) as a young fellow named Jeff Madison is forced to stop at an isolated cabin for shelter and finds himself confronted with a very strange scene: a dead man with three knives in his chest sitting at a table across from a skeleton. On the table are a pair of dice.

   One man is there before him, and two more in separate automobiles soon stop, also forced to stop in the storm, or so they say. With no way to contact the authorities, all five go to bed for the night. Which of course is when the action begins.

   That’s the setup, and it’s a good one. The explanation is much more complicated, and after all the resulting gunfire ended, Jeff Madison finally learns what was behind it all. Did I forget to tell you that Madison has a secret of his own? On his way to the cabin he found a suitcase filled with $50,000 in cash. I’m afraid I did. How do you like that? Not surprisingly, it is the key to everything.


Previously reviewed from this first issue of Ace-High Detective: FRED MacISAAC “The Corpse Goes East.’

FRITZ LEIBER “Lean Times in Lankhmar.” Published in Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, Book Four. Epic (Marvel) Comics, 1991. Adaptation & script: Howard Chaykin. Pencils & inks: Mike Mignola & Al Williamson. Also in this same issue: “When the Sea King’s Away.” Note: “Lean Times in Lankhmar” was first published in Fantastic SF, November 1959. Reprinted many times.

   Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser are a pair of adventurous rogues living day by day if not moment by moment in the swords and sorcery setting of the city of Lankhmar on the world of Nehwon, just west of the Great Salt Marsh and east of the River Hlal. Fafhrd is a tall powerful barbarian, while the Gray Mouser is a small hotheaded thief extraordinarily good at swordsmanship.

   Their first story, “Two Sought Adventure”, appeared in the pulp magazine Unknown in August 1939, but the story of how they first met was “Ill Met in Lankhmar,” did not appear until the April 1970 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.

   They usually team up well, but at the beginning of this story they have split up, perhaps arguing over the spelling of Fafhrd’s name. (I have trouble, too.) Fafhrd becomes an acolyte of Bwadres, the sole priest of Issek of the Jug, while the Gray Mouser goes to work for a local racketeer named Pulg, who offers protection to “priests of all godlets seeking to become gods — on pain of unpleasant, disturbing, and revolting things happening at future services of the defaulting godlet.”

   And of course in the course of their new occupations, the two heroes’ paths are about to cross. Many consider this story to be one of the funniest sword and sorcery stories ever, and you can count me as being one of them.

   I enjoyed the comic book version, and I do recommend it to you. The structure and setting of the stories, as well as the flashing charisma of the heroes themselves, are perfect for adaptation to graphic novel format, but I kept wondering whether I’d have enjoyed it as much if I didn’t already know the story itself ahead of time.

   The art is fine, but there was a day, back into the 1960s, where to get the story told, the captions and word balloons took almost all the space in the pages of the comic books of the day. No more. The art is now supposed to tell a lot more of the story, but it takes a lot of coordination between writer and artist to make it so. It may very well be the best that could have been done, but I don’t think it happened here. There were several times when if I hadn’t know what was supposed to be happening, I’d have had no clue.

   Or maybe I’m an old dog struggling with new tricks.

by Francis M. Nevins

   Dashiell Hammett is universally acclaimed as the founding father of hard-boiled or what is now called noir crime fiction. I know that Carroll John Daly (1889-1958) entered the field shortly before Hammett, and that his earliest novels predated Hammett’s by a few years. But almost a century after both men began, Daly’s output does not hold up well by comparison, and I don’t have enough years left to explore it in detail. How about the first significant writer who followed in Hammett’s footsteps?

   Raoul Whitfield (1896-1945) was born in New York City, distantly related to Andrew Carnegie through the great industrialist’s wife. His father, a federal civil servant, was assigned to Manila as an accountant shortly after the Spanish-American War, so that Raoul grew up in the Philippines. As a young man he moved to Hollywood and is reported to have appeared in uncredited bit parts in silent movies. Upon the U.S. entry into World War I he enlisted and was trained as an aviator. Apparently his main overseas jobs were shuttling cargo to the front lines in France and towing targets for aerial gun practice, although he claimed heavy air combat experience.

   After the war he settled in Pennsylvania and worked as a laborer in a steel mill, as a bond salesman, and (maybe) as a reporter for the Pittsburgh Post. He married his first and longest-lived wife, the former Prudence Ann Smith (1895-1990), in April 1923.

   Apparently his first short story was “The Pin” (The Cauldron, December 1922), which was reprinted in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine for April 1985, a few years after Fred Dannay’s death, but it wasn’t until 1924 that he started turning them out like bratwursts in a sausage factory, mainly for pulps like Breezy Stories, Droll Stories and Street & Smith’s Sport Story.

   He made his first sale to Black Mask in 1926, with most of his early tales in that iconic magazine being air combat adventures, a genre he claimed to have invented, but within a few years his interests turned to combat between tough guys on terra firma. Once having gotten his feet wet in this new body of water, he became a staunch admirer of Hammett, who’d been swimming in it for about four years before him. They corresponded for a while before finally meeting in Hammett’s San Francisco stamping grounds, and thereafter they met periodically, downing oceans of bootleg liquor on every occasion.

   Hammett’s RED HARVEST had already appeared both in Black Mask (November 1927-February 1928) and as a novel (Knopf, 1929), and THE MALTESE FALCON in serial form (Black Mask, September 1929-January 1930), when Whitfield made his hardcover debut with GREEN ICE (Knopf, 1930), based on five Black Mask stories (December 1929-April 1930) and issued by Hammett’s own publisher at Hammett’s suggestion.

   There’s no private eye in the book, no one comparable to the Continental Op or Sam Spade. Released from Sing Sing after serving a two-year stretch for a vehicular homicide committed by his girlfriend, Mal Ourney (who to my mind would best have been played onscreen by Richard Dix, the star of several early-talkie crime movies) resolves to devote his life and inherited bankroll to wiping out the “crime-breeders,” the big-shot criminals who ensnare, frame and ruin the lives of little crooks.

   His girlfriend comes up to Ossining to reunite with him — or perhaps for a more sinister reason –– and is promptly shot to death, the first of a huge assortment of violent ends that stud Whitfield’s pages, at least a dozen in all and seven of them before the end of Chapter Five. The impossible-to-keep-straight plot involves a host of ruthless characters in pursuit of a fortune in emeralds which turns out to be — well, remember what Hammett’s black bird turned out to be?

   Events begin in Ossining just outside of Sing Sing but soon move to Manhattan and then to Pittsburgh (the dirty burg, Whitfield calls it) and its suburb Duquesne. The steel mill stench is everywhere. “Red flames streaked up into the sky from the plant stacks. Red smoke hung low. The air was heavy, thick with steel grime.” Ourney gets beaten up and blackjacked at least once too often and grins a lot more than a noir protagonist should. And I do get tired of his using human as a synonym for man or person.

   Dot Ellis got more space than most of the other humans. But there was one human that grabbed the headlines.

   “[W]hoever did—that human knew her well enough to know she was left-handed.”

   “….I got the idea that just a few humans were using a lot of other humans as they wanted, then framing them, smashing them—rubbing them out….”

   Until the middle of Chapter VIII Ourney takes it for granted that the black bird of this book is in the form of cash. Then he makes what he himself calls “a blind guess” and says: “Somebody’s after something, but it isn’t a hundred grand. It isn’t fifty grand. Maybe it’s stones.” As indeed it is. Surely Hammett would have found a more elegant way of putting his protagonist on the right track.

   But the book is still readable almost 90 years after its first publication, although clearly not in the same league with Hammett’s classics. Considering the Black Mask serialization dates of all three novels, any similarity with RED HARVEST and THE MALTESE FALCON that one may find in GREEN ICE can hardly be coincidental.


   Whitfield’s second novel, DEATH IN A BOWL (Black Mask, Sept-Nov 1930; Knopf, 1931), is a genuine PI exploit set in Hollywood, with a convincing background of the movie industry at the dawn of talkies and a relatively small cast of characters compared with the hordes that populated GREEN ICE. After screenwriter Howard Frey knocks out German émigré director Ernst Reiner while a tense scene is being shot, both men approach Hollywood PI Ben Jardinn, with Reiner claiming Frey is out to kill him and Frey insisting that the director wants to frame his scenario man in case he’s killed by someone else.

   The actual murder takes place the following evening at a Hollywood Bowl concert attended by some 12,000 people — including Reiner, Frey and the tempestuous star of Reiner’s movie — and conducted by Reiner’s illustrious brother. In the middle of a thunderous tone poem the Bowl lights suddenly go out, a tri-motored plane buzzes the field with its engines roaring, and the conductor is shot in the back four times, although later Whitfield changes his mind and tells us there were only two bullets in the body.

   Except for a plane-crash death and a second murder, not all that much happens in the remainder of the book beyond a constant stream of characters lying to and double-crossing one another, bringing home to us the quintessential noir insight that you can’t know or trust anyone, not even yourself.

   The climax is a somewhat creative variant of THE MALTESE FALCON’s you’re-taking-the-fall-baby denouement — although not in the same class with the twist Erle Stanley Gardner pulled off in the first Perry Mason novel, THE CASE OF THE VELVET CLAWS (1933) — and the style is ersatz Hammett all the way. In both narrative and dialogue “human” is used as a substitute for “person” so often it becomes silly.

       ….[A]ll humans were difficult to work with….

       Humans were still pouring into the Bowl.

       The roar of the plane’s engines filled the bowl of humans.

       Humans were surging from the grass before the shell….

       The police are yelling that I caused an important human to get himself quieted….”

       “….The bushes are tall enough to hide a human.”

   Whitfield didn’t have anywhere near Hammett’s success in Hollywood. Movies were made out of none of his novels and only one short story (“Man Killer” from the April 1932 Black Mask, which was filmed as PRIVATE DETECTIVE 62, Warner Bros., 1933, starring William Powell) but, judging from DEATH IN A BOWL, he seems to have absorbed quite a bit of the early-talkie Hollywood atmosphere, with the director filming a scene required to stay in a sound booth looking down on the stage below.

   The autocratic director character Ernst Reiner was clearly modeled on the great German film-maker Fritz Lang (1895-1975), who in fact was still working in Germany in the early 1930s and didn’t move to the U.S. until a few years later, after Hitler came to power.

   Anyone who wants proof that Lang was on Whitfield’s mind need only look at what Ben Jardinn has to say about Reiner’s movies. “They show a good deal of imagination. Cities of the future, and that sort of thing….” (8) What is this but an unmistakable allusion to Lang’s 1926 masterpiece METROPOLIS? Long before anyone ever heard of the auteur theory, Whitfield has no doubt who holds the power in the film world. “Most directors are more important than writers.” (7)

   Whatever its weaknesses as a detective novel, DEATH IN A BOWL is redeemed by moments like these.


FRED MacISAAC “The Corpse Goes East.” Novelette. First published in Ace-High Detective, August 1936. Probably never reprinted.

   Designed by Popular Publications as a companion to Dime Detective Magazine, their mainstay detective pulp, the August 1936 issue of Ace-High Detective was the first of only seven before it was discontinued. One can only guess, but poor distribution and low sales were both probably to blame. The authors appear to be the same as were used in Dime Detective, but I have the feeling that their better material ended up in the latter, and not this new kid on the block.

   Truth in blogging. The cover image you see there to the right is not mine. My copy of this first issue is has no covers, and I had to borrow the image you see from the Internet. My copy is still readable, of course, and over the next few weeks, I will doing so and reporting on the results here. Other authors whose stories are to come are William E. Barrett, Norbert Davis, Thomas Walsh and a handful of others.

   Up first, though, is “The Corpse Goes East,” by author Fred MacIsaac, who wrote hundreds of stories for the pulps, both detective fiction and some very early science fiction. Although he is noted for his many serialized novels in such magazines as Argosy and Detective Fiction Weekly, relatively few of them were published later in hardcover form, and he’s all but forgotten today.

   The leading protagonist in “The Corpse Goes East” is neither a PI nor a policeman in any shape or form, but almost assuredly your next best guess, a young attorney by the name of Tom Franklin. While still struggling financially, he has a girl friend — or he would, if he ever has enough money to ask her out on a date.

   Things pick up between them, though, when the girl comes by his office as a client. Her aunt, it seems, has disappeared, and the niece thinks foul play is involved, most probably at the hands of her much younger gigolo husband. That the aunt is also wealthy has a good deal to to with the motive, if indeed she is no longer among the living.

   What Franklin soon discovers, besides a lack of a trail at all, is that she left her apartment on her own, it was without a stitch of clothing, as her wardrobe is completely present and accounted for. But neither is she (or her body) in the building. It has been searched thoroughly.

   This begins as a detective story, a rather stiff and formally told one, but toward the end the action picks up considerably. Tom Franklin gets by by impersonating a policeman far too often, as far as I was concerned, but maybe that’s only fair, since the police do not deserve any awards for their work on the case. This is a routine story, if ever there was one, and middling enjoyable. On the other hand, though, it would have been considerably less than that if in 1936 you were reading Ellery Queen or John Dickson Carr, two authors with whom Fred MacIsaac was never in the same league.

 MARTIN H. GREENBERG, Editor – Deadly Doings. Ivy, paperback original; 1st printing, 1989.

#10. RAY BRADBURY “The Small Assassin.” Short story. First published in Dime Mystery Magazine, November 1946. First collected in Dark Carnival (Arkham House, hardcover, 1947); also collected in The October Country (Ballantine, hardcover/paperback, 1954) and A Memory of Murder (Dell paperback original, 1984) among many others. Reprinted many times, including Children of Wonder, edited by William Tenn (Simon & Schuster, hardcover, 1953). TV adaptation: “The Small Assassin” The Ray Bradbury Theater (Season 2, Episode 6). Comic book adaptation: Story in Shock SuspenStories #7 (EC Comics, February/March, 1953) by Al Feldstein and George Evans.

   “The Small Assassin” is without a doubt the most well known story in this Greenberg anthology. Given that all of the others are detective or straightforward crime stories, it is also by far the creepiest. It’s the story of a new mother who is convinced from day one that her new child hates her.

   And why not? Forced from the luxurious living space of the womb into a cold, cold world, why doesn’t every newborn child hate his or her mother? For the sake of the world’s population, it’s lucky that there’s only a one in a billion chances that any one of these infants is able to do anything about it. But a one in a billion chance does not mean none.

   The idea has been the basis of more than one story or movie over the years, I’m sure, but my thought is that Ray Bradbury is the one who came up with it first, and his unique style of writing is all it takes to make the story convincing, all the way to an ending that once read will never be forgotten.


Previously in this Martin Greenberg anthology: EDWARD D. HOCH “The Unicorn’s Daughter.”

DAY KEENE – Joy House. Lion #210, paperback original, 1954. First published in much shorter form as “She Shall Make Murder,” Detective Tales, November 1949. Expanded manuscript, circa 1952. Revised/edited version published by Lion in 1954. Lancer 72-628, reprint paperback, 1962, published in a 2-in-1 edition with City of Sin by Milton K. Ozaki. Reprinted by Stark House Press, softcover, 2017, in a newly revised edition based on the 1952 manuscript by David Laurence Wilson. This is a 3-in-1 edition with Sleep with the Devil (Lion, 1954; reviewed here) and Wake Up to Murder (Avon, 1952; reviewed here). Film: MGM, 1964; also released as The Love Cage.

   If you ever have the urge to read a real down to earth noir novel, as solid as solid can be, and this one’s handy, look no further. You aren’t gong to find many books, nor authors, better than this one. If you have to go looking, though, you’ll probably need to pass on coming up with the Lion edition. I’ll get back to this, but I just looked, and there’s only one copy offered on abebooks.com right now, and that one has an asking price of $250.

   The book opens with our protagonist — not hero — awakening in a Chicago flophouse following a weeks-long drunken binge. How he made it to Chicago from California Mark Harris does not know. At one time a top notch criminal lawyer, all he remembers now is killing his wife, faking an accident to put the authorities off the trail, and going on the run.

   And here’s what every bum on skid row dreams of. A rich “crazy” lady whose support the mission depends on, sees him and he’s cleaned himself up, asks him if he’d like to be her chauffeur. A widow, Mrs. Hill is blonde, beautiful and still young. Would you say no? Mark Harris doesn’t either.

   He also knows, or strongly senses, that she has an ulterior motive in mind. Alone in a boarded up relic of a house for ten years, with only a black maid for company, indeed she does. The maid knows full well what is going on, and she is quite correct.

   All is well for a while. Mrs. Hill has a past, though, and when a man from that past makes his way into the house, he ends up dead, and it is up to Mark Harris (now Phil Thomas, an “accountant” from Atlanta) to dispose of the body. Even though it is May Hill’s plan for them to get married and escape to Rio, it is downhill all the way from here.

   And if you can stop reading once you’ve gotten to this point, you’re a better person than I am. Keene’s prose may have been pulpish and not always polished, true. It is gritty and fatalistic but never quite salacious — you can use your imagination for that.

   Every word pulls you on to the next, and not always gently. Entire pages will be swallowed up in a gulp, until you’ve reached the last one, when at last you can come up for air and let yourself savor the ending just a while longer.

   If I’ve intrigued you at all, and I hope I have, my suggestion is to obtain a copy of the recent Stark House edition. With two other novels included, all three by Day Keene, it’s quite a bargain.

Next Page »