Pulp Fiction


WINDY CITY PULP CONVENTION 2021 REPORT
by Walker Martin


   A group of about five collectors have been making this trip out to Chicago for over 10 years but this year only three of us made the two day drive out to the convention. One of our group could not make it due to pandemic restrictions and one hurt his back moving bookcases just prior to the show. This injury was especially sad since he always looks forward to the pulp shows and has been attending them since the second Pulpcon in 1973.

   We had nice weather driving to and from the show and enjoyed several meals together, especially the ones at the Outback and Longhorn Steak House. The three of us discussed several topics during the drive, including memories of past Pulpcons and my adventures at the first one in 1972, a mere 50 years ago. Somehow it feels like only the other day that I drove out to St Louis and discovered so many great friends and great pulps.

   In fact we often hear about people entering their second childhood if they live long enough, and the same rule applies to pulp and book collectors. For instance back in the 1980’s I got rid of my almost complete set of G-8 and His Battle Aces and here I am 40 years later buying a complete set of the 110 issues again. I imagine I will dislike Nippy and Bull just as much as I did decades ago, but I also love the great insane covers just like I did so long ago. Thanks Doug. Just what I needed, another set of G-8 to complain about.

   What else did I buy? I have an almost complete set of Sea Stories, over 112 issues and I’ve always wanted an original cover painting. Thanks to Doug (again!) I bought the painting for the cover of the June 20, 1923 issue. True, this is not a great one like the ones Anton Otto Fischer painted, but then again I probably cannot afford such great art anyway.

   I’ve been buying paperback cover art by Larry Schwinger for over 30 years, starting in 1989 with two Cornell Woolrich covers. This convention I bought another one, a real bargain at only $100. But my old pal Scott Hartshorn beat me to another bargain by Schwinger, the cover to Hombre by Elmore Leonard. I tried to immediately buy it from Scott, but he’s so greedy that he refused my offer.

   I also bought some books including 3 volumes of the R.A. Lafferty collections presently being published by Centipede Press. They plan to publish 12 volumes but the print runs are only 300 each, so they go out of print fast and are expensive to find. Speaking of books, Ed Hulse had an advance copy of his new history of vintage paperbacks. Go to the Murania Press website to order. The book has over 450 paperback covers in color and will be shipping starting September 28. The title is The Art of Pulp Fiction: An Illustrated History of Vintage Paperbacks.

   There were some paintings I wanted to buy but I talked myself out of buying them because I have no space and I don’t want to add to the stacks of art leaning against the walls and bookcases, a common problem that collectors face as they accumulate art. Fred Taraba had a great Frontier Stories cover painting from 1925 and Craig Poole had a McCauley from Amazing Stories but I manage to escape the show without adding to the stacks of art.

   During the old days of Pulpcon in the 1970’s, 1980’s and 1990’s, there were often what we called “feeding frenzies”, where the entire dealer’s room seems to swarm around certain tables with rare and desirable pulps. This no longer happens that often but it did at this Windy City show. Andrew Zimmerli had several tables crammed with hundreds of rare old pulps.

   To give you an example of what happened, Matt Moring missed the first day of the feeding frenzy but still managed to find around 50 old Adventure’s that he needs, mainly from the hard to get teens. He now only needs 40 or 50 issues to complete the set of 753 pulp issues, 1910-1953. Non-collectors may not understand this but believe me it is a major achievement.

   Doug Ellis mentioned to me that attendance was 500 and there were 168 tables. Despite the pandemic, these are excellent numbers. Masks were required, maid service limited and restaurant hours limited. The auction was the main event for Friday and Saturday evening. In the old days’, Rusty Hevelin believed the comic book dealers should by banned from Pulpcon, but we live in The Brave New World today and so the comic book influence was evident. For instance the so called “bat girl” cover of Weird Tales sold for $11,000 and there were conversations about “slabbing” pulps.

   This is the future where we will see rare and expensive pulps slabbed like many comics in plastic. Readers Beware!! I guess we will have to change the old saying, “So many books, so little time” to “So many books, but since they are enclosed in plastic, we have plenty of time”. The “slabbers” say only the expensive books will be slabbed and there will be reprints to read but to me slabbing books is still sacrilege. I get it about slabbing baseball cards but pulps and books?

   The auction also included over 300 lots of other Weird Tales, rare pulps, Robert Howard items, and correspondence, including some great letters from Farnsworth Wright, the editor of Weird Tales. Most of the items were from the estates of Robert Weinberg and Glenn Lord.

   There were two panels. The Friday night panel discussed upcoming books by Edgar Rice Burroughs and the Saturday night panel discussed the magazine, Black Mask. I talked about how I managed to complete a set of the 340 issues back in the 1970’s and fellow panelists also discussed the Joseph Shaw era and the Ken White years of 1940-1948. The other three collectors on the panel were long time collectors John Wooley, Will Murray, and Matt Moring. We had to be tough and hard boiled to talk about such a subject in only 45 minutes!

   There was the usual art show and films. This year Ed Hulse ran the films only during the day and not at night or after the auction. As usual Sunday was New Pulp Sunday with panels discussing the subject. The 20th edition of Windy City Pulp Stories was excellent and all 158 pages dealt with Black Mask and Dashiell Hammett. This is a must buy if you have any interest in pulps or Hammett.

   The next Windy City Pulp show will be May 6, 2022 through May 8, 2022. Same hotel and hosted as usual by Doug Ellis and John Gunnison. Thank you for your efforts. I know a lot of work went into this convention. Thanks too to Paul Herman and Matt Moring for allowing me the use of the photos they took for this report. I hope everyone survives the plague and that we all meet again next year!

CONVENTION REPORT: PulpFest 2021
by Walker Martin

   Finally, after two years a Pulpfest! Last year there was no convention because of the virus and I had not missed a show in a very long time. I almost went to Pittsburgh anyway in 2020 just to morosely hang out at the hotel but I couldn’t talk anyone else into driving out. But this year there was a convention and I swore I’d make it, pandemic or no pandemic.

   Since one of our group decided not to drive with us, there was only four of us and we therefore did not need the larger van. Driving out was nice weather, unlike the horror story driving back at the end of the show. We arrived at 3 pm on Thursday and found the dealer’s room to be busy with most tables set up for business. I estimate well over 300 in attendance and a hundred or so tables. I heard that attendance was supposed to be a lot larger but there was a 25% cancellation during the past two weeks as collectors either bit the dust or decided to not attend due to the pandemic.

   The dealer’s room closed at 5 pm and was immediately followed by a great pizza party hosted by many of the dealers. I then hung out in the hotel bar with friends where I drank five pints of beer. I firmly believe that drinking a lot of beer helps scare away the virus. Also it was free, due to my fellow collectors who also believe that beer is the staff of life. Thank you Matt Moring, Richard Meli and the veteran whose name I did not catch. Later on the bartender claimed he did not pay the bar tab, and he came to me for payment. But I told him I only drink the beer. I don’t pay for it. Plus he’s a vet. He should get free beer.

   The next morning I got up and followed my usual practice of getting rid of hangovers by eating a large breakfast and drinking plenty of coffee. I have to admit the hotel serves the best and largest buffet breakfast that I have ever encountered. It was delicious.

   Then into action when the dealer’s room opened at 9 am. Masks were recommended and most started off wearing them but as the day progressed, the masks came off. I told Matt it was like a scene out of Fritz Leiber’s “Coming Attraction” in the November 1950 issue of Galaxy SF. Social distancing was followed, but then we stopped worrying and concentrated on buying pulps and books.

   What did I buy? Well Doug Ellis had some great art for sale, especially cover paintings and interiors by Hubert Rogers. I almost bought some but I talked myself out of buying any since I have stacks of art leaning against my walls and bookcases. However history was made as my old friend Digges La Touche bought a cover painting from a paperback. In 50 years he has never bought art, except for one Barbara Cartland paperback cover. He always concentrates on buying masses of pulps, but no more I guess. I stop buying art and he starts.

   I also found some of the extremely rare and hard to find large issues of Everybody’s from the WW I era. Sai Shanker had an excellent article in the new Pulpster about the history of Everybody’s. The magazine lasted 355 issues and went from slick to pulp. He will soon publish a collection of the best stories from the magazine. Speaking of upcoming books, Steeger Books, otherwise known as Matt Moring, will be coming out with a collection of “The Campfire” letters from Adventure in the twenties. These books are must buys if you collect fiction magazines.

   As usual I had a table and sold some rare items. This time I had some duplicates of of the Manhunt Detective imitators. These digest magazines were published in the fifties and sixties and have sexy covers showing girls fighting or killing some poor guy. Cool! I’ve been collecting these digest since 1956, so I’ve been at it for 65 years. Time flies when you are having fun, and I considering collecting magazines to be a hell of a lot of fun. My wife thinks different.

   The Pulpster 30 was given to all the attendees and it was the best issue yet of all the 30 issues. William Lampkin is the editor and Mike Chomko the publisher. Copies are available from Mike Chomko Books and I give this magazine my highest recommendation. It’s large format, 8 1/2 by 11, 60 pages, and in color. Several articles were on The Shadow, including interviews with artists Jerome Rozen and Graves Gladney. Other articles dealt with the love pulps (escape literature for three million maidens), the debut of online newgroups dealing with pulps, the history of Everybody’s by Sai Shanker, Tony Davis on editor Dorothy McIIwraith, and a Darrell Schweitzer interview with Hugh Cave.

   PulpFest is known for the great programming and all the panels and discussions were outstanding. If I had to pick one above all the others I would have to highly recommend Laurie Powers’ “The Queen and Her Court: Great Women Pulp Editors.” It is obvious that Laurie spent a lot of time on this presentation which deserves to be reprinted in a print magazine or book. It is a great example of original pulp research and not just the rehashing of well known facts.

   Other programming was also noteworthy like the discussion on Shadow artists. This was supposed to be presented by David Saunders but he could not attend and Chet Williamson stepped in. I also liked Doug Ellis on Margaret Brundage and the discussion on Eva Lynd: Countess, Actress, and Cover girl. Eva Lynd was supposed to be the Guest of Honor but could not attend but she sent a very nice thank you film.

   This was also the first year of ERBFest. I hope these Edgar Rice Burroughs scholars and fans will return next year. As usual the presentation of The Munsey Award was a highlight of the programming. This year’s award was given to Rich Harvey who has not only published many pulp books and magazines, but more importantly, has been the organizer behind the annual one day convention, Pulp Adventurecon. There have been more that 20 of these shows usually held in Bordentown during November of each year. Congratulations Rich!

   The auction was held Saturday night and though there was no estate auction, many collectors contributed items of interest. Halfway through the auction an overpowering thirst descended upon me, and I adjourned to the bar where unlike Thursday and Friday, I had to pay for my own drinks. I forget which night it happened but the fire alarm went off, and we had to leave the hotel. Fortunately I had a full beer in hand and simply strolled out the door hoping that not too many pulps would be destroyed. Many other collectors had to get dressed and leave their beds. That’s what happens when you go to bed too early.

   I was glad to see that Blood n Thunder had not bit the dust. The Blood n Thunder 2021 Annual made its debut as well as Sam Sherman’s When Dracula Met Frankenstein. Both published by Ed Hulse’s Murania Press.

   Next year will be the 50th Anniversary of Pulpcon/Pulpfest. The first one was held in 1972 and I was there! I sure as hell wish all the other attendees were still around and we could have a panel discussing the good old days. But it’s getting down to The Last Man Standing and hopefully I’ll be present to talk about the way things were and what happened. In 1972 I was one of the youngest collectors present and now in 2021, I’m one of the oldest. My advice for a long life? Drink Beer and collect books, pulps, and art. It worked for me!

   Driving home on Sunday was a mess. Heavy rain and the nagging fear of water in the basement. But I dodged the bullet again and my basement was dry. My pulps and wife welcomed me home.

   I would like to thank the Pulpfest committee: Jack Cullers, Sally Cullers, Mike Chomko, Peter Chomko, William Lampkin, William Maynard, Tony Davis, Barry Traylor. I know I’m leaving out someone else and maybe Mike or Jack could list the correct committee in the comments.

   Windy City Pulp Convention is only a couple weeks away. I hope to see you there!

OBSERVATIONS AND
OTHER INSIGHT BY DAN STUMPF:

   

FYODOR DOSTOEVSKY – Crime and Punishment. Translation from the Russian of Prestuplenye i Nakazanye.  First published in the literary journal The Russian Messenger in twelve monthly installments in 1866. Vizetelly, UK, hardcover, 1886. Crowell, US, hardcover, 1886.   There have been over 25 film adaptations of the book.

   Just finished this book, but I don’t Intend to review it here; I get the feeling all the best things have already been written about it, and besides, it’s pretty easy to spot the killer. One major problem I had with it, though: the story is supposed to be set in St. Petersburg, but this guy doesn’t write like he’s ever even been to Florida. Descriptions, names. even the money are all wrong. If I were giving him advice, I’d say, “write what you know, Fyodor.”

         Taken from the Murania Press website:

   The award-winning journal of adventure, mystery, and melodrama is back! After a two-year absence Blood ‘n’ Thunder returns as a book-length Annual, its 264 pages crammed with articles, illustrations, and fiction reprints. As always, the emphasis is on pulp magazines, vintage Hollywood movies, and Old Time Radio drama.

   The Annual’s first section is a centennial tribute to the legendary detective pulp Black Mask, which celebrated its 100th birthday last year (an event planned for recognition in the canceled Spring 2020 issue of BnT). In addition to a history of the Mask, our tribute includes two reprinted articles from old writers’ magazines: a 1929 issue analysis by literary agent August Lenniger and a 1934 feature on pulp fictioneering by the Mask‘s most famous editor, Joseph T. “Cap” Shaw.

   Also, Will Murray profiles aviation-pulp writer George Bruce (one of the few pulpsters to hit the big time as a Hollywood screenwriter); Tom Krabacher discusses the fantasy-adventure novels written by Spider scribe Norvell W. Page for Unknown; Denny Lien examines the 1936 one-shot pulp featuring Flash Gordon; Gilbert Colon compares the prose and filmed versions of H. P. Lovecraft’s classic yarn “Dreams in the Witch-House”; Matt Moring reveals the true identity of enigmatic pulpster “W. Wirt”; and Sai Shanker offers a history of the Butterick Company, the New York dress-pattern company that published Adventure, Romance, and Everybody’s magazines.

   Additionally, Will Oliver covers the abortive Weird Tales radio show and a later attempt at supernatural horror, The Witch’s Tale. And there’s a lengthy excerpt from the new book by Martin Grams and Terry Salomonson on the creation and early development of the Lone Ranger radio program. BnT editor-publisher Ed Hulse contributes well-researched essays on the 1929 film adaptation of A. Merritt’s Seven Footprints to Satan, the 1943 Republic serial Secret Service in Darkest Africa, and the early career of well-regarded “B”-movie director George Sherman.

   Finally, the Annual reprints “Mountain Man,” the 1934 first installment in Robert E. Howard’s hilarious Western short-story series featuring Breckinridge Elkins.

PRICE INCLUDES SHIPPING TO BUYERS IN THE U.S. ONLY. INTERNATIONAL BUYERS MUST CONTACT US FIRST TO DETERMINE ADDITIONAL SHIPPING COSTS.

REVIEWED BY DAVID VINEYARD:

   

A(BRAHAM) MERRITT – Boni & Liveright, hardcover, 1928.  First published as a five-part serial in Argosy Allstory Weekly between July 2 and July 30, 1927. Reprinted many times, both in hardcover and paperback, including Fantastic Novels Magazine, January 1949.

SEVEN FOOTPRINTS TO SATAN.  First National, 1929. Thelma Todd, Creighton Hale, Sheldon Lewis. Screenplay by Richard Bee (Benjamin Christensen), based on the novel by Abraham Merritt. Title Cards by William Irish (Cornell Woolrich).  Directed by Benjamin Christensen. First released as a silent film and later as a part-talkie.

   The warning had come to me in many places this last fortnight. I had felt the unseen watchers time and again in the Museum where I had gone to look at the Yunnan jades I had made it possible for rich old Rockbilt to put there with distinct increase to his reputation as a philanthropist; it had come to me in the theater and while riding in the Park; in the brokers’ offices where I myself had watched the money the jades had brought me melt swiftly away in a game which I now ruefully admitted I knew less than nothing about. I had felt it in the streets, and that was to be expected. But I had also felt it at the Club, and that was not to be expected and it bothered me more than anything else.

   The club is the Discoverer’s Club in New York, and the uneasy narrator is James Kirkham, adventurer and explorer, who is about to find himself in an urban nightmare out of the Arabian Nights by way of the Twilight Zone, as in short order he will be confronted by his own double and find himself in a deadly real game with a fortune at stake, his soul in peril, and Satan incarnate spinning the wheel.

   Abraham Merritt is best known as a fantasist and author of scientific romances full of implausible plots, unclad other worldly women, and sensual lush prose pitting his heroes (Merritt heroes always seemed to be falling through mirrors or the equivalent into sensual violent dreams) against strange half worlds and ungodly creations. His best known titles like The Ship of Ishtar, Face in the Abyss, The Moon Pool, and The Metal Monster were highly influential on writers such as Lovecraft, Howard, and Clark Ashton Smith as well as the likes of Fritz Leiber, Henry Kuttner, C. L. Moore, Leigh Brackett, Ray Bradbury, and many more. Merritt also wrote two famous horror novels where crime and the fantastic mixed in Creep Shadow and Burn Witch Burn (which features a cross dressing vengeance obsessed madman who turns living people into murderous dolls and was made into an MGM film with Lionel Barrymore).

   I won’t kid you that the plot here is ever plausible, but then neither does Merritt. His saving grace as a writer, beyond his graceful style and vivid imagination, was that he plunged headlong into the swirling madness that confronted his heroes and dragged the reader right with them. Merritt, like Dunsany before him, had a true gift at spinning fancies, terrors, and dreamscapes that were by turns gilded fantasy and soul numbing horrors.

   This one is a Gothic nightmare out of the true tradition of Shelley, Lewis, and Mrs. Radcliffe but with a modern pulp sensibility.

   In the dark Kirkham encounters a stranger (“I saw a dark, ascetic face, smooth-shaven, the mouth and eyes kindly and the latter a bit weary, as though from study.”) who engages him in a strange conversation:

   “A beautiful night, sir,” he tossed the match from him. “A night for adventure. And behind us a city in which any adventure is possible.”

   I looked at him more closely. It was an odd remark, considering that I had unquestionably started out that night for adventure…

   “That ferryboat yonder,” he pointed, seemingly unaware of my scrutiny. “It is an argosy of potential adventure. Within it are mute Alexanders, inglorious Caesars and Napoleons, incomplete Jasons each almost able to retrieve some Golden Fleece–yes, and incomplete Helens and Cleopatras, all lacking only one thing to round them out and send them forth to conquer.”

   “Lucky for the world they’re incomplete, then,” I laughed. “How long would it be before all these Napoleons and Caesars and Cleopatras and all the rest of them were at each other’s throats — and the whole world on fire?”

   “Never,” he said, very seriously. “Never, that is, if they were under the control of a will and an intellect greater than the sum total of all their wills and intellects. A mind greater than all of them to plan for all of them, a will more powerful than all their wills to force them to carry out those plans exactly as the greater mind had conceived them.”

   “The result, sir,” I objected, “would seem to me to be not the super-pirates, super-thieves and super-courtesans you have cited, but super-slaves.”

   The curious man is Dr. Consardine and in very short order, he and a beautiful girl who calls herself Eve Walton claim Kirkham is the girl’s mentally unstable sweetheart and virtually kidnap him under the eyes of the police (The game was rigged up against me all the way…), delivering him to a mysterious destination somewhere in Westchester or Long Island (“I saw an immense building that was like some chateau transplanted from the Loire. Lights gleamed brilliantly here and there in wings and turrets.”) where he meets his mysterious host, who knows far more about Kirkham than he should and who finally introduces himself with a strange offer.

  “Since everything upon this earth toward which I direct my will does as that will dictates,” he answered, slowly, “you may call me — Satan!

   “And what I offer you is a chance to rule this world with me — at a price, of course!”

   It turns out Eve Walton and others in the employee of Satan are unwilling pawns in his game, an elaborate and hellish game where each individual must wager his life and free will against a promise of fabulous wealth. There are seven shining footprints of Buddha, three are holy, three doom whoever steps on them. Satan has set up an unholy game in an elaborate temple in which the players risk their souls to attain the three holy footsteps that lead to Nirvana on Earth, wealth, wisdom, love, happiness, health … all things men and women will risk their lives for.

   Kirkham, ever the gambler, has nothing to lose, but he is playing the game for higher stakes than even Satan imagines. As is usually true with Merritt, the conclusion is no disappointment with retribution, madness, drugged slaves, gunfire, explosions, and madness let lose when Satan overplays his hand.

   Seven Footprints to Satan came to the big screen in 1929 under the capable hand of director Benjamin Christensen and with title cards by a young Cornell Woolrich using his William Irish by-line. A well known cast including Thelma Todd and Creighton Hale starred, and the result might have been fascinating because Woolrich certainly knew something about wringing the last ounce of suspense out of purple prose and outlandish nightmare plots — but alas Christensen and the studio decided to make a comedy out of the book in the style of The Cat and the Canary, and the result is a mildly diverting mess that turns out to be a variation on Earl Derr Biggers’ Seven Keys to Baldpate. Without giving that plot away I will only say it is the most annoying in the genre.

   But we have the book, a fine mix of melodrama and terror replete with a satisfying bloody-mindedness where needed, a splendid larger than life villain, clever hero, and enough sheer gall and narrative drive to compel the reader through the unlikely goings on. It is far from Merritt’s best work, but it has its own loony internal logic if you give yourself over to it, and its author writes rings around most of the writers who attempt this kind of fancy.

   There are a few unfortunate, mostly mild, problems as with most books of this period, nothing too awful or offensive, but you have been warned. (Merritt is no Sapper or Sidney Horler, thankfully.) It stands as an Arabian filigree of romance, Gothic horrors, dream like qualities, and fancies that asks only that the reader be willing to surrender to it all, and still has its rewards if you do.
   

FRANCIS K. ALLAN “The Lost Hours of Murder.” Published in Dime Mystery Magazine, August 1948. Probably never reprinted.

   The final story in this issue, “The Lost Hours of Murder,” by Francis K. Allan, is the second of two full “novels” contained therein, and as such runs to all of nineteen and a half (pulp-size) pages.

   Allan, by the way, was an extremely prolific writer for the detective pulps. During the years right after the war you could hardly pick one up and not read one of bis stories. In 1945 and 1947 he had a couple of hardcover novels published, but then none from then on until 1976, when he wrote Death in Gentle Grove, which I’m sure nobody else but me remembers. I do because it was one of the first books I did when I started writing reviews for the Hartford Courant.

   (I might be wrong, but it’s my impression that Allan went on to law school and better things, thus explaining the 30 year gap in his writing career.)

   “The Lost Hours of Murder” concerns a guy who wakes up on what he thinks is Thursday but discovers when he gets to  work that it is really Friday, and his partner, with whom he apparently quarreled in the interim, has mysteriously disappeared. It’s a classic situation, but even in full “novel” length, Alla’s tale is crowded, without all the space he needs to do anything with it.

   Cornell Woolrich, say, might have done better with the premise, which is a good one, but as it is, only the first half of this one holds any interest at all. There’s no hint of any supernatural influences at work, which was common in stories published in Dime Mystery Magazine, just a straight-forward mystery story, interesting for the moment but also instantly forgettable.

         ___

Final Thought: Unfortunately, maybe that last phrase would apply just as well to pulp magazines in general. It would make a great epitaph, wouldn’t it? “Throwaway literature at its finest!”

– Slightly revised from Mystery*File #30, April 1991.

ARTHUR LEO ZAGAT “Man of Granite.” Novella. Published in Dime Mystery Magazine, August 1948. Probably never reprinted.

   Back in August, 1948, Dime Mystery Magazine cost fifteen cents. (I don’t know how they got around that, but they did.) It had been around since December, 1932, as Dime Mystery Book, and lasted until October 1950, by which time it was known as 15 Mystery Stories. The stories throughout its run were often a blend of mystery and supernatural fiction, with the latter usually explained away in the final two paragraphs.

   The cover of this issue shows a man being subdued by a cloaked and hooded figure in black, with chalk-white hands holding a knife to the victim’s throat, but to me, it’s not as horrifying a sight as it might seem. It’s effective but just little too static for me, especially for a pulp cover. You opinion may vary.

   The lead story, “Man of Granite,” by Arthur Leo Zagat, takes place during a single night that a young babysitter named Arlene Morgan is not likely to forget. Ever.

   Why don’t I quote to you the first paragraph? It’ll do two things. It’ll set the stage more than I could in simply telling you about it, and it’ll also show you exactly how a pulp story almost always began: right at the begin, daring you, if you will, to put the magazine down before it’s over. (And these were also the day when authors who lost their readers were also authors who were soon out looking for another line of work.)

   It wasn’t being alone in the house, except for the baby, that made Arlene Morgan uneasy. She’d done a lot of baby-sitting since her sixteenth birthday, last May, and she’d gotten used to the silence of an empty home and the noises within the silence: old wood whisperings to itself, scurrying inside ancient walls, ivy rustling against windows dark at night.

   
   This is the story, as it turns out, of a Golem, the stone monster of Frankfort, but what he is doing in this story, and what relationship he has with the parents of the child Alene is watching, it’s still not clear by story’s end.

   Several twists in the story have taken place by then. Even so, a final twist in the last few paragraphs shatters the reconstruction of the night’s events that Arlene’s father has carefully put together, shattering it to bits, leaving the reader to put everything back in order, if it’s something that can be done.

   It’s an unsettling end to an unsettling sort of story, full of dankness and noises in the night. It’s clumsily told at times, so at first thought it’s not quite clear if Zagat (a prolific but rather obscure SF and mystery writer in his day) fully intended the ending to be as perfectly matched to the story as it is – at least in the way I’m looking at it – of if it’s purely coincidental.

   It’s probably a little of both, but on reconsideration, I’m going to give Zagat the full benefit of the doubt, and say this is nicely inspired ending after all – in spite of (or maybe because of) all the loose ends.

– Slightly revised from Mystery*File #30, April 1991.

   

VINCENT STARRETT “Footsteps of Fear.” First published in The Black Mask, April 1920. Collected in The Quick and the Dead (Arkham House, hardcover, 1965). Reprinted in The Big Book of Rogues and Villains, edited by Otto Penzler (Black Lizard, softcover, 2017).

   Dr. Loxley has it made, or so he thinks. He has killed his wife Lora, but the police are not on his trail – not as the killer, that is. He made his plans well in advance, and to all intents and purposes is considered dead as well, as he (under his own name) has completely vanished. But under a new name and a new profession, he is doing quite well: as the frosted glass door outside his outer office says, he is now William Drayham, Rare Books, Hours by Appointment.

   He is friends with his neighbors on the same floor, and he does not need to leave his building. It has all the amenities he needs: restaurants, barber shops, and so on. And as a big plus, the sign on the door was “formidable enough to frighten away casual visitors.”

   This may have been an inside joke included here on the part of the author, a well known bookman of his era. Stories in this very first issue of Black Mask were far from the hardboiled fare for which it later became famous.

   It is, however, reminiscent of one that magazine’s better known writers, Cornell Woolrich, with a twist in the ending that brings a severe comeuppance to the former Dr. Loxley. In spite of the new name and facial features, he becomes more and more convinced that his plans have fallen short, and a zinger of an ending worthy of a story on Alfred Hitchcock’s television show ensues, well thirty or forty years ahead of its time.

   Here below is a list of the other stories in that same issue of Black Mask, taken from the online Crime Fiction Index. Only Harold Ward’s name, he being a long time pulpster, is vaguely familiar to me. I’m going out on a limb here, without reading any of the other tales, but I suspect none of the others have anything very much to offer modern day readers. This one by Starrett may be the only one that’s ever been reprinted.
   

      The Black Mask [Vol. I No. 1, April 1920]

Who and Why? · J. Frederic Thorne
The Stolen Soul · Harold Ward
The House Across the Way · Sarah Harbine Weaver
The Peculiar Affair at the Axminster · Julian Kilman
The Puzzle of the Hand · Stewart Wells
Piracy · Harry C. Hervey, Jr.
The Mysterious Package · David E. Harriman & John I. Pearce, Jr.
A Small Blister · David Morrison
Hands Up! · Ray St. Vrain
Footsteps of Fear · Vincent Starrett
The Dead and the Quick · Gertrude Brooke Hamilton
The Long Arm of Malfero · Edgar Daniel Kramer

WILLIAM JOHNSTON – The Affair in Duplex 9B.  George H, Doran, hardcover, 1927. Previously serialized as “Duplex Nine” in six installments in Flynn’s Weekly between January 8 and February 5, 1927. Also published in the Sunday newspaper supplement for the Philadelphia Inquirer Public Ledger, dated Sunday, December 16, 1934.

   According to Hubin, William Johnston wrote a, total of nine mystery-novels published between 1910 and 1928 (he died in 1929), but if I were to say he is unknown today, it would be the understatement of the year. Pulp collectors might like to note that this particular novel was previously serialized in Flynn’s Detective Fiction Weekly in early 1927, however, and this is probably the only reason I picked this one up when found it in a used bookshop not too long ago.

   Johnston is no Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler, though, and you needn’t go out of your way to find any of his other books, either. (Still, he also wrote a book called The Fun of Being Fat Man, and while it’s not one of his mysteries it does sound interesting.)

   His hero in this book is Hugh Chilton, a young assistant district attorney who is on the scene when a famous diplomat mysteriously collapses and dies at a party, It is there that Chilton also falls in love (at first sight) with the equally young (and pretty) singer who otherwise should have been the chief suspect in the case. Hard as nails, he’s not.

   And he’s no detective, either. Every so often the action stops as he (and the author) go over the case and clues that have been gathered up to that point, and no matter how he shifts them around, he never does come up with a satisfactory theory for the affair. Only a grizzled old reporter named Taylor seems to be actively pursuing the case, as he keeps coming up with stories for his paper, using facts that the police have just gotten to themselves.

   The underworld in the late 20s was a glitzy sort of place that the rich and famous flocked to in droves, and dope smugglers are  eventually  discovered to be the key to the crime. If it weren’t for the only slightly stilted way of telling the story, it would be nearly as up-to-date as today’s newspapers.

   But as a detective story, it lacks a strong finale. Chilton is outwitted by Taylor at nearly every turn, and he’s not likely to ever have been given such a big case again — but on the other hand, he does end up with the girl. More than that, maybe it’s impolite to ask.

– Slightly revised from Mystery*File #30, April 1991.
REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:

   

CORNELL WOOLRICH “I Wouldn’t be in Your Shoes.” Novelette. First published in Detective Fiction Weekly, 12 March 1938. Collected in I Wouldn’t Be in Your Shoes (Lippincott, hardcover, 1943), as by William Irish. Reprinted many times.

I WOULDN’T BE IN YOUR SHOES. Monogram, 1948. Don Castle, Elyse Knox, Regis Toomey, and Robert Lowell. Screenplay by Steve Fisher. Produced by Walter Mirisch. Directed by William Nigh.

   At his worst, Woolrich could be wordy, verbose, prolix, repetitive, redundant, tiring and tedious. He could take a metaphor, strap it to the rack, and stretch it till the reader screamed for mercy. But at his best, he could wring poetry out of plot twists and make the pages sing with strange, melancholy music.

   This is Woolrich at his best.

   Tom Quinn starts out on a hot August night as a working stiff, married, and living on the ragged edge of poverty. By the story’s end, it will be Christmas, and he’ll sit on Death Row, framed by circumstances that could only occur in Woolrich’s dark Universe. It begins with him throwing his shoes out the window at noisy cats, builds as the shoes disappear and are mysteriously returned, then twists when he finds money on the street — money taken in a robbery-and-murder committed by someone wearing his shoes. Even his wife begins to doubt his innocence.

   Whereupon Woolrich picks up a familiar theme: The Cop who pinched him begins to doubt his guilt and sets out to find the real killer, a feat achieved with fast-moving prose and a bit of genuine pathos. So Tom is free again. But fate and Woolrich have one last surprise for him….

   In 1948, a producer named Walter Mirisch at Monogram foresaw the end of B-Movies as second-features and began the lengthy and sporadic process of transforming the runty little studio into the less-runty Allied Artists. Mirisch went on to things like West Side Story, Allied Artists gave us Cabaret, but in the meantime, there were still a lot of B’s to churn out, and I Wouldn’t Be in Your Shoes was one of them.

   The thing is, Shoes shows some of the extra care and attention of a producer and studio aiming just a little bit higher. Don Castle and Elyse Knox take the leads as married dancers whose careers have stalled out — not unlike the careers of Castle and Knox themselves — and when he finds the money, they react believably. Screenwriter Steve Fisher wisely keeps in as many of the characters and as much of the Woolrich dialogue as the budget will allow, and he even rings in a familiar twist of his own to skew things a bit more.

   What impressed me most about this, though, was the acting. Everyone involved, down to Second Detective, sounds convincing. And Robert Lowell (who he?) makes a lasting impression as the unlucky guy ultimately tracked down by gumshoe Regis Toomey.

   Don’t get me wrong. This is still a B-Movie programmer, with most of the faults attendant on that art form. But it’s interesting and entertaining to see everyone giving it so much.

   

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