Pulp Fiction

 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.

T. T. FLYNN “Barred Doors.” Short novel. Mike Harris & Trixie Meehan #7. First appeared in Detective Fiction Weekly, May 18, 1935. Probably never reprinted.

   I may be wrong, but whenever female private eyes have come up for discussion on this blog, especially those who primarily appeared in the pulp magazines, the name Trixie Meehan has never been mentioned. It’s true that she always played second fiddle to Mike Harris, her fellow operative for the Blaine Agency, but she’s her own woman with her own cases, and the fact that every so often she’s able to give Harris a helping hand is no reflection on her ability.

   In “Barred Doors” Harris is given the job of tracking down the secretary who seems to have disappeared with a half million dollars worth of unregistered Liberty bonds taken from the safe of the agency’s client, Sir Douglas Carter MacClain.

   Naturally there is a gangster involved and the gangster’s ex girl friend, who has lately been seen gong out on the town with the missing secretary. There is a kidnapping involved, and a strange form of blackmail, or so it is revealed, but with both Mike Harris and Trixie Meehan on the case, everything eventually works out justice finally prevails.

   The story is suitably complicated and well told, but to me, there’s just not enough zip to it to make it more than just a step above average, but above average it most certainly is. There doesn’t seem to be anything of a romantic nature between Mike and Trixie, just a lot of light bickering and back-and-forth banter, nothing more serious than that.

   Having sold off a large number of my DFW collection, I may not get a chance to read another of their adventures, but I’d like to. There were sixteen of them between 1933 and 1951, all but the last published in Detective Fiction Weekly. That final one appeared in Detective Tales, some ten years after the previous one. (It is possible that this last one is a reprint of an earlier story under a new title.)

FRANK GRUBER “The Sad Serbian.” Short story. Sam Cragg #1. First published in Black Mask, March 1939. Reprinted as “1000-to-1 for Your Money,” Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, March 1950. Also reprinted in The Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps, edited by Otto Penzler (Vintage Crime, softcover, November 2007).

   I’d say that a skip-tracer definitely falls into the same category as a private eye, wouldn’t you? This was Sam Cragg’s only solo adventure. The very next year found him teamed up with Johnny Fletcher in The French Key (Farrar, hardcover, 1940) in the first of 14 novels they appeared in together.

   To tell to you the truth, though, I’m not at all sure the Sam Cragg in this story is the same Sam Cragg who teamed up with Johnny Fletcher in all those books. In this one he tells the story himself, and he’s both observant and articulate, while the Sam Cragg in the Fletcher books is little more than a second banana or even a musclebound stooge, if you will. Fletcher is the brains of the pair, Cragg is the brawn.

   And here’s another “to tell you the truth.” While always having an old pupwriter’s gift for words, Frank Gruber’s choice of stories to tell and I are often not entirely on the same wavelength, and “The Sad Serbian” is no exception. It has something to to with a Serbian prince and a scam of some kind he’s pulling on Chicago’s Serbian community, somehow in conjunction (or competition) with a giant 300-pound Amazon of a woman.

   The story’s both too complicated and worse, uninteresting, to me at least, a deadly combination in a story if ever there was one. One saving grace, though, is the interplay between Cragg and Betty, the secretary of the outfit he works for. There should have been more of it. Maybe in a followup story of Sam on his own there would have been.

[ADDED LATER.]   My review of The Limping Goose (Rinehart, hardcover,1954), including a list of all 14 Johnny Fletcher and Sam Cragg books can be found here.

  LOU SAHADI, Editor – An Argosy Special: Science Fiction. One-shot reprint magazine. Popular Publications, 1977.

#4. JOHN W. JAKES “Half Past Fear.” Short story. First appeared in Super Science Stories, August 1951. Otherwise never reprinted.

   Before John Jakes hit it rich with his Kent Family Chronicles, he was generally regarded as an all-around hack, and rightly so. He wrote a couple dozen sci-fi novels, maybe a dozen more mystery and spy novels, of which his PI Johnny Havoc books may be the best remembered today, and even a half dozen “Man from UNCLE” stories for the magazine of the same name in the mid-60s.

   Of his fantasy and science fiction, his Brak the Barbarian pastiches of Robert E. Howard’s Conan tales are collectable now; the rest are safely forgotten. And the same can be said of “Half Past Fear,” his third to be published short story. In it a family of three takes in a strange traveler as a boarder, only to discover that he came from the past and that he is being pursued.

   Time travel tales are almost always fun to read — they make up one of my favorite subgenres in all SF — but this one is clunky and confusing, with one of the lead characters, unable to explain how things turn out, simply shrugs and calls upon the unexplainable “paradoxes of time travel” to bail out both the author and the story, and not at all succeding.

   One might be forgiven in thinking that this story was chosen for Jakes’ name only, to help sell the magazine, but if you take a look at the image at the upper left, you’ll see that none of the authors are mentioned, only the titles of the stories. A strange marketing device, indeed.


Previously from this Lou Sahadi anthology: LEIGH BRACKETT “Child of the Green Light.”


ALBERT DORRINGTON – The Radium Terrors. Eveleigh Nash, UK, hardcover, 1912. Doubleday Pagr, US, hardcover, 1912. W. R. Caldwell & Co., US, Hardcover, ca. 1912. Serialized in The Pall Mall Magazine, UK, January-June 1911, and in The Scrap Book, January-August 1911.

   Beatrice Messonier sat near the window dazed and mystified by her benefactor’s dazzling prophecies. Something in his manner suggested an approaching crisis in his own life and hers. What did his talk of princes and statesmen mean? She would have regarded such an outburst in another as the result of alcoholic excesses. But Teroni Tsarka was not given to the use of stimulants. He abhorred intemperance of mind and body. What he had spoken was the result of his structural philosophy, she felt certain. A tremendous crisis in medical research was at hand. And Teroni Tsarka was the man to sound the trumpet of science to an apathetic civilization.

   Beatrice Messonier is a brilliant oculist whose research was backed by the mysterious Dr. Tsarka, who has helped her learn the secrets of the Z Ray, the powerful result of radium research, and has set her up in a clinic, which has no patients thanks to his insistence on exorbitant fees.

   Just that night she broken her own heart having had to turn down the young detective Clifford Renwick, who was blinded with radium by Tsarka’s own assistant Horubi when Renwick tried to force an interview with Tsarka about the recently stolen Moritz Radium, Renwick being a youthful private investigator eager to make a name for himself.

   And of course we are off in the land of the Yellow Peril novel, serialized in Pall Mall, a popular British magazine on the lines of The Strand, and handsomely illustrated as well.

   Ironically Sax Rohmer had much the same idea in about the same year, with Dr. Fu Manchu making his debut, but even with Rohmer’s rather crude Edwardian style, his work is a far cry from the maudlin at times (the blinded Renwick has a touching moment with his old gray mother after escaping Tsarka — something you can hardly imagine Dr. Petrie or Nayland Smith bothering with) and painfully arch Dorrington.

   The formula here is much the same of the early Fu Manchu books, parry and thrust, chase, escape, and traps to capture Tsarka sharing about equal time with not particularly imaginative deadly traps for young Renwick.

   But the devil in these details is how dated Dorrington’s novel reads compared to Rohmer, who for all his melodrama and atmosphere is practically a minimalist in comparison.

   What with Beatrice Messonier (another difference is that in Rohmer, a Eurasian beauty wins Dr. Petrie’s heart, but in Dorrington, Renwick can’t be involved with a woman much more exotic than a Frenchwoman) unconvincingly posing as a much older woman and forced to seem heartless and cruel to young Renwick, and Tsarka being more interested in profit than world conquest, it is, for all its thrills, pretty pale stuff compared to Rohmer’s unknown poisons, Fu Manchu’s army of dacoit assassins, seductive Eurasian beauties under his spell, snakes, rats, weird poisonous bugs and the like.

   Tsarka, like Fu Manchu, has a daughter, but she is a far cry from Fu Manchu’s child. Rather she is a pale flower whose Japanese artist lover lives with she and her father (Tsarka uses an exhibition of the young man’s work to blind several prominent people who must then seek Madame Messonier’s clinic, the extent of his evil masterplan, a cheap cruel con game to make a few bucks). I suppose the attractive lovers are a step up from Fu Manchu’s evil daughter, but frankly they don’t bring much to the proceedings rather than a bit of humanization to the cruel and crafty Japanese scientist despite his penchant for experimenting on unwilling victims.

   “The scoundrel!” burst from Coleman. “He and his associates appear to have discovered a destroyer of human energy in radium. Personally, I fear that we shall find ourselves unable to cope with this new school of Asiatic criminals who regard the blinding of men and women as a pleasant pastime.”

   Reading this, it doesn’t take much imagination to see Rohmer’s entry in the Yellow Peril stakes for the startlingly new and modern work it must have seemed what with a thin patina of sex, relatively clipped dialogue, and straight forward telling wrapped in the opium fog laden atmosphere of Limehouse out of Thomas Burke and pure imagination. Rohmer’s “The Zayat Kiss” reads as if it might have been written in the early twenties, where Dorrington’s Radium Terrors reads as if it might have been written in the early eighteen nineties.

   The book has its thrills, and while dated, it isn’t badly written, but reading it you can understand what readers noted in better writers of the era, a voice, that beginning with Conan Doyle, was more modern and less given to maudlin sentiment and long winded prose. Reading Rohmer after Dorrington, or around the same time, must have been as refreshing as discovering Dashiell Hammett after a steady diet of Carolyn Wells.

   Reading this can give you a new appreciation for the relative modernity of the more vulgar, and certainly more gifted Sax Rohmer. Tsarka is a mean and constipated villain, vicious, petty, and ultimately ridiculous for all the Victorian language. Rohmer’s Fu Manchu is a Miltonian angel fallen to earth — some recent Asian literary scholars have suggested rehabilitating Fu Manchu for just that reason — because the character has, both in Rohmer’s work and the public imagination, transcended his racist origins becoming an archetype as much as a stereotype.

   Whether there proves to be anything to that view or not the inescapable fact of reading The Radium Terrors is that Rohmer and Fu Manchu ran literary rings around Dorrington and his Dr. Tsarka, and it may just be the difference, aside from Rohmer’s superior storytelling skills, is that Dorrington doesn’t believe in his Japanese pretender for a moment, and Rohmer embraces the his creation with full blooded zeal.

   Fu Manchu lived and breathed. Tsarka lingers like a bad taste.

  WYNDHAM MARTYN “The Shadow’s Shadow.” Novelette. Bentley Mayne & Captain Dashwood #1. First appeared in Flynn’s Weekly, 14 May 1927. Probably never reprinted.

   Wyndham Martyn was the pen name that author William Henry Martin Hosken (1874-1963) seems to have used more often than several others. While he produced dozens of short stories for the pulps and other fiction magazines in the teens and 20s, Martyn may be more well known, if at all, for his long series of hardcover thrillers published in the UK featuring a master criminal named Anthony Trent, whose specialty was solving mysteries the police are having trouble with.

   Other than three serialized novels for Flynn’s, Trent appeared in only one pulp magazine story. The private eye in “The Shadow’s Shadow” is a young fellow named Bentley Mayne, who has obtained a fine reputation for cleverness and success for the cases he’s worked on.

   Enter steel magnate John Dawbarn, who has been trying to convince someone in Washington that his new method of processing steel is something our country’s government ought to have. Fearing that the secret may fall instead into enemy hands, Dawbarn calls on Mayne, who is happy to take the case.

   But instead of working on it himself, he assigns an associate named Captain Dashwood to act as Dawbarn’s bodyguard. Dashwood is (um) a dashing Englishman in dapper dress and a monocle, and fits in well with Dawbarn’s society-minded wife’s life style.

   After the secret plans is a master criminal known only as The Shadow (no relation to the fellow who came along later). The problem is, no one knows what he looks like. He could be anyone. Now Dashwood is competent enough, but his eye is as much on Dawbarn’s daughter Betty as on ferreting out who The Shadow might be or where he may strike next, but happily to say, both halves of the story work out well.

   [PLOT ALERT] There is a strange twist in the tale that I ordinarily wouldn’t bring up, but since it may not be easy for yous to obtain the copy of Flynn’s the story is in, I have decided to tell you about it anyway. It seems that Mayne and Dashwood are one and the same. I haven’t decided what purpose the hoax is for — he doesn’t even tell Dawbarn what’s going on — but personally I think Dawbarn is something of a dolt to not to have recognized Mayne’s alter ego almost immediately.

   But now that the impersonation has been revealed, it might explain why this was Bentley Mayne’s first and last appearance. That and the fact that at story’s end, he and Betty seem to be on their way to settling down in fine matrimonial fashion.

  LOU SAHADI, Editor – An Argosy Special: Science Fiction. One-shot reprint magazine. Popular Publications, 1977.

#3. LEIGH BRACKETT “Child of the Green Light.” Short story. First published in Super Science Stories<, February 1942; reprinted in the April 1951 issue. Reprinted in Classic Science Fiction: The First Golden Age, edited by Terry Carr (Harper & Row, hardcover, 1978). First collected in Martian Quest: The Early Brackett (Haffner Press, hardcover, 2002).

   There are science fiction stories so vast in scale it is next to impossible for the human mind to comprehend them, and even though this tale takes place within the orbit of Mercury in our own solar system, this is one of them.

   Son is a living creature — a mutation, perhaps — capable of existing in space without protection, the only living being in a junkyard of wrecked ships that his own space craft is part of. Nearby and at the center of this story is the Light, burning green in color, and the Veil, on the other side of which is Aona, a creature such as himself but obviously female.

   Coming to investigate the Light is, for the first time in a place where time and aging have no meaning, is a ship of seven humans and other intelligent aliens. It seems that a Cloud has passed through the solar system, changing the metabolism of all the creatures it touched. Destroying the Light is the only means of survival for billions of people.

   What has happened to Son to make him the being that he is? Is there any way for him to cross through the Veil to become part of the parallel universe where Aona is? And what about the one of the seven who sees Son as someone with powers that, if had them and the Light were destroyed, could rule the solar system?

   Whew! One thing you can say about this story is that has a cosmic Sense of Wonder, the secret ingredient of stories such as this one, and is the absolute epitome of Super Science.


Previously from this Lou Sahadi anthology: CHAD OLIVER “The Land of Lost Content.”

CLIFF FARRELL “Sign of the White Feather.” Short novel. First published in Fighting Western, March 1946. Collected in The White Feather as “The White Feather.” (Five Star, hardcover, 2004; Leisure, paperback, March 2005).

   Fighting Western is generally considered one of the second- or even third-rank western pulps, but this particular issue is filled with a bunch of better western writers. Besides this long tale by Farrell, there are four shorter ones by gents such as Giles A. Lutz, William J. Glynn, Thomas Thompson, and Joseph Chadwick, of whom only Glynn is completely unknown to me.

   As you can probably guess from the title, “Sign of the White Feather” is the story of a man considered a coward but who in the end redeems himself. It seems that in order to make a hurried trip to Salt Lake City to raise money to save his estranged father from bankruptcy, he had to forego a fight with one of the men working for his father’s ruthless competitor in finishing a coast-to-cast telegraph line.

   A contract is a contract, and a deadline is a deadline, but it’s even harder when thugs, gunmen and outlaws are working for the other side. Even Kelly’s fiancée is starting to wonder how much courage the man she is engaged to marry actually has. It does not help in that regard when she learns that the only person who has agreed to give Kelly the loan he needs is a woman, and what’s more, she’s coming back with him.

   The story is non-stop action, starting with a rough and bumpy stage ride back to Salt Lake City, then up in the mountains cutting down logs to be used as poles — just as the winter season is ready to settle in. The enemy is suitably vicious, the romance suitably up in the air, and while the characters are not deeply developed, I found myself rooting for them all the way. Is Kelly Brackett a coward? Far from it!

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

#5. WILLIAM CAMPBELL GAULT “Never Marry Murder.” Short story. First published in Dime Mystery Magazine, December 1949, as by Roney Scott. Not collected or reprinted elsewhere.

   Most readers of this blog will recognize William Campbell Gault as the author of two long-running series of private eye novels, eight with a fellow named Joe Puma and fourteen with Brock “The Rock” Callahan, both working cases all over the southern California landscape.

   Less known is the fact that Gault also had a long career writing detective and crime stories for the pulp magazines, well over a hundred of them, starting with “Crime Collection” in the January 1940 issue of 10-Story Detective Magazine.

   Some of them featured PI’s or wanna-be PI’s, but “Never Marry Murder” is not one of them. (That the byline on the story is Roney Scott is due to the fact that Gault had another story in the same issue under his own name, “Slay You in My Freams,” a common practice in those days.)

   No, this one’s a straightforward domestic crime tale, one that would not be out of place in, say, Alfred Hitchcock’s Magazine, back when it started after the success of the TV show; that is t= say, a story that depends on a surprise ending, a unexpected twist, if you will.

   A man who’s made his fortune by killing his first two wives has decided to settle down with the woman of his dreams, until, that is, he finds out that she’s been seeing another man. He doesn’t hesitate a minute. She has to go, victim number three.

   Unfortunately I knew exactly what was coming well before the ending, long before the protagonist did, and you may, too, with only the information I’ve given you. The story’s well told — you could say the same thing about everything Gault ever wrote — but when the story’s as predictable as this one is, I think editor Martin H. Greenberg might have found a better one. He certainly had plenty to choose from.


Previously in this Martin Greenberg anthology: SUE GRAFTON “The Parker Shotgun.”

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