Pulp Fiction


BENNETT FOSTER – Gila City. Five Star, hardcover, 2003. Leisure, paperback; 1st printing, September 2004. A fix-up novel comprised of six stories reprinted from the western pulp magazines; details below.

   To call it a novel is, truthfully, an exaggeration. What this book actually consists of is a series of connected but individual stories from the pulps, each with its own definitive ending. What’s more than a bit strange about this is that the stories did not all come from the same magazine. Chronologically, and in the same orderas they appear in this book, they jumped from title to title, as follows:

        “Mail for Freedom Hill” Dime Western, November 1946.
        “Pilgrim for Boothill’s Glory Hole” Star Western, February 1947.
        “Dandy Bob’s Cold-Deck Cattle Deal” Dime Western, April 1947.
        “The Joke in Hell’s Backyard” Dime Western, July 1947.
        “Gila’s Four-Rod Justice” New Western, December 1947.
        “Duggan Trouble at Salada Wash” Dime Western, March 1948.

   All of the stories take place in the small western town of Gila City, Arizona. It’s within a day’s ride of Tucson, if that helps you place it geographically. Some of the same townspeople appear now and then, as needed, but the villains generally come and go within the time and space of a single story. (More often than not they don’t even survive to the end of the story.)

   The two primary protagonists, on the other hand, are the same throughout: First and foremost, Dandy Bob Roberts, local gambler and sharply dressed gent of sharper than average wit. He is also not averse to doing a little cattle rustling on the side. His natural-born tendency toward illicit ventures always seem to turn around on him, though, often making a small town hero of him. His stature in town seems somehow to keep rising, mostly because of the interference of Old Man Duggan, town drunk, stable hostler and teller of tall tales, and a constant pain in the behind to Dandy Bob.

   For example: When a dude from the East (or pilgrim, as he’s referred to here) happens to come to town looking for a mine to buy, Bob decides to salt the Widow Fennessy’s holdings. Old Man Duggan, having the same idea, unknowingly manages to switch Bob’s high grade ore back to a bag of useless rock. It all works out in the end, though. An inadvertent explosion in the mine exposes a new vein of gold, starting the Widow Fennessy into thinking a lot more favorably of Old Man Duggan as suitable marriage material.

   Which is more plot detail than I’d usually provide, but it should give you the general gist of these gently humorous stories, along with the not idly stated fact that they are gently humorous. Dandy Bob in one story actually becomes the owner of the saloon he’s been plying his trade in all these years, and in another tale Old Man Duggan somehow manages to get himself elected Justice of the Peace, but alas neither position or status is permanent.

   Totally ephemeral, in other words, but also a more than adequate way to spend one’s time while flying cross country on an airplane.

REVIEWED BY DAVID VINEYARD:


When The Death Bat Flies: The Detective Stories of NORVELL PAGE. Altus Press, hardcover, softcover, ebook, 2013. Introduction by Will Murray.

   This thick Altus Press edition collects over 800 pages of detective and crime stories by pulp wunderkind Norvell Page, best remembered today for helming the best of the popular adventures of Richard Wentworth, star of the eponymous pulp The Spider. It is accompanied by an informative introduction and biographical look at Page and his career by pulp expert and Doc Savage chronicler Will Murray.

   Page cracked the more highly regarded pulps like Black Mask, Dime Detective, and John Campbell’s Unknown, but by far his greatest output aside from the Spider epic was for the likes of Ten Detective Aces (his Ken Carter series), Detective Tales, Strange Detective Mysteries, and even the spicy pulps. Most of the stories collected here come from Detective Tales.

   Most of the stories are novellas running about seven chapters and around 30,000 words. These novellas feature tough cops, private eyes, amateur criminologists, and the like, and enough gunfire for several small wars. Never let it be said Norvell Page spared bullets even when his language was spare. A few of the novellas venture into weird menace territory, coming out of Strange Detective Mysteries and Strange Detective Adventures.

   If you like rough tough knock ’em sock ’em rock ’em action, relentless pace, breathless escapes, low-slung fast cars and faster women, gun-happy mugs and crafty villains, this book is a bonanza, with sleuths like Don Q. (Quixote) Ryan, big Swede Larsen, Richard Carter. John Stone (whose paralyzed face is mindful of Richard Benson, the Avenger), Aubrei Dunne (two-fisted inventor of countless gadgets, and star of the book’s title story), Bruce Shane (a two-gun man), Flinn McHurd, Walsh Devore, amateur criminologist, Grant Montana out to clear his Private Eye dad who did seven years for a crime he didn’t commit, and more.

   “The explosion of the gun almost blew me out of the bed.”

   “Conroy laughed sharply and his belly-gun blasted upward toward the sound of that voice.”

   “Pardon my rudeness,” she said pleasantly. “Go to Hell.”

   “… he seized a chair and used his impetus to snatch it back over his shoulder. Instantly he whipped it up and it smashed across the chest of Blackie, who was fumbling for a gun.”

   “… But see oh man of the West, how we of the East can die!”

   “It was glorious, Garner thought, to be able to fight against criminals who preyed on the people, to be a defender of innocents like … yes, like the knights of old did!”

   And that’s a random sampling just from page flipping.

   The shorts tend to be crime stories, fast moving, with a lot of impact, but not strong on originality. They are better than filler because Page was incapable of not writing compelling prose, but they wouldn’t make anyone’s best list. For all that they have impact.

   Page is a pulp master, not a great writer, certainly not a great innovator, but a skilled professional with enough personal demons and more than enough drive to make his work both interesting and fun to read. If you only know him from Spider reprints or his two collections of Prester John tales from Unknown, this is an ideal place to see him at work. More collections are coming, and I am particularly hoping to see the Ken Carter stories collected. Meanwhile sit back, pop some popcorn, and kick back. Norvell Page is taking you on a hell of a ride through the wild and woolly pulp jungle.

L. L. FOREMAN – Jemez Brand. Ace Double 38500, paperback original, 1971. A “fix-up” novel comprised of two novellas from Western Story Magazine, the first being “Jemez Brand” from the 10 December 1941 issue, the second “Six-Gun Sermon,” from 05 September 1942. Published back-to-back with Ransome’s Move, by Kyle Hollingshead.

   The hero of this pair of western tales is Preacher Devlin, who appeared in several dozen pulp magazine stories in the 30s and 40s, beginning with Western Aces in December 1934 before moving over to Western Story in 1939. The last of his adventures appeared in the issue for June 1949.

   Something I do not know is whether this is the only appearance in book form of Preacher Devlin or not. He’s basically an outlaw, with posses invariably on his trail. I do not believe that he ever was a minister of any denomination, but he may have been at one time. As the book begins, he is described as wearing a long black coat with a black hat with flat brim and crown. He is also very good with his guns, with the reputation that goes along with such a man in the Old West. He is not averse to coming out ahead in monetary fashion as he travels, but only if he has earned it.

   For example, when he comes across a dead man, murdered in some strange fashion at the beginning of the first story, with money still in the man’s pockets, he does not take it. The body is only the beginning of a strange affair that involves a hunt for a city of gold, complete with a tribe of local Indians who may be descendants from the Ucaylis originally from Peru — or even Lost Atlantis.

   Add in a young ethnologist searching for traces of his missing father, a young girl with the face of a cat — a mask made of gold — and a band of vicious mercenaries led by an ex-Confederate colonel named Trist. It’s quite a wild story, but unfortunately — and not surprisingly — after a great start, it tails off in rather perfunctory fashion, at least in comparison to the earlier part of the tale.

   Even better is Part II of this cobbled-up novel, and thanks to Walker Martin for helping me identify this second tale, after narrowing the possibilities down by the use of Phil Stephenson-Payne’s online Western Fiction Index.

   Unlike the story in Part I, this one starts out in bang and gets even better as it goes along. It begins with a traveling minister and his daughter finding Devlin in sorry straits after being bushwhacked and left for dead. They then bring him into a town most inappropriately called Rainbow, where all hell breaks loose. It seems that the rough and very wild gold-mining town is under the control of outlaws, in spite of the best effort of the local lawman. Even more, Devlin has a price on his head, and not only is a posse after him, but hordes of bounty hunters from all over the West.

   One highlight of this second story is when Reverend Topcliff tries to start up a church service in Rainbow, not realizing that the bad element in the area are only joshing him along in anticipation of the fun they are going to have with him. It is up to Preacher Devlin to end the chaos that follows, as he makes good use of not only a sermon but both of his six-guns.

   A very enjoyable pair of stories. I think more of Preacher Devlin’s western tales should be in print. I hope someone is listening.

COLLECTING PULPS: A Memoir
Part 19: Pulp Art
by Walker Martin


   I’ve talked before about how I love collecting the original pulp and paperback cover art and illustrations. My feeling is that every book and pulp collector should have at least one example of cover art in their library. I’m not recommending that book collectors go to the extreme that I have gone to with scores of pieces, but it’s a thing of beauty to have a pulp, paperback, or dust jacket cover art framed and hanging on your wall with your book collection.

   Recently Steve Lewis was visiting me, and he took over 30 photos, not only of the pulp art but also of other items in my house. This installment should give an example of how one long time collector has dealt with the addiction known as bibliomania. I’ve been at it now since I was a child in 1956. That’s over 60 years!

   This first photo shows me standing next to my most valuable painting, the cover of Black Mask, for February 1933 by Jes Schlaikjer. Normally, I never would have been able to afford this cover painting because it’s from the classic 1930’s period of Black Mask when the covers showed stark, violent scenes with just a few images. But the seller perhaps did not realize it was a Black Mask cover by Schlaikjer. Over my shoulder is a Lyman Anderson painting for an early 1930’s issue of Alibi.

   The second photo is a paperback cover painting by James Avati illustrating a scene from the novel, The Double Door, by Theodora Keogh. Avati was one of the very most influential cover artists in the paperback field, and he was widely imitated. Again, this was a painting that I normally would not be able to afford, but I bought it on credit from an art gallery in NYC.

   I’ve often taken out bank loans, used my credit card, paid on the installment plan, in order to feed my art and bibliomania addiction. I’ve never regretted my decision to buy books or art. What I’ve regretted are the books and art that I did not buy!

   This third photo shows a corner of my mystery paperback room and part of a Dell paperback rack. For decades I hunted for paperback racks from the forties and fifties and finally found five of them at a Windy City show several years ago. They were too fragile to be shipped, and it was two years before the dealer managed to find someone driving across the country in a van to deliver them to my house.

   Here below are three more photos of the mystery paperback room. I have the books shelved by alphabetical order except for my Ace Doubles and Dell Mapbacks. The Dell Mapbacks may be complete or close to it. I even found the crossword paperbacks and I wonder how they ever survived? Also pictured is my Bantam Books paperback rack which is in fine condition. The room is very crowded with books, just the way I like it!

   This next photo shows two of three large western pulp cover paintings that are hanging by the stairs to the second floor. Back in the 1970’s and 1980’s it was possible to buy western, detective and adventure cover art for very low prices. The three paintings were delivered by a long time collector named Chet Woodrow, who risked driving through a terrible New Jersey snow storm to my house.

   Price? A hundred dollars each. Back then I thought such prices were ridiculously low and I still think so. One funny thing about Chet was that he had the worse condition pulp collection that I’ve ever seen. The magazines looked to be in fine condition with nice covers and spines but when you tried to open them the interior pages were very brown and brittle and almost impossible to read.

   The Dime Western painting below is from the 1930’s and the artist is the great Walter Baumhofer. Many years ago at an early Pulpcon, I was talking to artist Norman Saunders, and I saw a car drive into the hotel parking lot. I said excuse me to Norman and ran outside where I asked the driver who was not even out of the car if he had any pulp paintings.

   He said yes and sold me this painting out of the trunk of his car for only $400. I then went back and showed Norman Saunders the painting that I just had bought in the parking lot and he couldn’t believe that I had just bought an excellent Baumhofer painting out of a car trunk.

   We then spent much of the convention in the hotel bar talking about pulp art. I tried to get Norman to sell me some of his paintings, but he was leaving them in his will to his children.

   The two bookcases below show part of my extensive DVD collection. I believe these are mainly film noir movies, another my addictions. The crusader painting is from a 1931 Adventure. I got it from the estate of A. A. Proctor, who was the editor of Adventure in the early 1930’s.

   Above is one of my favorite pieces of art. It’s a bizarre illustration by Howard Wandrei, the brother of Donald Wandrei. Howard died an early death of alcoholism, but he was a writer of pulp fiction and a sort of outsider artist. This piece fascinates me with its complexity and strangeness. Dwayne Olson has written at least three long book articles on Howard Wandrei, but he is an unjustly forgotten, excellent artist.

   The next photo shows me holding the February 1956 issue Galaxy. This is the actual magazine that I bought off the newsstand in Hoscheck’s Deli, and it so impressed me that I became the fiction magazine collector that I am today. It led to my present collection of thousands of pulps, slicks, and digest magazines.

   Above is a corner of my son’s former room. For thirty-five years Joe lived with us and then a couple years ago decided to get his own place and moved out. It did not take me long to move into his room and convert it into a library and art gallery!

   I have over thirty-five pieces of art in the room and eight bookcases. I think I’m now in every room of the house with art and books. All five bedrooms, the garage which I converted into a library and gallery, the basement, living room, family room. Even the bathrooms and kitchen have art. If I had room I would build another house in the back yard. The large painting is from Detective Fiction Weekly.

   This is Paul Herman who has been friends with Steve Lewis and me for quite a while. He’s standing next to a western paperback cover painting.

   Above is a corner of dining room with a western painting by Sam Cherry. I love western art, but many collectors seem prejudiced against westerns. They are colorful, full of action, and not as expensive as science fiction or hero art.

   Below is another Dime Western painting by Walter Baumhofer showing a girl and cowboy blazing away, back to back. Art dealer Steve Kennedy owned it for many years and would never sell it, but one day he needed money, and I managed to talk him into selling it to me. I seem to remember me whining, begging, and crying. Collectors know no shame!

   I’ve told this story before in my article on collecting Western Story Magazine, but the painting below amazingly enough came from my next door neighbor! What’s the odds of a non collector moving next door and having a pulp painting? Took me years to talk him into selling it to me. It’s by Walter Haskell Hinton from Western Storyin the 1930’s.

   Above is a row of cover paintings. The first one is from Street & Smith Detective Story. The second one is a Spider cover which was repainted by Raphael Desoto, the original artist. The third one is by Wittmack from People’s.

   Another western from one of the Popular Publication pulps. I only paid $400 for it. In the background you can see in the laundry room three of the dozen or so preliminary drawings I have framed. The artist would make a preliminary sketch and if approved would then go ahead and paint the cover. Not many of these survived, but I love them and pick them up whenever I see them. Not many art collectors care about them, but I think they are of great interest.

   The next three photos show areas of my basement. The first is an almost complete set of Western Story. Of over 1250 issues, 1919-1949, I need only nine issues.

   The second shows some Ace High magazines and the third photo gives an idea of a corner of the basement. The basement is about 60 feet long by 30 feet wide. I’ve filled the entire area with shelving.

   In 1989 when I moved into this house I hired a contractor to turn the two car garage into a library and art gallery. These photos show some the area which I’ve filled with artwork, books, and pulps. All the neighbors asked me the same thing. “Why am I turning my garage into a library?” My response was why should I park my cars in my house? But who can understand non readers and non collectors?

   More photos of my converted garage taken from different angles. You can see some of the art hanging above the pulps.

   The final photo is of me and Steve Lewis. We have been friends for almost 50 years and I’ve been reading the various incarnations of Mystery*File for almost as long. Over Steve’s shoulder is a large painting from The Saturday Evening Post by Harold Von Schmidt. It’s from 1950 and illustrates a scene from a serial starring series characters Tugboat Annie and Glencannon. It was the only time they met in a story, but it has an interesting background.

   The Glencannon series were comedies and the Post readers found them hilarious. During the 20 year period of 1930-1950 there were over 60 stories written by the author, Guy Gilpatric. I’ve read them all and they are among my favorite stories. They have all been reprinted in omnibus collections and there was even a British TV series back in the 1950’s.

   Unfortunately there was a tragic ending to this comedy series. Gilpatric’s wife was diagnosed with terminal cancer and in a fit of depression they decided on a murder suicide pact. He shot his wife and then took his own life. Later there was a rumor or evidence that the doctors had made a mistake and made the wrong diagnosis.

   I obtained the painting from an art gallery by telling the owner that I’d like to get a painting showing my favorite series character, Glencannon. I was stunned when he said he knew where one was, and it turned out to be the best one of them all, the one where Glencannon meets Tugboat Annie. Von Schmidt is a famous western artist, and I’d never be able to afford one of his paintings, but since this was a non-western the price was a lot lower.

   So thanks, Steve, for taking these photos and also thanks to Sai Shanker for twice taking photos that unfortunately did not turn out as well. I love reading about the collections of other collectors and maybe this memoir on my art collection will make you decide to become an addicted, out of control bibliomaniac also! I’ve enjoyed the trip and it’s been a great ride…

WINDY CITY PULP CONVENTION 2017 REPORT
by Walker Martin


   I believe there have been 17 versions of this excellent pulp and paperback convention and this may have been the best yet. 150 dealer tables and almost 600 attendees. This is the biggest crowd yet and the room seemed to be constantly busy with collectors prowling the aisles.

   It all started with the usual group of serious and perhaps deranged pulp collectors driving out from New Jersey in a rental van. Between the five of us, we have more than 200 years of experience collecting books and pulps. In prior years we managed to make the trip in one death defying drive of 14 hours but this year we decided to split it up and take two days. The first day we drove about 11 hours before stopping at a motel which appeared to be connected to the Bates Motel in Psycho. The night clerk certainly thought we were a suspicious looking group because she refused our business and sent us on our way. Fortunately there was a Ramada Inn down the road and they were used to a van full of book collectors stumbling into the lobby.

   The next day we drove three hours to the Chicago Pulp Art Museum, otherwise known as the house of Doug Ellis and Deb Fulton. Each year Doug and Deb have a pulp art luncheon for those collectors who love pulp and paperback original cover paintings. It’s a nice beginning to a great convention. Despite a recent addition the house is bulging with original art. Perhaps Doug can build another house in his back yard to house more paintings.

   We then drove to the Westin Hotel and arrived in time to hang out in the Con Suite. This year my room was just down the hall on the 16th floor and made it easier for me to drink free beer and snacks. I renewed friendships with several collectors, most of whom I had not seen in a year or two. Unfortunately, I have now reached the age where I don’t recognize fellow collectors if I only see them once a year, so please accept my apologies if I ignored you or seemed to not recognize you. My eyesight is fading and old age is bothering the hell out of me, so several times I passed someone and then a minute later moaned “Oh hell, that was so and so, and I looked right through them.” Fortunately some collectors had canes or were limping or like Tony Tollin had a pet dog. That made it easier to recognize them….

   Even all these years later, I still get excited when I enter a room full of books and pulps. At first I sort of stumbled down an aisle in a daze obviously suffering from sensory overload. But unlike a J.G. Ballard character, the books did not start to disappear from my sight. Instead they multiplied and I began to wonder which table to go to first. Should it be the table surrounded by cover paintings and art? Maybe the one loaded with vintage paperbacks? How about the boxes of digest crime and SF magazines? Damn it, there are rows and rows of pulps! Wait a minute, some old friends are waving to me…

   But then I saw a table that really stood out because all three dealers were British. So over I went to Malcolm Edwards, Alastair Durie, and Andy Richards (Cold Tonnage Books). I figured for them to make the trip across the Atlantic, they must be bearing some rare items. And they were! I even saw issues of the amazingly rare Hutchinson’s Adventure or Mystery magazine. WW II was really rough on some British magazines. (The paper drives.) But what I really scooped up were issues of Scoops, the 1934 British SF magazine. A complete set of all 20 issues.

   Then I found twelve issues of Triple X. The title stands for the three genres of westerns, adventure, and detective fiction. Not the risque meaning that triple x has nowadays. Why this magazine is so rare is beyond me. It lasted for over 100 issues in the twenties and thirties and seemed to be quite popular with readers. Yet copies are hard to find and expensive.

   So OK, I’ve blown $1500 in a few minutes, and I still have three days of the convention to survive somehow. Will this be the pulp show that finally breaks me? Will I return home a penniless beggar? Will I have to borrow money, maybe skip meals? God Forbid, Go On the Wagon? The answer is no. Maybe next year. But I did find some more of my esoteric wants, such as Ace High, Cowboy Stories, Dime Detective.

   Since we live in The Golden Age of Pulp Reprints, I filled up a box of recent books from Altus Press, Haffner Press, Black Dog Books, Murania Press, and also the book Weinberg Tales, which is almost 300 pages of Bob Weinberg on Collecting Fantasy Art, plus memories from fellow collectors like me and plenty of photos.

   The reprint publishers have really done a great job and these recent books show an excellent sampling of the type of reprints. For instance Haffner Press (Haffnerpress.com) has just published two Fredric Brown collections which gather together all his mystery short stories. The titles are Murder Draws a Crowd and Death in the Dark, ,with introductions by Jack Seabrook who wrote a book on Fredric Brown. The stories also reprint the original illustrations. Highly Recommended!

   Altus Press had a boat load of books available and I especially recommend Leo Margulies: Giant of the Pulps by Philip Sherman and Gales & McGill, Volume One, by Frederick Nebel. A nice long introduction by John Locke, this book reprints the air adventures of these two flying soldiers of fortune. Also Altus Press has the latest two issues of Black Mask and Famous Fantastic Mysteries. The pulps are not dead!

   Murania Press had the last issue of Blood n Thunder out. This is issue number 49 & 50 and it was a great run lasting 16 years. We now will see one shot issues on various topics. Also out from Murania is The Blood n Thunder Sampler which reprints some of the best articles from past issues.

   Black Dog Books had several new collections out, and I liked The Trail of Blood and Other Tales of Adventure by Murray Leinster. Also Paths of Fire and Other Daring Tales of Adventure by Albert Richard Wetjen.

   Every year the convention has a book titled Windy City Pulp Stories. Issue # 17 has several articles dealing with the Gangster pulps and the Red Circle Publications. Also pieces on Steranko, artist Tom Lovell, and David Kyle. Tom Roberts of Black Dog Books is the editor and does a fine job each year.

   It’s worth going to this convention to meet and talk with other collectors about their passions. I’ve known artist Peter Poplaski for a long time and though he lives in France, I’ve seen him at several conventions. He is one of the top experts on Johnston McCulley and Zorro. This year he kept me amused with over a dozen masks that he had made of McCulley’s characters. He has now identified over 20 of them.

   Windy City is known for its great auctions which run far into the night on Friday and Saturday, This year we had about 300 lots each night, mainly from the collection of Ron Killian. The catalog had a great photo of Ron Killian surrounded by towering stacks of pulps. Though I prefer book shelves, I can understand tall stacks also! All type of genres were represented in the auctions and the prices ranged from high to low, with many bargains.

   The Guest of Honor was artist Jim Steranko, and he gave a speech and was available at his table to sign items. The art show was stunning with mainly pieces of art from the collection of Bob and Phyllis Weinberg. There was a Weinberg Tribute panel Friday night and I was honored to be part of it since I had known Bob since the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. In other words I was friends with Bob Weinberg when he still lived in New Jersey and was in his twenties. It really does not seem that it has been 45 years ago when we both started off building our collections.

   Ed Hulse organized the film program as usual and the theme was “From Pulp to Silver Screen.” These were mainly obscure pulp related movies. Each movie was described in the Windy City Pulp Stories book.

   We need this convention to keep the pulps alive so Doug Ellis, Deb Fulton, John Gunnison and others, all deserve our thanks. Next on the horizon is Pulpfest (Pulpfest.com) in July. If you liked Windy City, then you have to attend Pulpfest also. I ought to know, since I’ve been attending these shows most of my life!

DASHIELL HAMMETT

DASHIELL HAMMETT “The Tenth Clew.” Continental Op short story #6. First published in Black Mask, January 1, 1924. Reprinted in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, July 1945; revised ending. Also, among others: The Return of the Continental Op (Jonathan Press #J17, paperback, 1945; Dell #154, paperback, 1947); The Continental Op (Vintage V-2013, paperback; November 1975; edited by Steven Marcus); all with the original ending.

    “The Tenth Clew” (or “Clue,” as it is on the front cover of the magazine) is the lead story of the latter collection, which I happened to notice in a box of paperbacks I was going through and decided to read. It’s been a while since I read anything by Hammett, and long since time, I decided, that I should.

    I’d forgotten, though, that Mike Nevins had made a point of talking about this story in his June 2011 column for this blog. When I got to the end of what was otherwise a very enjoyable story, I was taken aback and asked myself what it was that I’d missed.

DASHIELL HAMMETT

    It turns out that it was a major mistake by Hammett and his editor way back in 1924, one that Fred Dannay fixed when he ran the story in EQMM some twenty years later, but then reverted back to the original ending most if not all of its appearances since.

    Since Mike did such a good job in discussing it, I won’t talk about it here, as I’d intended to. Go read about it in that old column of his, then by all means come back. Let me talk about this instead.

DASHIELL HAMMETT

    I don’t claim that the thought is original to me, and I’m sure it isn’t, but it’s worth bringing up again. It occurred to me that Hammett may have been having some fun with the readers of this story, which reads from the very beginning as a straight-forward detective mystery, complete with clues — nine of them, in fact, duly noted by the Op and O’Gar, the detective sergeant assigned to the case.

    Unfortunately the clues, very confusing in and of themselves, also do not lead anywhere, including the fact that the victim was killed by being hit over the head by a typewriter. The Op’s conclusion? The tenth clew? That the other nine clues do not mean anything, and he proceeds to solve the case by assuming exactly that.

    So much for the puzzle stories of Agatha Christie and the like. I’m no purist, and I enjoyed this one, even with the botched up ending.

EDMOND HAMILTON “What’s It Like Out There?” Thrilling Wonder Stories, December 1952. First anthologized in The Best from Startling Stories, edited by Samuel Mines (Henry Holt, hardcover, 1953). Reprinted elsewhere many times. The first Hamilton collection in which it appeared was What’s It Like Out There and Other Stories (Ace, paperback, 1974).

   I’m working my way through the latter collection, if reading only the first story so far qualifies as “working my through” it. Although he had an extraordinarily long writing career, “What’s It Like Out There?” is probably Hamilton’s most well remembered story, and it came along toward the beginning of what I consider the last third of it.

   In his early days — the 20s and 30s — Edmond Hamilton was an out and out “space opera” kind of guy, writing stories with titles such as Crashing Suns, The Star-Stealers and The Comet-Drivers, all appearing first in Weird Tales. In the 1940s his career took a nosedive (my opinion) when he spent most of writing time dreaming up new adventures for Captain Future, again for the pulp magazines.

   Whether “What’s It Like Out There?” was his first story written for readers at an adult level, I’m not sure, but from what I’ve read, it turned heads around in SF fandom almost immediately. It’s the story of a survivor of the second expedition to Mars, who before making his way home in Ohio from the hospital where he spent a number of weeks recovering, has to stop along the way to visit the families and loved ones of his friends who didn’t make it.

   He would like to tell them the truth — that their loved ones died in vain, perishing on a cruel and uncaring planet, with their only purpose for being there being the uranium people on Earth need to continue going about their merry and equally uncaring ways — but he finds that he can’t. People on Earth still need their heroes, he discovers, no matter how little they actually care, except when of course it’s personal, and even then, as he discovers, most are happier not knowing the truth.

   There are lots of nuances in this story that the preceding paragraph does not begin to go into. Last night was the first time I’d read this story in years, and it surprised me as to how much I read into it this time that I suspect I didn’t before. More than I remembered, at any rate.

HUGH PENTECOST – The Girl with Six Fingers. Dodd Mead, hardcover, 1969. Zebra, paperback, John Jericho series #5; 1st printing, June 1974.

   John Jericho is a massive bulk of a man, six feet six inches tall, and two hundred and forty pounds of solid bone and muscle. With a beard of flaming red, he looks like a Viking warrior. In reality he is an artist of some renown, based in Manhattan and fiercely dedicated to the cause of justice. All conservative causes beware!

   His stories are told by a much less impressive gent named Arthur Hallam, a writer with several novels to his credit but little acclaim. But the two are friends and had six book-length adventures together, plus a large number of novelettes and stories, all appearing in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine between 1964 and 1987.

   It should also be pointed out that both Jericho and Hallam had a previous incarnation as long-standing members of The Park Avenue Hunt Club, with many recorded adventures appearing in the pulp magazine Detective Fiction Weekly in the 1930 and early 40s. Jericho was then a big game hunter, Hallam a bespectacled intellectual type, with the third member being actor Geoffrey Saville. They were on occasion assisted by their Oriental servant, Wu.

   While the title of this later adventure is intriguing — and so is the cover! — it has an easy, more or less mundane explanation. The girl is on an LSD trip and is only imagining the extra finger. The other girl, the one shown on the cover in multi-colored paint, is otherwise nude and is/was the star attraction to a Happening on an exclusive estate somewhere in the wilds of rural Connecticut.

   What brings the outraged Jericho and Hallam into the story is that the event was raided by a non-approving self-organized right-wing militia, and the girl dancing has disappeared. Pentecost pulls out none of the stops in the tale that follows, not really a detective story at all, but a wild and woolly pulp story updated to the Swinging Sixties.

   Unfortunately, and I cannot tell you why, but I think detective stories dealing with hippies, drugs and love-in’s have dated even more than tales written in the 1930s taking place in manor houses and rich people’s estates. It may also be that Pentecost (pen name of Judson Philips, 1903-1989) really wasn’t writing on the basis of personal experience, but perhaps second- or even third-hand knowledge only.

   Nevertheless, the story, previous caveat aside, kept me well occupied for the first leg of a cross-country flight from CA to CT earlier this week.

      The John Jericho series —

Sniper (1965)

Hide Her From Every Eye (1966)
The Creeping Hours (1966)
Dead Woman of the Year (1967)

The Girl With Six Fingers (1969)
A Plague of Violence (1970)

SELECTED BY JONATHAN LEWIS:


MORRIS HERSHMAN “Pressure.” First published in Manhunt, February 1958, as by Arnold English. Reprinted under his own name in Tales for a Rainy Night, edited by David Alexander (Holt Rinehart & Winston, hardcover; 1961; Crest d557, paperback, 1962).

   Sometimes all that a compelling crime story requires is a scenario, a mere vignette in which two characters face off in primarily one location. This works best in “short and taut” stories, those that focus on a single character’s dilemma and are of a length of no more than 2,000 words or so.

   Such is the case in Morris Hershman’s “Pressure,” a tense, albeit not overly memorable, tale about a gangster’s final confrontation with the police. Hershman conjures up the character of Dapper Phil Rand, an aging gangster from the Prohibition Era who has managed to survive well into the late 1950s. Rand’s gone to jail before and isn’t particularly afraid of going back. The one thing he simply won’t do is rat on the Syndicate.

   Enter “Coffee,” a cop who is willing to offer Rand a deal of a lifetime: protection and relocation to South America if he’s willing to name names. But Rand’s not willing to do that, so Coffee decides he is going to have to play hardball and apply some pressure, albeit not the physical kind. Rather, he tells the press that Rand’s singing like a canary, that Rand is spilling the beans on the Syndicate. Then he lets Rand out of the police station.

   What happens next tells us a lot about Dapper Phil Rand. Will he return to Coffee and catch a plane to South America or will he find a way to convince the Syndicate that it was all a ploy? What happens next is a portrait of a greying gangster under pressure.

MAX BRAND – Dogs of the Captain. Five Star, hardcover, March 2006. Leisure, paperback, 2007. First appeared as a six-part serial in Western Story Magazine, January 2 through February 6, 1932.

   There are moments in this book, especially in the first half, when you may have the feeling that Max Brand was writing the great American novel, Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn style. The portrayal of a small 12-year-old boy in a small town finding his way among his peers by breaking into the universally feared Captain Slocum’s property to steal a watermelon, then on a later night, climbing the side of the house to the uppermost tower to investigate the general belief that a ghost is in permanent residence there — why that is the stuff that dreams are made of.

   What Don Grier, shaking in his — not boots, as he is barefoot — does not reckon on is that when he is caught, the captain will take a liking to him, and will eventually ask Don’s Aunt Lizzie if he may adopt him. All would be well, except that Aunt Lizzie, before letting go, lets slip that Don’s father was hanged — and for the offense of killing his brother.

   Don’s uncle, it seems, was shot to death several years before in a mining camp called Chalmer’s Creek, somewhere out in the untamed West. Don will hear of nothing but leaving at once to salvage the name of his father, and the captain agrees.

   Obviously this is a rite-of-passage story, and what Max Brand does is take the basic material and does his best to shape into a small epic of legendary proportions. While the resulting novel is not an easy one to put down, he doesn’t quite succeed. Characters and characterization seem to slip away from him more often than once, and when much is made of a surprising reappearance of Aunt Lizzie into the story, she just as quickly disappears, never to be heard of again.

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