Pulp Fiction


REVIEWED BY WALTER ALBERT:


PAUL MALMONT – The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril. Simon & Schuster, hardcover, 2006; softcover, June 2007.

   I picked up my copy of this novel, set in the pulp era and featuring as rival protagonists, Walter Gibson and Lester Dent, at the 2006 Pulpcon, where most of the feedback from readers was not encouraging.

   At 370 pages and managing the (I would have thought) almost unimaginable feat of making Gibson relatively unlikable, the novel crams in so many pulp writers and references that it finally collapses under their cumulative weight during an unwieldy and protracted climax.

   Dent’s wife Norma plays a major role in the developing plot and Gibson’s exotic lady friend adds a modicum of spicy but tame sexual nonsense. Otherwise this is for the boys, especially those who want to recapture the thrills and color of the pulps second-hand.

   My advice? If you really want to savor the elusive perfumes of the pulps, try the real thing. There are numerous anthologies and facsimile reprints of the magazines that will let you sample their multi-hued wares and, as cheesy and far-fetched as some of them may be, they have more flavor and drive than anything you will find in the pages of this clearly affectionate but tedious tribute.

Bibliographic Note:   The sequel to this, Paul Malmont’s first novel, was The Astounding, the Amazing, and the Unknown (2011) which features science-fiction authors Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov as its two primary protagonists.

SELECTED BY DAVID VINEYARD:


ARTHUR LEO ZAGAT “Bride of the Winged Terror.” First published in Dime Mystery Magazine, November 1936, writing as Grendon Alzee. (In the same issue is “Terror Beneath the Streets,” by Arthur Leo Zagat.) Also available online and in ebook form.

   “These hillbillies hate furriners worse’n poison …” ex-mountain man Fred Harris warns his private detective buddy Dick Mervale as their roadster tackles the dangerous winding roads of Buzzard Mountain where a picture in a circular has led the two to believe bank embezzler Gorham Carstairs has been hiding lo these many years.

   Capturing Carstairs would not only me a big reward and much needed publicity for the low rent sleuths out of Louisville (presumably Kentucky, it is never made clear), but also the gratitude and business of the Bank Association, so they are willing to risk a great deal to capture Carstairs.

   And it becomes clear how much when a bullet from a high powered rifle punches a hole in Fred’s head.

   That doesn’t slow down Dick Mervale, who quickly covers up Fred’s body with rocks, spying a huge vulture as he does so, and makes his way up to the town of Winburg where he is met by armed citizens. They aren’t after Dick though. A child, a young girl has been murdered, horribly mangled by a “big black bird.”

   Dick manages to get out of Winburg and reach the top of Buzzard Mountain where he plans to wait until daylight, but he spies the giant black bird, and seconds later hears a woman’s cry. Racing to her rescue he encounters a leathery black winged monster with a “human face” attacking a young woman “… her gauzy frock … ripped in the struggle…” revealing “…white satiny skin seeming to glow from some inner light and the swelling firm curves of just budding womanhood.”

   And wouldn’t you know it, this is Elise Carstairs the mountain-raised daughter of the man he is after, who promptly shows up with a shotgun.

   From that point on the action literally races to its conclusion, piling horror on horror until the naked Elise is in Dick’s protective arms and the mystery of the winged terror (she isn’t its bride, in fact there is no bride — she’s the monsters niece and no hint of incest appears) and why Carstairs embezzled the money in the first place is laid to rest along with Carstairs and his brother.

   If you don’t recognize the basics of a typical Weird Menace story from what Robert Jonas labeled “The Shudder Pulps” in his excellent book on the subject then you likely don’t know you pulps. These were the ones with the gaudy covers of scantily clad women being tortured and murdered by looming madmen in the most suggestive way with a heroic male usually helplessly watching nearby.

   A variety of pulp authors contributed to the genre, which was one step up from the Spicy genre where the sex was a bit more obvious and the nudity considerably so, including some notable names like Norvel Page, Cornell Woolrich, and Richard Sale, but the genre had its own stars, and one of them was the prolific Arthur Leo Zagat, best known for his fantasy horror Drink We Deep.

   For all the nudity and strange psycho-sexual tortures out of de Sade by way of Kraft-Ebling featured on the covers and in the stories virtue prevailed as did virginity for both hero and heroine. In most cases, as here, a logical (if you can call it that) explanation was swiftly tacked on in the final paragraphs to assure the reader nothing supernatural had happened, though once in a while a whiff of sulfur and brimstone would linger.

   The stories vary in quality as you might expect, from say a minor Universal Horror film to one of those independent productions with the likes of George Zucco, Lionel Atwill, or Bela Lugosi where the sets look like someone’s three bedroom house.

   This one is absurd, even by the standard of the genre, but Zagat was a master of empurpled prose and swelling horrors (sounds like a bad diagnosis doesn’t it?) who could do better and did elsewhere, and this is actually quick fun to read with the caveat you don’t dare stop and think about it. If slavering mad monsters with foetid breath, reddened claws, and hideous eyes are your cuppa, this more than delivers.

   They don’t write ’em like this anymore — well, they do, , but now they are themselves swollen monsters of 500 plus pages and with considerably less virtuous characters, and what logic there once was has gone the way of the pulps themselves. There is something almost innocent about the Weird Menace genre, in a slightly disturbing way, but I wouldn’t suggest you delve too deep.

   Some things are better left alone.

CONVENTION REPORT: PulpFest 2016
by Walker Martin

   This convention is getting better and better, and frankly if you read or collect the old fiction magazines, then you must attend it.

   This year it was held between July 21 through July 24, 2016, but this time it ran into a major conflict. I’m talking about the gigantic media event called the San Diego Comicon. Thousands of people attend the Comicon but for me and 425 other book and pulp collectors, we would rather travel to Columbus, Ohio for Pulpfest. After all, my interest in comics ended at age 10, and I would rather watch an old film noir movie rather than the Hollywood comic character movies that are being cranked out. I mean we are book collectors, which is a lot more fun, and we love reading old pulps, books, digest fiction magazines, and vintage paperbacks.

   So, having made our decision to skip Comicon, four of us rented our usual van and traveled out on a 10 hour drive. We found plenty to talk about because all four of us are interested in different aspects of the addiction known as bibliomania. But to protect the reputations of my long time friends I will refer to them only as The Reading Machine, The Publisher, The Dealer, and The Collector.

   Among the 425 attendees at the convention, are some pretty hard boiled characters that do not let anything stand in the way of their desire to collect books and pulps. For instance Ed Hulse, of BLOOD n THUNDER, felt ill on Thursday, went to the emergency room of a nearby hospital, was admitted, and assigned a bed while tests were being conducted.

   However, the next day, he said to hell with this and returned to the dealer’s room Friday afternoon. Normal behavior for a book collector. I mean who wants to miss the chance of obtaining their wants? They call us bibliophiles for a reason…

   Each convention something new and exciting happens. This year two of my favorite collector friends received major pulp awards. Laurie Powers received the Munsey Award for her pulp research into the lives of Paul Powers and Daisy Bacon, the editor of LOVE STORY. She also has a blog titled Laurie’s Wild West. David Saunders won the Lamont Award for his research into the lives and careers of many pulp and slick artists. He has an excellent website which deals with pulp artists. They couldn’t give him a Munsey Award because he created it, so they came up with the great idea of awarding The Lamont, which was the major award given by the earlier Pulpcon conventions.

   I always score big at these conventions. Sometimes I find some great pulp cover art and often I buy some rare books or pulps. This year I took delivery of the best years of ADVENTURE magazine, 1921-1928. I already have them but I love to compare issues and drive myself crazy trying to figure out which is the better copy. About two or three years ago I saw a brief sentence in one of Mike Chomko’s book catalogs about selling his ADVENTURE set, over 200 issues. This caused me to nag and harass Mike for a long time about selling them to me. I want to extend my apologies to Mike now that I have the magazines safely in my possession. He admitted that he almost changed his mind and kept the set because there is so much good fiction in them. But being the insane collector I am, I had to have them to satisfy my pulp addiction. To hell with women, drugs, booze, or gambling. I’ll take books and pulps every time!

   Needless to say, my fellow voyagers were less than pleased to see me dragging five long comic boxes of pulps to the van. Especially since The Reading Machine and The Dealer also had many, many boxes. But somehow we managed to shoehorn them in. The Publisher keeps muttering that The Reading Machine and The Collector think the vans are made out of rubber which is expandable. But one day we will arrive and find out that the boxes don’t fit. Then the chips will fly! Pulp chips that is.

   What else did I get? How about a great letter from Mary Gnaedinger, the editor of FAMOUS FANTASTIC MYSTERIES, on Popular Publications letterhead, addressed to Calvin Beck, the future editor of CASTLE OF FRANKENSTEIN.

   Also I was weeping bitter tears because I did not win the door prize of Mike Ashley’s SCIENCE FICTION REBELS, the fourth volume of his superb history of the science fiction magazines. If there was any justice in the world he should win a major award for this series. The book costs over $100 but I offered the door prize winner a lower price for the book and he accepted. I have no shame. To get my wants, I’ll whine, beg, borrow and harass collectors until they give in.

   But my biggest find was the November 10, 1923 WESTERN STORY for only $20. Now you may ask why on earth am I so happy about this? After all, it’s only one pulp. But I have almost 1300 issues of WESTERN STORY, 1919-1949 and only needed eleven issues. Now I only need ten! Did I say anything about bibliomania and bibliophiles? I guess you have to be an addicted collector to understand my joy.

   One of the big things about Pulpfest, is the great programming. There are plenty of gamers, new pulp writers, Philip Jose Farmer fans, all busy with readings, panels, etc. But my favorites occurred during the evening after the closing of the dealer’s room (I could never leave the dealer’s room, god forbid!). I won’t go into them all but I really enjoyed David Saunders on “The Artists of The Argosy” and Doug Ellis on “120 Years of The Argosy.” Another of my favorites was Laurie Powers talking about LOVE STORY and Daisy Bacon.

   Despite being ill a few hours earlier, Ed Hulse joined me in discussing WESTERN STORY MAGAZINE and the Evolution of the Pulp Western. We covered the best western titles such as WESTERN STORY, WEST during the Doubleday years, and the two big titles from Popular Publications: DIME WESTERN and STAR WESTERN. We even mentioned the terrible western titles.

   But the best part of the programming was the Guest of Honor speech by Ted White, former editor of AMAZING and FANTASTIC. He was editor during 1968-1978 and somehow, despite a small budget, managed to publish two quality SF magazines. A great achievement. I have complete runs of these digests, over 100 issues and they are full of enjoyable fiction. Ted White’s editorials are also very enjoyable.

   The auction was over 100 lots and very varied. Pulps, books, artwork, premiums, slicks, and fanzines. The biggest price paid was $650 for a copy of BEYOND THE WALL OF SLEEP, by H. P. Lovecraft, but some lots reached $250 like the Doc Savage subscription premium and 5 issues of LARIAT.

   THE PULPSTER was issue number 25, and this magazine appears to be getting better and better with each annual issue. William Lampkin is the editor, and he had articles on 90 Years of Amazing Stories by former editors and Second String Heroes. Also David W. Smith talked about “What Becomes of Your Pulps After You’re Gone” (I’m taking mine with me); Art Sippo on Philip Jose Farmer; J. Randolph Cox on Street & Smith’s DETECTIVE STORY; David M. Earle on HARLEM STORIES; and I related my adventures collecting WESTERN STORY MAGAZINE. A task that could have ruined my work career and maybe got me fired.

   I noticed more pulp t-shirts than usual. I’m always wearing them and this year I had DIME MYSTERY, ADVENTURE, FAMOUS FANTASTIC MYSTERIES, and Fred Davis. But I also saw other collectors wearing ADVENTURE, ARGOSY, SHORT STORIES, and BLACK MASK.

   Speaking of BLACK MASK, everyone was buzzing about the recent acquisition by Matt Moring of the BLACK MASK title. Soon we will see collections reprinting some of the great fiction series! Matt says there is no truth in the rumor that he is trying to get the rights of also owning the actual back issues of all the pulps. I’m worried that sheriff deputies might confiscate my collection and turn it over to Matt.

   This year dealers received a gift when they registered. We were given a baseball cap that had “Pulpfest” on it. I’m hoping to get another t-shirt next year. And finally I’d like to thank the Pulpfest committee for all their hard work: Jack and Sally Cullers and their family and friends, Mike Chomko (thanks also for the ADVENTURES, Mike!), Barry Traylor, Chuck Welch, and Bill Lampkin. Believe me, we pulp collectors appreciate your efforts.

   OK, the next pulp show on my schedule is Pulp Adventurecon which is always held in Bordentown, NJ in early November. See you there!


THANKS to Sai Shankar and William Lampkin for the use of the photos they took during during the course of the convention. That’s me talking to David Saunders in one just above. I’m the one on the right.

LOUIS L’AMOUR “Unguarded Moment.” First appeared in Popular Detective, March 1952. Collected in The Hills of Homicide (Bantam, paperback, 1983).

   The first paragraph caught my attention:

   Arthur Fordyce had never done a criminal thing in his life, nor had the idea of doing anything unlawful ever seriously occurred to him.

   The second really had me sitting up and taking notice:

   The wallet that lay beside his chair was not only full; it was literally stuffed. It lay on the floor near his feet where it had fallen.

   And the third had me hooked all the way:

   His action was as purely automatic as an action can be. He let his Racing Form slip from his lap and cover the billfold. Then he sat very still, his heart pounding. The fat man who had dropped the wallet was talking to a friend on the far side of the box. As far as Fordyce could see, his own action had gone unobserved.

   But of course he was seen, and therein lies the story. It continues with some petty blackmail, an accidental death, the dead man’s girl friend who wants to …

   This is Cornell Woolrich territory, maybe with clearer and simpler language, but pure noir from beginning to end.

Reviewed by DAVID VINEYARD:


H. BEDFORD-JONES writing as ALLAN HAWKWOOD – The Gate of Farewell. Originally serialized in Argosy January-February 1914, as by H. Bedford-Jones. Hardcover edition: Hurst and Blackett Ltd., UK, 1928.

   Out east of Suez, in mysterious and sinister locales like Port Said and points East, West, North, and South, that’s where you will find the offices of John Solomon, Ships Stores, the canny deceptively gentle looking Cockney ship’s chandler who, with his greasy little red accounts book and stubby pencil, is a one man private secret service: “… if the Intelligence Department knew half as much about this part of the world as he does, the Foreign Office’d go crazy.”

   John Solomon is a mover and shaker, friend to native and kings, manipulator, schemer, adventurer, and the most dangerous man in dangerous waters, “… he has a finger in every pie from Jaffa to Zanzibar.” Underestimate the “… little plump man who wore a tarboosh jauntily cocked over one ear … and puffed a short clay pipe,” whose calm blue eyes “… spoke large of hidden secrets and unwritten lore …” at your own risk.

   The Gates of Farewell is the first novel in the John Solomon series, which would include eleven novels serialized in the pulps for the most part and many short stories and extend into the 1930‘s, all penned in book form as by Allan Hawkwood from the prolific ‘King of the Pulps’ Canadian writer H. Bedford-Jones, whose output includes 50 novels and over 1400 novels, stories, serials, and articles published in virtually every major and some minor pulps, including Blue Book, Argosy, Adventure, Weird Tales … and across all boundaries of pulp fiction; adventure, sea stories (The Second Mate), historical (The Wilderness Trail, Nuala O’Malley, Firehair Skald of the Haradee …), lost worlds (The Temple of Ten with W. S. Robertson), swashbuckler (tales of d’Artagnan, Cyrano, Denis Burke, and various others), mystery (The Mardi Gras Mystery), Holmes pastiche (one of his was so good that for years it was considered a lost Conan Doyle story until Bedford-Jones ‘fessed up), horror, gentleman crook (the excellent Riley Dillon series), Western (Arizona Argonauts, The Mesa Trail, The Sheriff of Pecos, Bowie’s Gold etc.), and more. Bedford-Jones listed Alexandre Dumas as his chief influence and it shows in his wide output and rich knowledge of so many different eras and places.

   This one sets the model for the later books and stories about John Solomon, where a good dependable professional man is drawn into mysteries involving Solomon in various ports of call and used by Solomon as a stalking horse until Solomon closes in at the end of the book on the problem at hand. You don’t write 1400 novels and stories without a respect for formula.

   The Gates of Farewell opens in pre-WWI Liverpool where Allan Tredgar, a young American importer (or “grocer” as he calls himself), is in a dive with his friend Lt. Krogness R.N., to hire a none to reputable, but honest tough little fighting cock of a Scots captain, one Hugh Cairn, to command his yacht the Spendthrift and sail to Port Said in search of his brother Bob, who disappeared and supposedly died five years earlier in Aden. Recently a ring of Bob’s showed up and Tredgar, believes his brother might still be alive.

   Complicating matters are the renegade American Colonel Lionel Parrish and his thug bodyguard Jerry Sloog who also want to hire Cairn to command their ship, and when Cairn turns them down Parrish threatens both Cairn and Tredgar by note to stay out of that part of the world. Cairn warns of Parrish, but Tredgar thinks it is all melodrama never having seen the man.

   Further complicating matters they rescue pretty Mary Grey, daughter of a missionary trying to reach her father in Berbera, when her ship goes down at sea East of Malta. She and Allan are attracted to each other and against Cairn’s wishes she decides to stay on at least to Port Said.

   It’s in Port Said that Tredgar is led by Cairn to the little store (“Solomon’s temple”) in the Arab quarter where Solomon keeps to himself “ Old friend of mine … gun runner and all that, but the best man to go to for what you want.”

   Solomon takes an instant liking to the young American and gives him an engraved silver ring to wear as a sort of passport should he need it (and it saves his life and plays a role . He also, aside from confirming Bob might be alive, confirms the fantastic stories Cairn has been telling of Parrish, a renegade soldier turned radical Moslem who is Mokkhadem of prefect of the Bab al Wida’s or El Woda, the gate of farewell of the title, named for one of the gates leading out of Mecca, a “.. strip of coast inside the Twelve Apostles across from Eritrea — so desolate not even a Bedouin lives there.”

   That is where he will find news of Bob, but it is also where the Senusiyeh, a radical secret society of Moslem extremist who are working to throw the Sultan of Turkey, the Padishah, and his rule out of Africa and Arabia, are building a fortress it is rumored, under the command of Parrish. Ironically the British are fighting to help the ‘Sick Man of Europe” the Turkish Sultan to hold on to Arabia, where from August of 1914 (this was serialized in January of that year) they would be desperate to drive the Turks out with the help of Allenby, Lawrence, and what is now the Saudi Royal family. It’s an irony Solomon himself would enjoy.

   After a great storm nearly wrecks the Spendrift (beautifully described by Bedford-Jones at his best), Tredgar and the rest end up captured by Hadji Abu Talib, a cruel and arrogant sort and member of the Senusiyeh, and taken to El Woda where they find hundred of slaves building a massive heavily armed fortress under the direction of Talib, none other than Parrish. There Tredgard also learns what role he and his brother play as he finds out Bob had learned from a dying Englishman in the states of the lost Abyssinian treasure of the Queen of Sheba, Solomon’s fabulous gift to her, which Parrish covets for the Senusiyeh to finance the campaign to throw the Padishah off the Arabian continent. Captured, forced into slavery, tortured along with his brother for the location of the treasure, watching as Parrish plans to take Mary Grey as his own, it all seems hopeless.

   But of course, that kindly spider John Solomon has been weaving his web, and the Tredgar brothers, Parrish, the brutish Sloog, and everyone else are only flies ensnared and waiting for the right time to strike, which this being adventure fiction is at the very moment when all is at its most desperate.

   This is an old-fashioned adventure story, though you can see the plot elements would not be too out of place in the latest Clive Cussler or James Rollins thriller with a bit of updating. It is somehow reassuring that the same secret societies and mad fanatics were at work then as now — in fact and fiction. There are flaws of course. There is absolutely no real reason for Mary Grey in much of the book, and she is barely characterized, though her ‘consent’ to the marriage to Parrish is key to the big finale and Solomon’s plans, and the scenes with Tredgar are well enough written and not overly mushy.

   And, there is some politically incorrect language, though not as much as you might expect. At worst it is the way people of the time actually spoke and thought, however disturbing to modern readers eyes and ears. Actually most of the Moslem characters, even some of the Senuisyeh, are portrayed as honorable and faithful, far from some of the extremes in popular fiction today, and Solomon is nowhere near as ruthless as most of today’s adventure heroes.

   The pulp origins show some in structure and story, but in a positive light it is much more stylishly and straightforwardly written for all that. The book is very cinematic as well, in a positive sense and it isn’t hard to cast the main characters in your minds eye, Gary Cooper and Olivia de Haviland for Tredgar and Mary; Tully Marshall or J. Farrell MacDonald for the tough little Cairn; Henry Daniell or C. Henry Gordon for the renegade Parrish; Lon Chaney Jr. or Mike Mazurki as Sloog; and a Cockney accented Edmond Gwynne, Charles Winniger, or Cecil Kellaway for Solomon.

   Considering, too, Bedford-Jones penchant for reproducing Solomon’s accent it is just as well he isn’t on stage for long in most of the books: “Paradise is werry nice no doubt; but I says as ’ow earth ’as its good points likewise.” A little of that goes a long way, but it is a small complaint about a splendid adventure series worthy to stand with Rider Haggard and Talbot Mundy, and dare I say it, John Buchan.

SELECTED BY JONATHAN LEWIS:


REX DOLPHIN “Off the Map.” First published in Weird Tales, July 1954. Reprinted in 100 Wild Little Weird Tales, edited by Stefan R. Dziemianowicz, Robert Weinberg, & Martin H. Greenberg (Barnes & Noble, 1994).

   Rex Dolphin (1915-1990) was the pen name of one Reginald Charles Dolphin, a British accountant who also wrote under the pseudonyms Peter Saxon and Desmond Reid. His sole contribution to Weird Tales, a story entitled “Off the Map” appeared in the pulp magazine’s July 1954 issue.

   The product of a vivid imagination and a mind steeped in fantasy literature, “Off the Map” is a minor, albeit imperfect, gem of a tale. The story is based on a premise that readers of historical fantasy and weird fiction have surely encountered in myriad forms over the years: what if there’s a city that’s marked on an older map, but that doesn’t appear on any contemporary ones:

   “See this? Yes, it’s an old map — seventeenth century to be exact — and I found it in a musty old shop in part of the country I’d better not mention. No, this has nothing to do with buried treasure, though to be truthful it does concern some golden guineas; guineas that no one will touch. Give you the chance? Maybe, but there’s something you should know first…”

   The town in question is Wychburne, an English city that no longer appears in modern cartography. In “Off the Map,” the story’s unnamed protagonist-narrator sets out to discover what happened to this village. Does it still exist? And if so, what happens there?

   The story unfolds in a rather predictable manner, with one local who learns of the narrator’s quest showing his absolute displeasure with the notion. As it turns out, the village — or some phantasmagoric facsimile of it, does still exist. But the small burg’s historical trajectory has been scarred by the experience of a great plague, making this town off the map a burial ground for the ages.

   It must be said that, while “Off the Map” has a more interesting premise than a conclusion, the work does demonstrate that the writer was certainly well versed in both the style and substance of early twentieth-century high fantasy literature.

REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:


PAUL CAIN – Seven Slayers. Saint Enterprises, paperback original, 1946. Avon #268, paperback, 1950. Vintage/Black Lizard, paperback, 1987, 1994.

   And Pulp is a many-splendored thing as witness the stories by Paul Cain (aka screenwriter Peter Ruric) first collected in paperback in 1946 as Seven Slayers. The prose is never more than functional, the characters no deeper than the thickness of a page, but these things move faster than a speeding bullet, impelled by a ruthless logic that goes from Problem to Solution with fast action and not much fuss about what it all means.

   Where Chandler’s five murderers seem driven by ethics, sentiment or an innate decency, Cain’s seven slayers are motivated mostly by greed, and sustained by nothing more than their own expertise. The result lacks the satisfying depth of Chandler’s prose, but it sure makes for satisfying stories.

       Contents:

Black. Black Mask, May 1932
Murder in Blue. Black Mask, June 1933, as “Murder Done in Blue”
One, Two, Three. Black Mask, May 1933
Parlor Trick. Black Mask, July 1932
Pigeon Blood. Black Mask, November 1933
Pineapple. Black Mask, March 1936
Red 71. Black Mask, December 1932

REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:


RAYMOND CHANDLER – Five Murderers. Avon Murder Mystery Monthly #19, digest-sized paperback, 1944; New Avon Library #63, paperback, 1944.

   A brightly packaged confection of early stories by Raymond Chandler, including his first, “Blackmailers Don’t Shoot” (1933) and his first first-person narration, “Goldfish” (1936).

   Well, they read just like early efforts of a major mystery stylist: the prose is highly-patterned and a bit gaudy, the action scenes plentiful and effective, and the characters sometimes try to behave like something other than figures on a pulp cover.

   The only consistent problem is with the stories themselves, which are mostly over-plotted. Chandler sets up a case (usually missing jewels) then side characters come on and make cryptic comments, bodies turn up, heads are sapped, new actors walk on and off, secrets get shared, lies lied, and (in Chandler’s own words) two men come through the door with guns in their hands.

   This is a lot of to-do for a sixty-page story, and after about 55 pages of it, everything gets sorted out with a wild shoot-’em-up that leaves the bad guys conveniently dead and the good guys still up and about to close the case.

   Pretty awful stuff, really. The wonder is that Chandler’s gifts for sharp characterization and telling prose make it all so pleasant to swallow — and I mean, these are almost compellingly readable. Now and again he slips up — in “Blackmailers” a young starlet opines “They look as if they only existed alter dark, like ghouls. The people are dissipated without grace, sinful without irony.” and it’s all too dearly the author talking, not the character — but in the main these pulp tales are catchy little gems and well worth looking at.

Bibliographic Notes:   None of the five stories feature Philip Marlowe; all first appeared in Black Mask magazine. The other three stories are “Guns at Cyrano’s” (1936), “Nevada Gas” (1935) and “Spanish Blood” (1935).

SELECTED BY JONATHAN LEWIS:


GASTON LEROUX “The Woman with the Velvet Collar.” First published in English in Weird Tales, October 1929. Reprinted in Startling Mystery Stories, Spring 1969, and in several anthologies of weird fiction since. Originally published in French as “La femme au collier de velours” in 1924.

   Although it took me a while to become fully immersed in Gaston Leroux’s “The Woman With the Velvet Collar,” by the story’s end I was left with the indelible impression that I had just read a well-crafted horror tale. First appearing in English translation in Weird Tales, Leroux’s conte cruel transports the reader to Corsica, a land known for its vendettas and its cultural and physical separateness from mainland France.

   “The Woman With the Velvet Collar” unfolds with a discussion between two sailors, a sea captain named Gobert and his friend, Michel. The two men are discussing Corsican vendetta stories, with Gobert assuring Michel that he has a story that is far more horrifying than any run of the mill vendetta. The tale further unfolds as Gobert begins to tell a story within a story, about his experiences in Corsica in which he encountered a ghost like woman dressed all in black and with a black velvet ribbon around her neck.

   As it turns out, the woman was named Angeluccia and she was married to a local Corsican official. But she kept a secret from her husband! She was secretly romantically involved with her cousin, one of her husband’s employees. Without giving too much of the plot away, let’s just say that the guillotine makes a bloody appearance in this fiendishly clever tale about what happens when a costume party in which Angeluccia dresses up as Marie Antoinette turns into the beginning of a dark foray into the supernatural.

Bibliographic Note:   Captain Michel also appeared in three additional stories:

       Le noël du petit Vincent-Vincent (1924); The Crime on Christmas Night (1930).
       Not’ Olympe (1924); The Mystery of the Four Husbands (1929).
       L’auberge épouvantable (1925); The Inn of Terror (1929).

SELECTED BY DAVID VINEYARD:


ROBERT A. HEINLEIN “The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag.” First published in Unknown Worlds, October 1942, as by John Riverside. Reprinted many times, most notably in the Gnome Press collection having the same title (1959).

   The impact of the hard-boiled school of writing can be seen today in many literary voices, but not surprisingly, it first made itself felt in genre fiction, and not just in the mystery genre. In the 1930’s the voice began to appear in the Western, in Hollywood films, and in science fiction, particularly in that branch of science fiction known as Campbellian after editor and writer John W. Campbell Jr. It was only natural then that as the lines blurred the genres would blend together somewhat, and by the 1940’s, it was well established in most genre fiction.

   Unknown (later Unknown Worlds) the companion to Campbell’s science fiction pulp Astounding Science Fiction, published a great deal of fantasy and horror, but all along the Campbellian ideal of well worked out logical fiction, many of the works appearing there the best of the writers’ careers and among the best and most loved stories of its age.

   Most of the major writers from Astounding contributed to Unknown as well, L. Sprague de Camp, L. Ron Hubbard, Isaac Asimov, A. E. Van Vogt, and some earlier writers like Jack Williamson and Henry Kuttner. Humor, horror, adventure, and high fantasy went hand in hand. De Camp and Pratt’s “Incomplete Enchanter,” Hubbard’s “Fear,” “Death’s Deputy,” and “Typewriter in the Sky,” Williamson’s “Darker than You Think,” Eric Frank Russell’s “Sinister Barrier,” and many other classics first saw light there. Among those who wrote for the new market was Robert A. Heinlein, dean of the Campbellian science fiction movement, who wrote this little novelette under the name John Riverside.

   In it Teddy Randall and his wife Cynthia (Cyn) are private investigators approached by Mr. Jonathan Hoag, a prim and somehow unsettling individual they both take an instant dislike to, but his money is good and the case seems simple enough if a bit whacky. Mr. Hoag, it seems, has a memory problem.

   No, not amnesia, at least not exactly. Mr. Hoag doesn’t know what he does during his days. They are a complete blank, so when he finds what he fears is blood under his fastidious finger nails he hires the Randalls to follow him. Whacky, as I said, but the the Randalls aren’t the scrupulous type, and money is money. They take the case. So what if their client doesn’t appear to have any fingerprints.

   The Randalls work together, a well oiled and capable little investigative team, and part of the enjoyment is watching the duo think and work. They are a sort of sexy slightly larcenous Nick and Nora or Pam and Jerry North, an attractive addition to the subgenre of married sophisticated sleuths that delighted mystery fans in the years following the debut of Hammett’s Nick and Nora.

   And follow Mr. Hoag they do, until Randall discovers the address and the office in the Acme Building he followed Hoag to on the first day doesn’t exist and even the floor of the building he was on isn’t there. At first they suspect he was drugged by Hoag, or that worse, he was hypnotized when Hoag stopped and spoke to him, but Hoag genuinely doesn’t appear to remember the encounter or anything else Randall saw that day.

   Things get even more weird when Randall meets a threatening Mr. Stoles:

   “You are, shall we say, a minor item. We do not like your activity, Mr. Randall. You really must cease it.”

   Before Randall could answer, Stoles shoved a palm in his direction. “Don’t be hasty, Mr. Randall. Let me explain. Not all of your activities. We do not care how many blondes you plant in hotel rooms to act as complacent corespondents in divorce cases, nor how many wires you tap, nor letters you open. There is only one activity of yours we are concerned with. I refer to Mr. Hoag.” He spat out the last word. watched and waited.

   Randall could feel a stir of uneasiness run through the room.

   “What about Mr. Hoag?” he demanded.

   There was the stir again. Stoles’ face no longer even pretended to smile.

   “Let us refer to him hereafter,” he said, “as ‘your client:’ It comes to this, Mr. Randall. We have other plans for Mr. … for your client, You must leave him alone. You must forget him, you must never see him again.”

   Randall stared back, uncowed. “I’ve never welshed on a client yet. I’ll see you in hell first.”

   “That,” admitted Stoles, shoving out his lips, “is a distinct possibility, I grant you, but one that neither you nor I would care to contemplate, save as a bombastic metaphor.”

   Stoles than recounts a simply horrifying and ridiculous story, something about the Sons of the Bird, and Randall wakes up in his bed from the nightmare. He tries to shake it off, but things are getting weirder by the minute what with Hoag now telling them that he is being watched — from inside the mirror. Hoag even seems to attack Cyn the next time she follows him, and she can’t even defend herself despite having a gun. Then there’s the note neither of them wrote:

   What she saw was one of their letterheads, rolled into the typewriter; on it was a single line of typing:

            CURIOSITY KILLED THE CAT.

   She said nothing at all and tried to control the quivering at the pit of her stomach.

   Randall asked, “Cyn, did you write that?”

   “No.”

   “Positive?”

   “Yes.” She reached out to take it out of the machine; he checked her.

   “Don’t touch it. Fingerprints.”

   “All right. But I have a notion,” she said, “that you won’t find any fingerprints on that.”

   When they go to Hoag’s doctor things get even stranger.

   “…you have no conception of the depths of beastliness, possible in this world. In that you are lucky. It is much, much better never to know.”

   Randall hesitated, aware that the debate was going against him. Then he said, “Supposing you are right, doctor — how is it, if he is so vicious, you have not turned Hoag over to the police?”

   “How do you know I haven’t? But I will answer that one, sir. No, I have not turned him over to the police, for the simple reason that it would do no good. The authorities have not had the wit nor the imagination to conceive of the possibility of the peculiar evil involved. No law can touch him—not in this day and age.”

   And things are about to get stranger yet, when the Randalls discover a new full length mirror has been installed in their bedroom.

   Perhaps the best thing about “The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag” is that it doesn’t let the reader down. Heinlein pays off in a finale that is both disturbing and a bit funny, but also profoundly disturbing. Don’t blame me if after you read it you remove the mirror from your bedroom and handcuff yourself to your loved one every night at bedtime like the Randalls.

   Blame Heinlein, and Jonathan Hoag. While it isn’t horror, and you could even call it a satirical masterpiece, the story will leave you with more than a frisson in its profoundly disturbing implications. Like Fritz Leiber’s “Conjure Wife” and Jack Williamson’s “Darker Than You Think” from the same magazine the frights here lie in the implication more than the instrumentation.

   It rivals Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in that, as was written of that book, it is the rare mystery where the solution to the crime is more terrifying than the crime itself.

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