Pulp Fiction

ERLE STANLEY GARDNER “Lost, Strayed and Stolen.” Lester Leith #44. Novelette. Detective Fiction Weekly, 24 February 1934. Never reprinted, though I’d welcome being corrected on this.

   It might be possible to characterize Lester Leith as a private eye, except for one small detail, or maybe two. He never had a PI license, and as far as I know, his only client was himself. What he realty is is difficult to describe. What he does is scour the newspapers for details on crimes that have been committed and tries to find a way to cut himself in on the proceeds.

   He is so successful at this that there is no “tries” about it. The police do not take his activities lightly. They think he is a crook himself, although they have never been able to prove it.

   To this end, however, they have inserted one of their men, a chap named Beaver, into Lester Leith’s household in the guise of his personal man servant. Leith calls him Scuttle, and of course Leith is fully aware that Scuttle is a easily fooled spy for the equally inept Sgt. Ackley of the police department.

   Which is where half the fun of reading the Leith stories comes in. He simply delights in teasing both Scuttle and Ackley along, giving them just enough information to get them going in one direction while off he goes in the other. The other half of the fun is watching Leith do exactly that, which in this case involves setting up a totally bogus Citizens’ Committee on Civics Efficiency, complete with stationery, buttons and badges, although Leith himself is the only member.

   Goal: to obtain a valuable diamond necklace that the husband of a well-known society woman claims was stolen from him. With the use of an exact but worthless replica and the hiring of a young woman living down the hall from him who is low on funds, Leith manages to get both the police and the couple whose necklace was stolen both totally confused and bamboozled, and badly, to the total delight of the reader.

   I thoroughly enjoyed this one, from beginning to end.

  FREDERICK C. DAVIS “Death to the Witness.” Show-Me McGee #6. Novelette. First published in Detective Fiction Weekly, 24 February 1934. Advertised as “The Hand of Doom” on the front cover. Published separately in the UK in paperback by Sharman Ellis Ltd., sometime in the 1930s.

   Almost without fail a series character in the old pulp magazines had to have a gimmick — something that made him different from all of the others, something that made him stand out in the reader’s mind so that they’d recognize him when they came across the next of his adventures.

   Some of these gimmicks were awfully minor ones, though. Show-Me McGee’s was exactly that. Hailing from the “Show Me” state of Missouri, Detective Lieutenant John McGee was one of those policemen who had to see the evidence and be convinced of what it told him before he ever went into action.

   As gimmicks so, this is a mere trifle. I have an idea that by the time this one came out, the sixth in the series, even the author had gotten tired of it or he’d run out of ways to build it into the stories he was writing. There’s only one paragraph in this one that it’s really brought up.

   And speaking of the story, this one’s about a cleaning lady in a large office building who witnesses a murder, one committed by a mysterious criminal mastermind, and she is the only one who can identify him. Trouble is, she’s in a coma in a hospital bed, and the killer has ordered all the members of his gang to get in and bump her off.

   The title on the cover, “The Hand of Doom,” is actually the more appropriate one, and in a way, in 1934, it may have been science fictional. Show Me McGee manages to save the day by the judicious use of liquid oxygen, freezing the killer’s hand so that it breaks off just before he is able to detonate several sticks of dynamite.

   Well, howdy. As perhaps you can tell, this is a story that’s filled with action from beginning to end. Even if this happens to be a mug of your favorite brew, it’s deeply flawed, though. Why, you might ask, even at the time, didn’t the killer knock off the cleaning lady as soon as he saw that she had seen him? He slugs her on the head instead, and dumps her into a nearby closet. To his regret later on — for the rest of the story, in fact.

       The Show-Me McGee series —

Hell on Wheels (nv) Detective Fiction Weekly Sep 30 1933
Murder Without Motive (nv) Detective Fiction Weekly Oct 7 1933 (*)
The Killer in the Tower (ss) Detective Fiction Weekly Nov 18 1933
The Devil’s Dozen (nv) Detective Fiction Weekly Dec 2 1933 (*)
The Three Doctor Jekylls (nv) Detective Fiction Weekly Dec 30 1933
Death to the Witness (nv) Detective Fiction Weekly Feb 24 1934 (*)
Stone Dead (nv) Detective Fiction Weekly Jun 9 1934
The Eye in the Wall (nv) Detective Fiction Weekly Jul 21 1934

   (*) Reprinted by Sharman Ellis Ltd. in the UK, probably all as 64 page paperbacks. Fellow blogger Morgan Wallace has recently posted a long review of The Devil’s Dozen, which also includes a photo image of the cover. Follow the link.


RAYMOND CHANDLER “Guns at Cyrano’s.” Ted Carmady #1. Novelette. First published in Black Mask January 1936 (with the leading character named Ted Malvern). Collected in: Five Murderers, Avon, paperback, 1944; Red Wind, World, hardcover, 1946; The Simple Art of Murder, Houghton Mifflin, hardcover, 1950; Pick-Up on Noon Street, Pocket, paperback, 1952; Stories and Early Novels, Library of America, hardcover, 1995. TV episode: Season 2 Episode 4 of Philip Marlowe, Private Eye, 18 May 1986 (with Powers Boothe as Philip Marlowe).

   Ted Carmady liked the rain; liked the feel of it, the sound of it, the smell of it. He got out of his LaSalle coupe and stood for a while by the side entrance to the Carondelet, the high collar of his blue suede ulster tickling his ears, his hands in his pockets and a limp cigarette sputtering between his lips. Then he went in past the barbershop and the drugstore and the perfume shop with its rows of delicately lighted bottles, ranged like the ensemble in the finale of a Broadway musical.

   “Guns at Cyrano’s” is one of the many short works written by Raymond Chandler for the pulps between 1929 and the publication of his first story “Blackmailer’s Don’t Shoot” and 1938 and the publication of The Big Sleep, the first Philip Marlowe novel. It is neither the best nor the worst of the lot (certainly not as good as the John Dalmas stories, particularly “Red Wind”), not even the best of the stories written in the third person (“Spanish Blood” and “Nevada Gas” are both better).

   I’ll go further, it isn’t even the best of the stories featuring Carmady (here known as Ted Carmady).

   I am not damning with faint praise though, because it is my personal favorite of the early stories, a pulpy B-movie of a boozy rainy noir tale replete with women no better than they have to be, a hero who isn’t so noble he’s boring or hard to believe in, a few innocents, and of course that famous man who walks into the room with a gun just as the lull starts to set in.

   Carmady, at least as presented here — and you will be forgiven if you question if this is the same Carmady of “Killer in the Rain” — has money and lives well, unlike anyone else in Chandler’s oveure he is not a private detective (he used to be, and even identifies himself as one at one point, but a rich private eye goes against almost everything Chandler ever wrote elsewhere) nor a good cop or house dick, but instead the son of a father who got his money in a clearly stated illegal way, meaning his son knows a lot of shady people and has a romantic notion that maybe he ought to make up for his father’s sins by helping people in trouble:

   “Okey,” he said thinly. “I’m nosey. So what? This is my town. My dad used to run it. Old Marcus Carmady, the People’s Friend; this is my hotel. I own a piece of it. That snowed–up hoodlum looked like a life–taker to me. Why wouldn’t I want to help out?”

   Here he is headed for the hotel room he lives in when he spots a victim lying in an open doorway.

   She lay on her side, in a sheen of steel–gray lounging pajamas, her cheek pressed into the nap of the hall carpet, her head a mass of thick corn–blond hair, waved with glassy precision. Not a hair looked out of place. She was young, very pretty, and she didn’t look dead.

   Carmady slid down beside her, touched her cheek. It was warm. He lifted the hair softly away from her head and saw the bruise.

   “Sapped.” His lips pressed back against his teeth.

   Frankly at this point you wouldn’t be too shocked if Carmady turned out to have a sobriquet like the Saint or the Toff. Only the language is different, and maybe the attitude, the milieu is pretty much the same.

   The Dame, all women in these stories are some shade of Dames, good, bad, classy, murderous, or saintly, is a chanteuse named Jean Adrian (“I do a number at Cyrano’s.”), no better and no worse than life and men have made her, who likes his whiskey and is loathe to admit she was sapped or explain the.22 he finds beside her.

   Seems Miss Adrian has a boy friend who is a fighter, Duke Targo, and the Boys would like him to drop a fight, and they are trying to get to her through him. Naturally no Chandler hero can let that knightly quest go unmet.

   Of course that knightly quest is far from simple this being Chandler, involving a State Senator being blackmailed, a fixer named Doll Conant (His clothes looked as if they had cost a great deal of money and had been slept in.), an innocent victim to be avenged, and that gunfight at Benny Cyrano’s club from the title.

   Before it is over there is more gunplay (more in this single story than all the Marlowe novels put together), a few beatings, plenty of the kind of tough poetic dialogue Chandler was famous for, and a moral of sorts. It all makes for a satisfying pulp tale with the air of a good B movie and with those little touches that make even early Chandler such a pleasure to read.

   As I said, I like this story much more than it deserves for what it is. I’ve even seen it suggested it is the weakest of the Chandler stories, but it just happens to fit me for some reason, which is all any of us can ask of any story.

   They went through silent streets, past blurred houses, blurred trees, the blurred shine of street lights. There were neon signs behind the thick curtains of mist. There was no sky.

   If, like me you are a sucker for that particular brand of music, “Guns at Cyrano’s” hits all the notes on key, sonata for Thompson Machine Gun in B-Flat.

ROBERT E. HOWARD “The Horror from the Mound.” Short story. Non-series. First published in Weird Tales, May 1932. Collected in Skull-Face and Others (Arkham House, hardcover, 1946) and Wolfshead (Lancer, paperback, 1968). Reprinted elsewhere many more times, including Trails in Darkness (Baen, paperback, 1996).

   A short tale — only 23 pages long in the Baen edition — but still one of the most effective vampire stories I’ve ever read. Not that anyone except a poor Mexican laborer knows ahead of time who or what lies inside the ancient burial mound on Steve Brill’s land, somewhere in the American southwest, and he makes a great point of avoiding the area whenever he trudges back to his hovel of a home after a hard day’s work.

   What Brill does — in spite of all the alarms that go off in the minds of every single reader of this tale, every single one — his curiosity completely out of control, is to start digging into the mound on his own and far into the night.

   What emerges is something he does not expect, not in today’s day and age (or 1932, to be precise, which is when the story was first published). This is the kind of story in which the suspense builds and builds, whether you’re a believer of the supernatural or not. It’s not a story to be put down easily, I can assure you.

GORDON E. WARNKE “Whispering Monk.” The Whispering Monk #1. Short story. Published in All Detective Magazine, June 1934. Never reprinted.

   This is the first appearance of The Whispering Monk as a hero pulp character, and the last. In fact it is the only [crime fiction] story that the author, Gordon E. Warnke, ever had published, and the only way you’re going to be able to read it is by finding a copy of the right issue of All Detective Magazine, which is as usual with these old magazines, is not going to be an easy job to do. (See also comment #3.)

   The Whispering Monk, a terrifying nemesis to hoodlums and gangsters alike, is in reality Dick Steele, a former police detective whose father, also a detective, was murdered by a criminal gang that Steele believes is operating with police protection. He takes on the guise of the hooded Whispering Monk to bring the gang down by means of his own vigilante justice.

   As it turns out, however, by means of clever disguising techniques, for most of the story he takes on the identity of Johnny the Dip, a barfly who is able to overhear the conversations of gang members in bars as he sprawls drunkenly at nearby tables.

   Only one person, William Dugan, a captain of detectives, knows about Steele’s alter egos, and is the only man he trusts with that information. The story is short — it’s only nine pages long — so to do what he has to do with so little room to work, Steele’s only resource is to get the gang members fighting against each other.

   You may be surprised to hear me say that the story is not badly written — there’s simply just not enough of it — and the setup shows some imagination, at least. This overlooks the unfortunate fact, however, that The Whispering Monk appears in person in only a few paragraphs on the last page. More of him in action, instead as Johnny the Dip, would seem to be a reasonable request, and why that particular moniker, anyway?

ERLE STANLEY GARDNER – The Face Lifter. Kayo Macray #1 (?). “Complete novel.” All Detective Magazine, June 1934. Collected in Silent Death (Pulpville Press, trade paperback, March 2013).

   I have discovered no evidence that personal body trainer Kayo Macray ever appeared in any other story but this one. This is so even though there is a hint of a case of services rendered to someone in need, one with a happy ending, that occurred before this one. When he’s asked by a current client who’s worried about what kind of jam her daughter’s gotten herself into, he gladly agrees to do what he can to help.

   This is a situation that could easily be the beginning of a Perry Mason novel. The daughter, when he meets her, tells Kayo that she’s being blackmailed, and of course it is nothing she could tell her mother about. Kayo goes into immediate action. But unlike the Perry Mason, the rest of the story is nothing but action.

   Well, no, I’ll take that back. [Plot Alert!] As he discovers by accident, after obtaining the indiscreet material the girl needed him to retrieve, Kayo learns that she was an imposter. This is kind of a neat twist, but Kayo recovers quickly and saves the day. Lots of fisticuffs, gunplay, and a frantic car chase follow.

   The title of the story comes from the fact that in the process of rescuing the damsel in distress, Kayo is very good with his fists, and messes up the face of one of the hoodlums he tracks down in very fine fashion.

   Overall, this is a mediocre story in a third rate pulp magazine, but you can always tell Gardner’s prose style from anyone else’s, no matter how early in his career he may have been writing. And just between you and me, calling “The Face Lifter” a “complete novel” is stretching the truth quite a bit. In the standard pulp magazine format, it’s only 23 pages long.

by Francis M. Nevins

   The first few years of Erle Stanley Gardner’s stories for the pulps were written in a style that might best be called style-less. Then, around 1930 or so, he discovered Dashiell Hammett — no surprise since they were both writing for the same pulps at the same time — and his most interesting work over the next several years makes it pretty clear which of his colleagues he was trying to channel. I call as witnesses the Ken Corning stories for Black Mask (1932-33), the first nine Perry Mason books (1933-36), the stand-alone novel THIS IS MURDER (1935), and the short-lived Pete Wennick series, also for Black Mask (1937-39).

   Another radical change in Gardner’s style and sensibility took place around 1937 when the Saturday Evening Post offered him huge sums of money for serialization rights to the Perry Mason’s before they came out in book form. But part of the deal was that Gardner had to tone Mason down, conform him to the “family-friendly” values of the Post, convert him from a social Darwinian Sam Spade with a law degree to an attorney who was more conventional, more acceptable to a huge public just as network TV was to demand during its heyday in the 1950s.

   This didn’t mean that everything Gardner wrote had to kowtow to “family values.” Roughly two years after making his Faustian bargain with the Post, he launched a new series which, like the Mason novels, he continued to write for the rest of his life.

   Under the byline of A. A. Fair he created the team of Bertha Cool and Donald Lam. Bertha is obese, irascible, money-hungry and foul-mouthed, while Donald is a young bantamweight with a weakness for lovely women and a talent for scams. He has a law degree but it’s useless to him. “I wasn’t disbarred and I didn’t violate professional ethics,” he insists in an exchange with Cool early in the pair’s debut novel, THE BIGGER THEY COME (1939). “I told [a client] a man could break any law and get away with it if he went about it right.” To which Cool replies: “That’s nothing. Anyone knows that.”

   Imagine those lines appearing in the Saturday Evening Post! Lam goes on: “I told this man it would be possible to commit a murder so there was nothing anyone could do about it….That night he was arrested. He turned out to be a small-time gangster….[H]e told [the police] that I had agreed to tell him how he could commit a murder and get off scot-free….[I]f it looked good to him, he had planned to bump off a rival gangster.” The California Bar’s grievance committee “revoked my license for a year.”

   The year has passed but Donald is still unable to practice law: thanks to his suspension, no firm will hire him and thanks to being broke he can’t hang out his own shingle. But he still contends that with his advice one could “commit deliberate murder and go unpunished.” Bertha presses for more information: “And locked inside that head of yours is a plan by which I could kill someone and the law couldn’t do a damn thing about it?” Donald replies: “Yes.”

   It’s left up to us to imagine the smarmy seductive tone of Cool’s next line: “Tell me, Donald.” He doesn’t, of course, but at the climax he demonstrates his own thesis by getting up in an Arizona courtroom, confessing to a California murder (which in fact he didn’t commit) and daring the legal system to touch him for it.

   Here’s how the ploy works. After the murder in California, Donald drives across the state line into Arizona where he proceeds to frame himself on a charge of obtaining property under false pretenses, although leaving a legal escape hatch open for himself. He then drives back to California, runs through the quarantine station at the border, is chased and caught by California cops and locked up in the border town of El Centro.

   In due course he’s legally extradited to Arizona to face the false pretenses charge. Once he’s cleared himself and that charge is dropped, he confesses to the California murder. But when California moves to extradite him, he files a writ of habeas corpus, arguing that he can’t be compelled to return.

   “The only authority which one state has to take prisoners from another state comes from the organic law [meaning the state constitution] which provides that fugitives from justice may be extradited from one sovereign state to another. I am not a fugitive from justice….[A] man is not a fugitive from a state unless he flees from that state. He doesn’t flee from that state unless he does so voluntarily and in order to avoid arrest. I did not flee from California. I was dragged from California. I was taken out under legal process to answer for a crime of which I was innocent. I claimed that I was innocent. I came to Arizona and established my innocence. Any time I get good and ready to go back to California, California can arrest me for murder. Until I get good and ready to go back, I can stay here and no power on earth can make me budge.”

   Would the plan work? Gardner’s friend Dean John H. Wigmore scoffed at the device and ESG literally wrote a brief for him on the issue which made him concede that maybe Gardner had a point. But I wouldn’t recommend that anyone try to make use of it today. Of the two main cases Donald cited, one is easily distinguishable from the situation in the novel and the other was all but overruled by the California Supreme Court in 1966, a few years before Gardner’s death. Masochists who want fuller legal details will find them in my chapter on Gardner in JUDGES & JUSTICE & LAWYERS & LAW (2014).

   Unlike the Perry Mason adventures which by this time were appearing regularly in the Saturday Evening Post, THE BIGGER THEY COME has its full share of Hammett touches. Cunweather, the king toad, is clearly modeled on THE MALTESE FALCON’s Casper Gutman, and the brutal beating of Donald by Cunweather’s goons — or should I say gunsels? — instantly reminds us of the beating administered to Ned Beaumont in THE GLASS KEY. (Donald gets roughed up quite often in the course of the 30-novel series.)

   But above all else THE BIGGER THEY COME is an epic symphony of scams, one inside the other inside a third: everyone out to snooker everyone else, dog eat dog, devil take the hindmost, social Darwinism in action. And Gardner, born scrapper that he was, loves every minute of it. We get so immersed in all these scams that it’s easy to forget that Gardner never tells us exactly what happened between the first and second shots in Apartment 419, nor even who committed the murder that took place there.

   In the final chapter Bertha and Donald reunite in Arizona and we close with Donald entering the room of the young woman who was falsely charged with the murder. What happened between them after that is left to our imagination.


   THE BIGGER THEY COME was first published very early in 1939. The next Cool & Lam novel readers saw was TURN ON THE HEAT, which came out early in 1940. What no one knew until a few years ago was that between these books Gardner had written another C&L exploit, which his publisher rejected and which moldered away in his gargantuan filing system until long after his death in 1970.

   It was finally published by Hard Case Crime as THE KNIFE SLIPPED (2016). Donald is back in California with Bertha, for some unexplained reason legally unscathed despite having confessed in open court to a murder in that state. We’re also told very clearly (by Bertha, on page 15) that he was disbarred in California, not for the scam he pulled in THE BIGGER THEY COME but for the advice he had given a client before the beginning of that book, an act, so he had told Bertha, that had got him suspended from the bar for a year which was now up.

   Whether or not he could return to law practice, he doesn’t, and gets stuck with a routine shadowing job when a battle-axe mother and her frumpy daughter hire Bertha’s firm to investigate the daughter’s husband, who’s been seen in a nightclub with a sexy blonde. It doesn’t take much shadowing before Donald discovers that his target has two other apartments and two other names — one of them being Ned Pines, a real-world pulp publisher — and that both apartments are frequently visited by cops and firemen.

   Bertha quickly scents a political scandal and roots around for a way to profit from it, while at the fancier of his target’s two secret apartments Donald strikes up an acquaintance with Ruth Marr, the four-to-midnight switchboard operator, and falls for her as only Donald can. Late the next evening he’s keeping watch in the agency car outside the apartment building when the automobile door is opened by a frantic Ruth, who, or at least so she claims, has just found the man Donald was shadowing shot to death in his room and idiotically picked up the murder gun, which she passes to Donald, who deep-sixes it.

   Donald gets slapped around by cops, beaten to a pulp by thugs in the pay of the man behind the political scandal (which involves selling the answers to Civil Service exam questions to cops and firemen hungry for promotions), and soon finds himself on the run with Ruth, who he at least half believes committed the murder. The climax is a tour de force of cynicism, with Donald planting the murder gun on the king toad while the real murderer stays out of jeopardy by paying Bertha a generous chunk of blackmail money.

   There are some other inconsistencies between this novel and THE BIGGER THEY COME besides the question of whether Donald can practice law. In THE KNIFE SLIPPED Bertha has an annoying habit of referring to herself in the third person, which she does only once in THE BIGGER THEY COME. The sex, which was implied and offstage in THE BIGGER THEY COME, is much more overt in THE KNIFE SLIPPED.

   Donald makes out with Ruth in the agency car, pulling down her bra and exposing her breasts. Elsewhere there’s even a reference to Bertha’s nipples, which Donald coyly refers to as buttons. Perhaps it’s matters like these that have led some readers to conclude or at least suspect that Gardner didn’t write this book; that it was written much more recently to cash in on his name, as was done with other mystery writers in the past.

   Anyone remember BUT THE DOCTOR DIED? It was supposedly written by Craig Rice, who died in 1957, and features her series characters, but wasn’t published until ten years after her death and is brim-full of international intrigue elements that place it in the James Bond Superstar era, which Rice never lived to see. But I don’t believe we have a similar case here. Based on the style, the period details and the overall feel of the book, I can’t imagine anyone but ESG having written THE KNIFE SLIPPED.

   It’s equally hard to imagine just why Gardner’s publishers rejected the book. Too much sex? Or cynicism? Or sloppiness? (On page 21 the wife of the man Donald is to follow calls him an “assistant lawyer,” a designation that made my eyebrows go up a few notches, but seven pages later we learn that the guy’s title is Assistant Buyer.

   Much later in the novel Donald clubs the king toad and steals from his wallet over a thousand bucks, which he describes on page 149 as “sinews of war.” Surely he meant spoils?) Unless someone unearths the business correspondence on the issue, we’ll never know. Whatever the reason, I for one am glad that the publisher’s judgment was reversed.

   (With thanks to Vikram Katju, whose exchange of emails with me inspired this column.)

ERLE STANLEY GARDNER “Carved in Sand.” Whispering Sands #15. Novelette. Argosy Weekly, June 17, 1933. First collected in Whispering Sands: Stories of Gold Fever and the Western Desert (William Morrow, hardcover, 1981).

   The online FictionMags Index lists 17 “Whispering Sands” stories that Gardner did for the pulp magazine Argosy from 1930 to 1934, of which “Carved in Sand” is the 15th. I do not know whether or not Bob Zane is in all of them, but I believe he is in most. (Corrections welcome!)

   It is not clear from reading just this one story what it is that Bob Zane does for a living. He is an older man, not yet grizzled, but perhaps a prospector with an inherent love for the desert, with an inquisitive mind and an aptitude for solving mysteries. The setting is not stated in any precise fashion, but it is probably the Southwest US, circa the early 1930s, about the time the story itself was written. (Both automobiles and airplanes are used as modes of transportation.)

   In this tale Zane and young Pete Ayers, his companion at the time, come to the rescue of a young girl whose father has been accused of killing another prospector. She has helped him escape, if only temporarily. He’s back in jail now, even though the evidence against him is only circumstantial and sketchy at that.

   Zane disrupts the man’s trial with Gardner’s usual zeal in such matters with some evidence based on a single fact that (disappointingly) only longtime denizens of the desert would be aware of, otherwise this is a solid, enjoyable piece of work.

   I’m only guessing, but Gardner seems to have two great passions in life: the law and how it can be manipulated to one’s advantage, and the desert and its ever “whispering sands.” The latter has two aspects to it, according to Gardner: first its inherent cruelty, but secondly, and more importantly, its kinder side, the one that can not only lull even the rawest tenderfoot to sleep, but can also hold the evidence of everything that happens there, waiting only for someone who knows where to look.

   These stories were among Gardner’ more poetic creations. In attitude and presentation, there’s quite a bit of difference between these and the straight-forward detective mysteries he’s much more well known for.


   I received the email below from Bill Pronzini today. Frank Bonham (1914-1988) was primarily a western writer, but he also wrote mysteries and science fiction, as well as a number of Young Adult novels. His career began in the pulps, which is where the interview begins. (His first published story was “Green Parrot,” which appeared in The Phantom Detective, September 1936.)

Hi Steve–

   Back in 1986 I co-hosted an interview with Frank Bonham that has been re-edited and just re-released on Berkeley’s KPFA radio station. Here’s a link to the new podcast that you might want to post on M*F. Frank’s reminiscences and anecdotes, especially those about the pulps and such writers and editors as Ed Earl Repp, Robert Leslie Bellem, and “Cap” Shaw, are absorbing and informative.




  ALFRED COPPEL “The Last Two Alive!” Short novel. First published in Planet Stories, November 1950. Reprinted with Out of Time’s Abyss, by Edgar Rice Burroughs, as half of Armchair Fiction Double Novel #D-169, paperback, 2015.

   If you all you want is a whopping good old-fashioned space opera story without a lot of either depth or characterization, this may be the story for you. Aram Jerrold is accused and convicted of conspiring against the ruling Tetarchy of the Thirty Suns, based on the testimony of Deve Jennet, a girl Aram thought he had a future with.

   But once sent to the prison planet Atmion IV for execution, Aram is pleasantly surprised (to say the least) to find that Deve is a member of group of rebels against both the Tetarchy and Satane, the despot ruler of the Kaidor planetary system. Planning to revolt and take over the Tetarchy, the latter has developed a biological weapon that wipes out the memories of its victims and turns them into howling beasts.

   Well, sir, what can a band of only a handful of rebels do — the one Aram is now a member of? They do their best, and realistically, the outcome is all but inevitable. The story is told in picturesque fashion, however, and it doesn’t slow down for a minute, exactly how you’d expect from a tale first published in a magazine called Planet Stories.

   [WARNING: PLOT ALERT AHEAD] As it so happens, this is one of those big-scale stories in which humanity completely wipes itself out, leaving only two survivors. Aram [Jerrold] and Deve [Jennet] become the progenitors of a new human race, and over the years, their names become corrupted to … can you guess?

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