Pulp Fiction

DAY KEENE – Dead Man’s Tide. Stark House Crime Classic, softcover, January 2021. Three-in-one volume with The Dangling Carrot and The Big Kiss-Off. First published as by Williams Richards (Graphic #60, paperback original, 1953). Expanded and revised from “Wait for the Dead Man’s Tide,” by Day Keene, published in the August 1949 issue of Dime Mystery Magazine. Also published as It’s a Sin to Kill, as by Day Keene (Avon T-814, paperback, 1958).

   After a short prologue consisting of following a woman’s nude body as it floats along with the tide in the Gulf of Mexico off the Florida coast, Dead Man’s Tide starts with a bang and never lets up until 120 pages later (in the soon-to-be-released Stark House edition). It opens for real with Charlie Ames, a fishing excursion boat captain waking up alone in a strange bed, on another boat with a woman’s clothing scattered about, a liquor bottle rolling back and forth on the floor, and $5000 in his pants pocket.

   Whose boat, whose clothes, and most importantly, whose $5000? And where is she? No one knows, including the police, who most definitely do not believe Charlie’s story of having a cup of coffee with a prospective client on his own boat, but everything going black and he not knowing what happened until he woke up the following morning.

   What’s worse is that he doesn’t think that his wife Mary Lou, a singer and hostess at a local night club, believes his story, either. That’s what pains him the worst. But when the woman’s nude body is finally found (see above), it’s the local police force who he finally realizes really is his greater concern.

   Fellow blogger Cullen Gallagher, who wrote the introduction to the Stark House Press edition, calls this a “man on the run” novel, a trademark theme of author Day Keene, and it’s a good one. There are lots of twists and turns in store for Charlie Ames in this one. Every time he thinks he’s reached a point of safety, fate extends him another finger. Eventually, in a final move of sheer desperation, he decides to take his destiny into his own hands, until at last comes the biggest twist of them all.

   Highly recommended.

Book and Pulp Collecting During the Pandemic
or a Report on Pulp Adventurecon 2020
by Walker Martin.


   This has been a terrible year for conventions. SF conventions, Windy City, and Pulpfest, all cancelled and postponed to next year. For 50 years I’ve had my choice of shows to attend, usually going to Pulpcon/Pulpfest and Windy City. But for the first time I had no convention to attend until Pulp Adventurecon on November 7, 2020. A couple months ago I would have said that there was no way the show could be held because of the NJ lockdown mandated by Gov. Murphy.

Left to right: Walker Martin, Matt Moring, Scott Hartshorn,
and William Maynard seated.

   But somehow, against all odds, Rich Harvey and Audrey Parente managed to organize a show despite the virus increasing in NJ. Social distancing was the rule with masks and hand sanitizer available. The venue was new with the location moved to Mt Laurel, NJ at the Clarion Hotel. I don’t believe we will be returning to the Bordentown location.

   The dealer’s room was very large with 16 dealers and around 30 tables. The pandemic kept attendance down but there were 60 to 80 attendees. However, as you can see from the photo of the room, often the room appeared almost empty. Here are my snapshot impressions:

   Author and dealer Darrell Schweitzer had his usual table but did not appear to sell much.

   Matt Moring and I shared a table but between us we sold only four pulps. However we came to buy, not to sell.

   Gary Lovisi and his wife were present with the new Paperback Parade issue. Gary also filmed a report on You Tube.

   John Gunnison had six tables and appeared to be selling well.

   Ed Hulse said this show was better that the last two Pulp Adventurecons combined. At least for him.

Ed Hulse.

   Paul Herman had a table full of paperbacks and did well.

   William Maynard sold many books that he heavily discounted.

   Martin Grams shocked me with his “Going out of business” sale. For many years he has been selling DVDs and writing books about the old TV series. But he soon will be opening a Coffee shop and his last book will be the one on the Lone Ranger.

   Digges La Touche usually stays all day buying pulps but this year he was in and out before I even arrived. The virus has changed our buying habits.

   What did I buy? William Maynard sold me a set of the Sanders of the Rivers stories by Edgar Wallace. Ed Hulse sold me a couple nice looking books on L. Ron Hubbard, and John Gunnison sold me three pulps that I had once owned. It seems that I had traded off these issues but as I often do years later, I start collecting them again.

Dealers room.

   The big buy for me was the silver anniversary issue of Top Notch, March 1935. I had mistakenly sold it 20 years ago and it took me all this time to find another copy. I also bought a copy of the May 1939 issue of Dime Detective which I used to own. It has a great titled story by Cornell Woolrich, “The Case of the Killer-Diller.” I also use to own the Dime Mystery issue for October 1947. If you collect Black Mask and Dime Detective, you should also collect the other Popular Publication detective titles such as Dime Mystery, Detective Tales, New Detective. I’ve been in the pulp collecting game so long that I’ve started to collect titles for the second time around.

John Gunnison, on the right.

   For several years I’ve been hosting a brunch get together for my long time friends on the Friday before the show. This year, after much thought, I decided to go ahead and have a scaled down version of the lunch. There were six of my closest pals in attendance:

   Matt Moring–In addition to being in charge of Steeger Books and Altus Press, he also collects pulps and original art

   Paul Herman–Dealer, art collector, and Black Mask collector.

   Nick Certo–Book dealer and art collector.

   Scott Hartshorn–collector of all sorts of bizarre things and art collector also.

   Ed Hulse–Now for a couple friends who are not art collectors. Ed is editor and publisher of Blood n Thunder magazine and Murania Press books..

   Digges La Touche–Book, pulp, and dime novel collector. Not too many dime novel guys around anymore. He also is the last of the pulp excerpters. I remember when there were a lot of old time collectors excerpting pulps and making home made books of the excerpted stories.

C. M. Eddy material (Weird Tales author and friend of Lovecraft).

   I just added up the years I’ve known these guys. Over 200 years between them! Some good deals were made at the pre-convention brunch also. Matt sold a three volume Steeger Books edition of H. Bedford Jones complete John Solomon series. A set of preliminary Larry Schwinger drawings for his Cornell Woolrich paperback covers were sold. Several issues of Western Story were bought. After the brunch we found a new place to eat dinner near my house. PJ’s Pancake House and Tavern. Once again I noticed that I’m often the only drinker. This must mean something but I haven’t figured out what. Maybe a Nero Wolfe connection? Or tough private eyes?

   We stayed at the convention until almost 4 pm and then went to Mastoris Diner, another post-convention tradition. Good friends, good food, good drink, as my old friend Harry Noble used to say.

   So thank you Rich and Audrey for taking the big risk and putting on the convention. Hope to see you next year without the pandemic! Also thanks to Paul Herman for taking these photos.

   I hope to see many of you at Windy City in April and Pulpfest in August next year. I don’t know if I can survive another such year as 2020.

FRANCIS L. & ROBERTA FUGATE – Secrets of the World’s Best-Selling Writer. Morrow, hardcover, 1980.

ERLE STANLEY GARDNER – The Human Zero: The Science Fiction Stories of Erle Stanley Gardner, edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Charles G. Waugh. Morrow, hardcover, 1981.

   Erle Stanley Gardner often proudly referred to himself as a fiction factory. The total sales of all the books he ever wrote, in all languages and in all editions, is currently estimated at well over 300 million copies. His isolated ranch near Temecula, California, grew to include twenty-two buildings, designed to house himself, his secretarial staff, and his voluminous, all-inclusive archives.

   All of his earliest writing was done for the “woodpulp” magazines, those ephemeral pieces of popular culture disdained at the time by librarians and the literary establishment alike. The covers were lurid and garish; the contents were written to match. If you were to find an attic filled with them today, you would have a small fortune on your hands.

   By 1933, Erle Stanley Gardner was a household word. Series characters such as Lester Leith, Speed Dash, Ed Jenkins, Senor Lobo, Sidney Zoom, and scores of others were the lifeblood of a list of pulp magazines a page long. In that year alone, Gardner had a total of seventy short stories, novelettes, and articles see print.

   It was also the year that Perry Mason came along. Morrow published The Case of the Velvet Claws in March of that year, and The Case of the Sulky Girl followed in quick order. In 1934 Gardner’s production of short pieces fell off a bit, to something just under forty or so, but to compensate there were three more Mason novels.

   Perry Mason immediately captured the nation’s attention. Originally conceived as a hard-boiled attorney named Ed Stark, straight from the pages of Black Mask magazine, which also gave Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler good running starts on their careers, Mason went on to be the star performer in a total of eighty-five novels.

   They were formula stuff, but Gardner. knew exactly what his readers wanted. Each of the cases culminated in a courtroom scene, with a trial and the future of Mason s client hanging in the balance. Gardner’s own background as a practicing attorney helped provide for some of the trickiest shenanigans ever devised, most of it well beyond the reach, one imagines, of even such superstars of the profession as F. Lee Bailey and Louis Nizer, to name two.

   There were also comic strips, a radio show, and, of course, the long-running Raymond Burr television vehicle, and all had Gardner as the guiding hand.

   Details of Gardner at work – since he was paid by the word for his work for the pulps, he had a gadget on his typewriter that counted off another tally every time he hit the space bar; of his struggle to change his style sufficiently to get the first book published; of his characters (the real reason Della Street never married Perry Mason, for example); and his philosophy of writing (begin with a mystery and tell a story that people want to read) – are all to be found in the Fugate book, published late last year.

   It is based primarily on Gardner’s papers, transferred en masse to the University of Texas upon his death in 1970. In this wealth of material lies a fabulous practical how-to-do-it manual for prospective writers. Gardner’s style was functional, to say the most. In his mysteries he emphasized plot above all, which places him slightly out of step in today’s world, but as of 1979 it is reported that he was still averaging 2,400 sales a day, every day of the year.

   That Gardner also wrote science fiction will probably come as a surprise to many, but in The Human Zero, Gardner’s entire output of fantastic stories is reprinted, all of it from Argosy magazine between 1928 and 1932.

   As science fiction, from today’s perspective, the science in these tales is shaky and the fiction is worse. These seven stories are filled with mad scientists, strange inventions, catastrophic calamities, and bizarre theories of evolution. But in those days between the World Wars, this was the nature of the field, and what Gardner wrote was no worse than any of the rest of it.

   Still, science fiction was obviously not his forte, and he was probably glad to leave it. Perry Mason was his ticket to success, not imaginary flights to Venus in backyard anti-gravity machines.

   In essence, what Greenberg and Waugh give us here in the first of a series planned to resurrect much of Gardner’s work from the “woodpulp” pile, are the skeletons of Gardner’s past. Upcoming books may be better. The stories in The Human Zero were probably better left buried.

–Very slightly revised from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 5, No. 2, March/April 1981.

HENRY KUTTNER “Don’t Look Now.” First published in Startling Stories, March 1948. Reprinted many times, including: My Best Science Fiction Story, edited by Oscar J. Friend & Leo Margulies (Merlin Press, hardcover, 1949); The Great Science Fiction Stories: Volume 10, 1948, edited by Isaac Asimov & Martin H. Greenberg (DAW, paperback, 1983); and Tales from the Spaceport Bar, edited by George H. Scithers & Darrell Schweitzer (Avon, paperback, 1987). Collected in Two-Handed Engine by Henry Kuttner & C. L. Moore (Centipede Press, hardcover, 2005).

   Mos Eisley and the spaceport bar. What a perfect scene. One that thousands of long time science fiction fans had read about and pictured in their minds for years. And there it was, having come to life right before their eyes.

   Bars where spacefarers come to talk, lie and swap yarns. Not all of them human. All kinds and shapes of aliens used Mos Eisley as a stopover point, a place to restock and refuel and catch up on the news. Or in some cases the bar is on Earth, and the conversation is between two men, and the Martians are the beings secretly ruling the world that one of the men is trying to convince the other he can see. Most of the time they are invisible, lurking just out the corner of your eye, but when you can see them, they are easily identified by their third eye. Right in the middle of their foreheads.

   This is a classic story, first published way back in 1948, and if you go looking, over 70 years later, I’m sure you can find a book in print that it’s in, or if not, then in ebook format. In those years after the war, there was a certain uncertainty, if not outright paranoia, about the possibility we were not alone in the universe, that mankind had lost control of things, and in “Don’t Look Now,” Kuttner, in his most humorous mode, capitalizes on it most excellently.

   A long distance email conversation between Walker Martin and Sai Shankar about the former’s formative days as a Black Mask collector has evolved into a post on the latter’s “Pulp Flakes” blog. You can read it here. (Follow the link.)

HERBERT RUHM, Editor – The Hard-Boiled Detective: Stories from Black Mask Magazine, 1920-1951. Vintage, paperback original, 1977.

   I don’t think that anyone would argue the fact that Black Mask was the best detective pulp magazine around. It died a lingering death after World War II with all the other pulp magazines, but in its pages during the 1920s and early 1930s were some of the toughest detectives in the business – and the freshest writing on the American scene.

   The private detective as a two-fisted gallant knight , loyal to his clients and deadly to the undesirable, criminal element of society was a far cry from the sedate British counterpart, and as invented by Carroll John Daly, Dashiell Hammett, Erle Stanley Gardner, and a somewhat later Raymond Chandler, became a much imitated feature of American culture, with copies and variations still alive today.

   We’re told that Carroll John Daly’s “The False Burton Combs” (December 1922) marks the first usage of American colloquial speech in Black Mask, the slangy tough vernacular that was to become its trademark. For a time Daly was Black Mask’s most popular author, though today he’s perhaps remembered only by collectors. The story, about the impersonation of a rich boy in gangster trouble, is a good one. It’s told by the soldier of fortune hired for the job; he’s neither crook nor policeman., but he’s willing to make a quick buck, and equally willing to take his knocks when it comes time.

   The tough guy narration goes down smooth and natural, but the narrator is still an innocent rube behind his image of worldly sophistication. I suspect Daly later was undone trying to out tough himself with every story he wrote later on, and forgot the schmaltz that helps pull this one off.

   From the very same issue comes “The Road Home” by Dashiell Hammett, under his Peter Collinson pseudonym. It begins as a Stanley-meet-Livingston adventure that in only four pages says more about the inner compulsion of men who spend their lives hunting down criminals than in some novels. Understated and maybe the best story in the book, it’s hard to believe that this is the first time it’s been reprinted.

   “The Gutting of Couffignal” (December 1925) has been around many times, and in fact I think it’s the first story by Hammett I’ve ever read. It gets better every time. After the wealthy island of Couffignal is systematically looted by machine-gunning terrorists, the Continental Op, gets to demonstrate both his detective ability and his unswerving loyalty to that choice of career. I was unhappy that in the book’s introduction, Ruhm chose to quote from the final few lines to illustrate the point. You really deserve to get the full impact in context.

   I have a weakness for Hollywood detectives, and “Kansas City Flash” (March 1933) by Norbert Davis takes full advantage of that weakness. When Mike Hull investigates the kidnapping of Doro Faliv, Hollywood’s latest rage in leading ladies, success only reveals yet another sad story midst the twistedly tangled plot. Intended or not, in many ways Doro Faliv is symbolic of the famous 1930s glamor capital of the world. Hiding behind its glittering facade is a brittle sadness and emptiness that all the many love affairs and busy publicity agents were never able to cover up.

   Frederick Nebel’s “Take It and Like It” (June 1934) is meant mostly for fun, but in doing so Kennedy and MacBride form the prototype for many 1ater wisecracking detective teams. Kennedy’s a screwy newspaper reporter not averse to a drink or two, while MacBride is his long suffering police captain friend. This time around, however, MacBride has orders to pick Kennedy up for murder, to the glee of the reporter’s enemies on the D.A.’s staff. Nevertheless Nebel has everything under control, and he easily keeps it way this side of flat-out comedy.

   It may be heresy to say so in print, but I’ve never really been a diehard Raymond Chandler enthusiast. “Goldfish” (June 1936) would seem to do well as illustration. The story itself is about a pair of missing pearls, stolen nineteen years before and never recovered by the insurance company. Carmady’s late start on the case doesn’t mean that the fireworks are over – in fact, the treachery and bloodshed have just begun. Chandler’s verbal imagery dazzles, I admit, but more often than not, it’s merely for show and also quite useless to the plot, which has all the connectivity of a plate of hash-browns.

   Possibly I’m missing something, as I keep getting the feeling that some key element is hanging just out of my grasp. Chandler and I are fractionally out of sync.

   Lester Dent was not really a Black Mask writer, as he wrote only a couple of stories that appeared in the magazine. He spent most of his writing career doing a couple hundred Doc Savage novels. “Angelfish” (December 1936), the story included here, is plagued by Dent’s characteristic semi-literate understatement, but it’s for sure a tough story, told with hurricane ferocity. His hero is a tall, lanky detective named Sail, who dresses all in black. The chase is after some aerial photos of a promising oil field. Uncomplicated, in a breathless way.

   At another extreme is Erle Stanley Gardner, who was so prolific in short pulp work that his bibliography fills a short book in itself, “Leg Man” (February 1938) was a late-appearing pulp story, and it exhibits both Gardner’s unmistakable ponderous dialogue and the elaborate plot machinery that may creak here and there but yet meshes with intricate mastery. Pete Wennick is the leg-man, doing a high-priced law firm’s dirtier investigative work, which may include actively defusing a blackmail scheme. Even though less complicated than usual for Gardner, it still fooled me.

   Any anthology taken from the pages of Black Mask needs a Flashgun Casey story by George Harmon Coxe. In “Once Around the Clock” (May 1941) the famed photographer for, the Express requires only a quick twenty-four hours to help an ex-piano player out on parole escape a murder rap. I wouldn’t say Coxe is a bad writer, but the best I could say is that he’s indifferently average.

   How then has he lasted so long? Take Casey. He’s a down-to-earth guy, with cares and problems of his own, as well as concerns for others. If this makes him a sentimental slob instead of just another hard-boiled character, I’d say that’s why Coxe can keep finding something that readers can keep on enjoying.

   Luther McGavock is the only detective I know of who works out of Memphis, Tennessee, and his cases always seem to take him deep into the hill country of the South. In “The Turkey Buzzard Blues” (July 1943), Merle Constiner gives us a deceased aristocratic gentleman of another age, a frowsy political hack, moonshiners, a tired sheriff suffering from the miseries, and a pet buzzard. There’s more than a tinge of comic mayhem throughout, but it’s all too durn much for me, and at 71 pages, far too long.

   I’d call William Brandon’s “It’s So Quiet in the Country” (November 1943) Runyonesque if I’d ever read enough Damon Runyon to be sure. A city type mixes it up in rural Vermont with a couple of Poe scholars who find they are in need of his burglarizing services. Kind of funny, but no more.

   We’re now in the era when straight crime stories were predominant. After a couple of decades perhaps readers and authors both were tiring of the hard-boiled detective. “Killer Come Home” (March 1948), by Curt Hamlin, combines anger with domestic tribulations. Paul W. Fairman tells about a young kid learning about the big time in “Big Time Operator” (July 1948). In “Five O’Clock Menace” (May 1949) Bruno Fischer deals with undercurrents of human nature in a small-town barbershop. All short and all inferior to the crime shocker tales that Manhunt later brought to perfection and rode to success on.

   But what results is a true cross-section of Black Mask magazine for the length of its existence. If the quality of the stories begins to slide downward from the beginning of the book to the end, so did the magazine as a whole. I do wonder why something by John D. MacDonald wasn’t used to close the book, as JDM in particular was a strong part of the upturn in quality in the crime story in the 1950s, as the pulps died, and writers turned to paperback novels, and the previously mentioned Manhunt.

   One might wish for all the stories from the 1920s, but all but a few that were used have been reprinted for the first time, and the truth is that there’s plenty of stories left for more pulp detective anthologies as good as this one. The best stories, all worthy of “A” ratings, plus or minus, are the pair of Hammett’s, and the ones by Daly, Davis and Dent.

Overall Rating: B plus.

–Very slightly revised from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 1, No. 2, March 1977.



RON GOULART, Editor – The Hardboiled Dicks: An Anthology and Study of Pulp Detective Fiction. Sherbourne Press, hardcover, 1965. Pocket 50560, paperback, 1965.

   This excellent anthology has an introduction by Goulart and eight stories originally published in Black Mask, Detective Fiction Weekly and Dime Detective between 1932 and 1941. Goulart says that he hopes to rescue a few hardboiled detectives from oblivion. He has certainly chosen fine stories for it.

   Probably the best story in the book is Lester Dent’s “Angelfish,” about Oscar Sail, which is almost as good as the earlier “Sail.” It’s unfortunate that Dent didn’t write more short stories of this type rather than the Doc Savage stories. Two other excellent stories are Raoul Whitfield’s “China Man,” about island detective Jo Gar in the atmospheric Philippines, and Norbert Davis’s tough and amusing “Don’t Give Your Right Name,” featuring Max Latin.

   Richard Sale’s A Nose for News” and Frederick Nebel’s “Winter Kill” have newspapermen as detectives, while others feature a cabby (John K. Butler’s “The Saint in Silver”), encyclopedia salesman Oliver Quade (Frank Gruber’s “Death on Eagle Crag”), and crooked detective Lester Leith (Erle Stanley Gardner’s “Bird in the Hand”). There isn’t a weak story in the bunch. Recommended.

–Reprinted with permission from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 1, No. 2, March 1977.

RAOUL WHITFIELD “Mistral.” Short story. Anonymous (“Benn”). First published in Adventure, 15 December 1931. Reprinted in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, 22 April 1981, and in Hard-Boiled: An Anthology of American Crime Stories, edited by Bill Pronzini & Jack Adrian (Oxford University Press, 1995).

   The unnamed narrator of this short but very tough, hard-boiled tale is an European operative for an international detective agency based in Paris. After finishing one job in Genoa, he heads west along the Riviera coastline to Monte Carlo, Nice and Cannes. Along the way his path keeps crossing that of another man, one with a red and very visible scar on his neck. The man is almost certainly an American. He is unfamiliar with European customs, but he seems to have money, spending one night in a casino playing with thousand-franc chips.

   The narrator is intrigued, but is nonetheless surprised when a bulletin from his home office informs him that a client is on the lookout for him. Reporting in, he is told to back off, and that the client will handle things from that point on. Telling the man, whom he has taken something of a liking to, that his name is Benn, most probably not his real one, and what the score is, he then lets events take their own course from there.

   Telling the story tersely against a backdrop of a continually rising wing (a mistral), Whitfield keeps the tension rising right along with it, to an absolute knockout of an ending. Other than the Pronzini-Adrian anthology, this story may be hard to find, but it’s well worth the effort.


DASHIELL HAMMETT “The Scorched Face.” The Continental Op #17. Novelette. First published in The Black Mask, March 1925. Collected in Nightmare Town (Mercury, paperback, 1948) and The Big Knockover (Random House, 1966). Reprinted in Hard-Boiled: An Anthology of American Crime Stories, edited by Bill Pronzini & Jack Adrian (Oxford University Press, 1995) among others.

   You may certainly correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think this is one of Hammett’s better known stories, and do you know, I don’t remember reading it before last night (from the Pronzini/Ardian anthology). I know I read The Big Knockover from cover to cover when it came out in paperback, but last night? Nothing came back.

   Here’s something else you can correct me on if I’m wrong, and that’s that I think the story is based on one of Hammett’s own cases when he was a Pinkerton detective. He’s hired here by a distraught father whose two daughters have gone missing. There was a small disagreement about money, but nothing out of the ordinary. What convinces the Op that the girls may be in considerable danger is that one of their female friends commits suicide the same evening after he questions her about them.

   The first part of the tale is filled with plodding legwork — no, plodding is not quite right word. It’s the kind of work a private investigator always has to do before he gets any traction on a case, and yet Hammett’s flair for detail as well as the personalities involved keeps the story in at least second gear until things begin to fall into place. This is about halfway through, and this is when the story really starts to take off, punctuated by short one line paragraphs that the reader (me) simply can’t read fast enough.

   The crime involved is not a new one by today’s standards, but I’ll bet it raised a few eyebrows back in 1925. It didn’t do too badly last night, either.

ROBERT MARTIN writing as LEE ROBERTS – Little Sister. Andrew Brice #1. Stark House Press / Black Gat Book #27, trade paperback, August 2020. Based on the story “Pardon My Poison,” as by Robert Martin, Dime Detective Magazine, April 1948, in which the leading character was Jim Bennett. Introduction by Bill Pronzini. First published as a paperback original by Gold Medal, #229, March 1952, as by Lee Roberts.

   Between 1951 and 1964 and under his own name, Robert Martin wrote fourteen novels in which PI Jim Bennett was the leading character, but back in the 1940s Bennett was the detective of record in several dozen pulp stories, largely but not exclusively for Dime Detective Magazine. Bennett was a down to earth sort of guy, based in Ohio with a steady girl friend whom he later married. He wasn’t flashy, and in quiet contrast to all of the other PI’s of the same era, as Bill Pronzini points out in his introduction to the upcoming Stark House reprint, “he never once gets laid.”

   This may be the reason why the Jim Bennett of the earlier pulp version of this story gets replaced by Andy Brice in this one. The setting is still Ohio, PI Andy Brice is still a nice guy, but yes, one big difference is, he does get laid. He’s hired by the older sister of a younger girl, who if the word “sexpot” hadn’t been invented yet, they’d have had to come up the word, just to describe her. She is the kind of girl who cannot seem to keep her clothes on properly, at least whenever she’s in the same room as Brice. Her bigger problem, though, when she comes home on night in a doped-up daze, what they also find in the trunk of her car is the body of a dead man.

   It isn’t the younger girl whom Brice spends the night with, however, and wishes for more, but his client, the older sister. And while on the case for her, Brice is also poisoned and shot at, while other characters fare much worse. There are a lot of characters to keep track of, many of them men with eyes for Linda, the little sister, but Martin’s prose is smooth and easy and keeps things running like a well-tuned engine.


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