Authors


FIRST YOU READ, THEN YOU WRITE
by Francis M. Nevins


   A library of mysteries is something like Forrest Gump’s chocolate box: you never know what you’ll find. What I happened to pull off a shelf the other day was one by Peter Cheyney entitled The Killing Game (Belmont Tower #50767, paperback, 1975) and looks like one of the author’s old spy novels in its first U.S. edition.

   The front cover blurb reads: “When the British Secret Service decides to recruit a guy there is no safe way he can say no.” The back cover blurb gives us more of the same: “A guy doesn’t say no when the British Secret Service decides he‘s the right man for some job. First, they ask him nice, then if he still resists they put on the pressure. If he still refuses to play cricket, the sinister sophisticates in the Saville (sic) Row suits may even frame him into jail in order to make him bite the bullet. After that he’s in over his head, and it’s just like the Mafia or the I.R.A. — once in, never out. They teach you all the dirty tricks and give you a license to kill. It’s a rotten, vicious business — The Killing Game.”

   Once you start skimming a few of the pages between these blurby covers, you’re likely to start giggling. Why? First off, the book isn’t a novel, it’s a collection of eight short stories. Second, no one gets forced into working for the Brits as the blurb describes. Third, and most likely to set the coffee pouring out the nose, the protagonists of the eight stories are women, and six of them even have a female first-person narrator! I think it’s safe to assume that Belmont Tower’s blurb writer was a man. And that he didn’t keep his job long.

***

   The original British title of The Killing Game is a bit hard to figure out. The copy I own, a Four Square paperback dating from 1968, is called The Adventures of Julia. The title page indicates that it was first issued in hardcover by the short-lived Todd Publishing Group back in 1954, a few years after Cheyney’s early death, as You’d Be Surprised, which is indeed the title of one of voluptuous spy Julia Heron’s short adventures (I use the word loosely).

   The invaluable Hubin bibliography doesn’t agree, listing The Adventures of Julia as the original title and giving You’d Be Surprised as the title of a Cheyney novel, published by Collins in 1940 and set in Paris. After a session of Web research I’ve concluded that Hubin is right about the novel, although he neglects to tell us that its protagonist is that rootin’ tootin’ two-gun-shootin’ G-Man (and mangler of Yank slang) Lemmy Caution.

   It would seem then that You’d Be Surprised was used as a Cheyney title no less than three times: on the 1940 novel, on the Julia Heron short story and, after Cheyney’s death, on the hardcover edition of Julia’s collected exploits. What a mess!

   I gather from Hubin that all eight tales in the Julia book originally appeared in pamphlet form during the years of the Blitz. They must have been intended to keep the minds of English readers occupied as they huddled in their air-raid shelters and the bombs came down on London. Mystery historian Howard Haycraft once mentioned that special “raid libraries” had been set up in Underground stations during the war for Londoners taking shelter from Hitler’s bombs but they aren’t mentioned in any accounts of the blitz that I’ve read, for example the vivid description in Volume 2 of Norman Sherry’s The Life of Graham Greene (1994). If anyone can direct me to fuller information about these libraries I’d be much obliged.

***

   Let’s cross the Channel, shall we? People who have read more of Georges Simenon’s hundreds of novels than I have tend to divide the Maigret cycle into at least three periods. The first runs from Pietr-le-Letton (written 1929, first published in France 1931) to Maigret (written 1933, first published in France 1934; first published in the UK as Maigret Returns, 1941), while the second opens with the short stories that began to appear in French magazines in 1936 and continues through a series of novels published in France during World War II. (Simenon made a great deal of money during the Nazi occupation of France but apparently was not a “collabo”.)

   The earliest of these novels was Les Caves du Majestic, which Simenon wrote in December 1939 but wasn’t published in the U.S. until 1978 as Maigret and the Hotel Majestic. The title seems to be a tip of the beret to Simenon’s friend and admirer André Gide (1869-1951) and his 1914 novel (which he refused to call a novel) Les Caves du Vatican.

   One of the most famous scenes in that book takes place on an express train between Rome and Naples: a character named Lafcadio, who’s sharing a compartment with a stranger named Amedée, throws the poor guy out of the speeding train to his death. Lit crit types call this un acte gratuit, an act without motivation, although Gide later questioned whether there could be any such animal.

   There are no actes gratuits in Simenon’s novel. The basement of the Hotel Majestic in Paris (which, according to www.trussel.com, a gem of a website if ever there was one, was modeled on Claridge’s Hotel in the same city) has more to do with Simenon’s plot than the caverns underneath the Vatican with Gide’s, but in neither work are the caves central as those beneath the Paris Opera House are in The Phantom of the Opera.

   The Maigret novel opens early one morning as a breakfast chef at the Majestic discovers the strangled body of a wealthy American woman in a basement locker and soon finds himself the prime suspect. Maigret discovers — Simenon doesn’t bother to tell us how — that the woman was French by birth and had been a semi-pro hooker in Cannes before she met an American millionaire and tricked him into marriage. In time the plot morphs from sexual to financial intrigue, and at the climax Maigret uncharacteristically punches the murderer in the nose.

   Here and elsewhere in middle-period Maigret, Simenon seems to stress plot more than earlier or later, although Ellery Queen-style fair play is still not his cup of café au lait. Writing at white heat as he did, Simenon slips here and there; for example, a police report in Chapter One gives the age of the dead woman’s maid as 42, but when Maigret gets to meet her much later in the book she’s described as an old lady.

   What makes Les Caves rough going in spots for American readers is that either the translator or the publisher was very careless with punctuation, sometimes forgetting to insert a new set of quote marks to indicate a new speaker, at other times inserting new marks although the speaker hasn’t changed.

   And one tends to get heartily sick of hearing Maigret ask “What’s he (or she) saying?” whenever a character speaks English and of hearing American characters ask the same question whenever Maigret or someone else speaks French.

   Still and all, I liked this book. After reading tons of Simenon’s in which Maigret simply absorbs people and atmospheres and at the appropriate moment tells us who did what, it’s a pleasure to find one in which he acts a bit more like a detective.

IT’S ABOUT CRIME: NGAIO MARSH
by Marvin Lachman


   [Back in 1982] Jove Books was busily reprinting virtually all of Ngaio Marsh’s books, making it possible for the reader to trace her long career from its beginning, with A Man Lay Dead (1934), to her latest in paperback, Photo Finish (1980). [At the time this essay first appeared] one book remained to be published, posthumously: Light Thickens (Little Brown, 1982).

   Like her contemporaries, Sayers and Allingham, Marsh used elements of the thriller in her early work. A Man Lay Dead, though a detective story, is also about Bolsheviks, spies, and maidens in distress. It moves at a far crisper pace than later Marsh because there are fewer long passages detailing the interrogation of suspects. If Marsh had a weakness, it was that her hero, Roderick Alleyn, spent too much time asking questions.

   More than compensating was her use of unusual murder methods. I can think of few authors as imaginative in how they disposed of victims-to-be. My favorite is the gun-in-the-piano in Overture to Death (1939), but there are other contenders; e.g., the wool-compressing machine in Died in the Wool (1945) and the swinging champagne bottle in Vintage Murder (1937).

   Another Marsh strength was what Howard Haycraft dubbed the “Marsh-milieu.” It was a world of artists, theater people, aristocracy, and civilized policemen. Far removed from the usual settings for murder in real life, it was all the better for escape reading because of that.

   Especially attractive were such theater novels as Night at the Vulcan (1951) and Killer Dolphin (1966). Not only did she make the people come alive, but she made you feel you were physically inside the theater.

   Generally, Marsh’s novels did not change too much from the classic detective type she used in her second, Enter a Murderer (1935). She returned to the thriller once, with excellent results, in Spinsters in Jeopardy (1953). Her attempts to modernize her books, by using the drug scene in When in Rome (1970), the leader of an emerging African nation in Black as He’s Painted (1974), or the Mafia in Photo Finish, were not fully successful. Yet, each of these hooks contained enough traditional Marsh to satisfy her fans.

   If I had a gun to my head and had to select only two Marsh books to recommend, I would pick Overture to Death and Death in a White Tie (1938). However, there are almost thirty others which I’ve read, enjoyed, and can recommend. Thankfully most are [still] available.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 6, No. 6, Nov-Dec 1982.

FIRST YOU READ, THEN YOU WRITE
by Francis M. Nevins


   For no reason I can put my finger on, I recently felt an urge to reread some of Dashiell Hammett’s shorter work. Again for no particular reason, my starting point was not a Continental Op story but “The Assistant Murderer,” which was first published in Black Mask for February 1926 and is most easily accessed today in Hammett’s Crime Stories & Other Writings (Library of America, 2001).

   In his only published exploit, spectacularly ugly Baltimore PI Alec Rush is retained by a young banker to find out why someone is shadowing a gal he’s sweet on but was forced to fire. Soon Rush discovers that the shadow has been paid by two different women to kill the gal in question.

   From there the plot gets more convoluted by the minute. The journal I kept in my salad days tells me that I first read this novelette early in 1965, not long after my 22nd birthday and during my first year in law school. Back then I loved it. Half a century later I still like it but perhaps with a bit less enthusiasm.

   What I found most interesting today is not so much the plot or characterizations or style but the legal aspects. Which, like those of another Hammett story I discussed in an earlier column, leave something to be desired.

   To explain where Hammett went off the tracks requires me to spoil some of the plot, but I’ll try to minimize the spoliation by translating the situation into a sort of law examination question. A, who died long before the story begins, left an estate of roughly $2,000,000, a princely sum back in the early 20th century and not to be sneezed at even today.

   He had two sons, B and C. His will created a trust excluding B, whose lifestyle he disapproved of, and naming C as sole income beneficiary. The will specified that C was free to share the income with B to whatever extent he chose, which he would have been free to do anyway.

   Typically for a Hammett character, C had chosen to keep the entire income for himself. B dies, a widower survived by a daughter whom we’ll call D. Under A’s will, on C’s death the corpus of the trust is to be divided among A’s grandchildren. Since C is unmarried and childless, this means that on his death everything will go to D. As chance would have it, D is married to a sort of Iago figure who manipulates her into killing Uncle C.

   The husband’s scheme doesn’t require that his wife D be tagged for the murder but whether she is or isn’t leaves him cold. “If they hanged her,” he tells Rush at the climax, “the two million would come to me. If she got a long term in prison, I’d have the handling of the money at least.”

   Wrong, Dash! If D were to be convicted of C’s murder, the old common-law maxim that you can’t profit by your own crime would come into play, and the A trust fund would wind up by intestate succession in the hands of various remote relatives of whose identity Hammett tells us nothing. In the absence of such relatives, the fund would probably end up in the coffers of the state of Maryland by a process known as escheat.

   But suppose D were only suspected of the murder. Suppose she were never tried for it, or were tried and acquitted, or were convicted but had her conviction overturned on appeal? Could those remote relatives or the state of Maryland sue to divest her of the inheritance in civil court, where her guilt would have to be proved by a mere preponderance of the evidence, not beyond a reasonable doubt as in a criminal trial?

   You may well ask! I used to throw out that kind of question to my class when I was teaching Decedents’ Estates and Trusts, but this column is already sinking under the weight of legalese and I won’t deal with that issue unless someone asks me to.

***

   Another aspect of “The Assistant Murderer” that intrigued me was: How many turns of phrase in this almost 90-year-old story need to be explained to readers today? At one point a lowlife tells Alec Rush that “A certain party comes to me with a knock-down from a party that knows me.”

   The Library of America editors explain that a knock-down is slang for an introduction. But a few pages further on, Rush says: “I can see just enough to get myself tangled up if I don’t watch Harvey.” There is no character named Harvey in the story. Did the Library of America people feel that the meaning of this phrase would be clear to readers?

   It certainly wasn’t to me. But googling the two words along with Hammett’s name led me to A Dashiell Hammett Companion (Greenwood Press, 2000) by Robert L. Gale, who calls it “an inexplicable reference.” I concur. And in caps!

***

   Let’s migrate from one end of the crime spectrum to the other. I scrutinized every line of James E. Keirans’ John Dickson Carr Companion before it was published but somehow I missed the absence of one Carr adaptation that Keirans missed too. Among the flood of TV PI shows that followed in the wake of Peter Gunn was Markham (1959-60), a 30-minute series starring suave Ray Milland as lawyer-turned-private-investigator Roy Markham.

   Most of the scripts for the 59 episodes of this series were originals but a few were based on published short stories by well-known writers — including Ed Lacy and Henry Slesar — and one was adapted from a Carr radio drama. In “The Phantom Archer” (March 31, 1960) an English nobleman calls on Markham to help fight a ghostly archer who is roaming the halls of a historic manor.

   Carr’s radio play of the same name was first heard on the CBS series Suspense (March 9, 1943) and the script was published in EQMM for June 1948 and collected in The Door to Doom and Other Detections (1980). Who directed and scripted this Markham episode remain unknown but the cast included Murray Matheson and Eunice Gayson. There are eleven references to “The Phantom Archer” in the index to Keirans’ book but there should have been a twelfth.

MY FAVORITE PRIVATE EYE WRITERS
by Barry Gardner


   Of all the subcategories of crime fiction, I suppose that hard-boiled private detective stories are my favorites, and I’m sure I read more of them than of any other. [As of the present day, June 1992] who’s the absolute best at writing them now? Gawd, I dunno. I do know that there are a lot of people writing them now, as the lists below will attest.

   Just for the fun of it (all listmakers will understand) and my own edification, I thought I’d list those who currently write primarily in that area that I read regularly, and who almost always furnish me with a book at I enjoy, and often one that I like a great deal. What I ended up with were three groups of 10 each, ranked as groups, but listed alphabetically and unranked within each group. And the winners were:

       Group 1:

Lawrence Block
Michael Collins
Loren Estleman
Stephen Greenleaf
Jeremiah Healy
Arthur Lyons
Marcia Muller
Bill Pronzini
Les Roberts
Jonathan Valin

       Group 2:

Linda Barnes
Earl Emerson
Linda Grant
Sue Grafton
Rob Kantner
Michael Z. Lewin
John Lutz
Robert J. Randisi
William J. Reynolds
William G. Tapply

       Group 3:

Marvin Albert
Peter Corris
Wayne Dundee
Timothy Hallinan
Paul Kemprecos
Jerry Kennealy
Edward Mathis
James E. Martin
Sara Paretsky
David M. Pierce

   That my list is so large implies one of two things (I’m sure you’ll be able to guess which interpretation I prefer): either there are a hell of a lot of decent PI writers around today or I’m sadly deficient in discrimination. Also interesting is that 5 of the 30 are female, which I’d venture to say is higher than the distaff percentage of all PI writers. Does anyone have an idea of the actual breakdown?

   Notable by his absence is Robert B. Parker, whom I like very much at his best, but who has been too uneven in output, and is just too, too bad when he’s bad. There must be at least a dozen others that I read fairly regularly, and heaven knows how many more that I’ve tried and discarded, or haven’t read yet. I hadn’t realized how many there were. Amazing.

   I’d really be interested in hearing your opinions — who you‘d move up or down, who you’d put on or leave off, and/or any other thought that strikes you forcefully but non-lethally.

   As long as I’m boiling ’em hard, a few more opinions:

      The 5 most influential:

Dashiell Hammett
Raymond Chandler
Ross Macdonald
Mickey Spillane
Robert B. Parker

   The above, to me, were no-brainers. Note that no comment on quality is intended, merely influence. It is impossible to read a book in the genre today without hearing distinct echoes of at least one of them, and often of several in the same book. I see very little of Hammett, really, but without him there wouldn’t have been Chandler, so–

      The 5 best no longer writing :

Dashiell Hammett
Raymond Chandler
Ross Macdonald
Thomas B. Dewey
William Campbell Gault

   I‘m reasonably comfortable with the first four, but there were several contenders for #5. I gave it to Gault because I felt he was more consistent over a large body of work. Browne, Brown, and Spicer were others I considered.

      The 5 best newcomers (last 5 or 6 years):

Timothy Hallinan
Linda Grant
Wayne Dundee
Paul Kemprecos
James E. Martin

      5 I’d like to see write some more:

Jack Lynch (Bragg)
Max Byrd (Mike Haller)
Joe Gores (DKA)
Timothy Harris (Thomas Kyd)
Doug Hornig (Loren Swift)

   I know some of them have gone on to bigger and better things, but I particularly miss Gores, and thought Harris had real potential as a PI writer. I liked Lynch’s books more than most people did, and though Byrd and Hornig better than average.

   It should be noted that I don’t consider John D. MacDonald, James Lee Burke, or A. E. Maxwell to be private eye writers, though I have seen all categorized as such in one place or another. All would be somewhere on some list if they were, particularly the first two.

   Noted also among the missing is James Crumley, whom I unrepentantly continue to regard as a muddy plotter writing about unappetizing heroes (?), redeemed only by his erratically powerful prose. Another one whose writing I admire but who is nevertheless absent from all lists is Robert Crais. He’s a talented writer, and I’m hopeful he’ll outgrow his macho excesses as exemplified in Stalking the the Angel.

– Reprinted from Fireman, Fireman, Save My Books #2, July 1992.


HILARY BAILEY – Hannie Richards. Ballantine, paperback reprint, 1987. Hardcover: Random House, 1986. Originally published in England: Virago, trade paperback, 1985.

   Some editions of this book are subtitled “the Intrepid Adventures of a Restless Wife,” which is a pretty good summary. We’ll get back to this in a minute – bear with me.

   Hilary Bailey, the former wife of SF-Fantasy writer Michael Moorcock, is the author of a number of mostly general fiction novels, often with a historical slant. Among the ones I spotted of possible interest are Frankenstein’s Bride, a sequel to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and Mrs. Rochester, a sequel to Jane Eyre.

   Al Hubin’s Crime Fiction IV lists two others of criminous interest: The Cry from Street to Street, said to take place in London of 1888, and a short story collection entitled The Strange Adventures of Charlotte Holmes.

   A little bit of Googling on this latter title reveals that Charlotte Holmes is the sister of – you guessed? – Sherlock Holmes, and Mary Watson (Dr. Watson’s wife) assists her on most (all?) of the seven adventures in the book, which I have to see if I can obtain. One review suggested that the stories are connected, and in much the same way (to get back to the one in hand) that several of the chapters in Hannie Richards are.

   And like Charlotte Holmes, Hannie Richards is also very much a liberated woman, although the latter’s adventures are all very much present day, and “liberated” means more (I am assuming) in the present day than it did in Holmes’s time. While married and having young children, that is to say, Hannie thinks nothing of having lovers on the side, while managing her affairs as an international smuggler.

   Framed by brief episodes around the fire in an all-female version of a London men’s club, the Hope Club – a restaurant, comfortable sitting rooms, bedrooms, a bar – Hannie tells her friends three major stories: “The Adventure of the Little Coral Island,” “The Adventure of the Small African Child,” and “The Adventure to Find a Cure for Death.”

   In the first Hannie must rescue a letter that will establish the true ownership of a small Caribbean island, an adventure marred by Hannie’s stated procedure of working out the details as she goes along, which she does marvelously well, saved only by the weakest of out-of-nowhere but hardly unexpected outside forces (known perhaps best in the vernacular as deus ex machina).

   “Small African Child” is far more interesting, as Hannie finds herself venturing into the heart of Africa to find a brilliant African child (named Bob) who is the object of interest to a number of various interests, including that of the entire hierarchy of Catholic Church. Verging into the realm of science fiction or fantasy here, this is a type of story that – and this is the only hint I can give you – should only take place at – no, I can’t tell you. I think I should say only “at a certain time of year.”

   In the final tale, surprised and extremely upset at discovering that her stay-at-home husband has taken on a lover himself, Hannie recklessly heads for South America in a (well-paying) quest to find a plant whose leaves may contain a cure for cancer, and she makes a number of crucial mistakes she perhaps would not have otherwise made, ending up for a short time in gaol and badly served for her troubles.

   A mixed bag, in other words. From a feminist’s point of view, I think there are some conflicting, mixed messages included here – whether intentionally or not, I have not entirely decided.

— July 2004

Reviewed by DAN STUMPF:         


PAUL DURST – Die, Damn You! Lion #75, paperback original, 1952.

   I just can’t resist a book with a title like Die, Damn You!, so I’d have bought this in any event, but to my pleasant surprise. it proved to be well worth reading, a noirish, hard-boiled Western, with a moody, idiosyncratic Loner spurred on by vengeance, running into gangsters, goons, femmes fatales, false faces, double-crosses, some very stylish violence (At one point a man sets fire to his own bed to get a rattlesnake off his chest! and a complex storyline the results in lines like:

   “One thing you boys forgot,” Clint said as calmly as he could, “Those papers that were in that safe. I left them with instructions to be opened in case anything happened to me…. Writing all that down was a good way to keep Ring from crossing you up. But when this other business started they could do you as much harm as they could him…. How else could I know all I just told you? And how do you think Miller was so sure of where he stood with Cober? He stole the papers out of Sadie McGowan’s safe. When we caught up with him, his widow gave us the papers. Ring must’ve figured we’d get the papers from Miller. That’s why he sent Lobo….”

   The author even adds a Mask of Dimitrios touch by keeping the bad guy central to the plot but off-stage till the very end. I have no idea who author Paul Durst is — or was — but he writes a lightly enjoyable, fast-moving mystery/western that’s easy to take.

***

Some Bibliographic Notes [Steve]: One online bookseller says: “Paul Durst is the author of thirty-one books under his own name and various pseudonyms.”

   From Crime Fiction IV, the following:

DURST, PAUL (1921-1990); see pseudonyms Peter Bannon & John Chelton.
Backlash (Cassell, 1967, hc) [Michael Carmichael; U.S.]
Badge of Infamy (Cassell, 1968, hc) [Michael Carmichael; Israel]
Die, Damn You! (Lion, 1952, pb) [Texas; Past] Mills, 1955.
The Florentine Table (Scribner, 1980, hc) [London]
Paradiso County (Hale, 1986, hc)

BANNON, PETER; pseudonym of Paul Durst, (1921-1990)
If I Should Die (Jenkins, 1958, hc)
They Want Me Dead (Jenkins, 1958, hc) [Missouri]
Whisper Murder Softly (Jenkins, 1963, hc) [Missouri]

CHELTON, JOHN; pseudonym of Paul Durst, (1921-1990)
My Deadly Angel (Gold Medal #524, 1955, pb) [Florida]

   From bookfinder.com, the following appear to be westerns under his own name:

Ambush at North Platte (John Long, 1957)
Bloody River (Lion, 1953)
Dead Man’s Range (Robert Hale, 2009; previous printing?)
Gun Doctor (Avalon, 1959)
Johnny Nation (Mills & Boon Diamond W Western, 1960)
Kansas Guns (Avalon, 1958)
Kid from Canadian [??] (World’s Work, 1956)
Prairie Reckoning (Gold Medal #619, 1956)

   Plus: A Roomful of Shadows, Dobson, 1975. “… his childhood autobiography – from four to twelve – in the American Middle West during the 1920s and ’30s. This era comes alive through the eyes of a small boy who is ‘half-orphan’, introspective, and full of wonder at the unpredictability of life.”

FIRST YOU READ, THEN YOU WRITE
by Francis M. Nevins


   Shall we go over my homework assignment for last month? The 1949 live TV version of “Goodbye, New York” was interesting to watch and certainly captured the Woolrich mood of desperation. But the scenes that are the heart and soul of the story, the ones that take place on the street, on the subway platform, on the IRT train, in Penn Station — how could they possibly have been done live? Even with the help of silent film clips that gave the actors time to run from one set to the next, there’s no way this pioneering live teledrama could do justice to Woolrich. What a shame that the story was never adapted for a 30-minute filmed series like Alfred Hitchcock Presents!

***

   “Goodbye, New York” appeared in print at least four times while Woolrich was alive: first in Story Magazine (October 1937), then in The Story Pocket Book, ed. Whit Burnett (Pocket Book #276, paperback, 1944), later in EQMM for March 1953, finally, as “Don’t Wait Up for Me Tonight,” in the Woolrich collection Violence (Dodd Mead, 1958).

   I happen to have all but the first of these, and for some unaccountable reason I decided a few weeks ago to compare the texts of the three versions on my shelves and see what I could see. What I found was what I’ve discovered many times before: all sorts of interesting attempts to update the story as time went by.

   The first of these relates to home entertainment. In the Pocket Book version the female narrator says that figuring out precisely how deeply she and her husband were in debt “had given us something to do in the evening, in place of a radio.” Fred Dannay left this sentence untouched when he reprinted the story in EQMM, but in Violence the last phrase morphs into “in place of TV.”

   The next has to do with the price of a daily newspaper. In the Pocket Books version we read that “the morning paper only came to two cents a day….” In 1953 Fred changed this to “a few cents” a day, and Violence follows his change. Then comes the cost of a man’s suit. The narrator purchases one for her husband, paying for it with a $50 bill he stole from the man he killed, and the salesman in the Pocket Books version “returned with fifteen dollars change….”

   In the era of post-WWII inflation Fred knew that a suit couldn’t be bought in Manhattan for $35 and substituted “with the change…,” which is how the phrase appears in Violence five years later. (Could a suit be bought in 1953 for less than fifty bucks? Dunno.)

   Finally come a couple of alterations connected with the New York subway system. The fare in 1937 was five cents — as we know from the Woolrich classic “Subway,” which first appeared in 1936 as “You Pays Your Nickel” — and the woman puts two such coins in the slot, telling her husband “I’ll leave a nickel in for you….” In EQMM the nickel grows to a dime, and in Violence it becomes a token. Having just returned from New York, I can report that today you can’t enter the system without an electronic fare card, from which a staggering $2.75 is deducted for each ride.

   A bit later in the Pocket Books version we are told that a subway clerk “wasn’t obliged to make change for anything greater than two dollars.” Two-buck bills were still common back then. Fred changed “greater” to “bigger” but kept the dollar amount as it was. In Violence it’s cut to one buck.

   I also discovered two sentences in the Pocket Books version that didn’t survive into later printings. Penn Station is described as “The one place where they [the police] could count on anyone who wanted an out in a hurry showing up to get it.” Why Fred cut this is unclear. Perhaps because Grand Central Station was unaccountably ruled out? The second expurgated line comes after the woman watches her husband carefully deposit some trash in a station wastebasket. “God, neatness at such a time!” she thinks.

   Such are the joys of comparing different versions of the same story. With or without changes, I still think “Goodbye, New York” is one of Woolrich’s finest even though Suspense didn’t do justice to it.

***

   This column began with a TV drama from 1949 so shouldn’t it end with a novel from the same year? Aaron Marc Stein (1906-1985) wrote something like 110 mysteries, under his own name and as George Bagby and Hampton Stone.

   Recently I pulled down Coffin Corner (1949), as by Bagby, which I’m sure I read decades ago but had forgotten almost completely. The body of a legendary athlete who in his diabetic declining years has been working as scout for a pro football team is found at the base of the team’s uptown home stadium, and medical evidence soon convinces Bagby’s series character Inspector Schmidt that he neither jumped nor accidentally fell off the stadium’s parapet but was murdered by a massive overdose of insulin.

   The rest of the book takes place in less than 24 hours and in one setting, a huge apartment atop the stadium which is surrounded by an even larger terrace complete with outdoor swimming pool and other athletic niceties, and the small cast of suspects includes the team owner, his wife, and various players and wannabees.

   The backstory which led to the central murder takes a bit of believing but I found the book highly readable, packed with insights into diabetes and pro football (which more than one character calls a racket) and with those unique sentences, long but not convoluted like Faulkner’s, which are a Stein trademark.

   Aaron wrote for half a century but never really hit it big. Many of his 110 novels were reprinted in paperback or as book club selections but none became movies or radio dramas and, to the best of my knowledge, only one made it to live TV. “Cop Killer,” based on the 1956 Bagby novel of the same name, was seen July 9, 1958 on Kraft Mystery Theatre, a 60-minute version starring the long-forgotten Fred J. Scollay as Schmitty and featuring Paul Hartman and Edward Binns. I remember watching this summer replacement series regularly but can’t recall whether I caught this episode.

   Beginning in 1946 after returning from service as an Army cryptographer, Aaron wrote four or five books a year, usually in a few weeks apiece, and spent much of the rest of his time traveling in odd corners of South America and other parts of the world, many of which show up in the novels published under his own name. In the early 1950s Anthony Boucher described him as the most reliable professional detective novelist in the country.

   I’ve been partial to his books since my teens and continue to revisit them now and then in geezerhood. I came to know him well in the Seventies, when both of us served on a University of California library board and he autographed many of his books for me. After his death I was invited, whenever I visited New York, to stay in the co-op on Park Avenue and 88th Street which he’d shared with his sister and her husband, and thanks to that invitation I enjoyed the unique experience of reading some of his late novels in the room where he wrote them. I still remember him fondly.

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