Stories I’m Reading


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.

MARGARET LAWRENCE “Winston and the Millennium Man.” Winston Marlowe Sherman. Short story. Published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, January 2006. Probably never collected or reprinted.

   This is a strange one. Winston Marlowe Sherman, English teacher and secretly the author of a long list of mystery novels, was the leading character in five mystery novels himself. Appearing in rapid succession between 1990 and 1993. (Since three of them appeared in 1990, the exact order of the three as given below is quite possibly not accurate.) The author of record of those novels was M. K. Lorens, but this sixth and final tale is under the byline of Margaret Lawrence, another of true author Margaret Keilstrup’s pen names.

   As Margaret Lawrence, she also wrote three well-regarded mysteries about Hannah Trevor, an 18th century midwife in Maine, the first of these being nominated for several awards. What I found strange, besides the change in bylines for this story, is that the introduction to it does not mention the five previous mysteries that the leading character was in.

   And this is important, or it should have been, for in this story Sherman has come to the end of both his careers: his book publisher has declines to extend his writing contract, and the story begins as he leaves campus for the last time, having been forced out at age 70 for having grading standards too high for modern student bodies. What’s more, it is Christmas time, 1999, just before the disaster that wasn’t, but no one was sure at the time.

   And whatever the equivalent to cyberbullying was before computers came along, Sherman being harassed by someone unknown, both by verbal heckling and crank telephone calls. All of the other characters in the books are in this story, too, including Sarah, his longtime living companion of some forty years. In this tale, two things are accomplished: the “Millennium Man” is caught, and Sarah finally says yes to Sherman’s proposal of marriage. It’s a comfortable and oddly satisfying story, a final coda of sorts, except for the fact that Sherman’s life is not ending, only marking a milestone and a change of direction.

   For fans of the five previous Sherman adventures, wouldn’t it have been nice to have let them know about this?  And wouldn’t the readers of this story have liked to have known about the previous five books, and not have read it in a vacuum?
   

   The Winston Marlowe Sherman series

Deception Island. Bantam 1990.
Ropedancer’s Fall. Bantam 1990.
Sweet Narcissus. Bantam 1990.
Dreamland. Doubleday 1992.
Sorrowheart. Doubleday 1993.

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.

O’NEIL DE NOUX “The Heart Has Reasons.” PI Lucien Caye. Novelette. First published in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, September 2006. Collected in New Orleans Confidential (Create Space, 2010).

   Besides the list below of short stories that New Orleans-based PI Lucien Caye has been featured in, there are five novels, with a sixth promised as coming soon. I doubt that the list of short stories is complete,. The author is nothing but prolific, with perhaps over 40 books and 400 short stories to his credit. Nor is Lucien Caye De Noux’s only recurring series character; others are Dino Francis LaStanza, John Raven Beau, Jacques Dugas, and Joseph Savary (also probably not a complete list). Some (or none) of these gentlemen may also be PI’s.

   There is not too much to learn about Lucien Caye in “The Heart Has Reasons.” The year is 1948, the city is New Orleans, and Caye has an office on the ground floor of the house he lives in, not far from (or in) the French Quarter; his living quarters are on the second. He was wounded in the war; and at the time this story takes place, he is independently wealthy, thanks to a grateful client who has recently died and remembered him in his will.

   Which is why he is able to show his softer side in this tale. He takes in a young girl and her baby from a torrential rainstorm and learns that the father is in trouble with a local loan shark. He is in fact in the hospital with a broken arm, incurred when he couldn’t pay what he owes. Choosing to play the role of The Equalizer, long before The Equalizer came along, Caye decides that the young couple, as yet not married, need someone on their side for a change.

   Which he does, most efficiently. The time and the locale also add greatly to the tale. Nicely done.

   

      Magazine appearances –

The Heart Has Reasons (nv) Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine Sep 2006
Too Wise (nv) Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine Nov 2008
They Called Her the Gungirl (ss) Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine Jul/Aug 2010
The Marriage Swindler (ss) Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine Mar 2013
The Magnolia Murders (ss) Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine Jul/Aug 2017
The Peeschwet (ss) Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine Mar/Apr 2019

   Taken from the Thrilling Detective website:

      Non-magazine appearances:

“Erotophopia” (1997, Kiss and Kill: Hot Blood 8)
“Hard Rain” (1999, Pontalba Press Presents Short Stories: Volume 1)
“Friscoville” (April 1999, Hemispheres; 2001, The Thrilling Detective Web Site; aka “The Problem on Friscoville Avenue”)
“Lair of the Red Witch” (2000, The Mammoth Book of Erotic Short Stories)
“St. Expedite” (September 2001, Hemispheres)
“Bluegums” (February 2003, City Slab)
“The Iberville Mistress” (2003, Flesh & Blood: Guilty As Sin)
“Expect Consequences” (2003, Fedora II)
“Guilty of Dust and Sin” (2009, New Orleans Mysteries)
“Tenderless Night” (October 2010)
“She Gleeked Me” (August, 2011)
“Christmas Weather”
“Kissable Cleavage”

   COLLECTIONS

New Orleans Confidential (2006; revised 2010).

   NOVELS

Enamored (2012)
Rapacious (2014)
Hold Me, Babe (2016)
Dame Money (2018)
Walkin’ the Blues (2020)

JOSH PACHTER “Sam Buried Caesar.” Nero Wolfe Griffen & Artie Goodman #1. First published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, August 1971. Reprinted in The Misadventures of Nero Wolfe, edited by Josh Pachter (Mysterious Press, trade paperback, April 2020).

   Nero Wolfe Griffen and Artie Goodman may be the youngest private eyes on record. The former is ten when this story takes place; the latter is a year younger. And some background, I think, before I talk about the story itself. Artie has recently moved next door to the Griffen family. The father, a widower and an inspector for the Tyson County Police Force, has eleven children. Their first and middle names are Peter Wimsey, Albert Campion, John Jericho, Parker Pyne, Gideon Fell, Augustus Van Dusen, Sherlock Holmes, Perry Mason, Ellery Queen, Nero Wolfe, and one girl, Jane Marple Griffen.

   Two earlier stories by Josh Pachter in EQMM featured cases solved by E. Q. Griffen. “Sam Buried Caesar” appears to to be the third and final case solved by members of the Griffen family, which is a shame, as I’m sure you will agree, the tales could have gone on indefinitely. In this one the two friends are hired to solve a case of the missing body of a dog (named Caesar) who a neighboring boy (named Sam) buried after his pet was hit by a car. When dug up, the makeshift grave is discovered to be empty.

   Artie, of course, is the one who does all of the legwork, while Nero sits home and does all of the detective work without moving an inch. As I’ll also sure you’ll agree, this is an amusing tale that’s a lot of fun to read, and as I understand it, was the impetus behind the recent collection of pastiches recently published in honor of one the most famous detectives of all time.
   

REVIEWED BY DAVID VINEYARD:

   

ROBERT CARSON “Aloha Means Goodbye.” Serialized in five parts in the Saturday Evening Post (*), June 28 to July 26, 1941. No book publication known. Filmed as: Across the Pacific (1942), with Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Sidney Greenstreet. Screenplay and Directed by John Huston.

   The pier was melting into the fog. Swinging slowly in the oily water with the tug straining on her stern, the Genoa Maru came around. The siren sounded. The noise seemed to run in an endless circle through long halls of fog, constantly coming back.

   Richard (Ricky) Leland is sailing from Vancouver on the Japanese freighter the Genoa Maru, with fellow passengers Alberta Marlow (a very calm dame), whose eccentric Uncle Dan owns a plantation on his own island in Hawaii, and the mysterious Dr. Barca, a mysterious Filipino (…he looked genial and unimposing, except for his eyes which were cold and black). No one is quite what they seem including Ricky who appears to be a disgraced American Artillery Officer, but we soon learn is in reality an American agent.

   Even the Genoa Maru isn’t quite what it seems.

   If you have seen the John Huston film Across the Pacific, his first after The Maltese Falcon, and his last before going off to the war, you know the basic story. Barca and the Japanese are part of a dastardly plot to invade and lead a sneak attack on the States involving Alberta Marlow’s Uncle Dan and his plantation, and Ricky Leland is not who or what he seems to be.

   In the film Barca becomes the German, Sidney Greenstreet, and the plot, thanks to Pearl Harbor, turns to Panama instead of Hawaii (coming once the title had been released and making no sense in the film since they never cross the Pacific), but just how close the movie is to the serial (I’m not sure the serial ever appeared in book form) is surprising (right down to the shootout in the Japanese movie theater — that makes more sense in Hawaii than Panama), because the real joy of the film is the by play and double entendre between Bogart and Mary Astor and the war of wits with Greenstreet, and much of that is lifted directly from the dialogue in the serial.

   “I wish I could make up my mind about you.” Alberta said. “Men like you upset girls.”

   “I feel very happy and secure,” Ricky said. “You’ll go over and make friends with eccentric Uncle Dan and we’ll get married and live happily ever after on Uncle Dan’s dough. And if you don’t give me any spending money I’ll stay home all the time.”

   “I don’t want his money.”

   Ricky opened his eyes wide and looked at her. “If you keep talking that way,” Ricky said severely, “our association must end.”

   Carson was a successful author who frequently contributed stories to the Post, and this serial that ran there between late June and early August of 1941 is a lively tale, accompanied by handsome full color illustrations by Ben Stahl.

   Just as Huston virtually transcribed Hammett’s novel the same seems to be true of this serial, though obviously Carson is no Hammett, as Pacific is no Falcon.

   There are minor differences, of course, but Huston was always the most literary of directors and famously honed close to his source material.

   “Aloha” is a product of the slicks as magazines like the Post, American, Liberty, and Collier’s were then known, and much has been written belittling the slick style in comparison to the pulps, but some of the best writers of the time, from Fitzgerald and Faulkner to Philip Wylie and John P. Marquand worked there, and pulp favorites like Erle Stanley Gardner, Fred Nebel, Robert Carse, Edison Marshall, Sax Rohmer, and Rex Stout crossed over into the slicks, and were often paid more. They might get up to $5,000 for a serial at a time a novel might bring as little as $500.

   The Post was always well associated with the mystery genre as the home of Charlie Chan, Mr. Moto, Perry Mason, Albert Campion, Roderick Alleyn, and Hercule Poirot.

   “Aloha Means Good-bye” is a fast moving tale in the best sense, with something of the same pace and style of the tongue in cheek movie. I’m not sure if you can really call a book prescient for predicting a Japanese attack on the US in the summer of 1941 (Van Wyck Mason predicted one in 1932 in The Branded Spy Murders; it was something that had been inevitable for much of the century), but it was great timing, however you look at it, and even now an entertaining tale thanks to its lighthearted style.

       —

(*) For anyone interested you can go to Internet Archive and find over 6,000 issues of the Saturday Evening Post from the twenties to the mid-sixties with full serials by Agatha Christie, Erle Stanley Gardner, Rex Stout, Earl Derr Biggers, P. G. Wodehouse, Dornford Yates, Hammond Innes, Alistair MacLean, Alan LeMay, Eugene Manlove Rhodes, John P, Marquand, Luke Short, Jack Finney, C. S. Forester, Paul Gallico, James Warner Bellah, and many more, as well as short fiction by Philip Wylie, Robert A. Heinlein, Ray Bradbury, F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, Fred Nebel, Lester Dent, and others, illustrated by the likes of Matt Clark, Harold Von Schmidt, and Mitchell Hooks.

ROBERT WALLACE “The Mark of the Beast.” Dexter Wynne #1. First published in Thrilling Detective, February 1933. Facsimile edition published by Adventure House, paperback, January 2012.

   Robert Wallace is a house name known to have been assigned to the work of eight or more authors. Unless there is someone who reads this and knows, I have no way of telling you which one of them wrote this particular story.

   Billed as “a complete book-length novel,” it is the longest story in the magazine, but even so, it takes up only 33 pages. In it, private eye Dexter Wynne is asked by a client to check into a mysterious telegram from his sister, telling him that she is afraid of something in the mysterious house where she is living with their stepfather.

   Wynne asks his client, Harry Bates to stay while he investigates, but when he gets there, he find Bates has gotten there ahead of him, dead on the road, with half his face torn away. More than one death follows, making the guilty person all the more apparent as soon there is no one left to suspect. Lots of hidden passageways add to the atmosphere, or at least that was the intent. The build-up to the conclusion fails badly, with a rather prosaic explanation making the whole affair rather shoddy and shopworn.

   I have not said anything about Dexter Wynne, the PI in this tale, and whose only appearance this probably was. There is a reason for that. There is nothing to say. His name could have been chosen out of a hat.

   It is wonderful to have artifacts such as the magazine this story first appeared in reproduced in such a beautiful format, but I’ve sampled the rest of the stories in it, and I haven’t found any of them to be any better than this one. Not all of the detective pulps published in 1933 were of Black Mask caliber.

   

      Complete contents:

The Mark of the Beast by Robert Wallace
The Banding Murder Case by Allan K. Echols
The Black Ram by Perley Poore Sheehan
The Face That Came Back by Wayne Rogers
The Den of Skulls by Jack D’Arcy
Death Talks Backs by John H. Compton
The Trail of the White Gardenia by Donald Bayne Hobart
The Coward by Ken Rockwell
Reflections by John Lawrence
The Crumpled Clue by J.S. Endicott

WILLIAM SCHOELL “Trouble in Tinseltown.” Short story. Paul Burroughs #1. First published in Espionage Magazine, December 1986. Probably never reprinted.

   Espionage Magazine was a very professional looking magazine published in the late 1980, but also a short-lived one. It lasted for less than three years, from December 1984 to September 1987, and only 14 issues. It was more or less bi-monthly until this issue (December 1986) but the next one didn’t come out until May of the next year, and was 8″ by 10″ instead of digest-sized, with only 100 pages instead of 164. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen any of those.

   I’ll add a listing of the contents below. I’m familiar with only one of the authors, that being Bill Knox, who wrote many mysteries taking place in and around the sea for Doubleday’s Crime Club here in the US. William Schoell, who wrote three other short stories for the mystery digests, may be the author of many horror novels and is an expert on old movies whose Wikipedia page is here.

   But when I picked his story from this issue to read. I have to admit it was the word Tinseltown in the title that caught my eye, not his name. And even better, as I quickly discovered, it’s a PI story. And even more than that, it’s an impossible crime tale too.

   The PI is Paul Burroughs, a fellow whose field of expertise is industrial espionage, which first of all stretches the content of the magazine more than I expected, and the industry in particular was even more surprising: the production set of a TV soap opera. Being stolen are the advance plans for the upcoming season. Once leaked to the fan press, the twists of the on-air drama mean no more cliffhangers endings.

   Access to copy machines are limited, and everyone is thoroughly searched as they leave the building. The advance story boards are so complicated that no one could memorize them in a very short amount of time. Where is the leak coming from, and who’s responsible?

   I’m not sure if I’m convinced that the solution would hold up in the real world, and I apologize that this one story is probably the least representative of the magazine throughout its entire existence, but the light, if not hilarious take on the world of soap opera writing was fun to read.

   

    — From The Adventure, War, and Espionage Fiction Magazine Index, edited by Phil Stephensen-Payne:

Espionage Magazine [v2 #5, December 1986] ed. Jackie Lewis (Leo 11 Publications, Ltd.; Teaneck, NJ, $2.50, 164pp, digest, cover by Gail Garcia)3 · Publisher’s Page · Jackie Lewis · ed
6 · About People · Anon. · bg
8 · About Books · Brian L. Burley · br
12 · About Video · Carl Martin · mr
15 · About Other Things… · Ernest Volkman · cl
18 · Letters to the Editor · [The Readers] · lc
22 · The FBI · Rose M. Poole · ar
28 · The Red Boxes · Leo Whitaker · ss
35 · Churchkill · Chuck Meyer · ss
44 · Betrayal · K. L. Jones · vi
48 · Trouble in Tinseltown · William Schoell · ss
62 · Interview: Bruce Boxleitner · Stanley Wiater · iv
70 · Last Time Out · Rolle R. Rand · ss
82 · A Spy Is Born · Gene KoKayKo · ss
88 · Black Light · Bill Knox · ss
108 · Puff the Magic Dragon · Michael W. Masters · nv
130 · Hello Again · David P. Grady · ss
136 · Holy War · Frank Laffitte · ss
143 · Who Dares Tell the President? · Charles Naccarato · ss
155 · On File…: Luckless Lydia · Richard Walton · cl
159 · Game Pages · Anon. · pz

MAX VAN DERVEER “Sam, the Secret Weapon.” Novelette. Desiree Fleming #2. First published in The Girl from UNCLE Magazine, October 1967. Reprinted in Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine Annual #3, 1973, as “The Secret Weapon.”

   I don’t know much about the author, Max Van Derveer. He never wrote a novel, but during the 1960s and 70s he wrote well over a hundred shot stories and novelettes for Alfred Hitchcock and Mike Shayne, including several of the lead stories about Shayne in the latter magazine.

   Of a handful of those stories which featured recurring characters, three of them were about a female spy named Desiree Fleming. She’s still relatively new on the job in “Sam, the Secret Weapon,” or so it’s implied. She’s been given the assignment of protecting a nerd scientist, or so she believes, but by the end of the case, she’s learned in most definite fashion how wrong she was.

   The story, while far from exceptional, is a deftly concocted mix of action and introspection. It’s a tale that can easily creep on you as you keep reading. At least it did me.

   The fellow who runs the Spy Guys and Gals website has a profile on the entire series, even though there are only three, and at best all three are only novelettes. I don’t know much about Max Van Derveer. Any assistance would be most welcome.

   

      The Desiree Fleming series –

“Why Not Bomb Las Vegas?” Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, April 1967.
“Sam, the Secret Weapon.” The Girl from UNCLE Magazine, October 1967
“The Courier.” The Girl from UNCLE Magazine, December 1967

TALMAGE POWELL “Her Dagger Before Me.” Novelette. Lloyd Carter #1. First published in Black Mask, July 1949. Reprinted in The Third Talmage Powell Megapack (Wildside Press, Kindle edition, 2020).

   Lloyd Carter’s home base is Tampa, Florida, and has been for thirteen years. He’s been a private eye for almost 21 years, when you count the years he spent in the profession in New York before his wife ran out on him then died when a fast freight “got in the way of the automobile” she and her new lover were in.

   He hasn’t gotten used to the heat in Tampa, though.

   The case in “Her Dagger Before Me” involves a girl, tall and slim but with rather drab brown hair who could easily lose herself in a crowd. Her father, now dead, had been enormously wealthy, but she can’t inherit until she is thirty. In the meantime she is convinced that her stepmother is spending it so fast there will be no money to inherit.

   Carter’s job: to scare off her stepmother’s current boy friend, a smooth operator who’s doing his best to help her spend it. When Crater goes to confront him, however, he finds hm dead. As far as suspects are concerned, there are plenty.

   Powell was the author of hundreds of short stories for both the pulps and the digest magazines that followed them in a career that extended from 1944 to 1982. He was also the author of seventeen novels under both his own name as well as various pen names. This story was early in his career, but the writing is smooth and clear, and the story nicely constructed, with an ending that’s well worth waiting for.

   Now here’s what’s interesting. Of the novels he wrote, five of them featured a PI from Tampa called Ed Rivers. Not only was Rivers based in the same location, but the reasons for him moving there were exactly the same as Lloyd Carter’s. Another similarity is his use of a knife as his weapon of choice. Kevin Burton Smith on his Thrilling Detective website considers Carter and Rivers to be one and the same. I agree.

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