by Francis M. Nevins

   It’s hard to imagine two writers with less in common than Graham Greene and Erle Stanley Gardner, but we know that Greene was an enthusiastic reader of the Perry Mason novels, and in one of my columns several years ago I quoted from a letter about Mason which Greene sent to fellow Gardnerian Evelyn Waugh. Recently I discovered that Mason even figures in one of Greene’s novels. The Honorary Consul (1973) is set in northern Argentina and among its principal characters are Dr. Eduardo Plarr, a physician in sympathy with the revolutionary movement in that country, and León Rivas, a former priest turned guerrilla leader. On page 36 of the novel we find the following:

   León was someone whose word [Dr. Plarr] believed that he could always trust, even though his word seemed later to have been broken when Plarr heard that León had become a priest instead of the fearless abogado who would defend the poor and the innocent, like Perry Mason. In his school days León had possessed an enormous collection of Perry Masons stiffly translated into classical Spanish prose… Perry Mason’s secretary Della was the first woman to arouse Plarr’s sexual appetite….León, it seemed to him, was struggling back from a succession of failures toward the primal promise to the poor he had never intended to break. He would end as an abogado yet.

   Is that really how Mason comes across in Spanish, as lawyer to the Left and friend to those who have no friend? Quien sabe?


   Maybe readers of Gardner in Spanish translation confuse Mason’s fierce loyalty to clients with something ideological. The murderee in The Case of the Screaming Woman (1957) is a doctor who ran an illegal service connecting wealthy women desperate for a child and girls about to give birth out of wedlock.

   Mason discovers that the doctor kept a secret notebook that can prove large numbers of children are illegitimate and adopted. Out of Mason’s sight, the woman who stole the book from the dead man’s office gives it to Della Street, who later asks Mason whether it’s ethical for her to have it.

   Mason: “Hell, no!… That notebook is stolen property, Della. If I take it into my possession, I become an accessory after the fact. [But] I haven’t the faintest intention of letting that property get to the police.”

   Della: “And if I should have that book, where would it leave you professionally?

   Mason: “Behind the eight ball if I knew you had it.”

   Then he says: “Ethics are rules of conduct that are made to preserve the dignity and the integrity of the profession. I’m inclined to conform to the spirit of the rules of ethics rather than the letter.”

   Della: “But what about the courts?”

   Mason: “They’ll conform to the letter rather than the spirit. If the police ever find out that [the notebook] came under my control, [Hamilton Burger the DA will] throw the Penal Code at me.”

   Della: “And then what will you do?”

   Mason: “Then I’ll truthfully say that I don’t know where the book is… I’m not going to throw heaven knows how many children to the wolves….”

   Della: “And you’re willing to risk your reputation and your liberty to keep that from happening?”

   Mason: “You’re darned right I am. I’m a lawyer….”

   Anti-establishment passages of this sort were to come to a screeching halt once Mason in the form of Raymond Burr became a star of prime time TV but they may help to explain how in Spanish he might have been mistaken for a revolutionary with a law degree.


   Screaming Woman happened to be published between two of the finest Mason novels of Gardner’s middle period, The Case of the Lucky Loser and The Case of the Foot-Loose Doll, and is certainly not in the same league with those gems.

   At least two key characters never come onstage even for a moment, the more important of the pair isn’t even mentioned until very late in the day, and the dying message clue is one of the feeblest I’ve ever encountered. But it moves like a bullet train and remains well worth reading almost 60 years ago.


   By a coincidence worthy of Harry Stephen Keeler, Gardner’s is one of two novels I’ve read recently in which crucial characters are kept offstage. The other is Georges Simenon’s Félicie est là, which was written in 1942 during the Nazi occupation of France, first published in French two years later and still under the occupation, and translated into English as Maigret and the Toy Village (1979).

   After a one-legged old man is shot to death in the bedroom of his house in a small residential development being built in the countryside, Maigret visits the scene and is driven to distraction by the dead man’s impossible housekeeper. Here, unlike in Screaming Woman, it’s the murderer himself whom we never get to see or hear, and in fact his name isn’t even mentioned until page 116 of the 139-page American version.

   Does it matter? I’m not sure. When someone as nutty as Keeler throws in characters who are no more than names, we couldn’t care less, especially when they have names like Hoot Ivanjack, Hamerson Hogg and the three Threebrothers brothers. When someone like Gardner does it, there’s a problem. Simenon seems to me to fall somewhere between these extremes.


   Having read a fair number of the novels Simenon wrote during the war, I’ve concluded that he entered into a “contract with France” to say nothing about the Nazi occupation and backdate everything to the Thirties without explicitly saying so — at least not often. We find one exception to this rule in the first paragraph of Toy Village:

   Years later, Maigret could still have pointed to the exact spot where it happened, the paving stone on which he had been standing, the stone wall on which his shadow had been projected.

   This tells us pretty clearly that the events he’s describing took place years earlier. Simenon’s relation to the two German occupations he experienced, the first in Belgium during his adolescence, the second in France at a time when he’d become one of the best-known European novelists, is explored in depth by biographers like Pierre Assouline and Patrick Marnham.

by Francis M. Nevins

   My last column took us to France, and for the first part of this one we’re going to stay there, or at least in Europe. Lately I’ve been reading a number of Georges Simenon’s novels and short stories, dating from 1936 till the late years of the war, that are usually lumped together as the Maigret middle period.

   How many short stories should be included in this group depends on how long a tale must be to disqualify it for the designation. According to the most comprehensive Maigret website, the number of shorts is 28. The earliest nine of these were apparently written in a single month, October 1936, and at least eight of them were first published in Paris-Soir-Dimanche between late that month and the first week of 1937.

   Nobody seems to know where and when the ninth originally came out, but it’s one of these tales that I want to dissect here. Why? Because, unless I’ve missed something, it makes zero sense.

   “Peine de Mort” (Paris-Soir-Dimanche, November 15, 1936) appeared in EQMM as “Inspector Maigret’s War of Nerves” (October 1968) and in Maigret’s Pipe (Hamish Hamilton 1977, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich 1978) as “Death Penalty.”

   Maigret stalks Jehan d’Oulmont, a dissolute young Belgian he suspects of having bludgeoned to death his wealthy uncle and stolen the 32,000 francs Unc had brought with him to Paris for a bout of high living. It’s a foregone conclusion that if convicted, d’Oulmont will be sentenced to the guillotine. But Maigret has absolutely no evidence against the guy, who therefore is given official permission to return to Belgium in the company of his Jewish mistress, with Maigret taking the same train and continuing to shadow and harass the young man.

   Along the way Simenon plants the crucial information that d’Oulmont has studied law and that Belgium has abolished the death penalty. The climax takes place in a Brussels nightclub where in Maigret’s presence, a local detective arrests d’Oulmont and claims to have an extradition warrant for him. D’Oulmont reaches inside his girlfriend’s handbag, pulls out a gun and shoots at Maigret, who has earlier had the weapon replaced by another loaded with blanks.

   So no one’s been hurt, there’s no new evidence, the missing 32,000 francs have never been found, and yet Simenon assures us that d’Oulmont, although he’s escaped the guillotine, will be sentenced to life in a Belgian prison! For what crime? Discharging a pistol in a crowded nightclub? I’m amazed that Fred Dannay didn’t spot the glaring holes in this story.

   We can understand what went wrong here if we call on our friend Joe Google and discover, among other treasures, a 2007 essay in The Spectator by Simenon biographer Patrick Marnham. One of Simenon’s acquaintances during his early days as a journalist in Liège was an older man named Hyacinthe Danse, the obese proprietor of a pornographic bookshop whom Simenon described as “un vicieux” and Marnham calls a pedophile, blackmailer and pimp.

   One day in May 1933 the 50-year-old Danse butchered his mistress and his own mother with a hammer in a small village south of Paris and fled to his native Belgium. In Liège he called on one of his old teachers, a Jesuit named Father Hault who had also taught Simenon, made his confession to the priest, shot him three times, then took a taxi to the police station and surrendered.

   In December 1934 his death sentence was automatically commuted to life imprisonment, which meant that he couldn’t be extradited to France and the guillotine until he was dead. Simenon clearly based “Peine de Mort” on this incident, even having Maigret refer to “the murderer Danse” at the climax, but apparently forgot that there needed to be a real murder in Belgium in order for the legal gimmick to work. Quel dommage.

   Marnham discusses the matter on page 81 of his Simenon biography The Man Who Wasn’t Maigret (1992). I suspect that the obese porn merchant Labri, who appears in another of the stories Simenon wrote in October 1936 (“Une Erreur de Maigret,” translated in Maigret’s Pipe as “Maigret’s Mistake”), was also based on Danse.


   Let’s cross the Channel again, shall we? Every so often I feel an urge to revisit the world of John Rhode (1880-1964). Usually Rhode is lumped with the school of British detective novelists that Julian Symons labeled the Humdrums, and it can’t be denied that his prose is wooden and his characters flat, including Dr. Priestley, that ancient and magisterial grouch who starred in dozens of Rhode’s novels between the late Twenties and 1960 when he retired from writing.

   But I discovered him in my teens, built up a goodly supply of his books over the next few decades, and still find him readable in an unchallenging sort of way. Recently I tackled In the Face of the Verdict (Dodd Mead, 1940), in which Dr. P is longer onstage and more active than is his wont.

   The scene is Blacksand, a seaside village a little more than two hours by train from London. Sir John Hallatrow, the community squire, asks for help from Priestley’s friend Dr. Oldland, who in turns calls in Dr. P, when the drowned body of a fellow aristo who was badly scarred in World War I is hauled in by fishermen in their net.

   The evidence seems to indicate that the dead man somehow fell into the local river late at night while crossing the footbridge between Hallatrow’s stately home and his own, but Priestley has his doubts about the verdict of accidental death that the coroner’s jury brings in. Then the brother of the first corpse is also found drowned, and slowly but surely Priestley and his Scotland Yard colleagues uncover a complex scheme to route a substantial estate according to a sinister design, with a telepathy racket and a Water Drinkers League figuring on the edges of the plot.

   When I saw the 1940 copyright date on this novel, I was surprised that not a word of Rhode’s dull but soothing prose suggests that England is reeling under Hitler’s blitz. A quick check on Google explained why: the book was first published in the UK (without the first “the” in the title) back in 1936, three years before World War II began. I was also surprised that Rhode didn’t provide a map of the area around Blacksand, which I for one would have profited by. (I tried to draw one for myself but gave up.)

   This is certainly one of the smoother Rhodes that I’ve hiked over the years, but I recommend it only to those who have a taste for the humdrum now and then.

COLLECTING PULPS: A Memoir, Part 17:
Why Attend PulpFest?
by Walker Martin

   The last couple days I’ve been thinking about PulpFest which will be held August 13 through 16, 2015, in Columbus Ohio. That’s this Thursday coming up! I’ve been deluged by logical and sane looking collectors and non-collectors all asking me the same question. Why bother attending PulpFest? They have shown up at my house; they have called me on the telephone; they have sent me emails.

   Enough is enough! Here’s a list of excuses for not attending that I hear all the time, and why none of them are good ones:

1–I have no money! Sorry but I’ve attended many a Pulpcon in the 1970’s, 1980’s, and 1990’s and I went with very little money. Are there no credit cards? Are there no credit unions? Are there no non-collecting spouses to borrow money from?

   Even when I had the money, I often blew it before the convention by visiting local bookstores like Bonnett’s and Dragon’s Lair in Dayton, Ohio. If not in the bookstores, then in the hotel rooms of friends who let me see what they were bringing to sell. I learned to go without much cash but I brought a few boxes of pulps to trade and sell at my table.

2–I’m in poor health and too sick to attend. Sorry again! I had a friend who had a terminal illness and came to Pulpcon anyway. Another friend actually collapsed at the convention and died soon after. I myself once threw my back out three days before the show and my doctor and chiropractor both told me to forget making the long drive to the convention.

   I felt like I was crippled for life but I managed to squeeze into the car and drive out even though I had to stop numerous times near hotels because I thought I was not going to make it. I could then rent a room and lay there for a couple weeks until I could stand. It took me 16 hours instead of the usual 9 hours but I made it. I spent the entire convention standing because sitting down caused back spasms.

3–I have no space or I live in a small apartment. Collectors always make space for the things they love! When I first met Bob Lesser in the 1970’s he had an apartment full of Disney toys. This was NYC and the apt was tiny. A path from the front door to the bed and another path to the bathroom. Otherwise, every inch was toys, robots, paintings.

   I once ran out of space and I hunted for over a year until I found a bigger house. I went to dozens of open houses and looked at hundreds of houses. I finally found a big house. Unfortunately I soon filled it up with books and now I need a bigger place! The old story…

4–My wife is a non-collector and forbids me to go. Tell me about it! I’ve been married over 40 years and I’ve heard it all. I still go and I still collect. Once Les Mayer told me in 1990 at Wayne, NJ that his wife thought he was a business meeting. If she knew he was at a Pulpcon she might burn his pulps.

   Collectors have to become masters of deception and great liars to defeat the non-collector. Many a time I’ve lied and many a time I’ve smuggled books into the house in the dead of night while “she who must be obeyed” slept the innocent sleep of the non-collector. Non-collectors exist to be ignored…

5–I can’t get off from work. Sorry but not a valid reason. My employers always knew I was a rabid book collector who always without exception took off a week during Pulpcon in the summer. I made sure that my vacation request was in as early as I knew the convention dates.

   Once they sorrowfully told me I couldn’t go because of some work bullshit. I went anyway and left it to them to ignore my absence without leave or put up with one pissed off book collector. I realize the employment situation is different nowadays but which is more important, your job or your collection, your marriage or your collection? Right, your collection.

6–Who cares about the convention. I can buy my pulps off ebay, etc. Once in the 1920’s and 1930’s the dime novel collectors existed. But they didn’t have a convention and died off. Now I know of only a few in existence and dime novels are just about worthless. If I had a table full of dime novels priced at a buck apiece, most collectors would scurry by in disgust.

   We have to support the two big pulp conventions: Windy City in Chicago and PulpFest in Columbus. If we don’t, then one day we will wake up and the pulps might be dead. These shows garner a lot of attention and people keep talking about the pulps because of the efforts of Mike Chomko, Jack Cullers, Barry Traylor, Doug Ellis, John Gunnison, and others.

7–And finally the best reason for attending! They are a hell of a lot of fun. Not only do you get to roam around a gigantic dealer’s room full of books and pulps but you get to meet and talk to some of the greatest collectors and dealers.

   These will lead to future deals and contacts. Plus you can eat and drink with these guys! Though I seem to be one of last of the drinkers. And the panels! All day and all night we will be discussing pulps and books. What’s cooler than that?

8–Walker, it’s too late! Like hell. There are hotels with rooms available nearby. What’s the most important thing in a serious collector’s life? His collection without a doubt.

   We work, we slave, we march on to the bitter end where we will eat dirt in the boneyard. We live lives of quiet desperation and worry about the afterlife. Go to PulpFest and collect some books and pulps! You only live once…

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, 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.

COLLECTING PULPS: A Memoir, Part 16:
A Field Trip
by Walker Martin

   Recently, Steve Lewis reviewed the issue of Argosy for June 9, 1934. My copy of this issue is now over 80 years old and still in great shape with the pages very supple and no browning or brittleness. Nice cover and full spine. It has a nice smell and no pulp shreds to clean up. I like the cover by Paul Stahr with the macabre scene of two skeletons showing that two poker players were struck dead while playing cards.

   Which reminds me of a field trip I once made to buy a couple original pulp cover paintings by Paul Stahr. It was in the mid-1970’s, and I was consumed by the desire to track down as many pulp paintings as I could find. This was 40 years ago (hard to believe that so much time has passed!), and I was busy doing the usual things that men in their thirties were always doing, like marriage, raising a family, job career, buying a house, and thinking about my next car.

   But my real interests, now that I think back on my life, was reading, collecting books, vintage paperbacks, pulps, and trying to find the cover paintings used on the paperbacks and pulps. The video revolution was still several years off, so I had not yet started to buy hundreds of video tapes of old movies and serials. Not to speak of the thousands of dvds that I now have cluttering up my house.

   Sure, all that other stuff is important in a life, but does anything really match the enjoyment and thrill of collecting books and art? This is the main subject of my two series: Collecting Pulps and Adventures in Collecting. Collectors are always paying lip service to their jobs and families, but I have often found them to be addicted to that greatest vice of all: book collecting. Otherwise known as bibliomania.

   And of course collecting pulps, paperbacks, and original art are all offshoots of book collecting. I remember many of my friends in college, the army, at work, were often involved in wasting time boozing, taking drugs, gambling, or that most dangerous sport of all, chasing women. I like to pretend that I was not addicted to these mundane vices. No sir, I was back then a Collector with a capital C and I still think there is no higher calling for a life’s work.

   I still wake up each day thinking about what I’m going to read or what books or pulps I can add to my collection. Not to mention what old movies I want to watch. And of course the collecting of original art, which is one of the most unique things to collect. A book or pulp for instance may have many copies in existence, but a piece of art is unique, a one of a kind thing connected to the collecting of books.

   I’ve always wondered why more book and pulp collectors are not interested in at least having a few examples of cover art to hang on their walls, in their libraries, between the bookcases or if the art is small enough, on the book shelves with the books. I can understand not being able to spend thousands of dollars on artwork, but I have many times picked up amazing art bargains for very little money. Even today, some artwork can be bought for a few hundred or less. I’ve had more than one friend that liked to buy new cars every couple years for many thousands of dollars but would turn pale in horror at the thought of spending a few hundred on a pulp cover painting.

   Which brings me around to the details of my field trip. In the 1970’s and even in the 1980’s, it was possible to buy non SF cover paintings for very little money. Very few collectors were interested in such genres as detective, western and adventure paintings. As a result of this lack of interest I routinely bought pulp and paperbacks paintings for prices as low as $50 and for many years I was paying only an average price of $200 to $400 each for artwork. Now prices are higher but you still can find bargains, especially at the two pulp conventions: Windy City and Pulpfest.

   In fact, it was at one of the early Pulpcons that a friend told me about an art store in Brooklyn NY that had pulp art for sale. I had no idea about how to navigate to and through Brooklyn but he agreed to meet me a the Penn Station train station and take me out to the store. It was the typical small store but it was crammed with paintings.

   I still remember the very large painting by Walter Baumhofer that the dealer showed me. It was enormous and showed a shootout in a bar between gangsters. It was used as an interior in a slick magazine, perhaps The Saturday Evening Post or Colliers. But he wanted a few hundred for it and I couldn’t buy everything, so I reluctantly passed on it. One of my collecting mistakes from 40 years ago that still haunts me. I still dream about these mistakes and often wake up in the middle of the night cursing myself. My wife wonders what the hell, but most collectors probably know what I’m talking about.

   The dealer showed me several other pieces, and I was shocked to see how he had the paintings stored. Most were unframed, and he was just pulling them out and scraping the paint off as he yanked them out. Finally he got to the paintings that I could afford at the $200 level. There were several Paul Stahr paintings, and I recognized them as Argosy covers. Stahr was very prolific and did many covers for the magazine in the 1920’s and 1930’s.

I decided I could spend $400, after quickly calculating how much I owed my wife, mortgage, car payment, and a couple pulp collectors who sold me sets of pulps on the installment plan. The paintings I bought were used for the covers on Argosy for December 3, 1932 and December 24, 1932. So we packed them up for the long trip back home and casting a final look of regret at the big Baumhofer masterpiece, I left the store. I never returned, and I’m sure it is long out of business.

   I had the paintings nicely framed, and both were hanging together for around 20 years. I still have the December 3, 1932 painting but the December 24 artwork suffered a tragic end. Steve Kennedy, a NYC art dealer who just died a few weeks ago specialized in pulp art. He thought he could get me a good deal in a trade but I would have to give up the December 24, 1932 piece. So he took the painting and mailed it off on approval to another collector. Later on, he told me the sad news that the Fed Ex or UPS truck had caught on fire and the painting was destroyed.

   All collectors have the time travel dream. You know the one where you go back in time and buy a stack of Hammett or Chandler first editions. Or maybe you buy several issues of the first Tarzan All-Story or the first Superman comic. One trip I would make would be back to the Brooklyn store of 40 years ago. Only this time I’d say to hell with the bills and mortgage payment and by god, I’d buy that beautiful Baumhofer gangster painting!

COLLECTING PULPS: A Memoir, Part 15:
Death of a Collector: STEVE KENNEDY
by Walker Martin

   A friend informed me of Steve Kennedy’s death around 4:00 pm earlier yesterday, and I’ve had problems accepting the news. I last heard from Steve a few weeks ago and at that time he was under a lot of stress due to his attempts to sell his NYC apartment and finish building his dream house in Woodstock, NY. He had been talking to me about both projects for many years and he hoped the money from the apartment sale would finance the completion of the Woodstock house. He had suffered some type of health problem a couple years ago which showed that his blood pressure was very high, and my impression was that he did not seem well.

   I still remember my first sight of Steve as though it was only the other day. It was 1987 and he was in the Pulpcon dealer’s room carrying around a cover painting by Rafael Desoto from Dime Detective. He wanted to sell it but was getting no interest at all from the pulp collectors. This was a common reaction in the 1970’s and 1980’s when most pulp collectors were only interested in SF or hero pulp art. If the paintings were from western, detective, or adventure magazines, then there was usually no interest at all even if the price was low.

   I know it’s hard to believe now when these paintings often sell for thousands of dollars but back then you could not even get offers when the price was only a few hundred dollars each. The only exceptions were SF and hero magazine covers. I know this for a fact because I built my pulp cover painting collection by paying only $200 to around $400 each for most non-SF genre paintings. In the 1990’s I had to start paying more and eventually due to the prices that Bob Lesser was willing to pay, the cost of pulp paintings really increased.

   Since no one was willing to buy the Desoto painting, I bought it for only $325 in 1987. That began our 28 year friendship during which Steve sold me many paintings including some by Norman Saunders, Rafael Desoto, Walter Baumhofer, etc. Even a couple years ago when I told him I wanted a double page spread by Nick Eggenhofer, he sold me a beautiful drawing from the collection of art dealer, Walt Reed.

   As I walk through my house, almost every room has paintings that I bought from Steve over the years. He visited my house several times each year for a total of over a hundred visits. Several times we drove out to Pulpcon together in my car. He would arrive the day before and sleep over due to my habit of getting an early start to drive to Pulpcon.

   Steve was the only collector that my wife would put up with staying over because he at least dealt with art and paintings and was not covered with pulp chips from the magazines that so exasperate her. Steve and I both felt that there was nothing wrong with a house full of old magazines and books, not to mention pulp and paperback cover paintings!

   We often told each other funny stories about non-collectors and in addition to the many visits, we had hundreds of telephone conversations, many late at night at around midnight. Since Steve did not work regular hours being self employed, he often called me late which I had no problem with because I’m always up late during the night reading books and pulps.

   The wedding of Steve Kennedy and Jane came as a surprise to all his friends because he was always puzzled by NYC women and was in his 50’s when he got married in 2001. I guess Jane was really not from NYC. The wedding was held at Jane’s parents place in Woodstock, NY and was without a doubt the best wedding I ever attended. Not just the food and atmosphere but they had two bands: a Brazilian jazz group and two classical guitar players.

   One funny thing about Steve getting married was that since he had been a bachelor for so long, he was scared of finally getting married. So much so that he called me in a nervous attack one night and asked me to give my opinion. Should he get married? I of course said sure go ahead because Steve was an art dealer and Jane was an art appraiser. Not the typical collector and non-collector disaster!

   So, I’m still trying to process the information. Steve Kennedy is gone? No more visits, no more late night phone calls? No more trips to Pulpfest or Windy City? Another of my old friends gone for good? This is hard to believe that someone so much a part of my life can simply disappear.

   Goodbye Steve. R.I.P.

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.

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