REVIEWED BY DAVID VINEYARD:


When The Death Bat Flies: The Detective Stories of NORVELL PAGE. Altus Press, hardcover, softcover, ebook, 2013. Introduction by Will Murray.

   This thick Altus Press edition collects over 800 pages of detective and crime stories by pulp wunderkind Norvell Page, best remembered today for helming the best of the popular adventures of Richard Wentworth, star of the eponymous pulp The Spider. It is accompanied by an informative introduction and biographical look at Page and his career by pulp expert and Doc Savage chronicler Will Murray.

   Page cracked the more highly regarded pulps like Black Mask, Dime Detective, and John Campbell’s Unknown, but by far his greatest output aside from the Spider epic was for the likes of Ten Detective Aces (his Ken Carter series), Detective Tales, Strange Detective Mysteries, and even the spicy pulps. Most of the stories collected here come from Detective Tales.

   Most of the stories are novellas running about seven chapters and around 30,000 words. These novellas feature tough cops, private eyes, amateur criminologists, and the like, and enough gunfire for several small wars. Never let it be said Norvell Page spared bullets even when his language was spare. A few of the novellas venture into weird menace territory, coming out of Strange Detective Mysteries and Strange Detective Adventures.

   If you like rough tough knock ’em sock ’em rock ’em action, relentless pace, breathless escapes, low-slung fast cars and faster women, gun-happy mugs and crafty villains, this book is a bonanza, with sleuths like Don Q. (Quixote) Ryan, big Swede Larsen, Richard Carter. John Stone (whose paralyzed face is mindful of Richard Benson, the Avenger), Aubrei Dunne (two-fisted inventor of countless gadgets, and star of the book’s title story), Bruce Shane (a two-gun man), Flinn McHurd, Walsh Devore, amateur criminologist, Grant Montana out to clear his Private Eye dad who did seven years for a crime he didn’t commit, and more.

   “The explosion of the gun almost blew me out of the bed.”

   “Conroy laughed sharply and his belly-gun blasted upward toward the sound of that voice.”

   “Pardon my rudeness,” she said pleasantly. “Go to Hell.”

   “… he seized a chair and used his impetus to snatch it back over his shoulder. Instantly he whipped it up and it smashed across the chest of Blackie, who was fumbling for a gun.”

   “… But see oh man of the West, how we of the East can die!”

   “It was glorious, Garner thought, to be able to fight against criminals who preyed on the people, to be a defender of innocents like … yes, like the knights of old did!”

   And that’s a random sampling just from page flipping.

   The shorts tend to be crime stories, fast moving, with a lot of impact, but not strong on originality. They are better than filler because Page was incapable of not writing compelling prose, but they wouldn’t make anyone’s best list. For all that they have impact.

   Page is a pulp master, not a great writer, certainly not a great innovator, but a skilled professional with enough personal demons and more than enough drive to make his work both interesting and fun to read. If you only know him from Spider reprints or his two collections of Prester John tales from Unknown, this is an ideal place to see him at work. More collections are coming, and I am particularly hoping to see the Ken Carter stories collected. Meanwhile sit back, pop some popcorn, and kick back. Norvell Page is taking you on a hell of a ride through the wild and woolly pulp jungle.