Pulp Fiction

BRANT HOUSE – Servants of the Skull. Secret Agent X #2. Corinth CR126, paperback, 1966. Cover art by Robert Bonfil. First appeared in Secret Agent X, November 1934. [Brant House was a house name used by several writers; in this case the author was Emile C. Tepperman.]

   The Skull’s plan is to kidnap ten heavily insured businessmen, then force [their] life insurance companies to pay for their release, rather than have them viciously murdered, X manages to take the place of a notorious safe-cracker and enter he Skull’s secret underground hideaway, but the capture of Betty Dale forces him to reveal [himself. He escapes, then returns as a kidnap victim before the Skull’s identities are revealed in turn.]

   Tremendously exciting, with the plot moving forward every minute. There are flaws, of course, if you must look for them. The Skull’s “servants” are decidedly of a poor caliber; no wonder he keeps them locked up almost as prisoners. At one time, Secret Agent X, in distress, asks the Skull if all the secret panels and the maze of passages are necessary. [Here’s what I’m thinking.] Not for a sane man, but how can a man with the Skull’s ambitions be sane?

Rating: ***

— June 1968.


Reviewed by TONY BAER:


DASHIELL HAMMETT – The Dain Curse. Alfred A. Knopf, hardcover, 1929. Reprinted many times since, in both hardcover and paperback.  TV mini-series: CBS 1978 (starring James Coburn as “Hamilton Nash”).

   The Dain Curse is a bad novel cobbled together from four interlinked stories from Black Mask. I disliked the novel when I first read it many years ago. Then after a recent debate on the Rara-Avis listserve about its merits, I resolved to read it again. This time reading the four stories as originally published to see if that improved my experience. It didn’t.

   Taking the four stories separately, however, there are some ebbs and flows of merit. It is Hammett after all. And bad Hammett is still better than a lot of stuff out there. I just wouldn’t recommend a re-read is all.

Story 1: “Black Lives.”  (Black Mask, November 1928)

   The Continental OP is hired by an insurance company to investigate stolen diamonds. Edgar Leggett had been loaned the diamonds by a local jeweler for the purpose of conducting some experiments adding hue to the stones. The OP begins to suspect that there’s something fishy about the so called theft.

   And bad things happen to Leggett and his family. Leggett’s daughter, Gabrielle, is informed by her step mother that all of the badness can be traced to a family curse (her mother’s maiden name was Dain): The Dain Curse: “[Y]ou’re cursed with the same rotten soul and black blood…all the Dains have had, you’re cursed with your mother’s death on your hands before you were five; you’re cursed with the warped mind and the need for drugs that I’ve given you in pay for your silly love since you were a baby. Your life will be black as…mine [was] black; the lives of those you touch will be black”.

   In the end the OP solves the crime of the missing diamonds, the insurance company is happy. But the Dain Curse remains!!

Story 2: “The Hollow Temple.” (Black Mask, December 1928)

   By far the best of the four stories, in this one Gabrielle Leggett joins a cult and goes missing. The OP is hired by her fiancé to recover the girl — which he does — but not before crushing the hollow temple forged by a charismatic charlatan out of morphine, laughing gas, sight gags, and mullah.

Story 3: “Black Honeymoon.”  (Black Mask, January 1929)

   Once Gabrielle Leggett is saved from the hollow temple, her fiancé elopes with her. The honeymoon does not go well, and the OP is called in to pick up the shards.

Story 4: “Black Riddle.” (Black Mask, February 1929)

   The so called riddle is this: If you don’t believe in Dain curses, why are all these bad things happening to Gabrielle Leggett? In this horribly told story, the OP mansplains for all to hear the solution to the three prior stories.

   He doesn’t show us. He tells us. Giving us a bunch of undisclosed information based on unsupported guesswork that just so happens to be completely right and confessed to by the criminal mastermind. It’s absolutely the worst kind of ending of a mystery. No fair play. No show don’t tell. Just a boring dispositive lecture telling you the answer in a terribly unsatisfying way.


   So yeah. Hated it. Almost couldn’t finish it. Upon starting the book I immediately remembered who the ‘criminal mastermind’ was. This made my experience of the book infinitely worse as I could witness the lack of fair play in real time as the story unfolded.

   If Fast One is ODTAA (thanks, Roger) – -for whatever reason Hammett eschews ODTAA, insisting on a criminal mastermind to tie all of the miscreants and their collective miscreantry together. It’s an unnecessary conceit that spoils the whole thing. Ironically the curse of the Dain Curse is that there’s no Dain Curse.

   If Hammett had simply allowed the curse to linger all might have been okay. But Hammett takes such pains to dispel the curse that he destroys whatever mystery is left. Rather than solving the case, the whole thing crumbles in a monologue that neatly ties up everything in a bow. But what results is neither trick nor treat. Turns out the Dain Curse is the cursed book itself.

Reviewed by TONY BAER:


PAUL CAIN – Fast One. Doubleday Doran, hardcover, 1933. Originally published serially in Black Mask magazine. Reprint editions include: Bonded Mystery #10, 1946. Avon #178, paperback, 1948. Southern Illinois University Press, hardcover, 1978. Popular Library, paperback, 1978. Black Lizard, paperback, 1987.

   Gerry Kells is a retired gunman living in L.A. He’s now a gentleman gambler. Or at least a gambler. Whose bets are rarely gambles at all, since the fix is almost always in. That’s what he thinks.

   L.A. is wide open, and various gangs are battling for control. Kells wants none of it. He thinks he can stay out of the fray by staying neutral.

   But one by one, each of the mob bosses arrange a meeting, to hire his gun, to make him an offer he can’t refuse.

   I’m quits, he repeats. Time and time again. I’m done. I don’t even carry a gun.

   But no one believes him. They figure if he’s not with them, he’s against them. And they try to take him out.

   And one by one, they lose. Yes, he’s just one man. But he’s plenty tough and a fast one with a piece.

   The mobs keep pulling fast ones on him, only he’s faster. And before he knows it, he finds himself in a pretty good spot to take over L.A. himself. With a little luck, and some help from his moll Granquist and a couple of friends, he gives it a shot. Or however many shots he can, ’til the ammo runs out.

   It reminds me a fair bit of Red Harvest — another open city Poisonville, but from a gunman’s perspective. And like the Continental OP, Kells is constrained in his violence by a sense of justice and fair play missing from his adversaries. So while he’s no knight errant, he’s motivated as much by greed as revenge in the service of justice. Which he extracts, exactingly.

   The prose is Hammer-like. But don’t be fooled into reading it quickly. While my edition was under 150 pages, the action is dense. He doesn’t belabor the action. With spartan description: Double and triple crosses occur in an eye’s wink, and if you don’t take your time in reading and re-reading the lines as they come at you, you’ll find yourself lost. There’s lots of players and more action than you can shake a gat at. No time to flick off the safety. Be ready. It’s coming at you at the speed of birdshot.

   This is my third time reading it in the span of maybe twenty-five years. There’s so much action that I remembered very few of the details going into it. The sheer amount and speed of the action gives the book a level of re-readability seldom found. And I enjoyed it more and understood it better this time than ever before.

   I’d put it in the pre-1933 hardboiled canon, with the other cannonballs being Maltese Falcon, Red Harvest, Glass Key, Green Ice, Death in a Bowl, You Can’t Win, Louis Beretti, Young Lonigan, Sanctuary, Daughter of Earth, Georgia Nigger, the writings of Jim Tully and Hemingway, Life in the Iron Mills, and precious little else.

   Highest possible praise for this groundbreaking hardboiled novel.



ERLE STANLEY GARDNER – The Exploits of the Patent Leather Kid.  Crippen & Landru Publishers, 2010. Edited and introduced by Bill Pronzini. 13 stories.


   When most people hear the name Erle Stanley Gardner, they immediately think of his most famous character creation, Perry Mason, but he was also an incredibly prolific pulp fiction writer. One of the characters Gardner created for the pulps was The Patent Leather Kid, an unoriginal amalgamation of Zorro, Raffles the Gentleman Thief, and The Scarlet Pimpernel.

   Gardner’s principal contribution to this style of hero — the effete, indolent society fop he pretends to be while his alter ego tirelessly fights criminals and the official authorities when necessary — was to infuse his stories with the hardboiled sensibilities of Depression Era America. Even so, Gardner never let his Patent Leather Kid’s exploits veer into sadism: The Kid was always on the side of right, and the reader knew it.

   Thanks to Doug Greene at Crippen & Landru for bringing back The Patent Leather Kid and other pulp heroes from their undeserved oblivion.

      The stories:          [All originally published in Detective Fiction Weekly.]

(1) “The Kid Stacks a Deck” (1932): A local criminal gang really has it in for The Patent Leather Kid and sets up an ambush. The Kid, meanwhile, sets out to prove that robbing a jewelry store equipped with the most up-to-date alarm systems isn’t, as the store’s owner boasts, “impossible” after all.

(2) “The Kid Passes the Sugar” (1932): Someone’s gunning for The Kid but kills the wrong person. The Kid sets a trap with a shiny platinum watch as bait and an abused wife as a means of bringing the killer to justice.

(3) “The Kid Wins a Wager” (1932): The Patent Leather Kid sets out to help a woman in trouble with her boss, only to come up against another burglar who’s quite capable of framing The Kid for his own crimes. If he’s clever enough, The Kid might be able to escape the frame — and collect a large bet in the bargain.

(4) “The Kid Throws a Stone” (1932): Somebody’s running around pretending to be The Patent Leather Kid, pulling off robberies in fancy Chryslers and making no effort to be subtle about it. The Kid must lay a trap for his doppelganger that, if successful, will not only clear him with the police but also aid a distressed damsel he’s never met.

(5) “The Kid Makes a Bid” (1933): After several attempts at robbing a jewelry store, a thief apparently succeeds, taking some stones and cash with him and leaving two of the store’s assistants hog-tied with ropes and handcuffs. The Kid’s suspicions are aroused by the way the crime was committed, and he performs a rough “experiment” on an unscrupulous businessman, thereby thwarting two crimes simultaneously.

(6) “The Kid Muscles In” (1933): A doctor is murdered, and the prime suspect — a young man in love with the victim’s niece — can’t explain away his presence at the crime scene or his fingerprints on the murder weapon. It falls to The Patent Leather Kid to exonerate the falsely-accused in the way he knows best, breaking and entering with intent to catch the real bad guys.

(7) “The Kid Takes a Cut” (1933): An ex-con gets the blame for a jewel robbery he didn’t commit. His alibi — that a woman gave him the stones as a reward for a good deed — is, let’s be frank, flimsy at best. Only the ex-con’s wife can corroborate his story, but the police won’t believe a word of it. The Kid must contrive an elaborate scheme involving matching train schedules to prove the man innocent, for otherwise the real thieves will soon be on their merry way.

(8) “The Kid Beats the Gun” (1933):  A famous — and vastly overrated — criminologist fingers the butler of a rich couple as the one who stole valuable jewels from them. The butler finally confesses, not to the theft, but simply to following orders. The Patent Leather Kid must intervene to prevent a miscarriage of justice and experiences the triple satisfaction of exposing a fraud, deflating an egomaniac’s pomposity, and seeing an innocent man cleared.

(9) “The Kid Covers a Kill” (1933): The man often referred to as The King of the Underworld operates almost entirely with impunity, unhindered by the police. To him, the lives of his victims don’t mean very much. But when he brutally murders the sister of one of his underlings, The Patent Leather Kid gets involved — and for The King of the Underworld, that’s a very unhealthy development.

(10) “The Kid Clears a Crook” (1934): A small businessman with a criminal record tries to go straight but runs afoul of organized crime; they get him framed for a jewelry theft — enough of an injustice to attract The Kid’s indignant notice. Before it’s all over, The Kid will have fenced some hot ice, dodged numerous submachine gun bullets, and tickled a butler.

(11) “The Kid Clips a Coupon” (1934): A wealthy elderly woman has been murdered — by a tramp, according to the police — but The Kid doesn’t think so. The whole thing smacks of an inside job — a case of discovered embezzlement — and The Kid must be proactive to head off another murder, even if it means kidnapping someone himself.

(12) “The Kid Cooks a Goose” (1934): The underworld and the police have a common nemesis — and common cause to rid themselves of him — namely The Patent Leather Kid. The cops have let it be known — through unofficial channels, sub rosa, you understand — that if the criminal class terminates The Kid, they’re willing to cut the crooks some slack. When The Kid receives news of this ad hoc arrangement to bump him off, it’s without joyful enthusiasm. His characteristic response is to devise an impromptu plan that will not only clear him of a murder frame, neutralize several underworld kingpins, and save a woman’s life, but also give a guinea pig his big chance to be a crime buster.

(13) “The Kid Steals a Star” (1934): During the course of a robbery at a jewelry store, a policeman is killed and the night watchman gets the blame. It gets worse for him when he foolishly tries to skip town; actually, he’s been perfectly framed by the clever boss of a criminal gang. In order to clear the watchman and catch the crime boss in the act of swindling a jeweler, The Kid, with the able assistance of his bodyguard and an admiring telephone operator, must concoct a three-act “play” starring gangsters, gemstones, guns, and — if everything goes according to plan — a happy ending.

         Random notes:

   Unlike Sherlock Holmes, The Kid does see it as his duty to correct the deficiencies of the official police. — All of the members of the gentlemen’s club are stereotypes. — Gardner always uses the word “conservative” with negative connotations. — These stories aren’t mysteries in the traditional sense: The fun is watching The Kid improvising his way out of tight situations. — There’s a lot of 1930s gangster slang. — The reader shouldn’t try to read more than one story at a time: Gardner was clearly writing to a formula. Read one every few days to avoid tedium.

   For even more about The Patent Leather Kid, see Monte Herridge’s Mystery*File article here: https://mysteryfile.com/blog/?p=13823.

Intro: Those of you who have been following this blog for almost as long as I have must be wondering what happened to Walker Martin’s annual PulpCon / PulpFest report. He’s missed only one since the tradition began, and that was my fault. I was too busy with personal matters to get it up and running that year, and it appeared on Sai Shankar’s PulpFlakes blog instead.

   This year, though, Walker did attend but managed to catch Covid while there, and while he’s doing much better now, it took him a while to recover, and he never did manage to write up a report. As you may have surmised, “Martin Walker,” whose report follows, is a pseudonym, but I can guarantee the facts he relates are 100% accurate. Bill Lampkin, whose photos I used is real, however, and I thank both him and our anonymous reporter for this year’s annual PulpFest report, at last!


2023 PulpFest Convention Report,
by Martin Walker.

   Except for the year 2020, there has been a summertime pulp convention since 1972. First, it was Pulpcon, running through 2008. Next came PulpFest, beginning in 2009 and running straight through this year (except for that year lost to COVID).

   PulpFest 2023 got underway early on Wednesday evening, August 2, when the convention’s chairperson, Jack Cullers, opened the dealers’ room at the DoubleTree by Hilton Pittsburgh — Cranberry for vendors to set up for the convention. Many PulpFest dealers took advantage of this early setup to load in their wares and socialize with friends whom they see but once, twice, or thrice each year.


   According to PulpFest’s marketing and programming director, Mike Chomko, the DoubleTree staff went above and beyond to have the hotel’s exhibition hall ready and waiting for the convention’s dealers. He recommends that all PulpFest vendors take advantage of the convention’s early set-up hours to prepare their exhibits for the convention’s official opening the next day.
PulpFest 2023 officially got underway on Thursday morning, August 3, with the arrival of more dealers for unloading and setup. Early-bird shopping began around 9 a.m. and continued until 4:45 p.m. Most dealers reported brisk sales following the official opening of the convention.

   One of the highlights of the dealers’ room was the initial offering from the extensive holdings of longtime collector Everard P. Digges LaTouche. Ed Hulse, editor and publisher of Blood ’n’ Thunder, had several long-boxes of Digges’ pulps for sale, with many rarities among his stacks. Other dealers with substantial pulp offerings included Adventure House, Ray Walsh’s Archives Book Shop, Books from the Crypt, Jack Cullers, Doug Ellis & Deb Fulton, Heartwood Books & Art, Paul Herman, Mark Hickman, John McMahan, Peter Macuga, Phil Nelson, Steranko, Sheila Vanderbeek, and Todd & Ross Warren. You could also find original artwork offered by Doug Ellis & Deb Fulton, George Hagenauer, Jackie Pollen, Craig Poole, and others.


   With nearly 80 dealers registered for PulpFest 2023, the dealers’ room was a sell-out. And the exhibitors on hand didn’t disappoint. In addition to pulps and original artwork, you could find digests, vintage paperbacks, men’s adventure and true crime magazines, first-edition hardcovers, genre fiction, series books, Big Little Books, B-movies, vintage television shows, movie serials, Golden Age, Silver Age, Bronze Age, and pulp-related comic books, and more.

   Additionally, one could find contemporary creations including artwork, new fiction, and fanzines produced by The Burroughs Bibliophiles, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc., Flinch! Books, Doug Klauba, Craig McDonald, Will Murray, Stark House, Steeger Books, Joab Stieglitz, Michael Tierney, Anthony Tollin, Mark Wheatley, and others.


   The third annual PulpFest Pizza Party followed the closure of the dealers’ room at 5 p.m. Over fifty pizzas were baked for the convention’s members, thanks to the generosity of PulpFest’s dealers. Since it was started in 2021, the annual pizza gathering has become a very popular fixture at PulpFest. The convention’s advertising director, Bill Lampkin, promises more pizzas in the years to come.

   Following opening remarks by chairman Cullers, the convention’s admirable programming line-up began with a salute to the centennial of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. Edgar Rice Burroughs founded the corporation in 1923.


   Joining ERB’s Director of Publishing, Christopher Paul Carey, and Vice President of Operations, Cathy Mann Wilbanks, were authors Chris Adams, Win Scott Eckert, and Will Murray to discuss their upcoming Burroughs-inspired books.
Morgan Holmes — who has been called the world’s greatest expert on sword and sorcery — was up next with a look at sword and sorcery in Weird Tales. Also on hand was Chris Kalb, creator of “The Spider Returns” website. Joining him were award-winning authors Will Murray and Gary Phillips to talk about “The Master of Men” on the occasion of the character’s 90th anniversary.

   Jim Beard followed the Spider presentation with a look at Conan, “The Multimedia Barbarian,” while old-time-radio expert Karl Schadow, closed out the programming with a discussion of Weird Tales on radio.

   Despite a long day of buying and selling and an evening packed with programming, many conventioneers gathered in the hotel lounge to talk and reminisce about their favorite authors, cover artists, and pulp characters long into the night.

   There was more buying and selling on Friday, August 4. Competing for attendees’ attention were a couple of afternoon presentations. Chris Carey and Win Scott Eckert discussed “Doc Savage — The Man and Myth of Bronze.” Part of PulpFest’s celebration of the 90th anniversary of “The Man of Bronze,” it was also this year’s FarmerCon presentation. Since 2011, PulpFest has hosted FarmerCon, a convention that began in Peoria, Illinois, the hometown of Philip José Farmer.


   Following the FarmerCon XVIII presentation was a discussion of jungle fiction in the pulps, featuring Henry G. Franke III — editor of The Burroughs Bulletin — and Ed Hulse — editor of Blood ’n’ Thunder. The presentation was part of the 2023 ERBFest, another “convention within a convention” that’s held at PulpFest. An art show — hosted by Franke — was also part of this year’s ERBFest. It featured original comic strip art, paperback and limited edition hardcover artwork, and much more. Taking place in the early afternoon hours, the show was very well attended and garnered a good many compliments.

   After the dinner break came more evening programming, beginning with a look at PulpFest 2024, presented by committee members Cullers and Chomko. Afterward, Bob Deis and Wyatt Doyle — co-editors of “The Men’s Adventure Library” — offered a look at “Those Weird Men’s Adventure Magazines,” an exploration of supernatural stories and creature features that found their way into the men’s magazines of the late twentieth century.

   Up next, a trio of contemporary artists — Mark Schultz and Mark Wheatley, with Don Simpson moderating — discussed illustrating Conan for the commercial market, part of the convention’s salute to the character’s 90th anniversary. Pulp art expert David Saunders followed with a look at fantasy and adventure artist J. Allen St. John, best known for illustrating the work of Edgar Rice Burroughs.

   Finishing up PulpFest’s salute to the centennial of Weird Tales was a panel featuring Darrell Schweitzer and John Betancourt. Writers and editors, both men helped to revive the magazine in 1988. Since then, Weird Tales has, more or less, been published continuously. Moderating the panel was Tony Davis.


   Closing out Friday night’s programming was Nicholas Parisi — author of Rod Serling: His Life, Work, and Imagination — with a discussion of “The Sports Stories of Rod Serling.” Afterward, for those not ready to turn in, a “Barsoomian Bull Session” followed in the hotel’s lounge area.

   On Saturday, August 5, the dealers’ room opened yet again at 9 a.m. and brisk business continued. All told, nearly 400 people passed through the entrance to the PulpFest 2023 dealers’ room where they were tempted by 150 tables filled with thousands of pulp magazines, digests, vintage paperbacks, original art, and more.

   Once again, the “Inspired by Edgar Rice Burroughs” art show was open for viewing during the early afternoon hours. Afterward, Christopher Paul Carey, Henry G. Franke III, and Garyn Roberts paid tribute to “100 Years of The Moon Maid.” The first segment of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ trilogy was originally serialized in Argosy All-Story Weekly in 1923.

   Closing out the afternoon programming was “Doc Savage and His Offspring,” a panel presentation featuring writers Win Scott Eckert, Craig McDonald, Will Murray, and Gary Phillips. Moderated by Jennifer DiGiacomo — the former publisher of The Savage Society of Bronze — the panel explored the work of the writers, all inspired by Lester Dent’s “Man of Bronze.”

   Saturday’s evening programming began with journalist and pulp historian Michelle Nolan discussing the first sports pulp — Sport Story Magazine — with pulp collector Alex Daoundakis. Published by Street & Smith, Sport Story Magazine debuted 100 years ago in 1923.


   Following the convention’s final programming presentation, Walker Martin — who has attended every Pulpcon/PulpFest since the very first one in 1972 — announced the winner of the 2023 Munsey Award. Recognizing an individual or organization that has bettered the pulp community — be it through disseminating knowledge about the pulps or through publishing or other efforts to preserve and foster interest in the pulp magazines we all love and enjoy — this year’s Munsey was awarded to Richard Bleiler, a bibliographer and researcher in the areas of science fiction, fantasy, horror, crime, and adventure fiction. You can read the full text of Richard’s acceptance speech on the PulpFest website.

   Closing out the evening was the convention’s Saturday night auction. It featured about 90 lots from the estate of Vermont collector Carl Joecks, over 80 lots consigned by Dearly Departed Books of Alliance, Ohio, and more than 100 lots submitted by PulpFest 2023 members.

   The highlights of the auction included the first eight volumes of the Tom Corbett juvenile series, a trio of early edition hardcovers by Robert A. Heinlein, the first authorized American edition of Jules Verne’s The Mysterious Island, nine early edition hardcovers by E. E. “Doc” Smith, thirties issues of The Shadow Magazine and Weird Tales, the December 1939 Marvel Tales, a large lot of fanzines and related materials, and a set of Shadow paperbacks in very fine condition. Overshadowing all of the lots was a very scarce ink stamp pulp premium from “The Shadow Club.” Originally offered through The Shadow Magazinefrom April 1, 1934, to the end of August 1934, the stamp sold for $750.

   Nearly $12,000 exchanged hands during the auction. Afterward, those with change still in their pockets retired to the hotel lounge for a late-night session of “Fraternizing at FarmerCon.”

   Although the convention opened once again on Sunday, August 6, buying and selling opportunities were limited as dealers packed up and prepared for the drive home. Unfortunately, a number of attendees contracted COVID during the convention. Thankfully, most cases were relatively mild.

   PulpFest 2024 will take place August 1 – 4 at the DoubleTree by Hilton Pittsburgh — Cranberry in Mars, Pennsylvania. The convention will be celebrating “Spice, Spies, Shaw, and More” in 2024. You can learn more by visiting pulpfest.com. I hope to see you there.



A(UGUSTUS) BOYD CORRELL, according to FictionMags, was “born in South Carolina; Newspaperman, writer for Walt Disney, author of magazine short stories; died in Los Angeles.” In 1948 he co-authored a novel, The Dark Wheel (a.k.a. Sweet and Deadly), with Philip MacDonald.

   Correll specialized in short crime fiction, however, with his over two dozen stories being placed in the major detective pulps of the ’40s and ’50s; in the ’60s he generated two episodes for Robert Taylor’s Detectives TV series, and the ISFDb credits him with three works of SFF (Science Fiction-Fantasy). Although we’re sure more of his stories are lurking out there somewhere on the Internet, for the moment we can locate only two of them, both of which are, not surprisingly, movie-related.

(1) “The Corpse That Played Dead” (Thrilling Mystery, Winter 1943) Online here.

   Film actor Ronald Edwards’s movies always lose money, so why does Panamint Studios boss Emil Friml keep making films with Edwards in them? For Friml, the main concern is that somebody is trying to kill Edwards while he’s making a war movie, falling sandbags and flame-throwers blasting real flames at his leading man. This is enough for Friml to call in the studio’s unofficial detective, Jimmy Lee, our first-person narrator. In spite of Lee’s presence right there on the sound stage, though, someone succeeds in doing Edwards in just as they’re filming a battle scene on a bridge:

   “I jumped up from the pile of scenery and started for the prop bridge, with Jane and her brother close behind. I leaned over the actor. A dark red worm of blood was jerking and twisting from his temple, and his throat moved convulsively. He sighed and gurgled. Then the blood stopped jumping, and merely seeped as though no more was left in his body. . .

   “As I started for the door, the background lights, casting their eerie glow of red, suddenly blinked out. The stage was in total darkness. I let out a yelp of surprise and was smacked flat as someone rushed past me. Jane screamed — a long, piercing cry that echoed and reechoed through the building.

   “I heard a thumping as I pushed to my feet and held my hands out to avoid another collision. There was a swishing, grating noise as though a body were being dragged across the floor, then a bump — and silence. . .

   “I started, when I glanced at the spot where the corpse had been. The body was gone.”

   Lee doesn’t realize it at the time, but the apparently pointless act of the body being dragged across the floor is the key that will unlock how — and who — murdered failed matinee idol Ronald Edwards.

   Here’s a nice bit of descriptive writing that also serves to delineate the character of the studio boss:

   “One moment he wasn’t there, and the next he was. In the ghostly light of the background flares, he looked like Scrooge and the devil rolled into one. His withered leg swung like a pendulum between his good one and the mahogany crutch which supported him. His head, a tremendous load for such a scrawny neck, was covered with a fuzz of colorless hair. His ears were pointed and belonged on a character from a child’s fairy story book. I had seen him often, but I was always startled when I faced him.”


(2) “Death on Location” (Mammoth Mystery, January 1946). Online here.

   “It seemed to be a very good location for filming a horror movie. In fact it was so good the most horrible of all creatures kept everybody’s nerves on edge and finally ran off with the heroine.”

   Tom Ferguson’s normal occupation is scouting for movie locations, but when he embarked on this particular expedition he never anticipated finding an old woman with her throat torn out — or getting attacked by a swamp monster that walks on two legs (a “gibbering thing that smelled of putrefied flesh”), a creature straight out of a nightmare that, oddly, seems a mite too protective, not of its territory per se, but of some small shiny, round things that your average monster wouldn’t think twice about, but which would definitely excite human interest, enough human interest to lead to murder . . .

INTRO. This is the fifth and final story in the February 1936 issue of Dime Detective that I covered in its entirety in my column “Speaking of Pulp” in the April/May/June, 1979 issue of The Not So Private Eye.

   The cover illustration is taken from the final story, a long novelette by T. T. Flynn entitled “Bride of the Beast,” which sounds more like a horror story from Dime Mystery than it docs a detective story. Flynn was an extremely prolific detective story writer from the pulps. He’s never seemed to have gathered much attention, but his stories are always filled with action, and more, they seem to know where they’re going.

   In this one, a circus is about to go bankrupt — strange things are happening on the midway! Trouble-shooter Steve Waring is sent out by the bank to find out what’s going on, and on his first night on the job an elephant rider in the opening procession is decapitated, almost in full view of the horrified audience.

   The circus atmosphere is excellent, the menace is effectively scary, and no holds are barred in producing sudden and violent death. It ends with a furious train ride through the night and with the nightmarish capture of a crazy killer about to torture Joan Wells, tied and helpless, running the circus in her father’s absence, with a twisted replica of love. Hence the title. I guess it sounds like corn, but it’s still the best story in the magazine.

   As you’ll have already gathered, if you’ve been paying attention, the emphasis [in the stories in this issue of this magazine] has not been on ordinary detective work, This had probably been even more true in earliest days of Dime Detective, which was first published in the early 1930s but the trend away from grotesque mystery had not yet eliminated it from the magazine by 1936, as we’ve just seen. Many people tell me they prefer the 1940s version of DD, when the accent changed slightly from the incredibly fantastic to the merely screwy.

   Give me a hand, will you? Help me clean up these little shreds of brown paper that are all over the floor here …

INTRO. These are the third and fourth stories in the February 1936 issue of Dime Detective that I covered in it entirety in my column “Speaking of Pulp” in the April/May/June, 1979 issue of The Not So Private Eye.

   The next couple of shorts can be disposed of rather quickly. “Postlude to Murder” by Donald S. Aitken features a private eye named Barker on the trail of a missing nephew who doesn’t know he’s suffering from hydrophobia. Once located, he’s immediately kidnapped. Somehow the story’s just too short for all these bizarre happenings to begin to become convincing.

   Next up, Robert Sidney Bowen is a pulp author probably more famous for his flying stories. He did all the science-fictional Dusty Ayres (and his Battle Birds) air war novels, for example, but he also did a couple of hardcover private eye novels in the late 1940s.

   In “The Flying Coffin” his hero is Kip Lacey, ace trouble-shooter for Central Airways, a nice combination of both writing worlds. A strange case; once again, not surprisingly, the emphasis is on the bizarre. A corpse traveling incognito as air cargo is kidnapped, then turns up later as the victim of a hit-and-run accident. There are some noticeable loose ends in the final wrap-up, but only because Lacey’s loyalty is to the airline, and not to the cops.

WILLIAM E. BARRETT “The Tattooed Cop.”  Novelette. Needle Mike. First published in Dime Detective Magazine, February 1936. Collected in The Complete Cases of Needle Mike, Volume 2 (Steeger Books, November 2022).

INTRO. This is the second story in this issue of Dime Detective that I covered in it entirety in my column “Speaking of Pulp” in the April/May/June, 1979 issue of The Not So Private Eye. To answer the question I brought up in the first paragraph, the answer is Yes.
   Let’s go on, I’ve never been sure if William E. Barrett, author of the “Needle Mike” stories is the same person who later wrote such bestsellers in the 50s as The Left Hand of God, but it could be. After all, if MacKinley Kantor could go on to better things from [beginning in]  the pulps, so perhaps could a few others.

   But who’s Needle Mike, you may be saying. He’s actually the son of a millionaire, and he relieves the monotony of his existence by posing as the disheveled operator of a run-down tattoo parlor on the wrong side of the St. Louis tracks. He appeared in a long series of stories in Dime Detective during the middle 30s, and this one’s about “The Tattooed Cop.”

   In it, the identification of a dead cop with a tattoo on his chest gets Mike (or Ken McNally) into deep trouble with a tough gang of marijuana peddlers who prey on gullible college boys and girls looking for a cheap thrill. It reads pretty well — an interesting premise, that you’ve got to admit —  up until the moment Mike gets a mammoth hunch about a doped-up weed addict he finds in an upstairs room in the gang’s hideout. He’s right, of course, and the story becomes little more than confused action from that point on.

CARROLL JOHN DALY “Corpse & Co.” Novelette. Race Williams. First published in Dime Detective Magazine, February 1936. Added later (see comments #7 and #13): Collected in The Adventures of Race Williams (Mysterious Press, trade paperback, 1989), and in Just Another Stiff, The Collected Hard-Boiled Stories of Race Williams, Volume 5 (Steeger Books, 2019).

INTRO: This pulp fiction PI review has been excerpted from a column I did for the April/May/June, 1979 issue of The Not So Private Eye, a fanzine published by Andy Jaysnovitch for several years in the late 70s. In this particular column, titled “Speaking of Pulp,” I dissected, if you will, the complete February issue of Dime Detective Magazine. It was a long column, so I’ve decided to break it up and post it here story by story.

   And so with no further ado, here’s what I had to say about story Number One:
   The lead novel is a Race Williams yarn, written by a name you should recognize. The story is entitled “Corpse & Co.”, and it’s written of course by Carroll John Daly. It’s called a novel on the contents page out of courtesy only, for it runs only 33 pages long. Still, in terms of actual wordage, my calculator works that out to be the equivalent of 70 to 75 pages of today’s average hardcover novel. So call it a third of a novel.

   And it reads that way as well. Maybe I have bad luck whenever I pick up a pulp to read a Daly story in it. His stories, whether a Race Williams adventure like this one, a Satan Hall yarn, or whatever, they always seem as though they were installments of unannounced serials. What I mean is I get the idea that a series of connected Daly stories would follow in consecutive issues of a given magazine, each supposedly complete in themselves, but always seeming to begin in the middle of a plot, and never winding up the loose ends completely. I’ve never taken the time to check this out, and so perhaps I stand to be corrected.

   Anyway, the focus of all the action this time around is a previous case in which the bodies that Williams so happily provided in the final scene were conveniently disposed of by one Gentle Jim Corrigan. To avoid bringing in the feds, and to save Mary Morse’s business and reputation, Williams agreed to this course of action. Of course that leave Miss Morse open to a bit of blackmail, and that’s this story. Since her jewelry business is still floundering, Race refuses her case at first (no dough in it), until he’s forced to take it when the blackmailer gets the bright idea that Williams will make a handy target for tommy-gun practice and is better off dead just on general principles.

   As a prime example of the supreme self-appointed vigilante, Race Williams was probably the founder of that particular school of tough private eyes. Mike Hammer turned out to be a more than willing student of his a number of years later, with the principal difference being that Hammer has never yet turned a willing dame down. Florence Drummond, alias The Flame, says to Williams, “Brains are something you haven’t got.” Mary Morse is in love with him, and he treats it as a minor complication.

   Dirty Harry, of movie fame, is another who shoots first, in the name of the law, and worries about the law,only afterwards. But while Race Williams lives by his guns, and that’s the extent of the story. Not much is said about constitutional law and the rights of criminals here. Here’s the last line: “When better corpses are made, Race Williams will make them.”

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