Reference works / Biographies



COLIN WATSON – Snobbery with Violence: Crime Stories and Their Audience. Eyre & Spottiswoode, UK, hardcover, 1971. St. Martin’s Press, US, hardcover, 1972. Eyre Methuen, UK, hardcover, revised edition, 1979. Mysterious Press, US, softcover, 1988 Faber and Faber, UK, paperback, 2009.

   I could never quite understand why one of my favorite books about the crime genre incited such violence in some readers, who bore a grudge against Watson for his informed and informing book on mystery and thriller fiction between the Wars that seemed completely out of proportion to anything he actually wrote.

   Watson, after all, was the popular author of the Flaxborough/Inspector Purbright novels that revealed the darkly comical reality beneath the English village setting of Agatha Christie and others.

   Yes, he was opinionated. Even I disagree with him on some points and authors, but he is never less than succinct in his arguments, and there is no malice in them. He merely sets out to deal with the social history behind the genre in that important era and to explain its origins and nature, and does so brilliantly, with delightful cartoons from Punch, that reflect the subject of many chapters.

   If nothing else he coined a phrase to describe the village mystery so common to Agatha Christie that has stuck because it is so apt: Mayhem Parva.

   Julian Symons’ Mortal Consequences seemed much more controversial to me, Kingley Amis’s James Bond Dossier more eccentric. Just what nerve had Watson struck?

   The book opens with an epigram from Alan Bennett’s Forty Years On: “…that school of Snobbery with Violence that runs like a thread of good class tweed through twentieth-century literature.”

   Snobbery with violence hardly seems an unfair description of the genre from Agatha Christie to Bulldog Drummond, and indeed to James Bond who Watson defends from the charge of “sex, snobbery, and sadism” by simply pointing out Ian Fleming was no more blatant nor vicious on that count than anyone else.

   So what is it exactly about this well organized and argued book that upset so many. I confess on rereading I was trying pretty desperately to discover that when I ran across the following passage on Bulldog Drummond, Sapper, and the rise of Fascism in England.

   Popular fiction is not evangelistic; it imparts no new ideas. Fascism sprang, in Britain as elsewhere, from frustration caused by economic chaos and political ineptitude. That same frustration had made readers susceptible to improbable heroics, but acknowledgement of a common source is not the same as saying Moseley’s Fascism derived from McNeile’s fiction.

   And there it was, the passage that set forth Watson’s “controversial” theme that inflamed what Amis once called “little old maids of both sexes”, the thing that enraged many of his critics. Watson had dared to suggest that popular fiction, far from the monster poisoning the minds of readers, was not actually the source of all societies ills, but merely reflected the prejudice and opinions of the average man, that people indeed got the entertainment they wanted and would accept in popular fiction, and were not swayed to prejudice by the blathering of a Bulldog Drummond or to snobbery by a Lord Peter Wimsey, nor to sexual obsession by James Bond, but that H. C. McNeile, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Ian Fleming were merely highly successful at hitting on what the audience wanted and would accept at the time.

   An audience that, as he quotes Margaret Lane Edgar Wallace’s biographer, audiences wanted “excitement without anxiety, suspense without fear, violence without pain, and horror without disgust,” to which Watson added crime without sin and sentiment without sex.

   If there is a better description of the mystery novel and thriller in the between the Wars years, I don’t know what it is. He goes on to point out that the reader was an active participant in the game being played, not ignorant of reality enough to buy the sophistication of an Oppeheim drawing room or casino or a Christie great house where a murder will soon occur, but “able to disregard the voice of experience and reason in interest of his own entertainment.”

   In short the reader was not being plied with clever drugs, but willingly seeking the stuff out, rewarding a Sax Rohmer who confirmed his own fear of foreigners and foreign sorts, a Sapper or Sidney Horler catering to the average man’s self doubts with their “splendid” sportsman manly man heroes and slim topping women pitted against wealthy unsporting master criminals, slinky foreign women, inscrutable Easterners, and low East End types. The writers weren’t even prostituting themselves, they had merely stuck upon a gold vein of public prejudice and opinion.

   This was the era of the lending library and the newly literate middle and lower middle classes equally prejudiced against the very rich, the foreign, and the poor. The era in England when an entire generation of young vital men had died in the trenches in Europe and the world no longer made sense and people were desperate to make sense of it. The writers who succeeded, who prospered were not preaching, but merely reflecting, and the more accurately they reflected their audience the more successful they were, and when they could do so with minimal disturbance of the social order they were rewarded.

   Watson touches on the strangely clipped and emotionless language of the era, the blathering of a Drummond, Wimsey, or Campion, the topping girls, the sometimes silly language, even the bloodless violence.

   Many of course had been through the 1914-1918 war themselves. What seems to a later generation to be a slightly comic affectation might well have been a defensive mannerism born of an experience so appalling that it rendered millions emotionally emasculated.

   Again, the audience and not the writers determined the voice. The sheep were not led, but leading because to go against the prejudice of the flock was to risk a blow to the pocketbook. “Foreign was synonymous with criminal in nine novels out of ten, and the conclusion is inescapable that most people found that perfectly natural.”

   What Watson is saying that really hits home is that when we are condemning a popular writer like Rohmer, Horler, Sapper, or Edgar Wallace we are actually condemning grandpa and grandma or mom and dad, who read this because they believed this, not because they were being force fed prejudices they had not been schooled in well before they read thriller fiction.

   The same was true of Ian Fleming, of Mickey Spillane, of Stephen King, or Lee Child today. We get the popular literature, the movies, the music we support that reflects what we believe and what we value. Pretending we are led down the garden path by what we consume is like blaming the apple tree because some of the apples aren’t ripe yet.

   Charging commercial institutions with failing to educate the public taste is an indulgence from which intellectuals (*) will only be deterred when they grasp that a non-existent contract can neither be breached nor enforced. If commerce is to be indicted for anything, it can only be for commercialism, and whether that is a crime or not is a political question.

   Watson also makes a good argument for the value of this kind of fiction which, as he points out, reflects the material life of its time in a way more serious literature does not down to the smallest detail of daily life in its need to be grounded in recognizable worlds familiar to the less than sophisticated reader. He also points out that during the heyday of the lending library readers had something like 180 to 210 books a week to choose from across all genres, but certainly in the mystery genre. Even figuring a reader reading one book a week the competition was fierce for the reading dollar. Readers, not writers dictated what was acceptable in their chosen reading with their money.

   I’ll leave with Watson at his most cogent. If you disagree with this conclusion, and I don’t discount any disagreement, please quote a single legally and psychologically proven case and not apocryphal accusations or criminals and their representatives seeking an out by unfounded claims of victimhood is all I ask.

   The influence of books is of a more subtle and involved nature. The most lasting, and therefore the most serious, harm they can do is to confirm — to lend authority to, as it were — an existing prejudice or misconception. During the long and lively discussion of the influence of “undesirable” literature upon behavior, there has come to light not a single case in which a formerly normal person (my italics) has been induced by his reading to commit a violent crime.

(*) Intellectual in England does not only connote the Left alone. There are equally those on the Right condemning the taste of the “common man” and the Middle Class.



PETER ENFANTINO & JEFF VORZIMMER – The MANHUNT Companion. Stark House Press, softcover, March 2021.

   During the early 1950’s there was a science fiction magazine boom which saw dozens of titles published, most of them to eventually die, only to be remembered by obsessive collectors. Yes, I am one of those bibliomaniacs who collect such magazines. We sometimes forget that there was also a crime fiction magazine boom which started with the publication of Manhunt in 1953. This magazine was such a best seller that dozens of imitators appeared during the 1950’s and 1960’s.

   These magazines are rare and expensive nowadays but I have managed to track down most of the Manhunt imitators with titles such as Guilty, Trapped, Off Beat, Pursuit, Homicide, Justice, etc. It’s still possible to put together a set of Manhunt without robbing a bank because so many copies were printed and the magazine had the reputation of being the best of the hard boiled crime fiction magazines.

   In fact, a decade ago, I wrote of my adventures collecting Manhunt and describing how I managed to find 39 of the 114 issues during one weekend at the Windy City Pulp convention. Here is the link to the article. Unlike the imitators, the prices were reasonable and I spent only $8 to $11 for each copy.

   I have spent decades reading and collecting the magazine and have put together more than one complete set as I traded off sets due to temporary insanity. I have come a long way from my teenage years when I had to make a choice between buying SF magazines and buying crime fiction titles. My allowance only went so far back then. But now we live in a golden age with stimulus checks raining down on us. If you don’t want to spend your checks on food and paying bills, then you can buy books and back issues of magazines!

   However, maybe you are not a magazine collector and don’t want to fill your house with thousands of pulps, slicks, digests, paperbacks. Maybe you don’t want to drive your non-collecting spouse crazy. Maybe you don’t want to add another hard boiled addiction to your drugs of choice like alcohol, drugs, gambling, chasing women. Then you are in luck because Stark House Press has already reprinted the best Manhunt stories in two volumes titled The Best Of Manhunt and The Best Of Manhunt, Volume Two.

   Now we have the third Stark House volume dealing with Manhunt, and it is titled The Manhunt Companion. A great magazine deserves a great companion and fellow book lovers, this is it! Over 400 pages and the price is $19.95. The book starts off with an eight page history of the magazine, including the infamous court case charging Manhunt with being lewd and obscene.

   This is followed by almost 300 pages discussing every story in every issue, all 114 issues. Each story is rated on a 4 star system, with the best fiction receiving 3 or 4 stars. The word count is also listed followed by a summary and discussion of each story. At the end of each year, there is a list of the best stories.

   Then follows over 100 pages indexing every story, article, and author, including pseudonyms. There also is an alphabetical index by series and a listing of the TV episodes based on Manhunt stories.

   If you read or collect Manhunt, this is a must buy. We must support this effort and encourage Stark House. Perhaps Peter Enfantino and Jeff Vorzimmer can be convinced to edit a collection of the Manhunt imitators and another companion, only this time on the other crime fiction magazines!



HIS KIND OF WOMAN. RKO, 1952. Robert Mitchum, Jane Russell, Vincent Price, Tim Holt, Raymond Burr, and Jim Backus. Written by Frank Fenton and Jack Leonard. Directed by John Farrow and Richard Fleischer (uncredited.) Available on DVD and for rent from Vudu and Amazon Prime, among others.

RICHARD FLEISCHER – Just Tell Me When to Cry. Carroll & Graf, hardcover, 1993.

   I always thought of HIS KIND OF WOMAN as a lop-sided little movie, no great shakes, but modestly enjoyable. I went out with a girl like that once. Then I read Fleischer’s memoir, and now I see it in a whole different light. A good book can do that for you.

   Briefly, WOMAN deals with the travails of Dan Milner (Robert Mitchum) a down-on-his-luck gambler lured to a Mexican resort where everyone seems to be playing a part, except for the one genuine actor, Mark Cardigan (Vincent Price.)

   Turns out the whole thing has been engineered by deported gangster Raymond Burr, who means to kill Mitchum and enter the country under his name. Yeah, it sounds over-complicated to me, too. I mean how hard can it be to get a slightly irregular passport? But that’s the story, and Bob ends up on Ray’s yacht, tied, tortured, running, fighting, running, shooting, running, ducking, and generally making mayhem in some remarkably grim moments, fraught with tension—

   –Or they would be, except that the movie keeps cutting back to Vincent Price and his genuinely funny attempts at rescue. The comedy works, the grim stuff works, but side by side, they keep undercutting each other. I kind of like it myself, but I have to say on any objective level it just doesn’t work.

   So like I say, I always thought of this as a fun little misfire, till I read Richard Fleischer’s engaging memoir, JUST TELL ME WHEN TO CRY, which devotes a whole chapter to WOMAN and reveals that the damn thing cost almost a million dollars.

   It seems director John Farrow finished this film, and like all RKO movies at the time, it went to studio owner Howard Hughes to be screened before release. Hughes thought the ending could be punched up a little, so he called Fleischer in, and Fleischer agreed, maybe it could. So Hughes made some suggestions, Fleischer fleshed them out, producer Robert Fellows added on to the yacht set, Hughes came up with more ideas, Fleischer did his thing, Fellows added on to the yacht, more ideas, more yacht, more funny business with Vincent Price, more shooting, more ideas….

   By the time they finished (they thought) the make-believe yacht filled the biggest soundstage at RKO, Vincent Price held a mock birthday party to celebrate his first year on the picture, Bob Mitchum went on a set-smashing rampage, Lee Van Cleef was judged unsuitable as the main heavy (Remember, the film was finished when this was decided.) an exhaustive search turned up Robert J Wilke as a replacement but after a few days work, Raymond Burr was hired on a whim from Hughes to re-shoot all the original footage done by Wilke and Van Cleef.

   But at length Fleischer and Fellows screened the new ending, with the extensive and expensive yacht scenes, for their Boss – who wanted it all redone because the boarding ladder was on the wrong side!

   Now I never take any memoir as gospel — the form just allows too many temptations to promote oneself and settle old scores — but JUST TELL ME WHEN TO CRY can be read for sheer outrageous entertainment. Fleischer’s accounts of working with Walt Disney, Kirk Douglas, Rex Harrison and Howard Hughes (to name just a few) are laugh-out-loud funny, and he pauses now and then for pithy observations like:

      â€œHope deceives more people than cunning ever could.”

      â€œDirecting is a democratic process in which everyone does just as I tell them to do.”


      â€œIt’s easier to fool people than to convince them they have been fooled.”

   That last one seems particularly apt these days. And it’s just a sample from a book (and movie) I highly recommend.



RICHARD LAYMAN & JULIE RIVETT, Editors – Selected Letters of Dashiell Hammett. Counterpoint, hardcover, 2001; paperback, 2002.

   Speaking of Dashiell Hammett, he came a cropper again more recently, this time a victim of the Bloated Times we live in. With Adventure Books coming out at over 400 pages, movies routinely over two-and-a-half-hours long, and Comic Books that take a whole year to tell a story, I guess it had to happen to even the champion of lean, terse writing, and the latest evidence of this mindless pursuit of Bigness is Selected Letters of Dashiell Hammett, “edited” – and I use the word contemptuously — by Richard Layman and Julie Rivett.

   A few numbers back, I praised Raymond Chandler Speaking, and the virtues of that compact little gem shine all the more brightly next to the sullen morass of Selected/Hammett. Layman and Rivett seem totally incapable of winnowing the Meaningful from the trivia that constitutes most correspondence, and as a result we get over 600 pages (!) of Who went to what party, How much Life Insurance should we buy, Will the Heat Spell ever break, and — Oh God I can’t go on with it.

   The reader who wades through this swamp must combine a fanatical devotion to Hammett with a total lack of discrimination and the patience of Sisyphus. Stay away.

— Reprinted from The Hound of Dr. Johnson #18, March 2002.

FRANCIS L. & ROBERTA FUGATE – Secrets of the World’s Best-Selling Writer. Morrow, hardcover, 1980.

ERLE STANLEY GARDNER – The Human Zero: The Science Fiction Stories of Erle Stanley Gardner, edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Charles G. Waugh. Morrow, hardcover, 1981.

   Erle Stanley Gardner often proudly referred to himself as a fiction factory. The total sales of all the books he ever wrote, in all languages and in all editions, is currently estimated at well over 300 million copies. His isolated ranch near Temecula, California, grew to include twenty-two buildings, designed to house himself, his secretarial staff, and his voluminous, all-inclusive archives.

   All of his earliest writing was done for the “woodpulp” magazines, those ephemeral pieces of popular culture disdained at the time by librarians and the literary establishment alike. The covers were lurid and garish; the contents were written to match. If you were to find an attic filled with them today, you would have a small fortune on your hands.

   By 1933, Erle Stanley Gardner was a household word. Series characters such as Lester Leith, Speed Dash, Ed Jenkins, Senor Lobo, Sidney Zoom, and scores of others were the lifeblood of a list of pulp magazines a page long. In that year alone, Gardner had a total of seventy short stories, novelettes, and articles see print.

   It was also the year that Perry Mason came along. Morrow published The Case of the Velvet Claws in March of that year, and The Case of the Sulky Girl followed in quick order. In 1934 Gardner’s production of short pieces fell off a bit, to something just under forty or so, but to compensate there were three more Mason novels.

   Perry Mason immediately captured the nation’s attention. Originally conceived as a hard-boiled attorney named Ed Stark, straight from the pages of Black Mask magazine, which also gave Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler good running starts on their careers, Mason went on to be the star performer in a total of eighty-five novels.

   They were formula stuff, but Gardner. knew exactly what his readers wanted. Each of the cases culminated in a courtroom scene, with a trial and the future of Mason s client hanging in the balance. Gardner’s own background as a practicing attorney helped provide for some of the trickiest shenanigans ever devised, most of it well beyond the reach, one imagines, of even such superstars of the profession as F. Lee Bailey and Louis Nizer, to name two.

   There were also comic strips, a radio show, and, of course, the long-running Raymond Burr television vehicle, and all had Gardner as the guiding hand.

   Details of Gardner at work – since he was paid by the word for his work for the pulps, he had a gadget on his typewriter that counted off another tally every time he hit the space bar; of his struggle to change his style sufficiently to get the first book published; of his characters (the real reason Della Street never married Perry Mason, for example); and his philosophy of writing (begin with a mystery and tell a story that people want to read) – are all to be found in the Fugate book, published late last year.

   It is based primarily on Gardner’s papers, transferred en masse to the University of Texas upon his death in 1970. In this wealth of material lies a fabulous practical how-to-do-it manual for prospective writers. Gardner’s style was functional, to say the most. In his mysteries he emphasized plot above all, which places him slightly out of step in today’s world, but as of 1979 it is reported that he was still averaging 2,400 sales a day, every day of the year.

   That Gardner also wrote science fiction will probably come as a surprise to many, but in The Human Zero, Gardner’s entire output of fantastic stories is reprinted, all of it from Argosy magazine between 1928 and 1932.

   As science fiction, from today’s perspective, the science in these tales is shaky and the fiction is worse. These seven stories are filled with mad scientists, strange inventions, catastrophic calamities, and bizarre theories of evolution. But in those days between the World Wars, this was the nature of the field, and what Gardner wrote was no worse than any of the rest of it.

   Still, science fiction was obviously not his forte, and he was probably glad to leave it. Perry Mason was his ticket to success, not imaginary flights to Venus in backyard anti-gravity machines.

   In essence, what Greenberg and Waugh give us here in the first of a series planned to resurrect much of Gardner’s work from the “woodpulp” pile, are the skeletons of Gardner’s past. Upcoming books may be better. The stories in The Human Zero were probably better left buried.

–Very slightly revised from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 5, No. 2, March/April 1981.

FRANK THOMPSON – Alamo Movies. Old Mill Books, softcover, 1991. Republic of Texas Press, softcover, 1994.

   I have a fondness for what I call “Alamo Movies”: films based on fact or fiction in which a small group of soldiers hold out against superior forces, a list which includes THE LOST PATROL, the Flynn CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE, THEY DIED WITH THEIR BOOTS ON, BEAU GESTE, BATAAN, 55 DAYS AT PEKING, KHARTOUM and ZULU. There are more, but by this time you either know what I mean or I can’t explain it. Anyway, in ALAMO MOVIES, Frank Thompson confines himself to one particular siege, about which there has never been a great film made.

   After a brief introduction by Fess Parker, there’s a chapter on facts and legends surrounding the actual battle, mostly centering on whether or not Travis actually drew the line in the sand, and more importantly the fact that a handful of Alamo defenders were captured alive, with many eyewitnesses claiming Davy Crockett was among them (though executed shortly thereafter) although you will never see a film where Crockett doesn’t die heroically.

   Chapters are devoted to the films: THE IMMORTAL ALAMO, the lost first film on the subject, made by Gaston Melies (George’s brother) who crammed the whole story into 10 minutes! MARTYRS OF THE ALAMO, produced by D. W. Griffith and subtitled THE BIRTH OF TEXAS to cash in on the notoriety of BIRTH OF A NATION, and with a similarly racist slant — the revolt isn’t so much against Santa Anna as to protect the flower of American Womanhood from dark-skinned Mexican Lust; Santa Anna was even played by Walter Lang, th would-be rapist in BIRTH OF A NATION.

   Then there’s DAVY CROCKETT AT THE FALL OF THE ALAMO, directed by Robert Bradbury, whose son (later Bob Steele) played one of the defenders, so years later, on F-TROOP, when Steele as Duffy talked about fighting alongside Davy Crockett, it wasn’t so far from the truth.

   As the chapters progress, more familiar films get their due: MAN FROM THE ALAMO, DAVY CROCKETT: KING OF THE WILD FRONTIER, THE LAST COMMAND, THE ALAMO, and the Peter Ustinov comedy, VIVA MAX. Moving on, Thompson appraises the TV miniseries 13 DAYS TO GLORY and the IMAX film ALAMO … THE PRICE OF FREEDOM.

   Final chapters cover “lost” Alamo movies and films that were announced but never made. Thompson rates Wayne’s THE ALAMO as the best, “nearly great except for an awful screenplay,” which is like saying the Giants had a nearly perfect season except for a seven-game losing streak. Still, it’s an entertaining and informative read, with lots of purty pitchurs to look at when the going gets heavy.

— Reprinted from A Shropshire Sleuth #71, May 1995.

KEVIN HANCER – The Paperback Price Guide. Harmony Books / Overstreet Publications, softcover, 1980.

   A friend of mine gave me some good advice once. “Never,” he said, “throw anything away before it starts to smell.”

   In this age of compulsive collectibles and instant nostalgia, that’s not such a bad idea. Besides guides for collectors of antiques in general, there are price guides as well for old baseball cards and old comic books, for example, basic commodities of life that have always given mothers such bad reputations (for throwing them away once our backs were turned). There are price guides for old phonograph records, both 45s and 78s, and yes, heaven help us, for beer cans as well, complete with full-color illustrations.

   Joining the illustrious company of these and doubtless many others, the hobby of collecting old paperback books has come now into its own. Besides the obvious goal of determination and the compilation of current going prices, using some scheme known only to him – there is little or no relation to any asking prices I have seen, but more about that later – the greatest service that Hancer has given the long-time collector is that he has put together in one spot a more-or-less complete listing, by publisher, of all the mass-market paperbound books that were sold originally in drugstores and supermarkets across the country, for prices that from the first were almost always twenty-five cents each.

   By 1960, however, they had crept upward to the thirty-five cent level, or so. (Now , twenty years later again, check the prices of paperbacks in the bookstores today, if you dare.)

   Made superfluous are all the various checklists produced by specialist collectors and appearing in mimeographed forms in various short-lived periodicals over the past few years, signall1ng the big boom of interest about to come.

   Many early paperbacks were mysteries, and mystery fans have collected them in lieu of the more expensive first editions for some time. An added attraction the cheaper paper editions always had to offer was the cover artwork, designed not-so-subtly to catch the would-be buyer’s eye, but now categorized as GGA. Good Girl Art, that is, a term coined by a comic book dealer, I think.

   It speaks volumes for itself, as does the title Naked on Roller Skates, a book by Maxwell Bodenheim which lists for $30. Dell “mapbacks” go high, although most of them still lie in the $5 to $20 range, and so does early science fiction. The first Ace Double goes for $100, however, in mint condition, and a book entitled Marihuana goes for the same amount. The latter was published in 1951, when you could have picked up a copy, had you but known, for ten cents. Last month I could have bought a copy for a mere $13.

   Another friend of mine has a theory about scarcity and price guides, and it goes something like this. Whenever the price of something is forced upward by artificial hype, he says, sooner or later it gets so high that no one wants it. If you have it, your only alternative is to find another fool to take it off your hands. The last person who ends up with it and cannot sell it is thereby crowned the Greatest Fool of Them All.

   Check out your basements and attics now.

–Very slightly revised from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 5, No. 1, January-February 1981.
by Francis M. Nevins

   This month’s column is like the two roads that diverged in a yellow wood. On the first road is a signpost with the initials EQ. On the second, the one less traveled by, there’s another signpost, this one initialed HSK. Any guesses?


   In recent years—no, make that recent decades—it seems that I’ve either written or edited or had some connection with the vast majority of books having to do with Ellery Queen, the single exception being BLOOD RELATIONS (Perfect Crime Books, 2012), Joseph Goodrich’s excellent selection from the often acrimonious correspondence between Frederic Dannay (1905-1982) and Manfred B. Lee (1905-1971), the first cousins who used the name Ellery Queen as both their joint byline and their series detective.

   Now we have a second exception: Laird R. Blackwell’s FREDERIC DANNAY, ELLERY QUEEN’S MYSTERY MAGAZINE AND THE ART OF THE DETECTIVE SHORT STORY (McFarland, 2019), a title so unwieldy it won’t all fit on the book’s spine, which omits THE ART OF. Blackwell’s aim is to encompass in just 218 pages “the true impact of Ellery Queen on the detective-crime short-story genre.” By Ellery Queen of course he means Fred Dannay, the scholarly-bibliophilic-editorial half of the Queen partnership, who as founding editor of EQMM labored feverishly, beginning at the magazine’s birth late in 1941 and ending not long before his death, both to revive the best short stories of the distant and recent past and to encourage the creation of equally fine stories in the present and future.

   Blackwell knows the 40-odd Dannay years of EQMM backward and forward and writes insightfully of the milestone authors and stories that Fred had a hand in developing or preserving. We traverse the entire range of the genre from Poe through Conan Doyle and Chesterton to then newcomers like Stanley Ellin and Edward D. Hoch (who wound up having more than 500 stories published in the magazine) to a few like Jon L. Breen and Josh Pachter and myself who began appearing in EQMM when we were young and Fred was well along in his editorial career and who carry on today like old warhorses continuing, perhaps more gently, to smite the earth.

   If I had had a hand in Blackwell’s book I would have nudged him to include the birth and death years of the dozens of authors he covers, giving readers a more vivid sense of the scope and flow of detective-crime fiction in its short form. But I would have fought like a T. rex for the removal of the superabundant typos which pockmark almost every page.

   For the benefit of anyone who might think superabundant too strong a word, let’s pick one author totally at random, like the winner of a megabucks lottery, and take a look at what Blackwell has to say about that person. Who won the lottery? Yikes! I did. You’ll find the entry on me at pp. 129-130.

   First off, he spells my first name wrong, Frances, the female way, not Francis, the pope’s way, and that of every other man whose name I’ve ever seen written down. Next, he omits my middle initial, as he does with virtually every other author with an initial in his or her byline. Also he gets the titles of two of my early stories wrong. Then he lists as a non-series story one of my earliest EQMM contributions, in fact the first Fred Dannay bought from me, which is not a story at all but a poem (if you want to call it that) in the manner of that great poet (if you want to call him that) Ogden Nash.

   Among the other stand-alone stories he credits me with is one (“Black Spider” from the August 1979 EQMM) which features Loren Mensing, also the protagonist of four of my novels and a pile of other EQMM tales. All these flubs in exactly 14 lines of print!

   But it’s not as if I’m treated worse than other EQMM contributors. When it comes to having my name misspelled, I stand beside “Jacque” Futrelle (19), “Irving” Cobb (21), “Cornel” Woolrich (22, 90), John “Colliers” (23), Philip “Macdonald” (76), Damon “Runyan” (113), “George” Simenon (128, 189, 216), Ross “MacDonald” (167), and—almost forgot!—that old standby Edgar “Allen” Poe (152).

   When it comes to missing middle initials I’m also in excellent company, along with Jon Breen (30, 115, 180), Pearl Buck (101), Charles Child (151), Mignon Eberhart (21), Robert Fish (103, 121, 181) and Edward Hoch (36, 104, 159), just to mention those whose last names begin with the letters A through H. Middle-initialed luminaries like John D. MacDonald and Robert B. Parker would no doubt have endured the same fate had Blackwell mentioned them.

   Several authors with three-name bylines, including Dorothy Davis (102, 119) and Earl Biggers (54, 191), get their middle names chopped off. And a number of contributors besides yours truly get story titles messed up, as witness James Yaffe’s “Mr. Kirashubi’s Ashes” (139), Thomas Flanagan’s “The Cold Winds of Adeste” (124, 209), and Conan Doyle’s “The Adventure of the Blue Carbunkle” (45) which will lift every Sherlockian’s eyebrows to the heavens.

   More than one protagonist of a stand-alone story, like Kachoudas (or, as Blackwell calls him, Kouchadas) in Simenon’s prize-winning “Blessed Are the Meek,” is listed as a series character. Even book titles mentioned in passing are mangled; notice, for example, Blackwell’s version of the Bill Pronzini-Marcia Muller nonfiction anthology 101 MIDNIGHTS, which dumps a whopping 900 witching hours down the memory hole.

   A number of significant dates are also off, for example the death of Ed Hoch, which occurred in 2008 not 2018. (If only Ed had enjoyed the extra ten years of life with which Blackwell gifts him!)

   But now comes the weird part. Those 14 scrambled lines about me are followed by three paragraphs of text which demonstrate that Blackwell is both knowledgeable and insightful about the stories I wrote for EQMM back in the Seventies and early Eighties when Fred Dannay was still alive and editing. This strange dichotomy, that the material in coherent sentences is of a much higher order than what is found in the lists, persists throughout Blackwell’s 218 pages.

   It’s almost as if he had completed the part of the book that consists of sentences and then turned the list-making function over to an ignoramus. The sentences contain very few factual flubs (the main one I caught being that Erle Stanley Gardner’s scam-artist character Lester Leith is identified on page 71 as a criminal lawyer) and plenty of keen observations. All the gaffes I’ve highlighted don’t seriously detract from what Blackwell has accomplished here. If you can turn a blind eye to everything but the good parts, you can learn much from this book.

   Now let’s move away from serious stuff and spend a few minutes with the great wackadoodle of detective-crime fiction.


   In the late 1950s the Chicago branch of Mystery Writers of America was a small and sleepy organization, among whose members was our revered filbert Harry Stephen Keeler (1890-1967). Even though no American publisher had bought a book from him since 1948 and his English publisher had dropped him five years later, Keeler kept up his membership—mainly because it gave him access to just about the only social life he had—and kept hoping his luck would change.

   His closest friend among the members was W.T. Brannon (1906-1981), an eyepoppingly prolific author of true-crime pieces for magazines. The members he seemed to envy most deeply were Richard Himmel (1920-2000) and Milton K. Ozaki (1913-1989), who had managed to hitch rides on that gravy train of 1950s popular fiction, the original paperback novel.

   Keeler was no more equipped to write for that market than is a toad to perform a Louis Vierne organ symphony, but every so often he’d make a half-hearted stab in that direction. THE AFFAIR OF THE BOTTLED DEUCE (Ramble House, 2009).seems to have started out as one of those stabs.

   This 65,000-word novel, completed on August 15, 1958, was immediately followed by THE STRAW HAT MURDERS, which I discussed in this column a few months ago, and THE CASE OF THE TRANSPARENT NUDE, which I may take up later this year. What makes all three rarae aves in the Keeler Kanon is that they might pass in a pea-soup fog for the kinds of softcover originals about tough cops tackling crime in the big city’s mean streets that were being published regularly by Gold Medal, Ace, Avon, Dell, Pyramid and countless other houses of the time.

   Pull down Fender Tucker’s A TO IZZARD: A HARRY STEPHEN KEELER COMPANION (Ramble House, 2002), turn to the collection of opening paragraphs from Harry’s novels in the bibliography at the end of this matchless tome, and compare the first lines of BOTTLED DEUCE with those of every other novel he wrote during the year or so before and after. See the difference?

   Police Captain Michael Simko, day-chief of Chicago Avenue Police Station, raised the telephone on his battered desk as it rang raucously.
   “Chicago Avenue Police Station,” he said wearily.

   One might almost believe Harry thought that if he aped the pb-original manner for a few pages, some editor would send him a contract and advance without bothering to read further! It didn’t work, of course. BOTTLED DEUCE was published nowhere—not in the U.S., not in England, not even in Spain where a number of his Fifties novels had been appearing as originals—until the Ramble House edition which came out early in 2005.

   Among the paperback thriller specialists of the Eisenhower years were some first-rate talents: David Goodis, Jim Thompson, Day Keene, Harry Whittington, John D. MacDonald, Jonathan Craig and Ed McBain, just to name seven. If what you want is not what these guys offered but the unreconstructed nut that was our Harry, fear not. BOTTLED DEUCE begins as he introduces us to his versions of pb-original Homicide cops: Louis TenEyck Ousley, skinny and wart-faced and called Lousy Lou by all and sundry—a nice role for Dan Duryea if by some miracle the movie rights in this then unpublished and by sane standards unpublishable book had been sold back in the Fifties!—and Homer “Butterball” Tomaroy, who resembles a human dumpling and would have been a perfect part for Lou Costello.

   Then Harry quickly forgets what he started out to accomplish and the train of plot switches onto the tracks we know and love. Lythgoe Crockett, a naive and paranoid young man living in a dump in Chicago’s Little Italy while trying to write the Great American Novel—his costume while in the throes of composition being bathing trunks and grass slippers!—apparently shot himself in the head in his apartment, all of whose doors and windows are locked from the inside, shortly after receiving a package containing a deuce of diamonds in a bottle. What could have motived and motivated such an act?

   Then when Lousy Lou discovers that the gun dangling from Crockett’s nerveless hand is made of wax, the question morphs into: Why would anyone commit murder in such a cockamamie way, and how could both murderer and weapon have vanished from Crockett’s sealed apartment? In time the answers seem to emerge, and Rilla Kenshaw, girl magician, finds herself in jail and indicted for the crime by sadistic State’s Attorney Herman Kober, her only hope being the lone-wolf investigation of Lousy Lou, with sympathetic nods from Assistant State’s Attorney Chalfont Nortell.

   Eventually Harry allows himself to vent some pet peeves, notably the sex-obsessed nature of current best-sellers like PHAETON PLACE and—talk about biting the hand he hoped would feed him!—of the novels published as 25-cent paperback originals. The case climaxes with a reconstruction of events in Crockett’s apartment, presided over by Lousy Lou but dominated by Sheridan Overturf, a bottom-rung magazine publisher whose like Harry had dealt with and worked for in his salad days as an editor.

   If you’re familiar with the milestones of detective fiction, you won’t long wonder why in the late chapters Harry introduces—in his own inimitable way, by having other characters talk about him!—one Jamrock James, a.k.a. Old Sherlock Holmes the II’d. Any Sherlockian who gives the matter some thorght should be able to anticipate the ultimate gimmick in this book, although the trappings are a million times zanier than Conan Doyle’s.

   BOTTLED DEUCE isn’t in the same league with the Keeler Klassics of the Eisenhower era like THE STREET OF A THOUSAND EYES and THE RIDDLE OF THE WOODEN PARRAKEET, but it’s wackily satisfying in its own terms and all true Harryphiles huzzahed loudly when it finally became available. So might you if you care—or should I say dare?—to check it out.


Editor’s Note:   Thanks to graphic designer-artist Gavin L. O’Keefe for providing me with both front and back cover images for the Keeler book, done most stylistically in the 1940s Dell mapback mode.

KAREN A. ROMANKO – Women of Science Fiction and Fantasy Television: An Encyclopedia of 400 Characters and 200 Shows, 1950-2016. McFarland, softcover, October 2019.

   Karen A. Romanko’s previous book, Television’s Female Spies and Crimefighters (McFarland, 2016) was noted here soon after it was published. As was the case for that book, the title should tell everyone at once what this one’s about, and I imagine the subject matter is of at least some interest to you all.

   As before, both the characters and the shows they were on are listed alphabetically, but interspersed one with the other. For example, the first profile entry is for Devon Adair, who appeared on the TV series Earth-2, followed by Bo Adams (of Believe), then by The Addams Family, with a lengthy overview of the series itself, which ran for two seasons on ABC, 1964-1966.

   The final two entries are for Young Blades, a series which ran for 13 episodes in 2005, and for Zaan, the blue-skinned alien priestess on Farscape.

   Following the main portion of the book is a listing of all the series which did not make the cut, but for which I for one could often make strong cases for inclusion. On the other hand, I did not write the book! An example of just one, however, is The Dead Zone, which lasted for five seasons, but since I do not recall any women in leading roles, I will concede the point.

   One character and series that is included, but which I question is Cinnamon Carter of Mission: Impossible fame. Many of team’s exploits were far-fetched, but that does not mean they were fantasy, either.

   Of special note is the historical overview at the front of book, putting into context many of the more important female heroes included in the book, beginning with Tonga and Carol Carlisle (of Space Patrol) and concluding with Peggy Carter, the starring character of her very own series, Agent Carter.

   And since the cutoff for inclusion this time around was 2016, perhaps it is not too early to ask for a revised and expanded edition in a few years or so. I’d buy it!

by Dan Stumpf

   Just finished re-reading Mike Nevins’ Woolrich bio: First You Dream, Then You Die, an excellent work and one I recommend highly.

   It was Nevins who reminded me, almost 50 years ago, how fine a writer Woolrich was. I had read and been very impressed by Rendezvous in Black, back in the 60s, but Nevin’s well-edited collection of Woolrich short stories, Nightwebs, got me seriously into collecting him, and turned me on to a lot of very fine tales.

   There’s one point, though, where I disagree with Nevins seriously, and I’m afraid it’s a point that he insists on over and over:

   The Police in Woolrich books are always out there. Everywhere. Vaguely menacing, impossibly vigilant, and unconscionably brutal. They do things in Woolrich stories that would make LAPD look like Quakers. Naturally, Attorney Nevins is appalled by all these shenanigans, and he says so. But he also implies that Woolrich himself condemns such tactics, and that he means for his readers to be horrified by them as well.

   But unfortunately for Woolrich’s reputation with those of a progressive nature, I have never seen any sign in any of his books that he regarded the Cops as anything Other than a Fact of Life, and their fantastically hard-nosed tactics as other than necessary. This, by the way, is not just a problem for Nevins; It’s a question that invariably confronts any fan of Woolrich — How can such a sensitive, romantic stylist condone such brutality and facism?

   The answer, I think, is in Woolrich himself. Woolrich was Homosexual, but he could hardly be called Gay; By all accounts he despised himself for his attraction to men, and there are several passages in his books where he seems to positively lavish self-hatred on characters who are in any way less than manly.

   It’s worth remembering, then, that homosexual conduct was against the law in Woolrich’s day, and that the Police were notoriously rough on Gays. There was a phrase still current in my childhood, “Smear the Queer,” whose frightening implications were not apparent to me until much later, but it pretty much describes the treatment a Gay could expect in those days at the hands of the Law.

   Think, then, of that tormented mind when Woolrich knew that at any time, he might be caught by the slimiest of dodges and subjected to legal torture — and probably thought he deserved it — writing of crime and necessarily of Police.

   For an apt contrast, look at the obsessive detective Ed Cornell in Steve Fisher’s I Wake Up Screaming. Visually based on Woolrich himself, the bent cop does all the things a Woolrich cop might do, and comes off as purely evil. But in the view of Woolrich himself, nothing the Police did was as corrosive to Society as evil the Evil they were trying (literally) to stamp out, and hence the most outrageous conduct on the part of Cops throughout his canon gets casually shrugged off, if not defended.

   This aside, First You Dream, Then You Die, is a model of what a Literary Biography should be: Informative, Analytical and compulsively readable. Go out and buy a copy. And tell ’em Stumpf sent ya.

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