Over the Top (January 1930) Street & Smith pulp fiction magazine

OVER THE TOP (Jan 1930)

Over the Top (January 1930) cover was created by Harry Thomas Fisk (H. T. Fisk). Someone took the time to apply packing tape the entire length of the spine. Sadly, the top of the cover lacks a chunk, but, the artwork below is largely unaffected. This was acquired along with two more sequential issues: February and March. Those will be read and blogged in the future.

The inside rear cover lays the bold claim that their policy insists all stories be written by men that served in the war, what they dub the “Big Scrap of ’17-’18”. Naturally, I was curious to know whether this was Fact or Fiction. After each plot summary, where known, I researched each author and provided information, which may be from a Wikipedia entry, FindaGrave.com, or various other sites.

Owen Atkinson’s THE PICTURE GUN details two foolhardy privates assigned to lug Sergeant Kiess’s baggage across No Man’s Land so that he can make motion pictures to bring back to the United States. The films are to capture live combat situations and boost American morale as American units beat the Germans. Kiess is fanatical about his Hollywood abilities but oblivious to the realities of actual warfare and death. The bodies don’t rise at the end of this “shoot.” The story has plenty of lighthearted humor etched in with scenes of carnage on both sides of the conflict.

Owen actual name is Marion Owen Atkinson and he was born on 22 June 1898 in Doniphan, Missouri. A rose to the rank of Commander in the United States Naval Reserve, served in The Great War (WW1) and in WW2. He died 29 October 1962, and was buried at the Golden Gate National Cemetery in San Bruno, California.

CASEY CONVALESCES is a humorous short by Edward Arthur Dolph, centering around two Irishmen that don’t seem capable of working within their unit. In fact, they are constantly drunk and getting into absurd situations. Sergeants Casey and Murphy return in another tale in which they are confined to a military hospital, to mend wounds and await future orders to return to their assigned units. Only problem is, they don’t like being locked up. The pair eventually commandeer the night nurse, steal her outfit, and then knock out an M.P., take his clothes, and hop an outbound train headed deep into France. They’re eventually caught singing drunk and paraded through the bombed French town before the men. In typical fashion, they manage to escape with even more idiocy.

Edward Arthur Dolph was born 19 June 1896 in Pinconning, Michigan. From 10 July 1916 to 1 November 1918 he was a cadet at the Military Academy (ergo, he did not serve during The Great War). From the academy he was promoted to the army and served for an unknown period of time (though I do have records up through 1919 overseas). He died 1 March 1982 in Newburgh, New York. He was married to Laura Belle Knapp and they had one child. Edward compiled a book on soldier songs from as far back as the Revolutionary War.

After having read a semi-serious lighthearted novelette and following that up with a pure tongue-in-cheek Casey short, I was desperately hoping that Over the Top magazine wouldn’t push my patience over the top! Damn it, I want a bloody effing war story! And Peter Henderson delivers with “I AIN’T A CAT!” Private Parker drags fellow Private “Smitty” Smith along to solve the mystery of what became of various missing American soldiers. The outfit was strung out around the French town of Buerre and instructed never to enter the ruins. (Incidentally, there is no such town, but the author may likely be referring to the French word beurre, which means butter in English). No Germans are known to be positioned there. And yet, Parker, assigned to a night watch crew, was slapped with dereliction of duty, sleeping on the job! His unit vanishes overnight, leaving only Parker the sole remaining member accounted for. Only, he insists he wasn’t asleep. He plans to enter the town at night against regulations with Smitty as company to watch his six. Parker’s on the prowl for a Frenchman with a slight in his neck. Smitty is curious as to how Parker knows that there is a Frenchman in this empty town with a slit neck, and keeps insisting that curiosity killed the cat. The story rolls along with Smitty giving us some Edgar Allan Poe treatment: fear of the dark, shadows, odd sounds, etc, And then a shrieking bandit hauls itself from the dark recesses, dragging its nails into Smitty and nearly bearing him to the ground. He throws the bandit off him, draws his sidearm and plugs two rounds into…a cat. (By which point I’m worried that I’ve hit a third humorous story). Well, those two shots do the trick. It’s not long before the shadows cough up very solid shadows, and one clamps a hand over Smitty’s mouth from behind! He kicks Parker hard, forward, to get him in the clear while biting his assailant and then killing him. Parker is oblivious and blind as to what happened, but Smitty and Parker make haste as German’s pop up out of nowhere and the real meat of the story takes place, with loads of killing. The body count climbs quickly as the pair dance their way through swarms of Germans, bullets, grenades, and all the while, Parker wants that Frenchman! I won’t ruin the conclusion, but it’s a damn fine read by an author that supplied only one pulp fiction story. I’m guessing the writer’s name is a house name. If anyone knows otherwise, I sure as hell would love to know.

Peter Henderson is a complete mystery to me. No other fiction story appears under this name in the pulps. The name is too commonplace to track.

Bill Morgan introduces me for the first time to his “Wound Stripe Quartet”. The quartet appear in several other issues, but here’s a recap: four war veterans form a singing quartet with the aim of traveling and entertaining active soldiers, etc. Well, they naturally have their own adventures along the way. In THE DAILY DRUNK, the quartet are in Paris and not receiving the usual accolades that they are used to. While lamenting their ill-reception, they spot the perpetually drunk Lieutenant Cannon, who obviously has the reputation of being perpetually soused. Three of the quartet believe he is absolutely wasted and an embarrassment to the United States, while one is convinced it is entirely an act. When they determine to escort Cannon home, the lieutenant abruptly becomes startling sober and essentially tells them to bugger off, that they are interfering with his affairs. Much later, the drunk lieutenant accosts them and asserts that he requires their assistance. He returns to sobriety and secretly enlists them in his undercover assignment. Cannon is hunting a pair of Frenchman known to be deserters and worse…they have stolen military parts, etc. The conclusion involves a lively bar room brawl that made for a grin-splitting night.

Bill Morgan wrote from 1928-1930 exclusively for Over The Top magazine. Another Bill Morgan would surface from 1944-1948 writing detective stories. Somehow, I doubt the two are one-and-the-same. The name could easily be William Morgan, but in any case, too damn common a name and could itself readily be an alias. Or perhaps even a staff editor.

BUDDIES IN ARMS is my first introduction to pulp legend Robert H. Leitfred. Shocking, I know, but true! I have never read a story by Leitfred prior. By this time, Leitfred had been writing (and selling) pulp fiction steadily for 7 years. Here we are introduced to Corporal Eli Horntrop, a lanky yet muscular young man with straw-colored hair. As a companion, he had previously enlisted Private Pluvius Johnson, formerly attached to the labor battalion at St. Nazaire. I say “formerly” because Pluvius is officially A.W.O.L.; Eli had convinced him that he would never see “action” unloading boats for soldiers moving forward. Pluvius is noted to be a Negro with the stereotypical Southern broken English, and is convinced he’s not actually A.W.O.L., but unofficially attached to Eli’s Rainbow Division. If Pluvius wants awards and medals, Eli had him convinced he had to abandon St. Nazaire and come with him. And come Pluvius did. Interestingly enough, there isn’t overt racism present. Nobody drops the “N” bomb, though yes Pluvius was described once as a Negro and later noted to colored. But all in good fun, Pluvius freely calls Eli “white boy.” This is a rather long explanation, I realize, but I want to establish that you are not reading a racist work of fiction here, though Eli is clearly in charge of Pluvius. At the start of this story, Eli and Pluvius are in the town of Sergy, near the River Oureq. The German’s and American’s have been bombing each other in and out of town. Neither at the moment have firm control of the area. Last time in, some of the men had found food and divvying it up among themselves, either ate or quickly buried their newfound rations. Well, Eli and Pluvius have returned to the buried meal. Eli instructs Pluvius to dig into the cellar. Breaking through to the cellar door, Eli drops in and discovers his black bread and baloney missing! In the loose dirt he spots footprints, and realizes that one of the other members that found the food stole his share. That unworthy soul is Sergeant Henderson, and he’s across the street in a barricaded building with a handful of troops preparing to hold off a German advance. Eli and Pluvius find themselves awkwardly in the open and nobody will open the doors. They are forced to drive through the window just as the German’s riddle their position. All of his is background to the fact that they meet a young American that has never seen action. His name is Lawrence “Pinky” Sellers, and he’s terrified. Pinky is impressed by Eli’s cool demeanor under fire and latched to his side as everyone abandons the tank-shelled building and escape the town. The Germans rapidly and efficiently take the town and situate massive guns at strategic positions to hold Sergy permanently. Eli is impressed to see dozens, perhaps hundreds, of troops escape Sergy. He wasn’t aware that so many were present. A lieutenant orders the men to surge forward and the Germans butcher them by the droves. Eventually they retreat, much to Eli’s ire, as they were practically at the town’s edge. Retreat, regroup, and try again. They do, only to get mowed down again, but this time penetrate the town. The trio are this time accompanied by Sergeant Henderson, who wastes a grenade toss. It lands mere feet from their location and the smart-thinking Eli drops his steel helmet onto the ticking time-bomb and hits the dirt. He then takes Henderson’s last grenade himself after that latter nearly killed his own men, and hurls it at the tank. He succeeds is killing the gunner atop the tank as Eli examines the grisly remains. A major eventually spots Eli and likes the way he operates under pressure. Assigns him to retreat from Sergy and back along the river road find the missing troop and supply transport, and redirect all assistance to Sergy. He takes Pluvius and Pinky along for the hike. Along the way they are attacked by Germans and Pinky catches shrapnel in his side. He’s delirious and bleeding to death. Spotting an approaching M.P. motorcycle and sidecar, he arrests their attention and informs them he is commandeering their wheels. They are convinced he and Pluvius are A.W.O.L. and both M.P.s set forth to arrest the pair. Thus ensues a fist-fight fit for Fight Stories magazine. Eli eventually knocks down his assailant and deposits Pinky in the sidecar, climbs aboard, and the M.P. grabs for him. Pluvius is having trouble with his own man, but takes the time to plant a solid fist into Eli’s man, enabling him to escape. Eli speeds away and glances back once, to see Pluvius taking on both M.P.’s. Eli arrives in the distant town of Epieds, and convinces the overburdened doctor to tend to Pinky, thereby saving his life. Later, the M.P.s catch Eli, cuff him, and bring him before a captain and a colonel, along with the likewise arrested Pluvius. Their case is presented, and Eli defends his case. The colonel upon hearing of Pinky dismisses all present, much to the chagrin of the M.P.s. When asked Pinky’s name, Eli is gobsmacked to discover he saved the colonel’s son. He knew that Pinky had secretly enlisted to prove himself to his “old man” but had no clue where he was assigned. He thanks Eli and asks if there is anything he can do for the Eli, who responds he just wants to eat. He and Pluvius enjoy from the upper rank’s own cook steak and potatoes, while a hungry Sergeant Henderson watches from afar, begging for a bite. Oh sweet irony!

Robert Henry Leitfred was born 5 August 1891 in Syracuse, New York. Sometime in 1918 he enlisted with the motorcycle corps. Robert died 6 August 1968 in Lagune Beach, California. This information and a lot more is readily available at the Pulp Flakes blog site.  But, did he see action? Additional research yields that Robert registered for the draft on 5 June 1918.

Lloyd Leonard Howard presents the stereotypical revenge tale. In AN ARGUMENT FOR TWO, fighter-pilot Joe Speers writes a letter to an unknown German pilot, demanding to be met solo in the air. Speers buddy was shot from the sky, in the back, while himself pursuing another German plane. Speers thought the tactic was pure cowardice. He has a friend place it in a tube with white trailers, dropped over a German field. It’s recovered and read. Next day, a German plane drops a return note, calling his bluff. Speers must bribe the flight mechanic to ready his plane and get him airborne before the major catches him. And yes, Speers gets his man, and the tale concludes on an entirely implausible note.

Lloyd wrote exclusively for Over The Top from 1928 to 1930 and spun a half-dozen more stories for 1930, 1933, 1934, before entirely vanishing. The draft index shows eight men by the name of Lloyd Howard. Irksome…

HELL’S DOORSTEP by Andrew Hale was more entertaining. “Snifter” Hogan, a daydreaming doughboy in the trenches dreams of earning a genuine medal to impress a girl back home in New York. Only, she is fickle and he is certain she’ll stray to another neighborhood man that has earned a medal from the French. He’s convinced the French medal was “purchased” and not actually “earned.” That aside, his two trench-mates wake him from a dream, reverting to reality. They are to storm the German’s. Everything goes wrong. One of his mates catches one and left behind to live or die. He and the other guy drop in a crater and watch as the Lieutenant foolishly plods onward, without backup! He catches a bullet and is knocked down. Is he alive? “Snifter” Hogan doesn’t know, but his body has already made up its mind. Somehow he avoids being shot full of holes, despite the buzzing hot lead all about him. Gets to the Lt., finds him alive, and carries him back only to land into another crater and come face-to-face with the New Yorker with the French medal. That latter notes Hogan caught a bullet through his calf and is lame, and decides to steal the Lt. from him and carry him himself and earn the medal. The pair get into a serious fight fight, with Hogan the shorter and slighter of the pair brutally battered. The villain snatches up the Lt., and hoofs it back, only to be shot to ribbons in the back. Hogan bravely limps over and snatches up the unconscious Lt., and eventually makes it back with his man. That odds of Hogan surviving hundreds of fired bullets and bombs is absurd, but plenty of doughboys survived the war doing just that.

Andrew Hale only supplied a few tales to this magazine and one to S&S’s Complete Stories, all in 1930. Was he a real person or a staff writer? Again, a case of a very common name, and five gentleman by this name turn up on the draft index.

A MATTER OF DISCIPLINE is by Cole Richards. Private Garrity and hundreds to thousands of men are in Argonne, trying to push forward and defeat the Germans. It’s raining, muddy, craters everywhere, bombs falling, bullets flying, and Garrity is slowly losing his shit…mentally. While hunkered against a tree, various men are killed next to him, each in a different grisly manner. One may think he is yellow, but he finally snaps and begins running, aimlessly, and in the darkness flails into a curtain, falls down steps and finds himself before Major Forstal. That latter determines that Garrity is a coward. Garrity takes the accusation personally and physically assaults his superior officer. The candle goes out and in the ensuing darkness they street brawl. Garrity eventually wins and realizes he murdered the Major. Mortified, he returns to his tree, or a tree, at the least. Next morning, another officer spots the disturbed Garrity, who confesses he killed the Major. They can’t afford at the moment to lose a man so he is sent forward to atone for his crime. Garrity readily agrees. Better to lose his life honorably as a stop-gap than hang from the gallows. Try as he might, Garrity simply can’t die. It’s not a matter of waiting for a German to run him through with a bayonet. He fights with every ounce of his being to defeat and break through every German line. He eventually survives where officers one by one are killed and finds himself at the very front placed in command of a unit. He whips them into shape, even beating up one man that lays claim to having enlisted six months before Garrity. Assuming full authority, he refuses to bend, refuses to yield to the advancing Germans…even when the dead Major Forstal shockingly makes an appearance and orders Garrity to stand down and withdrawal the men. Garrity laughs and leads his men forward. He refuses to gain ground only to lose it retreating, thereby losing more men. If you are going to lose men, lose them going forward! The Major goes forward with the unit and is impressed by Garrity’s cool and authoritative manner in the face of insane odds. They soon drop into a German-filled trench and an awesome fight ensues. The Major is physically outclassed and about to die when his assailant is blown away by Garrity, who himself is assaulted next by a muscular German. The fight and war scenes involving guns and bombs and grenades are splendidly detailed, generally hiding nothing of the grim realities of death and destruction. In the end, Garrity’s unit wins, and Garrity stumbles over to Major Forstal, apologizes for his assaulting his superior officer. The Major explains coughingly that as a matter of discipline, Garrity must be arrested and face proper charges. Garrity laughs. Nobody will be arresting him. He took a fatal shot at the beginning of the farce and has been a walking dead man ever since. The man drops in a dead faint. Forstal has two courses: let the man die, arrest him and he’ll die, or…. No, he constructs a third option, unorthodox it may seem, but one that obliterates the “crime.” Garrity can’t possibly have committed the crime if he is still at the very tree at the start of the conflict, where he received the fatal wound. He’d still be there, dying, and never been able to assault the Major, never take out various German gun nests, led a successful unit, etc. Tossing the dead weight upon his shoulders, the Major carries his burden several miles back, back, back, back to the tree, or at the least, a probable tree, and deposits his burden. He then hollers for a medical unit and chastises them for having left behind a wounded man. The medical man is flabbergasted, but one does not argue with a Major. After all, “discipline has its advantages.”

I am not sure who Cole Richards is, but if he wrote consistently this well, someone needs to unearth his ass and shake his skeletal phalanges. The above tale may well be the best damn story in this magazine. It’s psychologically demented and full of blood-and-thunder meat. I’m impressed that the editors of Street & Smith permitted so much graphic detail. While much is left to the imagination, the author does his damnedest to paint very clear, gruesome pictures. As Cole Richards, this person wrote from 1927 steadily throughout the 1930s, but only a single sale each in 1939, 1940, 1941, and 1943. I couldn’t locate a single Cole Richards in the draft index, however, I did locate one George Cole Richards born 23 February 1893 in Mahaffey, Pennsylvania, and working the rubber industry in Akron, Ohio.

The final tale is THE LAST CREST by Captain George F. Eliot. Machine-gun sergeant Owen Hurley of the 101st Australian Battalion decides to disobey the orders of the major and proceed as originally planned, and secure the third crest and hold the area against the advancing Turks. His unit is all but obliterated upon holding the area assigned. Setting up their machine gun, they mow down the Turks from behind, annihilating them. Realizing they are caught from behind, they turn and begin assaulting Hurley’s crew, eliminating nearly every last man before reinforcements assume control of the second crest and a wave of Australians win the day. The major approaches and congratulates Hurley on his successful initiative, and Hurley faints from blood loss. A simple tale.

George Fielding Eliot has a Wiki entry, for anyone that is interested. It’s well-worth the read, because Eliot was indeed a soldier during The Great War. He was born an American citizen whose family moved to Australia. He grew up there and enlisted in the Australian military. After the war, moved to Canada and became a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Later, moved back to the United States, working in military intelligence, from 1922-1933, rising to the rank of Major. His entire war-life and experiences served him greatly in authoring numerous action stories, spanning various countries and literary genres.

To wrap up the project, I’m dismayed to not be able to ascertain the identities to many of this magazine’s contributors, on the base claim that all served in the war of 1917-1918. One I proved clearly never served during the war, though he was a cadet and eventually went overseas. At the least, he was certainly exposed to the postwar conditions in Europe. The others? Maybe one day someone will find this blog and supply additional information on the unknown / unconfirmed gentlemen….

Over the Top (January 1930) Street & Smith pulp fiction magazine

She Was No Lady by Al Bocca

Unlike the previously blogged Al Bocca gangster novel, this story isn’t a gangster novel. Oh, don’t get me wrong…there are gangsters. The plot here revolves around protagonist Al Bocca (yeah, the fictional name of the author) who is a private investigator. More on the plot in a moment.

She Was No Lady

She Was No Lady was published by Scion Ltd. circa July 1950 per Whitaker’s Index under the Al Bocca alias; as previously discussed, this is one of a handful of pseudonyms belonging to Bevis Winter. The digest-sized paperback features cover art signed “Ferrari”. This was one of many aliases used by Philip Mendoza. One glimpse at the cover art (a canary blonde dame with large jugs, bra and scanties disclosed, and long shapely legs, wielding a small handgun) and you know that the Irish censor board were all over it. A quick look at their register proves we are correct. I imagine it was banned by other countries as well.

My copy has a faded “Brown’s Book Exchange” rubber stamped under the author’s name, and I’m grateful to the person that smartly placed it where the artwork itself would remain unmarred. It’s a well-read copy, with a reading crease, and several dog-ear creases to the lower right cover. Otherwise, clean and sound.

The novel opens on page 5 and concludes on page 127. Our protagonist (Al Bocca) is walking the street with his luggage, having just departed the Okeville Station (um, there’s no such place). He eventually enters a bar. Departing, he’s met by a gun-totin’ cretin, and soon joined by another creep. They force him into a taxi and eventually arrive in a disreputable part of California. (I’m not sure by this point what city we are in, but the author claims we are going to the corner of Wellington and Medusa; there’s no such intersection). They push him into a room, and an ape going by the name of Big Nick begins to systematically slap him around. Seems Bocca is suffering maltreatment due to a case of mistaken identity. They want some bloke named Murray. He convinces them to look at his identification. Wrong name, wrong guy, and worse yet, Bocca is a P.I.

Convinced that Bocca isn’t Murray, they apologize and help the messed-over Bocca to his feet. Big Nick instructs the hoods to drive Bocca to his lodgings. They do so, with reluctance. One decides to get smart and follows Bocca to his apartment door. Big mistake. Bocca has recovered his wits and decides to exact vengeance for the beating he suffered. After doing so, Bocca extracts the fellow’s gun, dumps out the cartridges, hands it back, and tosses him out.

Next day, Bocca is hired over the phone by a nameless entity. They meet at his apartment, and Bocca is nonplussed to find himself looking at a man that seems to resemble himself. This clearly is Murray, the guy the hoods were hunting. He’s got a job for Bocca: find a girl. Her name is Mickie. Seems Murray is worried about the girl who has gone missing. And he’s paying Bocca a cool grand in cash to find her.

We later learn from other sources that it’s believed she is holding jewels from a heist pulled off by a bunch of gangsters and her brother. So, the gist is there was a jewelry heist. Something went wrong. The jewels are missing. Some turn up at a pawn shop. The girl’s brother is arrested for passing stolen goods. He serves time. The girl is suspected of hiding the goods. Two rival factions are looking for the goods. Murray is later found dead in Bocca’s pad. Why? Did the killer(s) know he was Murray or think they were bumping off Bocca? Meanwhile, the brother escapes prison. Toss in a two-timing doll-face and you’ve got part of the picture. But let me tell you, Bevis Winter never, ever, makes it that easy. He likes to toss in a twist…somewhere.

Now, I won’t ruin the plot from here, but let me tell you, it’s a fun and wild ride, and reminds me just why I love reading Bevis Winter. His detective novels carry a strong pace, enough tough hard-boiled dialogue and sarcasm to make you smile throughout. The most irritating part of his novels: a lack of attention to regional details. If you are from California, his dropping of locales will bewilder you. Most are fake or so far apart that the distance makes no sense. Where is Bocca based? Hard to say, unless I can trace that very first novel that Bocca debuts. Even then, I’m not confident we will learn the truth.

Until then, I’ll look forward to tackling my next Bevis Winter novel.

She Was No Lady by Al Bocca

You Can Run So Far! by Michael Barnes

After an aborted attempt at reading a British gangster novel published by Curtis Warren Ltd., which I adamantly refuse to name (both because it was among the worst example of its short-lived era and I simply do not wish to acknowledge and create an absurd following among collectors of utterly ripe and smelly shit) I found myself choosing between a gangster novel or a tough detective novel. Then I thought, why not run with both options?

SCION You Can Run So Far

Published in 1952 by Scion Ltd., Michael Barnes writes You Can Run So Far! in the semi-traditional faux-American gangster-esque style with some slight plausibility.

Marc Bellini (a name best attached to an alcoholic mixed cocktail) is fleeing from New York police, when he happens upon a drunkard in a bar bound for England. Murdering him comes easy; he dons the dead man’s clothes, boards a boat under the assumed name of Luigi Oliveri, and escapes. However, Luigi, was no more innocent than our protagonist!

Waiting for Luigi is drug-peddler Charlie Sweet. He is nonplussed to find that the boat has arrived, but Luigi has failed to appear! He’s not the only one. The police had learned of the body-switch, but Inspector Jerry Carlton, alias “Commando,” arrives too late. However, he learns from a constable that Charlie Sweet had also been present. Interviewing Sweet within a club, he soon learns that Sweet is clearly a dishonest, underworld citizen, who simply has skated through life without being caught. Handing Sweet his business card, Sweet casually chucks it.

The Commando didn’t like that. Laying his hand upon the man’s arm, he exerts his sinewy strength upon Sweet’s arm and, striking perfectly a pressure point, places Sweet into extreme agony, and orders Sweet to pick up the discarded card, and retain it.

He does.

Departing, Commando tells his underling “Badger” to place a man on Sweet, watch him daily.

Eventually, events transpire that lead Marc to hook up with an old pal in a dive, and his old friend brings him unwittingly directly to Charlie’s lair, who becomes enraged, knowing full well that the police might be watching, and  Marc walks right into his place of business! He decides to get Marc out of the way by eliminating the man that killed Luigi. He sends him on an assignment that is rigged to fail. Either he dies, or, he is caught by the police.

The whole plot comes unhinged when Marc’s friend decides not to go through with that plan and save Marc’s hide. They escape and decide to set up their own organization, bring American real crime and violence to London, where the cops don’t carry guns! Their first stop: create bedlam at Charlie Sweet’s joint.

This accomplished, they continue to wreak havoc until Marc is forced into hiding. He busts into a girl’s flat. She is in love with Sweet, but has been systematically replaced by another, more attractive girl. Desperate to regain his love, she coerces Marc to kill the girl.

This goes awry when the younger girl’s older sister gets to Charlie Sweet first and plugs him. Badger takes the older sibling away. Then Marc makes his appearance. Taking them both hostage at gunpoint, he forces Commando Jerry to get him to the airport and board an international flight for South America, where he intends to disappear. These closing pages make for some great action-packed reading as Commando physically takes charge of the situation, tens of thousands of feet in the air, and dukes it out with the equally well-built Marc Bellini.

Pages 108-110 turn into pure a la “Passenger 57” movie chaos as the door blows open and Jerry forces Marc out of the plane, nearly dragging himself along for the ride. But when passengers grab his ankles, feet, legs, and begin dragging him back into the plane, Marc refuses to let go of Jerry as his own body is battered and buffeted, outside. Eventually, he loses his grip and screams away and down to his eventual splattering death…a modern thriller would have had him sucked into a plane’s turbines.

Not a strong novel throughout, the pace was adequate and the plot hung on just enough to keep me from tossing the book into the trash bin. The concluding action scenes redeemed the novel enough for me to recommend it to anyone that may be interested.

You Can Run So Far! by Michael Barnes

Mystery Magazine (UK: William C. Merrett, 1946)

Heritage Auctions on May 20th will go live with a remarkable collection of rare pulps. I decided to finally release this blog I prepared years ago to coincide with the fact that HA also has a copy listed. Their copy sports worn, rubbed covers, creasing to spine, etc., but might be better than my copy, given that mine has a strange blue mark on the cover. I’m not complaining. It’s a rare item, and condition hardly matters. Or, does it?

A copy is indexed on the FictionMags Index site, but whoever sent FMI their data is all kinds of WRONG! Click on the link above and follow my logic.

Foremost, the information states that only ONE STORY is inside this magazine. That’s 100% wrong. Now, you might say that perhaps the other stories were ripped out of the magazine and the original supplier of that data never noticed. Hooey! The start of the second story begins on the back of the concluding first story. Ergo, if they truly thought only one story was present, they should have noticed that the sole indexed tale was also missing the concluding page of text!

Second mistake? It’s recorded as a pulp. That’s not really accurate. True, the stories originated in the American pulp Dime Mystery Magazine, but this isn’t pulp-format. Would you say pulp stories reprinted as a paperback anthology is a pulp? No.

Third mistake? Aside from stating that the Jacobson story isn’t present, that person also failed to mention the THIRD story on the cover. Yeah, that one, at the bottom of the cover in the red banner strip.

So, let’s clear up a lot of misconceptions and get this one right.

MERRETT Mystery Magazine
Mystery Magazine (ca. 1946) Published by William C. Merrett

Mystery Magazine (circa 1946) was published by William C. Merrett (a WCM Publication bubbled-in lower right cover) and priced at 2/-. It measures 5.5 x 8.5 inches, and is a stapled digest-sized magazine. The cover art originates from the 1938 July issue of Dime Mystery Magazine (as do the first two stories) and, lucky YOU, if you enjoy my post, you can READ those first two stories online by clicking HERE but alas, not the third tale; that appeared in the 1939 July edition (a year later from the prior two).

From cover to rear, the magazine represents 36 pages, although the first un-numbered page, Page 1, begins behind the front cover. The rear cover is numbered 35 and contains the conclusion to the final tale. There isn’t a Table of Contents page.

(1-12)   “Goddess of the Half-World Brood” by Henry Treat Sperry
Dime Mystery Magazine, 1938 July

(13-26)  “The Werewolf of Wall Street” by Edith and Ejler Jacobson
Dime Mystery Magazine, 1938 July

(27-35)  “Horror’s Holiday Special” by Wayne Robbins
Dime Mystery Magazine, 1939 July (as by W. Wayne Robbins per FMI site)

GODDESS OF THE HALF-WORLD BROOD
by Henry Treat Sperry

A delightful tale that immediately delivers on the weird vibe. Husband and wife of undisclosed ages are shipwrecked on an island that ought not to exist. Jim and Marion stumble ashore after their private vessel slams onto a coral reef and sinks, thanks to a hurricane. Drenched and exhausted, Marion is oblivious to the dozens of glowing eyes in the dark reaches of the island-jungle, but Jim takes it all in quite gravely. The pair discover a pathway, clearly constructed by humans, and discover a cottage. Knocking on the door while watching those ever-present eyes, Jim hurls his lone weapon (a piece of wood from their wrecked ship) at the shadowy beasts and finds the cottage isn’t locked. Opening the latch, they slip in and find the recently slain remnants of a “Negrito” (hey, the author’s word, not mine) torn all to hell and partially eaten. Marion screams and Jim pushes her into a chair facing away from the grisly mess. Covering it up, he looks up stunned into the barrel of a “large-calibre pistol” held by a “deeply tanned young man of about my own age.” We soon learn that he also shipwrecked upon the island 8 years earlier with an original crew of 12 men, his sister, and the “Negrito” later acquired at a port. We later learn the sister was 16 at the time of their voyage, so now we have an approximate age of all currently alive. The tanned youth’s name is Richard Wanderleigh; his first name is never repeated. The sister soon arrives and is dressed skimpily; the sister calls him “Dick” when she discovers the carcass in the home, instead of outside, where she has purposefully left it. She’s angered at him for dragging the corpse inside, but reason isn’t disclosed, as she makes like a clam upon seeing they have visitors. The tale unwoven is that one by one each of the dozen men mysteriously dies and in their place a strange beast, or, as she calls them, a “shroud” appears. Jim begins to form a theory, as these jackal-like beings seem to sport human-like traits. Is there some strange, mystical powers acting upon these beings? We don’t know, but we do know that the Wanderleigh excursion involved tracking a specific “thing” and that they found it before their untimely accident. Is this unnamed thing responsible for the men’s deaths and subsequent birthing of the shrouds? Another day passes, Jim is exploring the otherwise tiny island, when he locates the sister (Sicily) sunning herself while surrounded by all of the shrouds (one has its head resting on her bare thigh). They rise, sensing his approach, and make to rend him to pieces but abort the attack at her command. Is she partially in control of these beasts? She details that her brother is not to be trusted, and that he has made wild claims that she is a Siren and responsible for all the men’s deaths, that they all coveted her, etc. Meanwhile, the island appears to be disturbed, and it is clear that it is prone to blow itself to smithereens. All hell breaks loose. Jim splits and returns to the cottage in search of his wife, only to find her missing and her clothes ripped to shreds on the floor. Realizing Wanderleigh has her, he goes nuts, not knowing even where to begin his search. Bewilderingly, while running about, one of the shrouds convinces him to follow it in the opposite direction he had chosen to search. It eventually leads him to Sicily who explains she has never known love, practically throws herself upon Jim, but constrains herself and informs him that his wife, Marion, is captive aboard a sea-faring vessel that Wanderleigh built in secret, but Sicily accidentally discovered, while exploring (with her shrouds, no doubt). Jim runs down to the water alcove, finds the vessel, the island is still blowing itself apart and spewing gasses and lava everywhere, the world is shaking in every direction, but he manages. Locating it, he does battle with Wanderleigh, who shoots him once in the fleshy part of the shoulder (cliché, missing the bones) and splits his skull a glancing blow, before Jim grabs the man’s head-hair, and lands a solid knock-out blow. Boarding the vessel, he unties the naked Marion, and discovers the boat is not only ship-worthy, but, submarine-worthy, being entirely turtle-decked and streamlined. After all, when the island blows, in all likelihood the vessel didn’t stand a chance of escaping; it would be dragged down and down and down until the suction released them, if at all. Before battening himself in with Marion, he entreats Sicily to leave the island with them, but she says no. He finally attempts to carry her, only to find the shrouds nipping his heels and must give up. They all depart and Jim watches in pained anguish as Sicily and her brood decide to stay and die. Back aboard, Jim tethers Marion inside (for safety) and while pushing away, watches far in the distance as Sicily and the brood of shrouds rise up against the volcano rim and one by one jump in. With each “death” a lava geyser belches skyward to envelop each being. Jim goes under, seals the hatch, tethers himself in, and prepares for the volcanic ride of a lifetime. Yes, they survive, and an hour later he pops the hatch as they are on the surface once more. The island is gone, but in those final moments, he was certain that he did not see 12 beasts leap into the fiery liquid flames…”it was twelve men…”

THE WEREWOLF OF WALL STREET
by Edith and Ejler Jacobson

Chet Wallace, a Wall Street multi-millionaire, taps his son, a doughnut truck-driver, for an investigative job. Originally, Chet had no intention of simply giving his son the luxury life. He wanted him to earn his living and place in the world by his own means. However, there are strange events transpiring on Wall Street. And he needs an outsider. Enter one Ronald (Ronnie) Wallace. We learn that he wants Ronnie to look into Harry Gaines, one of his partners, to explain his wild buying and selling sprees. Harry inexplicably walks in and begins drawing cold water from the water-cooler in Chet’s office. One gulp, two gulp, three…and keeps going, insatiably. It is hot outside, and inside, but not in Chet’s room, since he’s the top dog, but it shouldn’t be that hot. Harry and Ronnie say hello to each other (they do know one another) and shake and Ronnie discovers the man’s hand is ice-cold and frail-feeling to the touch. He informs father that the man is clearly sick. Chet says “sick or crazy…or both.” Later in the day, Ronnie phones his girlfriend, Terry, to explain he must call off their date, but before he can, she informs him she is standing him up tonight. From her voice he can tell she doesn’t actually want to, and learns she is going over to the Haines’ home to be with Marcia, Harry’s wife. Something is clearly wrong, and Ronnie informs her that if they are to be a couple, they do things together. She accepts, they go over, hear a painful scream, Ronnie batters down the door, leaving Terry in the hallway while he investigates, and discovers the ravaged remains of Marcia, a bloody mess, and barely alive. And outside on the fire escape landing, leering in from the window, a twisted ugly white face that looks like Harry-gone-mad, with purplish eyes and red teeth. He returns to tend to Marcia, only to find her face and throat is mostly gone. Her blood is pouring out of her and while he staunches the flow, he can’t stop the fact that she is dying. Terry is missing (did she see Marcia and run?) and Ronnie is covered in blood, making him out to be the murderer. Fleeing the scene, he makes his way home (after calling for a doctor and police) and runs into Sandra Howard, a woman his father saved from a motor accident and gave a blood transfusion to. Now she apparently lives with them? There’s a lot of odd holes in this story. Anyway…Ronnie gets cleaned up and fresh clothes on. Harry Gaines appears at their home, and asks Sandra to come with him. They argue the point, but she acquiesces, much to Ronnie’s surprise. What hold does Harry have over Sandra? And how could the cold-blooded murderer so calmly dare walk into the Wallace household without batting an eye at Ronnie? Ronnie jumps into his roadster to pursue Harry and Sandra through New York, but loses them. He eventually determines that they were headed for Wall Street. But, at night? That district is closed at night, empty of virtually all night life. He parks, and comes across what appears to be a hooker. She asks if he is interested; he blows her off, and then wonders what she is doing hooking in an area devoid of life. Doesn’t add up; she should be in a higher populated zone. Following her, Ronnie watches her enter his father’s Wall Street building; he runs up and tries the door and WHOOSH! something flies by and splats on the pavement beside him. It was a female. She was either thrown out the window or jumped. Either way, she’s a pancake now. The doors open and a couple of things like Harry Gaines come out and scoops up the carcass and drag it inside. He hears what he believes is Terry’s voice scream for help, but a cop appears. Ronnie explains that people are inside murdering other people (yeah, that sounds sane). Arrested, he’s taken to the station, and released on bail after his father comes and pays. A day has gone by and he’s freaking out. Terry might be dead. And he hasn’t a clue how to proceed. His father has him work at the office that day, to keep an eye on Harry Gaines and all the others that are acting strangely. He receives news from Chet that Terry is okay. Apparently she is with Sandra, who is tending her in an hysterical state. Sandra used to be a nurse, and is caring for her, and states Terry doesn’t want to see Ronnie. Supposedly, Terry thinks she saw Ronnie murder Haines’ wife, Marcia. So Sandra is caring for her, and has her own daughter, Maxie, assisting. Terry is mentally beside himself. He, kill Marcia? Perhaps she saw all the blood on him, then? Midway through the work day, Ronnie, while thinking up a plan, sitting in his father’s office, is surprised by Harry Gaines walking in. He looks like death and accuses Harry of keeping Terry on ice. Threatening to call the police on Harry, the latter states that he lives with his wife and could easily claim he fled when he saw Ronnie murder her. Laughing, he departs and goes back to work. Ronnie soon discovers that Harry is actually buying while the world is selling. Everything he is buying dirt cheap is seemingly worthless…or, is it? Many of those investments would likely rebound in the future. Ronnie quickly sells everything Harry is buying before the hammer of the day concludes. Mortified and whiter than a sheet, Harry staggers in and proclaims he himself is likely a dead man now due to Ronnie’s efforts. Harry states he’ll die of a thirst water can’t slake, and makes for Ronnie. He protects himself and knocks Harry down, and gashes him, but barely a drop of blood comes out. In fact, he hardly has any blood to bleed! Harry eventually expires there on the office floor, leaving Ronnie with only one clue: to be in the Wall Street district again at night. But, where? Which building? Wait! the hooker! Will she be out there again? She is! He approaches her that evening, and she escorts him to a locked investment firm, and miracles, extracts a key! Leading him inside, they drink and he passes out. Waking up, he finds himself tethered to a chair and facing Sandra!!! She’s the mastermind behind everything and explains that when she received her blood transfusion, she learned it wasn’t enough and Chet kept helping until his own doctor advised against it. So, she turned to others and they developed leukemia. Well, she brainwashed them into continuing to help her and signing over their fortunes, too. Her own daughter, about Ronnie’s age, assisted. In fact, under all that hooker makeup is Maxie. Ronnie is appalled and discovers that they appear to have fed off of…him! Will he eventually develop the same sickness as these leukemia-werewolves? She forces him to call Chet over to marry Sandra, so that she can legally obtain an appearance for her sudden wealth, and in exchange, Terry gets to live. After much threats and a showcase of werewolf-like men hovering over the nearly nude Terry, Ronnie acquiesces and phones dad. Chet arrives, and goes in the room where Terry is held, actually knows what is going on, to some degree, when shockingly, in Terry’s room, someone fires a shot. Chet runs in there, more shots are fired, and out comes his dad supporting Terry on one side, and…Maxie on the other side??? She explains her mother had gone too far, and she didn’t want Ronnie hurt because she secretly was in love with him, too; she pulls out a gun and blows her own head off. Ronnie collapses from blood loss, to wake up another day. Terry is there, caring for him, and explains she remembers nothing after Marcia’s body was discovered. She had been drugged the whole time. Ronnie, fearing for Terry’s life, explains he can’t marry her until he knows his own condition. Chet flies in a famous doctor, and tests him. He’s clean! or, is he? They marry, but every night, Ronnie lies there and wonders when he will grow thirsty and rip into the sleeping form at his side….

HORROR’S HOLIDAY SPECIAL
by Wayne Robbins

Generally, I detest a humorous horror story, but Robbins handles the choice wondrously. The scene is a locomotive bound for destination-unknown, but, our narrating protagonist, Steve, is ultimately bound for Colorado, to be locked up in a mental institution. Aboard the train is his fiancée (Connie), business partner (Vance, who is trying to steal Steve’s girl), and Steve’s doctor, who keeps doping Steve to keep him calm, sleeping, and unable to simply think. Certainly a dangerous combination… While dinner is being served, a porter is delivering a meal under a domed tray to a woman diagonal from their seating arrangements. Lifting the dome, Steve describes the decapitated, bloody head that rolls off the tray and thuds upon the ground, rolling about. Everyone is mortified. Steve can’t control his laughter. All assume that he, the resident nut, somehow roamed the train and sliced off the man’s head. Where is the body? That’s soon located, without hands. Where are the hands? Another corpse is discovered dangling outside a window (yes, the train is still moving) and the head inside the sill, barely attached. Opening the window to retrieve the dead man, they lose the body, which is sucked outside and lost forever, while the head remains in their hands. Steve finds the other person’s missing hands in his effects, stuffs them in his own pockets, and decides he must ditch them. Until then, he returns to his seat, exhausted. The drugs are taking their toll. A woman and an annoying whining boy are asleep, a comforter over them both and trailing upon the floor. He crawls under the comforter to sleep! While there, the everyone aboard goes nuts realizing that Steve is missing. Stampeding past his location, he soon realizes the air is suffocating under there, and, blood is pouring down on him from above. The child is dead, and his head soon falls off. He places the head on the woman’s lap and exits. Seeing the crowd far ahead investigating, he tosses them the hands and locks himself in the ladies’ lavatory. The hands land, screams emit, they break down the door, and strap him into a straight-jacket (did all 1930s trains have one???) While constrained to a berth, all go to sleep, and he finally wakes from his drug-induced slumber. Restrained, he swings his tethered legs over the side and knocks out a guard. Then he slices the legs apart on the metal bed, cutting his legs in the process. Now loose, he ambles around and finds Vance murdering other people on the train, one by one. Worse yet, he has Connie, and has temporarily dyed his hair blonde and is speaking like Steve. Connie is convinced. Clearly Vance is the killer and has been placing all these deaths at Steve’s fingers to ensure he is locked away forever, and then he can take over the business. Steve spots the BREAK-IN-CASE-OF-EMERGENCY glass, does so, and rapidly slices his way through the straight-jacket enough to wrench free one arm, then another… (seriously?) Well, we know how this ends. He takes down Vance, saves Connie (Vance had decided to kill her because she had earlier sworn undying devotion to Steve and would never leave him) and must beat a confession from Vance that he is the actual killer before the survivors decide to do something very final about Steve.

Mystery Magazine (UK: William C. Merrett, 1946)

Water Rustlers by Hoyt Merion

THE ELY PRESS Water Rustlers

Featured is Water Rustlers by Hoyt Merion (sic), a side-stapled 64-page booklet, a western novel, published in England by The Ely Press.

When did The Ely Press operate?
What titles did they publish?
I know of only two fiction titles….

No major English libraries (according to COPAC and WorldCat) hold any books published by The Ely Press.

Nor is there a single record that anyone ever existed by the name of Hoyt Merion. However….

The mystery deepens when one realizes that the author also appeared with two “r”s in their surname by a more prominent publisher, Wells Gardner Darton (WGD) spanning 1947-1951.

The English Catalogue of Books from 1948-1951 lists several titles by Hoyt Merrion via WGD. And therein lies any possible clues…but I do not have direct access to those volumes!

The following titles appeared under the Hoyt Merrion name:

  • El Fuego’s Line (1947)
  • Unlucky Win (1947)
  • Valley of Lost Brands (1947)
  • When Chance Horns In (1947)
  • Rustlers of Yellow Dust Valley (1948)
  • Water Rustlers (1949)
  • “Cat” Tracy Keeps His Word (1950)
  • Ride-Along Rafferty Horns In (1951)
  • Ride-Along Rafferty Stops By (1951)

The novel I read via The Ely Press is Water Rustlers, and that title likewise appears above, in 1949. The artwork is signed, however, it is indecipherable, exquisitely tiny, appearing just to the left of the horse’s snout. The printer is listed as Westminster Printing Works, and they definitely operated from 1946-1947. This seems to indicate that The Ely Press may have issued Hoyt Merion (sic) titles prior to WGD, but this is inconclusive. BTW, the other title by Hoyt Merion (sic) via The Ely Press is Dumb Mahoney’s Music. This title apparently was never reprinted by WGD unless it appeared under a new title. I’ll touch upon that tale at a later date.

The plot involves the stereotypical jobless cowboy riding into a new town. Hitching his pinto, Stella, to the saloon post, he enters Clem Rafferty’s saloon (did you notice the saloon owner’s surname? The author’s last two novels feature that name, too) and bears witness to an attempted murder upon rancher Bud Ginty. Lending his guns to protect the rancher finds jobless Tim Raines hired on as a cowhand to a doomed ranch. Drought is upon the ranch, but their neighbor (Galt) has plenty of water from the underground spring. And, he refuses to share unless Bud’s beautiful daughter, Kitty, marries him. Then he will permit Ginty’s thousands of cows to drink. Or they will die.

While out on a ride, Raines hears distant booms and investigating further afield, sneaks onto the Galt ranch lands only to be knocked out. Captured, Raines is bound and tossed in an attic space. He will be murdered after Galt marries Kitty, who has eventually agreed to marriage to save her father’s ranch.

In typical fashion, our hero manages to escape, investigates the source of the explosions, and discovers a secret cave that leads under the earth, and a series of pipes pumping water out from under the Ginty lands! Returning to the ranch, he’s in time to assist Bud Ginty in stopping Kitty from going through with her marital vows. Gathering all the available men, they raid Galt’s ranch and a wonderful gun-battle ensues.

Raines is knocked out, unhorsed, and wakes up to discover a bullet nearly ended his life, but a metal plate on his hat saved his life. Raines announces his intentions to acquire the late Galt’s ranch, and requires a lover to assist in its operation. Naturally, Kitty obliges.

And I must confess that I enjoyed this novel enough to pursue reading the next one. Perhaps if I luck out twice, I may decide to chase the others.

Water Rustlers by Hoyt Merion

Crooks’ Honeymoon by Paul Swift (Brown Watson, 1949)

BROWN WATSON Crooks Honeymoon
Crooks’ Honeymoon Brown Watson, 1949

Paul Swift’s Crooks’ Honeymoon was published in 1949 by Brown Watson Ltd., with unsigned artwork depicting a seemingly enraged maniac about to strangle a cute blonde bombshell with his necktie. The artist looks familiar, but I can’t pin the person down. The British Library holds a copy, and claims that the cover title reads “Trust No Man.” Those words certainly aren’t on my copy.

The rear cover advertises two books as “now available” in this series. The first is Ladies Beware (by Paul Swift, per Oxford University library and Trinity College Dublin library). This book is not held by the British Library.

One further title is advertised: “Dramatic Detective.” Now THAT sounds like a series, and NOT an actual title. No author is provided, however, Oxford and Trinity hold copies, recording the novel as by Winston Parker (who?) and each provide that the title is Women Kill As Well.

The author’s identity is unknown. It must surely be an alias. At least two further novels exist by Paul Swift, those being Sinners at Sea and Studio Love. Despite the romantic titles, both are crime tales.

All four Swift novels are registered 1949, and each run 126 to 128 pages.

But enough on the bibliographic data. Let’s tackle the novel….

Chester Vynes, a man who dreams of becoming the modern-day (post WW2) Raffles, receives an anonymous phone call that his business associate has been murdered. The reader is introduced to Chester as a spineless thief, imagining the horrors that may soon transpire, when yet another phone call occurs. This one has a man instructing Chester to be outside, in ten minutes, if he wants to live.

This, he does.

Getting into a car with a couple of apparent hoodlums, his anxiety gets the best of him and Chester begins flailing and screaming. They knock him out. When he recovers, it is in a basement. A woman’s voice proclaims “About time…” He opens his eyes to espy the most lovely girl ever imagined. And she is part of this gang? He soon learns that they murdered his partner, because he was holding out on them. Further, they are not the master thieves. They too are part of a larger organization, based out of Paris. Basically, they perform the thievery, and the goods are sent to a fence, broken apart, and shipped abroad, rather than attempting to sell the goods locally in any part of England.

After beating Chester into submission and having him confess that his late partner was not sharing proceeds from their last heist, they arrange for he and the girl to partner up and hit a high-society function. Turns out the lady is formerly a part of society, but has maintained the charade since the death of her cheating spouse. Arranging to have the pair masquerade as husband and wife, they dance together to get used to one another.

Immediately Chester realizes he is in love with her and he feels that she is romantically interested in him. Turns out she is aroused by him.

The pair attend the function, perform the thefts, toss the goods to another member that departs in a vehicle, then create holy hell at the mansion, and everyone awakens to discover that they have been robbed.

A detective soon discovers rope fibers on the couple’s window sill, and realizing they are to be caught, they murder the man, and dump his body in shrubs far down the road. Shocked that they have committed a first-hand murder, they keep the crime secret from the syndicate. However, the body is eventually discovered and plastered across the newspapers.

The Paris syndicate learns of the grisly death, and it doesn’t take a genius to figure that Chester and the girl killed the detective. They are each brought across to Paris, separately, to perform yet another robbery, this time, not working together. Chester performs admirably, but the getaway car is spotted and the scene becomes a hectic mess as his muscled assistant murders another man. Blood sprays everywhere and onto Chester’s shirt.

Escaping with their lives, Chester is treated brutally by the head of the syndicate, who Chester fears is lusting after his girlfriend thief. He’s right. He’s soon beaten and battered to a pulp and, tied up, left to rot while she arrives from England. The leader awaits her arrival, they hook up, and he takes her out to dine.

Chester escapes with the dimwitted assistance of the muscled help, on the basis that the ogre obeys commands. Originally paired and assigned to the heist, the leader had instructed the mindless-one to obey Chester’s every command. Learning that that command was still embedded in his skull, he convinces the ape to untie him and assist in his escape. Uncovering some fresh clothes, he soon dresses in proper gentleman’s attire and hastens to the opulent hotel to confront the leader and expose the fraud to his girlfriend.

Chester becomes violently insane and inadvertently murders the leader. Taking it on the proverbial lam, the girl takes his cues (oddly enough, she was a much stronger central character in the first half of the book, and becomes a limp biscuit the remainder) and Chester returns to a building he resided in long ago, when he first learned in Paris how to steal. Re-assuming his old Parisian identity, he informs the landlady that he is engaged, and that they wish for a room. Chester keeps the girl hidden away the whole time because Paris police are looking for an English couple.

Instructing her to change her hair style and color, he brings her a change of clothes and adopts a clothing style he wore originally years ago. He must also obtain fake passports. While in the process, another cretin reading the newspapers discovers that he must be one of the English murderers and commences to extort funds from him. Chester drugs the man, and pushes him into the river to drown. He obliges.

Returning to the hotel, Chester is frightened to discover the police are doing a room-by-room search of his boarding house. He slips the girl a knock-out drug to put her to sleep, then shoots her in the chest, then twice more to ensure her death. Then he turns the gun around and swallows the next bullet.

Ironically, down below, the police had just finished looking at their passports, in the hands of the landlady, and decided the couple were NOT the ones they were hunting!

Crooks’ Honeymoon by Paul Swift (Brown Watson, 1949)

“One if by Night” by Max Steeber and Richard Bernstein (1953)

PANTHER One If By Night

Having stumbled through the maudlin nightmare that was Steeber and Bernstein’s other published novel by Panther Books (previously blogged) I decided to punish myself further by tackling what I hoped would be a better novel. Was it?

One if by Night was published by Panther Books in 1953 and large, spanning over 220 pages of text. Unfortunately, Panther used very thing cover stock and my copy split in half. There currently is a paperback copy for sale on ABE, and two hardcover copies in jacket.

Blonde, dressed in red, smoking a cigarette, while a man with a cig in his mouth leans against a wall listening to her sell him a story. Oh yeah, that dame is selling, selling his soul and a grand or more of his cash, earned from beating dice. But in order to court death and steal his money, you’ve got to have something on him.

Blackmail…sure. She’s working the extortion racket, her and Joey Bernard, the prick that sicced her on him. But this all goes back a ways, back to Los Angeles, where he is planning to murder Lola, his wife. She’s two-timed Rex, our anti-hero protagonist, with every single dick in-and-out-of-town she could place her hands on. He’s had it. She’s certified DEAD. He just has to find her.

A “friend” he knows to be whoring her meets with him and they drink. Rex browbeats the fellow verbally into confessing her whereabouts. She’s at a lousy, cheap hotel. They go there. He goes in, intention: murder. She’s already dead. Someone beat him to it. Only thing is, she’s clearly been battered, beaten, badly done in. Rex is known for knocking her around, spousal abuse.

He freaks, panics, leaves, visits another dame he throws in with whenever he’s down-and-out, she’s too good for him, and maybe really loves him. Gives him her 4-1-1. He pockets it, doesn’t think, doesn’t even look at it. No idea what she wrote. Doesn’t care. Departs again, and crashes his car over the cliff. He’s thrown clear, but his face is an absolute disaster.

Painstakingly, he drags his warm corpse up to the roadway and a trucker stops, pulls him in, and realizes the bloodied mess might be worth something, to someone. Rex is brought to an unscrupulous medico, and while out, gets rid of the trucker but locates the scrap of paper. Phones the number. Gets the girl. She comes out, pays off the medical cretin, takes Rex away, selling her wheels for quick-cash and heads southeast to New Orleans.

Rex can’t control his gambling compulsion and wins $3,700. The house isn’t happy. They know he’s no good, let’s him have the money, but don’t come back. Why should he? He’s got moola again, ready to move on. Only he doesn’t. He and the girl stick to New Orleans. Bad play. Another louse recognizes Rex for who he is, tries to blackmail him. No luck.

Enter the girl on the cover. Rex calls her “Beautiful,” for lack of another name. She blackmails him; he hustles her down by half, but has zero intention of paying her. Why should he? She doesn’t seem to know him, right? She zings him in the end, confessing who he is, she’s in it with Joey Bernard, they got the screw and gonna twist it sharp.

Departing, he’s shocked to be busted by the other girl. How did she know where to find him? He’d left her at the hotel. Turns out Joey phoned her, said he was an old friend, and Rex was two-timing her with a stunning broad. Coughing up the location, she locates Rex and spots the pair framed in the window by the light, close, seemingly intimate. She’s jealous; it’s all she needs to see. Trust is out the window.

They have “it” out in the street, and he can’t clear his name. How can he? Rex slaps her around after she calls him “little” this and that too many times, she runs away and he chases her. Can’t have the world without her. Who writes this crap? Someone that saw one too many Bogart film, perhaps. It reads like a part written for Bogart, anyway.

I won’t go into the sewage that pads out the rest of the novel but will state that Rex’s name is remarkably cleared of all wrong-doing, but a vengeful L.A. detective tracks Rex down in New Orleans and gives him days and days of “treatment.” Rex refuses to break. He didn’t murder Lola. Next chapter, we find Rex asking for his lawyer. Geezus, Steeber and Bernstein sure know how to skip details. Turns out another of Lola’s lovers (Ray) murdered her, or, was accused of it, after he confessed to some intimate details.

The assault and battery of Lola, pre-death, was due to Ray finding her with Rex’s “friend” from the start of the novel. Ray is a beast, and batters the lover to the ground. He’s not getting up. He then savages Lola, then leaves. She swallows a bottle of sleeping pills, liquors it down, and that’s that. Suicide, essentially. Coroner pronounces her dead not from the beating, but self-inflicted. Rex is a free man, only the L.A. copper in New Orleans doesn’t know it yet, for several days…

So, Rex is free, he loses the girl that rescued him. She wants a decent man in her life. The money, the $3,700??? Gone. After being released from his New Orleans beatings, he returned to the hotel. It had been cleaned out. Nothing remains. Rex is back to zero, penniless. The scene fades away with Rex watching a distant boat on the Pacific, wondering where it is going…

Now, I’m sure SOMEONE out there enjoys this sort of story. It’s the stuff noir lovers love to watch on the silver screen. Clearly the two Steeber and Bernstein novels were originally rejected screen-plays. They were then converted into novels but failed to land an American publisher, and eventually landed in England via Panther Books.

The cover entices the reader with the header “SHE made him feel SMALL…CHEAP.”  Trust me; well before I finished this book, I felt the same way. Used. The only thing not cheap about this novel of the underworld was the 2/- cover price. I’ll bet back in 1953 the poor slobs that purchased this sewage howled. They wanted their money back. I sure do. However, if you are a completist collector of noir fiction, this one is a must for you.

“One if by Night” by Max Steeber and Richard Bernstein (1953)

Brief Interlude by John Eagle (1947)

GRANT HUGHES Brief Interlude
Brief Interlude (1947)

When this book arrived, I immediately looked forward to reading it.
The lower right corner of the cover states:

A Detective Thriller with an unusual sex interest.
“Find Dr. Schultz” turns into a slogan
which sweeps the country.

Brief Interlude was published by Grant Hughes, circa late-1946 or early-1947, and features a lovely cover illustration by H. W. Perl. It is 98-pages in length, and written by John Eagle.

Who?

This was the alias of William Bird (“eagle,” “bird,” get it?). He also wrote as John Toucan (guy clearly had a sense of humor). Born 3 March 1896 in Croydon, Surrey, William Henry Fleming Bird died in 26 July 1971 in Benfleet, Essex.

The following stories appear in magazines:

As William Bird:
Critical Age (ss) Futuristic Science Stories # 12 (John Spencer, 1953)

As John Eagle:
Act Without Footlights (ss) Crime Shorts # 2 (Gerald G. Swan, 1944)
The Invisible Necklace (ss) Detective Shorts # 2 (Gerald G. Swan, 1946)

As John Toucan:
Genesis (nv) Worlds of Fantasy # 13 (John Spencer, 1954)
Point in Time (ss) Wonders of the Spaceways # 5 (John Spencer, 1952)
Repercussion (ss) Tales of Tomorrow # 8 (John Spencer, 1953)
War Potential (nv) Tales of Tomorrow # 5 (John Spencer, 1952)

He also wrote several novels under house names (list courtesy of the isfdb website):

War of Argos (Curtis Warren, 1952) as Rand Le Page
Two Worlds (Curtis Warren, 1952) as Paul Lorraine
Operation Orbit (Curtis Warren, 1953) as Kris Luna
Cosmic Conquest (Curtis Warren, 1953) as Adrian Blair
Third Mutant (Curtis Warren, 1953) as Lee Elliot

And Jets # 7: Blast-off into Space (Jonathan Cape, 1966) was under his own alias, Harry Fleming. Several other novels also appeared under this alias.

At least one further novel appears under the John Eagle alias (also in my collection) and that is Reckless Journey, published by Hamilton & Co., 1947, with again a cover illustration by H. W. Perl (the Bear Alley blog states it was illustrated by Brabbins; perhaps a variant cover exists). I’ll be preparing this title for a future blog post.

NOTE:
A novel in America called THE HOODLUMS
was published in 1953 by Avon Books,
carrying the John Eagle name.
Who actually wrote this???

But, let’s return to Brief Interlude. First and foremost, this novel was painfully difficult to read. The author carried on a dialogue that often left me confused. I may one day make a second pass at the novel (reasons why explained later).

The novel opens with English men and women alike wondering who and where this elusive Dr. Schultz–the person mentioned on the front cover–is. This unknown person has created a question that becomes a running mockery of a slogan and causes inquisitive persons to seek out and find Dr. Schultz, who turns out to be essentially a mad-scientist using mind control messages subliminally hidden in his television ads and  assorted films that he forces his clients to watch.

The sex interest turns out to be a young lady who apparently died in a fire. However, her lover is certain she is the nurse at Dr. Schultz’s establishment. The two women, after all, are identical. Realizing she is the same and proving it are two different things. It is soon discovered that the doctor murdered his own nurse, swapped the bodies and regularly uses his mind-altering technology to slowly brainwash the girl into believing she truly is the insane doctor’s nurse. But…why?

Enlisting the assistance of amateur-detective Aubrey St. Clare, this pseudo-science fiction / crime detective-esque novel nearly concludes when he and the girl’s lover commit an act of breaking-and-entering, are caught by the doctor at gun-point, and locked away in the cellar. Thankfully, St. Clare’s crime-fighting female partner (Miss Lennie French, a newspaper reporter) earlier in the tale obtained a job there, and helps them to escape. The police arrive on the scene and the whole messy gobbledygook thankfully comes to its dreadful conclusion, with a villain tossed off the roof to his grisly demise.

As noted, the erratic dialogue and the bizarre plot drove me bonkers but I may well decide to revisit this tale and see it through again.

Brief Interlude by John Eagle (1947)

Frontier Sheriff by John Theydon

CURTIS WARREN Frontier Sheriff
John Theydon is overall a solid, competent writer. I enjoy his westerns, but, like any writer, the quality varies. The last one I blogged about was fun, but this one felt a bit sluggish.  Frontier Sheriff was published by Curtis Warren in 1949 and features cover art by Nat Long.

Sheriff Tex Draper, rather young for his age, must deal with local cattle rustling and murders. Despite his age, he is a savvy fellow, but a bit thick when it comes to realizing that his deputy has been secretly in cahoots with the outlaws. An excellently drawn-out gun battle ensues in the closing chapters, and in typical style, Tex gets the girl. He also earns the respect of the girl’s father, whose animosity toward him is legend, but, has a wry sense of humor, remarking that his daughter will make Tex “a danged good deppity.”

Guess we know who the new sheriff in town is, heh?

Frontier Sheriff by John Theydon

The Long Sleep by Al Bocca

The Long Sleep was published in 1950 by Scion Ltd. and represents the 4th book written by Bevis Winter under the Al Bocca pseudonym. The cover art is signed Ferrari; this is the alias of Philip Mendoza, who also signed as: Garcia, Zero, Gomez, etc.

The novel opens with Rick Morrison walking down the ‘hood, having recently been released from prison for a small-time crime. He’s looking to hook up with his girlfriend (Lola Madigan) only to discover that she has been two-timing him with an Italian “wop” by the name of Matt Corelli.

Disclaimer: Keep in mind that this is a 1950s novel, and we are still fairly fresh from exiting World War Two against the Germans and Italians. Slurs such as “wop” were commonplace terms in “gangster” novels. Any racism in these novels are not necessarily any reflection on the author’s actual personal beliefs.

Disgusted that Lola has been lip-smacking Corelli, Rick decides he will snatch her back from Corelli… But first, he needs money.

Picking up where he left off (criminally) he hooks up with another ex-jail-mate by the name of Lee Ackerman, who has the schematics to a rich old man’s home. He also knows that he and a butler are the only pair in residence, their movements, sleeping patterns, etc. Breaking in proves to be easy, but the whole scene goes haywire when the old man atop the staircase points a firearm down at them.

Rick refuses to shoot the old man. What’s worse, Lee Ackerman finds himself in a tussle on the ground with the butler. Tossing his handgun down to Lee in the darkness, Rick moves to leave when the gun goes off. The butler is done for, and the old man falls down the staircase to his death. Departing the house with the stolen goods, they hook up with their driver (a young female named Sonia) and speed away.

The goods are cached along the way and the trio split up. Rick phones his partner the next day only to discover a voiceless person has answered the phone. Repeating the call again nets the same result. A lifted receiver, but no speaker! Fearing the worst, Rick discovers via the newspaper that the police have arrested Ackerman and Sonia. The former has been charged with murder. Blood and dirt and scrapings are found on his body and clothes. Sonia, being quite young and inexperienced with the law, apparently has coughed up the fact that a third party (Rick) was involved.

Realizing the police are hunting him, Rick enlists the aid of Lola to obtain a fast car, then he races to where he believes the money and jewels are cached, finally discovers the location and the pair make their getaway. Lola isn’t too keen on bugging out on Corelli, as he has long reaches. The man practically owns her, having gifted her with jewels, furs, etc.

Ditching their wheels, the pair stereo-typically hop a railway car and sleep off their fright inside and permit the train to assist in their nocturnal escape. With the train coming to a sudden stop, Rick and Lola jump out before their “car” can be searched. Lola’s having no fun over the expense of having ditched a cozy situation with a repulsive-looking man in the city versus being on the lam with a loser with a pretty face.

They eventually obtain another set of wheels and make their way to San Francisco, and into the joint run by Siegal. Explaining that he is a wanted man out East, and having pulled off a botched jewelry heist, Siegal agrees to help but unwilling to match Rick’s cash demands for the jewels. Figuring the jewels to be too hot, he offers a much lower rate and travel out of the country. But the deal sours when Seigal learns that Rick has a girlfriend along for the ride. Demanding that Rick brings the jewels and the girl along for inspection, Rick finally relents and agrees to the terms.

Arriving at the agreed meeting place proves to be Rick’s undoing. Turns out that back East, Corelli has put out the word that a hood has made off with his girl and wants the girl back…and the man held. Rick is beat and knocked out and left in a houseboat. Waking up sore and bloodied, Rick scours the houseboat for a means of escape. All means are firmly secured. But, discovering he still has matches, he sets door frame ablaze and rapidly begins to suffocate from the flames and smoke. The door frame begins to weaken as he continues to throw his body against it then finally parts.

Making his escape, Rick drops into the water as people ashore notice the boat is on fire. Swimming far from the scene, he drags his body from the water. His suit is a mess, his twisted and battered, but he makes his way into a shady part of town and is met by a prostitute, who takes him up to her apartment to get cleaned up…after he promises to pay her.

While in her pad, we learn her sob story. Her old man died at San Quentin in the gas chamber after a botched job, leaving her a widow, and working her body for cash. Rick and her end up on the bed making out. Next day, he phones a cab and makes to leave, promising to mail her the money. Shockingly, she states she doesn’t want the money, that he can keep it. She’s more interested in skipping town with him, just for him. Not the money. Just goes to show you can’t always judge a book (or a person) by their circumstances. That’s something that turns up in various books I’ve read by Bevis Winter…a moral within a story.

Meanwhile, on that very day of Rick departing the prostitute’s pad, Siegal has Lola bound and gagged in his place. He’s developing a soft spot for her sultry body and decides to rape her before Corelli arrives. In fact, he spouts his intentions to her quite clearly, explains that Corelli would never believe her over him anyway. That Rick has been disposed off on the wharf. You get the gist…and so he removes her gag, she begins calling him all manner of names and other foul things spew forth. Siegal begins to paw her, remove her garments, kiss her all over, which proves to be a fatal mistake. Lola sinks her teeth into his neck and removes a chunk of flesh and he, in a fit of rage, heaves her. Distracted by his less than affectionate amorous intentions, he vaguely hears a scraping sound… The window opens and Rick leaps in, a gun in hand.

Siegal is mortified, and has every right to be. He’s stuck in a room with a vengeful maniac and he himself has foolishly bolted the door from allowing his toughs to enter and save his life while he molested Lola!

Retrieving the jewels from Siegal’s jacket, Lola departs by means of the fire escape, and Rick levels the gun and puts two rounds into Siegal’s gut. Dropping down after Lola, they both make off to his secreted wheels, when another shot in the dark is fired, and two gunmen step out of the darkness. They are Corelli’s men. And Lola is captured. Rick knows he’s bested…

…and now we are formally introduced to Corelli as a fat, flabby, jowl-faced character, with broken English. Corelli and his thugs decide to take Rick out to the rural part of California, find a good canyon, and push Rick in his stolen jalopy off the cliff. Rick doesn’t like this idea one bit and puts up a struggle, only to be knocked over the head; Lola herself is physically shaken like a rag and slapped violently by Corelli a dozen times.

Rolling the clock backwards to Rick and Lola’s escape and immediate capture by Corelli’s hoods, Siegal’s guards break in the door and find their boss dead. Spotting the open window, they look out into the darkness and spot 3 male figures and a dame climbing into a luxury sedan. Certain that Corelli and his 2 hoods have pulled a double-cross (not realizing it is Rick, the girl, and 2 hoods) they gather their own wheels and heavy artillery. Siegal’s smartest guard, Murphy, is the one to utter the oath that whomever killed their boss will receive “the long sleep” treatment. Hence the title of this novel.

Knowing full well where Corelli usually hunkers down, Murphy and the boys locate the rental and decide to rig the rental for a whole different sort of trip. Retreating to their own wheels, Murphy is pumped to follow the rental and see what sort of mayhem ensues…

Tossing Rick into his own stolen wheels, Corelli climbs into the rental, and the pair of cars make for the mountains. Crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, the driver of Rick’s wheels looks back in the mirror and in horror watches as his boss’s rental is out of control. The steering, clutch, brakes, all are useless. The car careens out of control on the bridge, over the rails, and plummets over the side, taking Corelli, one guard, and Lola down to certain death. Rick’s driver pulls over and gets out, looking down. There’s no need to look for survivors. His both and partner are dead, the jewels also having gone down with them. Murphy and the boys are enjoying the deadly bedlam.

Cops are immediately on the scene. The driver makes a run for it, pulling his gun. Another cop opens the rear door of the car and finds Rick unconscious, stuffed inside. The guard doesn’t get far before he is shot dead. And so ends this novel…we can only figure that Rick goes to jail as the final loose end, an obvious conclusion as he is a wanted man.

If you are into gangster novels and movies, this one certainly picks up the pace in the last quarter of the novel with all manner of twists and turns in the plot, violence, sex, etc. What it lacks is Bevis Winter’s customary facetiousness. Literally, there is no sarcasm nor wit present, but plenty of subtle irony.

The Long Sleep by Al Bocca