The Indestructible by Rolf Garner (1954)

The Indestructible
The Indestructible
by Rolf Garner (alias of Bryan Berry) was published by Hamilton & Co. as Panther Books #104 (1954) with cover art by John Richards. It appeared in paperback and hardcover editions.

The novel belongs to a trilogy involving the fate of Venus aeons after atomic warfare obliterated much of life on Venus and on Earth. This, the third novel — having followed Resurgent Dust (1953) and The Immortals (1953) — may readily be read as a stand-alone novel.

Various citizens on Venus are “hearing” voices in their head, advising them to not make a voyage. But, most of these citizens have no plans to make any sort of voyage. When a fisherman makes a trip to the city to see a doctor about the voices in his head, he is nonplussed to learn that others have likewise heard the same warning! The doctor calls Lord Kennet, ruler of Venus, and the lord himself makes an appearance to discuss the issue with the citizen.

None of the citizens hearing the voices have anything in common, and it’s not long before we discover that his own wife has also heard the same voices! Later we learn that perhaps the message is to stop Lord Kennet from blasting off from Venus…in a newly-constructed spaceship, built with the intention of visiting Earth. But who is sending the message? And, how? Telepathy? Lord Kennet does not care. Nothing will stand in his way to visit Earth…not even the discovery that two of his own flight crew have likewise received that very same message!

Blasting off from Venus, the voices continue to beat at the two onboard the ship until…they abruptly cease. Both are stymied by the silence. However, they are rapidly approaching Earth and must decide where to land, etc. Kennet decides to land the ship in a remote area, seemingly devoid of life. In fact, no real sign of life was apparent, anywhere, save for some animals.

Dropping the ladder, they are shocked to discover muscular beings headed their way, with flamethrowers and swords. Noting that the humans are using their flamethrowers, Kennet unlimbers his atomic pistol, ,returns fire, and kills some of the approaching men. His efforts are in vain as he and his men find themselves telepathically immobilized! A voice in their head proclaims that they are prisoners and forces them to drop their weapons. Kennet, realizing that someone has invaded their thoughts, forces himself to think of anything…anything…but the fact that he is immortal.

What? Oh yes, I forgot to mention, earlier in the novel, the author rehashes the prior novel’s and notes that another being, an immortal, had passed on to Kennet and his wife immortality and the ability to heal themselves. Kennet is certain that such knowledge in the wrong hands would be devastating. Even the citizens of his own planet are entirely unaware of the “gift” that was bestowed upon the Venusian lords.

The Venusian crew are telepathically forced to march through the marshes and into an elevator shaft. Eventually, they arrive at the villain’s fortress, are jailed, and left to rot in their assorted cells, when, remarkably, another telepathic voice visits Kennet. This new voice must convince Kennet that he is NOT in the employ of the villain’s telepathic crew. He is the last telepath among the rebels. The remnants of the local rebel faction, that is. Most of the rebels were murdered while sending out their warnings across space to Venus, trying to warn them to not make the trip to Earth. The villain’s telepaths picked up the mental transmissions and sent out their killbirds to annihilate the rebels.

The killbirds are large, electronic machines that hover forever above the ground, perhaps by some anti-gravitational means, and are highly weaponized. They also seem to possess some form of intelligence guiding system, and are operated by a remote control device wielded solely by the main villain, simply referred to as the Overlord. From the descriptions of the killbirds, they sound like modern-day killer drones. Apparently, after the atomic wars, these killbirds remained forever in existence, perpetually stationary around the earth, never moving. That is, not until the Overlord’s minions discovered a secret computer room and got everything operational. Discerning their purpose and abilities, the Overlord quickly assumed control of the entire planet. (Side note: why any of the assorted good-or-bad telepaths didn’t simply freeze the Overlord and then take the remote is beyond me.)

Returning to the rebel telepath, whose name is Grant, they work together to effect the Venusian’s escape. Faking having been poisoned by Earth-foods, the guards worry that they may die and bring in the doctor…however, the regular doctor is not who arrives, but someone else. Turns out this is Grant, the telepath. Upon entering the jail, he rapidly immobilizes the jailers, frees the Venusians, and quickly they make their escape, slaying anyone in their way.

Once out of the city, Grant leads them to another secreted rebel, who takes them to a functional submarine. The Venusians are informed that telepathy does not work under the deep depths of water. Grant remains behind, to throw off the Overlord’s minions and confuse the two telepaths. Satisfied that he has pulled off his task, Grant dons diving suit hardware and meets the submarine. There, Kennet and Grant privately devise a means to retaliate, destroy the killbirds, and eliminate the Overlord.

But, how can they pull this off, when the killbirds assassinate everything before humans can get in distance to cause them potential destruction? Returning to the surface, they put their mission into action.

Utilizing his immortality and ability to rapidly heal, Kennet walks boldly out into the open where his spaceship is heavily guarded and proclaims that he is unkillable, because his God (Ata) has gifted him.

They try. They fail.

The killbirds are sent in and shoot him with what must be lasers. Kennet rapidly reconstructs himself. All the while, Grant protects his brain against attempts by the evil telepaths from seizing control of him. While all are shocked and distracted, Kennet whips out his atomic pistol from behind his back and shoots down the pair of killbirds. Then the game is on! Why? When one killbird falls, the next nearest killbird on the planet will abandon its post to investigate and fulfill the prior’s mission, against the commands of the Overlord’s remote control device! Kennet stands his ground time after time as each killbird eventually appears and fires at him. In the end, he is surrounded by great heaping piles of slagged killer machines.

The Overlord himself is dead, having been slain by the rebels; the telepaths are both dead; the army is on the run or slaughtered. Kennet is all for killing everyone in the city, but Grant convinces Lord Kennet that once the city realizes the Overlord and top minions no longer exist to instill fear, that one by one they will be quite elated to throw down their arms and return to peaceful means….

The first half of the novel was sluggish, with a strong desire to build a firm foundation for the rest of the novel’s plot, but, really began to pick up the pace once the Venusians landed on Earth and were captured by the Overlord. Overall, the novel receives a passing grade and I can’t wait to one day go backwards and read the preceding novels in the trilogy.

The Indestructible by Rolf Garner (1954)

“Same Song, Next Verse” by Max Steeber and Richard Bernstein (1953)

PANTHER 91 Same Song, Next Verse
Same Song, Next Verse by Max Steeber and Richard Bernstein Panther Books 91, 1953

In 1953, UK publisher Hamilton & Co., via their mass market paperback line Panther Books, published two books within the same month, co-authored by Max Steeber and Richard Bernstein.

Those books:
Same Song, Next Verse – Panther # 91
One If by Night – Panther # 93

Both writers are Americans from the Hollywood film industry, and both books are likely rejected film scripts that they reformatted into novels, which only found an available print market in England.

Richard Bernstein was born August 8, 1922 in Rochester, New York and died October 29, 1983, in North Hollywood, California. During the late 1940s-1970s, he was a screenplay and film writer along with producer on various films.

Max Steeber is the alias of Maximilian Petrus Ribbers; he was born on January 10, 1919 and died on February 22, 2011 in Van Nuys, Los Angeles, California.

Jointly, the two also worked on the film The Gun Hawk.

The cover art to Same Song, Next Verse is by John Richards, and features an iconic dangerous blonde in yellow attire; in the background, a hulk-like brute. Reading the yellow strip at the top of the cover, you know immediately the brutish fellow with the Three Stooges-esque “Moe” haircut is a boxer.

The story opens with boxer Tony Alvarez mentally drifting back in time over the sequence of events that landed him in a car with two strange fellows: his promoter and a hanger-on, essentially.

Tony only knows how to fight. That’s his occupation, and he means to get to the top of the game and be rich. But he is always in hock to his promoter, throughout the novel. Snatches of his memories flit by quickly and without any real consistency or warning to leave any reader confused. We know in one moment Tony finds his father dying from a knife-wound, and learning the killer’s identity; he finds the slayer and despite knowing he’s up against a professional killer, wades into the knife-man; bloodied, Tony eventually disarms and kills him. The knife-man was already a wanted man for Tony’s father’s murder, and now Tony has added his own name to the role-call of wanted men by the local police. With his promoter’s aid, they flee the city. (Despite later in the novel returning to his hometown, no further mention of this murder is made, nor is he arrested.)

The rest of the novel is a succession of boxing fights, all wins, and his promoter taking a swing at a beloved New York boxer. Tony is supposed to lose, but instead, he wins and they rake in the moola. Naturally, the mob aren’t happy. We all know you don’t mess with the mob.

Through it all, Tony wants this night singer and stripper named Connie (the canary on the book’s front cover) to be his wife. He eventually strong-arms her into marrying him, crushing her hands until they bleed into his own meaty palms. Once the ceremony is complete, she hauls off and slaps him and disappears. He’s deeply angered but his promoter convinces him to ignore her (he can’t) and move along, that she will come back…only things take a turn…

The mob. They want their money. The promoter refuses to have Tony take the fall, because he can’t convince Tony to do any such thing. It’s not in his genetics. So, they beat the promoter viciously (no details given) and suddenly he placates them, that he will find a way.

So, he over-trains Tony, and keeps him drinking too much. Add fuel to the fire, he knows that Connie is sour over the marriage. Visiting her privately, he convinces her to join him in ruining Tony before the big fight. The mob stands to win BIG if Tony falls.

Enter Tony, going to Connie’s pad; she liquors him up and he discovers something wrong with the firewater. When the phone rings, he beats Connie to the phone and hears his promoter’s voice on the other end asking to know if the plan went through without a hitch. Realizing he’s been slipped a mickey, he departs without even dealing Connie any harm! Fast-forward, Tony is in the ring, his promoter missing, and getting out-boxed. He can’t seem to connect, deliver a solid blow, he’s too sluggish, and despite all this, refuses to throw in the towel. Eventually, he is K.O.’d

His fast fall from grace, his promoter fleeing town with his wife, and penniless, he attempts to abandon the squared ring and obtain a normal slob’s job. No go. Every job he takes, he destroys. He can’t even drive a simple route without destroying 3 trucks! Some years pass, he’s absolutely destitute, and makes one last try at the ring. He survives his bout, wins, but the cost is he loses vision in one eye.

Despite his eyesight loss, he determines to head West for another scheduled fight, but plays chicken with an approaching train, which he is certain he can beat. He is speeding recklessly across the terrain. He’s crossing the tracks at an angle in which he can finally turn his good eye along the rails and the bright head-beam of the locomotive obliterates Tony…

Naturally, the heavy-weight champion of the rails wins. It always does.

“Same Song, Next Verse” by Max Steeber and Richard Bernstein (1953)

Dimension of Horror by Sydney J. Bounds

HAMILTON Dimension Of Horror

Dimension of Horror was published in 1953 by Hamilton & Co., being No. 70 in the Panther Books series. The story begins on Page 5 and ends on Page 160. The cover sports an enticing illustration by Richards, featuring a female with green hair. The blurb atop the cover reads:

“ALIEN thought-waves strike FEAR into the heart of Man”

Perhaps so, but Bounds adroitly dodges that assertion by gifting readers initially with what feels like a casual space-adventure novel. Novelist Alexander Black is an undercover secret agent sent from Earth to investigate tensions on Venus. At all costs, war is wished to be avoided. Venus in the end would lose, as the colonists all live under a dome, but for some bizarre reason, Venusians bear evidence of hatred towards the people of Earth.

The story opens with Black in a Venus bar watching a woman with bright green hair. Soon they get to talking together over a drink and he discerns that Sadie Lubinski is a Venus secret agent. She knows too much about who he is…

Worse yet, a brute in the bar is hollering anti-Earth banter and calls Black out in front of the crowd. Black adroitly dodges the confrontation by informing the brute that everything he has said about Earth is 100% accurate. This befuddles the brute. But enough on that…Sadie and Black depart and board a Venus taxi.

Black sees a strange grey-suited pale-featured person watching them from another vehicle. Having the girl wait, he circles the vicinity, to confront the individual, and…discovers the vehicle empty! Where did he go? He couldn’t possibly have disappeared into thin air. Could he?

Black returns to Sadie’s taxi, disturbed, and while riding, they banter; eventually she is deposited at her abode, and she requests he call on her tomorrow. Leaving her, he departs and the Venus driver drops him off in an unsavory part of town, refusing to drive any further for fear of being injured by a growing mob surrounding the vehicle.

Black exits but soon finds himself the deadly focus of an insane mob, bent on murdering him. Running for his life, Black outdistances the unruly maniacs and leaping acrobatically up upon a beam, secretes his body into the shadows while the frenzied, bloody-thirsty mob mindlessly hurries by in pursuit of a person that no longer exists before them.

The next day, Black calls on Sadie, but she is not taking calls. Perhaps she is out. Perhaps she set him up to die and thinks “mission accomplished.” Black is irked by the self-admission that he is very much interested in Sadie, on a romantic level.

Either way, Black isn’t waiting. He decides to explore further afield. Outside the domed zone, he discovers that Venus has prehistoric creatures that are very much alive. Some attack his transport, but his driver has access to powerful weapons that slay every creature… Arriving at a mining facility, he is blocked from accessing the grounds, despite possessing the equivalent of a press pass granting him full access.

Returning to the city, he is brought before a Venusian official and informed that for his own safety he needs to return to Earth. Certainly he can’t accept the forced offer, and declines, taking his own chances. It’s not long after that he is picked up and meets with a Venus agent named Lingstrom who is not what he seems. Black finds the man to be some form of telepath. Lingstrom invades his mind, bent to obtaining Black’s mission, etc. Black attempts to steer his thoughts in other directions. All attempts fail…until Black focuses his attention on the sexy Sadie Lubinski and the love he feels for her. Lingstrom is immediately repulsed by what he sees.

But his mental accomplishment is short-lived as Lingstrom beats him down. Realizing he is mentally doomed, Black removes a secreted special pill from the hollow of one of his teeth. It enables enhanced strength and abilities…for a very short while. Agent Black snaps the cords binding him, punches one captor, takes out another and leaps out a window. The stimulant wears off and…Black takes off, running as quickly as possible. The hunt is on, and the villains are in hot pursuit, when inexplicably, the little grey-suited man pulls alongside and offers Black a lift!

Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, Black accepts the ride and the pair speed away, escaping pursuit, enter a hideaway, and descend underground. Herewith we are introduced to Yzz-Five, who turns out to be an alien from another dimension, assuming a nondescript humanoid form. Truth being, his form is so hideous that for humanity to actually see him in his true form would cause instantaneous insanity! Yzz-Five possesses the power of telepathy and the body Black sees is actually fictionally impressed upon his senses, as with anyone else that sees him.

The alien telepathically teleports Sadie to the hideout, and Yzz-Five explains that he (or ‘it’ since it does not represent either ‘sex’) has watched Agent Black and Sadie Lubinski closely. Because of their affinity for each other, and, being from soon-to-be-warring planets, he has chosen them to enlist against the true war: the invasion of their worlds by his Emperor. In his dimension, the Emperor creates chaos on other worlds and dimensions, conquering and bending their will to his. The war between Venus and Earth is actually a mentally-impressed action by the Emperor’s underlings, other beings from Yzz-Five’s world.

Not quite convinced, Black and Lubinski are jointly sent hurling through the dimensional realm to land on Yzz-Five’s world, to be enlightened by other rebels. Unfortunately, the Emperor captures and rapes their minds; thankfully, the rebels rescue the pair and because of their mental exposure to the Emperor, their really isn’t much convincing required. Enlightened of the situation, they are sent back to Yzz-Five to plan a rebellion on Venus against the Emperor’s forces.

All plans go sideways when the Emperor preemptively instructs his forces to release an atomic bomb at the ore mining facility. The destruction is massive, the dome is cracked in places, life is in mass peril. Using their telepathic abilities, they take to the air and inform the Venusians that Earth has launched an assault on Venus and that Earthman Alexander Black, a secret agent under the guise of an author, and Venusian Sadie Lubinski, a traitor, are to be caught and killed.

The finale comes with the realization that the only way to stop the insanity is to fight insanity with more insanity. Yzz-Five and his few local fellow telepaths mentally assault a false general and bombard him until his false image fails. The Venusian’s, unable to comprehend or take in what they are seeing, rip and rend the exposed alien to pieces. The war on Venus is ended before it could begin, but Earth must be stopped from dropping their bombs!

Black is transferred to the radio station and he contacts the Earth fleet, aborts the attack, and the fleet lands to assist the colonists, what small percentage that remains alive and sane.

The villainous aliens remove themselves back to the home planet, now that they have been exposed, and the Emperor’s plot is foiled. Yzz-Five informs Black that he must leave, for the rebels will continue their fight for other worlds in other dimensions.

Black and Lubinski marry on Mercury, but she can’t remain away from her fellow people. Informing Black of this, he realizes he can’t stop her, so the pair jointly return to Venus, to assist and rebuild…

An unusually fun science fiction romp. Personally, I’m not an avid science fiction reader, and have never been properly exposed to one of Bounds longer works. I strongly recommend fans of vintage science fiction to seek out and read Dimension of Horror

I suspected that such a book might have been reprinted, so I checked with Bounds’ agent, Phil Harbottle. He told me:

Dimension of Horror was first reprinted as a Wildside POD paperback some 20 years ago. The text was a facsimile of the Panther edition, but they used a new cover (awful minimalist design) and stupidly misspelt the author’s name as ‘Sidney J. Bounds’. Its licence expired after seven years and it was withdrawn and went out of print (leaving me stuck with a pile of copies I’d bought and had signed by the author). It has been reprinted twice since, retitled and revised by me as The Vanishing Man. First as a Linford Mystery Large Print paperback (2010) and by Endeavour (now Lume Books) in their Venture Science Fiction series (2017) in both paperback and eBook.

 

“It is important to note that as an agent I faced a difficult challenge in selling all my clients’ (Bounds, Fearn, Glasby, Tubb and others) 1950s SF novels to Linford’s editors as MYSTERIES, where they had to be adjudged acceptable to MODERN READERS who would have no experience in reading SF at all. The novels HAD to be tweaked to remove ANYTHING that was flatly impossible or plain wrong, in the light of modern-day knowledge. They had to be set either clearly in the future, or taking place today or in the NEAR future.  There could be no alien flora or fauna existing in the solar system. No Martians or Venusians, no breathable air on Mars or Venus, and so on.

“By hard work and careful editing, I managed to sell SCORES of 1950s SF books to Linford as mysteries.  Some, because of the authors’ skill and foresight, were virtually unchanged; others varied from very little (e.g. Tubb’s The Stellar Legion) to extensive (Fearn’s Man of Two Worlds) rewrites. I used a range of devices, such as alien protagonists coming from another solar system, or from another dimension.  To sell The Vanishing Man, I moved the action from Venus to Mars, where the events takes place under a pressurised dome, and the Martians are colonists descended from Earth. The alien menace from another dimension was able to remain unchanged.  I contrived to keep nearly all of  Bounds’ wording and actions: Black still left the city is his transporter, but instead of being attacked by dinosaurs in a jungle he was attacked in a desert by a Martian DUST STORM. The action narrative flow and events were unchanged.

Endeavour’s attractive POD paperback edition is still in print, and an absolute bargain at just £4.99. The earlier Thorpe edition used to be even cheaper when Amazon were offering ex-library copies from a pound or so, plus £2.50 postage, but be warned! These cheapo Thorpe editions (contractually out of print and withdrawn from sale after five years) are rapidly disappearing and being replaced by prices of £20 and up, or simply vanishing altogether. I haven’t checked the status on The Vanishing Man or other books for some time. Your blog readers may need to check Abe and eBay as well as Amazon to find these editions. And with the Linford Mystery series closing down after April this year, the few non-library copies are set to become high-priced collectors’ items—especially the many posthumous titles that are actually world first editions, such as Tubb’s To Dream Again (2011).”

For those interested in acquiring the first revised edition of The Vanishing Man, copies of the Thorpe edition can be found on eBay accompanied by the following blurb:

Popular novelist and secret agent Alec Black is on an undercover mission on Mars.
The Martian colonists are preparing for a major offensive against earth and someone is stirring up war-fever. Black must try to prevent it, or the whole system will be engulfed in atomic war. When Black finds himself shadowed by a man who, when confronted, vanishes into thin air, his investigation turns into his strangest case and very soon he’s plunged into a dimension of horror…

Prefer an original, vintage copy from 1953? Two copies currently are available on ABEbooks.com but…the cheaper of the pair is an exlibris hardcover (US $15) and the more expensive copy is the paperback edition (US $30). Both are Good condition and both are likewise only available in Australia! Otherwise, no other editions are currently available for sale online.

Dimension of Horror by Sydney J. Bounds

Deadshot Riders! by Rex Hays

THOMAS P KELLEY Deadshot Riders

Deadshot Riders! by Rex Hays was published by World Distributors Incorporated, as part of their All Star Western series, likely around 1950. The artwork is unsigned. The novel runs from page 3 to 111, with 112 noting the name and address of the printer. The interior front and rear covers are blank, wasted space. The rear cover features an advertisement for another western in the series.

Rex Hays is the alias of Canadian ex-boxer Thomas P. Kelley, best remembered in the pulp fiction community for his contributions to the American magazine Weird Tales. He also authored fantasy novels such as:

The Face That Launched a Thousand Ships
(Adam Publishing Company, 1941)
I Found Cleopatra
(Export, 1946)
Tapestry Triangle
(Peveril, 1946)

Richard Stanley, aka “Dick”, returns home aboard his horse, Six-Bits, after having been away for a length of time. He finds his sister’s homestead a smoking ruin and the occupants (her husband and cowhands) very much dead. The only thing keeping him together mentally is his romantic-love on a neighboring farmstead, young Polly Marshall.

The mystery of who murdered them remains unsolved and about a year passes, when Dick proposes his marital interests for Polly to her father, only to be rebuffed. A heated argument ensues and ugly words are exchanged. Dick rides away infuriated, while the father rides into town for business reasons. Unaccountably delayed, Polly fears for her father’s rather late return while her mother figures the husband is delayed due to his assignment in town.

Polly inexplicably suffers through a “vision” featuring her father stumbling, bloody and dying, a piece of paper in his hand, then falling dead. Not long after, news arrives that her father is found dead, stabbed to death. Who is the murderer?

The sheriff and posse arrest Dick on suspicion upon learning of the argument, and, Polly’s mother rides up, wielding Dick’s bloodied knife! He claims it was lost, prior. To top it off, he refuses to confess to his actual whereabouts the night Polly’s father was murdered. So, into the jail cell he goes…for nearly a good chunk of the novel. The novel shifts focus to Polly, instead.

Polly arouses the interest of the Judge and he goes too far into investigating the murder, and, the mysterious “vision” Polly had regarding some form of paper. Knowing that her father had extended loans to various parties, he is surprised to discover the sheriff owed Polly’s dad a couple thousand dollars. Could the sheriff be guilty? The sheriff doesn’t take kindly to the investigation and locks him up, too.

A lot transpires. Dick is broke out of jail by a masked bandit, whose ears give him away to the jailers (they pick him up later) and Dick recognizes his identity immediately, as being a close friend. Dick gets into a scrape with a posse, meets up with Polly, who arrives after hearing gunshots; they break away into the badlands, loads of insane padding ensues, and Dick eventually returns to town with an injured Polly. Dick is arrested while at the doctor’s and thrown back in jail to await his trial.

He is found guilty…then an unknown man rushes in with unusual features. It’s revealed that this man is a wanted man that Dick, while Polly’s dad was dying, rescued, and nursed back to health. Not knowing he was a wanted man, Dick had helped and returned him to health, etc. Feeling a debt to Dick, he brazenly exposes his life to the court-room, going so far as to walk in sans any handguns! He calls the deputy out to confess where the knife came from, as they apparently know one another, and the cowardly deputy confesses the sheriff committed the murder. A shootout occurs, and, well, you can guess the rest…

Polly and Dick prepare to marry, Polly’s bitter Dick-hating mother must admit she was wrong about thinking Dick was the killer, and the Judge proposes to marry Polly’s widowed mother! Dick has a proposal of his own: how about a double-wedding!

Deadshot Riders! is not a brilliant piece of work, but, Kelley hammered out (at least) four westerns quickly for the UK market, circa 1947-48. It’s unclear WHY the title was chosen as it has nothing to do with the novel. Perhaps it was merely catchy. Whatever the case, the western was not horrible enough to warrant my writing off of Mr. Kelley. I intend to tackle further Kelley western novels in the future.

If you are interested in Thomas P. Kelley, then perhaps you should visit his agent’s official website. Kelley is actively represented by Darling Terrace Publishing. His agent has authorized 3 weird and fantastic works via the Pulp Fiction Bookstore and an additional 3 works via Amazon include:

I Stole $16,000,000
The Black Donellys
Vengeance of the Black Donnellys

 

Deadshot Riders! by Rex Hays

Forgotten Trails by Frederick C. Davis

SHARMAN ELLIS 01 Forgotten Trails
Forgotten Trails by Garry Grant Sharman Ellis Ltd.

Taking a brief sojourn from reading crime and science fiction stories, I’ve briefly returned to reading Western stories. Not just any Western, either. These continue my further exploratory readings into author Frederick C. Davis. Having previously read some of his crime tales, as reprinted by the British publishers Sharman Ellis Ltd., I decided to extract another Western chosen by the same publisher.

Forgotten Trails carries Davis’ “Garry Grant” pseudonym and is the first in their Western Novel Library series, however, the tale did not originally appear under this alias. The novelette actually debuted under his own name in the 30 July 1927 issue of Argosy All-Story Weekly. Initially, this excited me, for the simple fact (to me) that ARGOSY ran either stories of decent quality or of arousing interest. And having recently just finished reading the author’s lost 1921 crime thriller The Copper Room, I was very much ready for a Western.

Reprinted here in a trim digest-paperback format, this Western fills out all 64 pages, and likely was reprinted around 1935-1936. The rear cover advertises their new mystery series, both also by Davis, indicating the mystery and western series each began about the same time.

The story opens with Arthur Post speeding along a dirt road in Arizona towards an old ranch, in search of the last known whereabouts of his nearly identical brother. Years earlier, his brother had written their father a letter from that location, and then vanished. Now, their father, on his death bed, has died and left the entire family fortune equally divided among his two sons. A gentleman rather than a greedy cretin, Arthur now drives West from the Big City out East, hunting his brother, to learn whether he is dead or alive.

Arriving at the ranch, he finds that the home is aflame, and lends a hand in putting out the fire. Seems the kitchen caught fire. Having finished, a young lady exclaims “Ben!” in shock. Seems she has mistaken Arthur for his brother. However, he is thrilled as this means his first lead has paid off. He has found a clue, and that clue did not turn out to be a dead end. After explaining his actual identity to the young lady (Reita Burnett) he asks for her assistance in providing further leads.

Sadly, she doesn’t know where his brother went to. He remained only a short while, determined to move along and make a man of himself. Prove himself worthy to his father, who rejected him years earlier, for being likewise rejected by the army during The Great War as unfit to serve. This failure to meet the needs of the nation was too great for their father and he was cast out and banished. On his death-bed, the father informs Arthur that the will was unchanged and that he loves his son, Ben.

And so began Arthur’s adventures in the far West, and Reita supplies him with the names of the local sheriff and neighbors, to perhaps supply further details. Jumping once more into his coupe, he tears off and not long after, is assaulted from behind by the stereotypical “yellow menace” that pulps thrilled to have thrown into the mix. The Oriental apparently smuggled himself aboard the coupe by holding onto the rear of the vehicle and pounced upon Arthur. Having stabbed Arthur, the latter manages to dislodge his assailant and brings his coupe back upon the roadway before pitching over the precipice to his death.

Wounded and bloodied from the stabbing, he returns to Reita’s ranch to be mended. Mortified by the assault, they clean his wounds and put him to bed in a room to be shared with another man visiting from out East, a college-aged youth who is studying the local rocks, etc., for a large enterprise. The next day, they hear a noise outside and find that same man dead, bitten by a snake. He has some of his samples about his body and on his horse. Investigating the findings, Reita is nonplussed, but her husband-to-be (the ranch boss) is certain that there is great wealth in the form of coal on the lands.

Arthur visits the ranch’s neighbors, who they know has an Oriental cook and housekeeper, and the dilapidated structure is bossed by a Mexican (racially referred to as a “greaser”). Here, he finds the very same Oriental that assaulted him, an aging Mexican, who is shocked or scared at the sight of seeing Arthur (thinking he is Ben) and that man’s fiery spiteful daughter, who wields a rifle and has her sights on introducing his innards to the outside world.

Making haste his departure in search for healthier grounds, Arthur visits the town sheriff and learns that Ben left for parts unknown with two other men, one of whom was later found dead, stabbed to death. The mystery and plot thickens, and then a young boy arrives while they are talking and he appears shocked to see Arthur, as well. This boy leaves and is later found to be trying to murder the old Mexican!

Rescuing the kid from near-death at the nefarious hands of the Chinaman, Arthur compels the boy to come with him and takes his gun from him. The boy confesses that he knows who Arthur is, and that he grew up in Ben’s care, after his own father was murdered by the Mexican, years earlier.

The reader, led to believe that there is a much deeper motive at work, eventually has the tables turned on them to learn that while Davis has adroitly woven a tale with racial slurs, informs us that our preconceived notions are all wrong, and that we should not judge a person by the color of their skin. While it is true that the Mexican did murder the boy’s father, it was out of revenge for what they did earlier to him.

While on the Mexican’s own death-bed, he confesses that many years earlier, his wife was dying, and he had sent the loyal Chinaman in search of a doctor. He was captured and detained, not knowing how to speak English. Following in his steps, the Mexican went in search of a doctor but did not have a horse to speed his travels. Seeing the young boy (then as a child with three men), he spots that they have horses and steals one. Not realizing that he has performed a grave injustice, because he can only think of his own world crashing down if his wife dies, he speeds off. The men quickly jump the remaining horses, and being better riders, capture the Mexican. They tie him up and beat him mercilessly, then leave him to die. He didn’t speak English, so couldn’t convey to them his need for their horse. Extricating himself from the ropes, he knifes one man to death and pursues the others. But they have made good their escape.

Ben had gone to California and took care of the boy. Going into the cannery business, his education and developed physique eventually moved him up in the business to the point of owning a controlling interest. Fairly wealthy by his own right and hard work, he has become the man his father was assured he never would be.

All are surprised when he eventually arrives on the scene, having left California in hot pursuit of the youth, fearing the boy would attempt to murder his father’s killer. He is equally nonplussed to see his own brother. The story ends on the natural path that the brothers shake, their father’s will is explained, and while he returns West to his business with the boy (and a lot richer), Arthur remains behind to win Reita’s heart.

What? Oh, I forgot to tell you…her fiancee turns out to be a double-crossing creep, who was playing up to the Mexican’s daughter, and is already married (falsely) to her. I say falsely, because she believes she IS married to him, but, he had a fake preacher marry them. Learning that he intends to marry Reita, and confused over the matter, she eventually learns of the deceit, captures him and the preacher that intends to marry he and Reita, and wielding her rifle, with Arthur as a legal witness, holds her own version of a shotgun wedding. Removing the creep from Reita’s path, Arthur’s path is now clear to date the young lady. Turns out in typical literary fashion that Reita actually had already fallen in love with Arthur, never really loved the creep, and they sell the ranch to the rock mining interest, who arrive on the scene to proclaim that they aren’t interested in the low-grade coal found on the lands, but the large deposits of asbestos (which I find amusing that something deemed illegal these last few decades was once-upon-a-time a hot commodity). Ranch sold, the youngish couple head back East together, married.

All-in-all, it’s actually a brilliant story, all the more because Davis throws the era’s racial biases in the reader’s face(s) and then explodes it all to smithereens. This story was well-worth the read!

Forgotten Trails by Frederick C. Davis

Murder and Sudden Death (Mitre Press – 1944)

Murder And Sudden Death

Murder and Sudden Death is a 32-page side-stapled booklet, published 1944 (per the British Library) by the Mitre Press. There are only 5 stories present, and not a single one of them was droll. As with all Mitre Press and Everybody’s Books story collections, most of the tales are reprints from earlier sources (newspapers, magazines, etc.)

The artwork appears to be rendered by “Douglas” — he also signed as “Doug” — is responsible for several other covers via this publisher. I know nothing about “Doug” (if anyone can supply information on this artist, I’d love to now).

This eye-catching lovely arrested my attention and cried “Read me!” As long-time readers of this blog know, I love British wartime-published fiction booklets.

  • All Details Supplied! – Michael Hervey (pages 1-7)
    A nondescript male boards a train and enlists the other riders to assist him in coming up with an original means to commit murder. He explains that he is a short story writer and has run out of fresh material. With the riders’ assistance, they eventually supply the author all the necessary details to commit the perfect crime. While we, the reader, is convinced that this is a standard story in which the “author” intends to simply murder his wife, we learn that he is actually a serial killer; the next day uses the details to generate 4 identical crimes!
  • The Eye Witness – Sydney Denham (pages 8-14)
    Philip awakens in a hospital with a case of amnesia to find the police interested in his whereabouts that night and if he can assist in identifying a killer. He is entirely stupefied by the encounter. The police are angered that he won’t cooperate. We are left to wonder if he is entirely innocent or if he is the murderer. The doctor releases the patient, and Philip departs, as “bait.” It’s not long before the murderer accosts him and demands to know if he coughed up the details to the police. Shocked by the sudden encounter, his memory immediately returns, just as the man intends to murder him!
  • Suspicion – Michael Hervey (pages 15-18)
    In this brilliant tale without-a-conclusion, the reader is adequately bated. A doctor is married to a much younger beauty who has been cheating on her husband. Answering a call, he departs and ends up at the residence of “the other man.” Said man is given to be dead-on-arrival, having consumed poison. The doctor returns home and informs her that Mr. Grant died. She feigns disinterest, and “they sat there silently, staring into each other’s eyes–wondering–wondering how much the other knew–“
  • Grounds for Appeal – Frank Bardon (pages 19-24)
    Mr. Justice Farncombe is an aging judge. A prisoner is brought in, someone who has recently moved to the locale, and, it appears, committed a crime. Much to the judge’s surprise, he recognizes in the middle-aged male the facial features of his long-missing son! Dedicated to the position, he can’t give his son any leeway, yet he feels partially responsible for how he may have ended up. Meanwhile, for a long time now, rumors locally in the judicial system had been circulating that the judge might not be on the top of his game and need retire. Working off this premise, he essentially creates a mistrial, thereby allowing his son’s lawyer to file grounds for appeal, and perhaps, a better planned case to save himself…
  • The Experiment – Michael Hervey (pages 25-32)
    Remarkably, this is actually more of a mad-scientist weird tale than a clear-cut murder story! A man commits suicide after his wife has a miscarriage; he awakens to find that his brain, which survived the demolishing of his body, has been successfully transferred into the body of a dog! Hervey creates the blunder of not explaining how the canine can possibly speak as a human, rather than via a series of barks or growls. That aside, it’s an amusing tale, and ends with the traditionally “mad” scientist playing with powers he can’t control, and the dog, in the closing lines, slowly, ever-so-slowly, moving in for the kill…
Murder and Sudden Death (Mitre Press – 1944)

“Danger at Midnight” by Frank Griffin

I’ve been chasing Danger at Midnight for perhaps over a decade, without success. So when Zardoz Books turned up a pricey reading copy (a couple years ago now) I wasn’t picky. In fact, regarding books I read, I’m never picky.

The author was born Charles Frank Griffin on 15 Oct 1911 and despite disappearing in the 1950s, he wasn’t dead! He simply retired from writing. He actually lived a nice long life, passing away 5 Feb 1984 in Cornwall. He sired at least 13 children (from 1934-1956, that I’m aware of) and served during the second World War.

His first known crime novelette is Death Takes a Hand (Bear Hudson, 1945). I posted a blog on this novel May 2017.
NOTE: click on author’s tagged name in sidebar to revisit that post.
Griffin wrote at least 14 further crime/gangster novels (both in paperback or hardcover formats) and at least two known westerns. Remarkably, he even cranked out one children’s novelette, via a new alias: Charles Atkin “Black Rock Island.”

Griffin had also written “Women’s Legal Problems,” slated to be released 1942, however, it was completely and utterly destroyed during one of the Nazi’s numerous air raids. Additionally, he reportedly contributed to British propaganda magazine published in Russia. Unless the articles carried his byline, it is impossible to trace and confirm. Griffin also freelanced for numerous British periodicals and newspapers. Again, sans a byline, I’ve been unable to trace any those varied contributions. A further nonfiction effort, My Queen is Dead, has never been traced, was slated to be released by Hutchinson in 1952.

[cough cough] Oh. Right. Let’s return to the book itself….

mellifont-danger-at-midnight
Danger at Midnight” by Frank Griffin (Mellifont) Dublin, Ireland

Danger at Midnight opens with Martin Blake, broke and jobless, walking late one night to a distant town, to attend to a job interview, when he hears a distant scream. Having served in the army, he’s no slouch, and immediately launches into action-mode. Picking is way around the dark recesses of the night-roadway, he finds two cars on the side. Both are abandoned. Further sounds of a tussle, far out in the night. Pushing his way silently through the dense overgrowth, he espies two male figures depositing a young woman into a hole. Rushing among the pair and takes the duo on, fists flying and tackling the cretins. One applies a pressure-point technique to him and then they escape.

Martin unbinds the girl and suggests a call to the police. Bizarrely enough, she feigns ignorance as to the identity of the men and, furthermore, wishes to avoid police involvement.

The story develops that she is the head of a major smuggling syndicate with hundreds of contacts, and a rival start-up gang has decided to move into her territory. Unfortunately, while they have obtained her “book,” they are unable to crack her codes. The novella explores the far-reaches of the vast underworld, greed, lust, and an innocent man’s battle with his love for a desperate villain whom is both sinister and gorgeous and his own personal battle (right vs wrong).

In the end, the story falls apart, relying on the plot cliche that the woman has a younger, equally beautiful sister, who is innocently unaware of her sister’s occupation. She is captured by the rival gang and inadvertently rescued (briefly) by Martin Blake. In that brief encounter, he falls in love with her and realizes that what he felt for the older sister wasn’t love, necessarily.

While on a solo rescue mission, Martin steals the codes and offers them to the rival gang, in exchange for the young girl. Clearly he has made a foolish mistake; remarkably, his ex-lover and gang has located the rival base and raids it. During the ensuing dazzlingly frightful gun-battle, most are slain. She and the rival gang boss die shooting one another, and on her death bed, she begs Martin to take care of her sister…

Honestly, all-around, an excellently written, fast-paced crime novel. If you have the opportunity to locate a copy, and love this sort of genre, I wholeheartedly recommend Frank Griffin’s gangster-esque novella.

 

“Danger at Midnight” by Frank Griffin

“Love and Dr. Hawkins” by Sidney Gainsley

BROWN WATSON  Love And Dr Hawkins
Love and Dr. Hawkins (Sidney Gainsley)

Love and Dr. Hawkins” by Sidney Gainsley was published in 1945 by Brown Watson Ltd, runs 64-pages, measures 4.75 x 7 inches. At first glance, this booklet appears to be a romance. The cover art (unsigned) depicts a young lady clasping her forehead and looks surprised. At the top, the cover proclaims this publication to be “A Sidney Gainsley Thriller!!”

The novella is narrated by Dr. Hawkins, relaying to Professor Norden a past, strange criminal case that he solved.

(NOTE: these characters originally debut in Gainsley’s Did This Really Happen?weird story collection, with the taleThe Diary which I’ve already been blogged about. Refer to THAT entry for biographical data on the author.)

When Anthony Tidmarsh fails to rise and take his breakfast, the staff worries, and finally, they bring in a strong-man to bash down the door, which takes multiple attempts. They find Tidmarsh very much dead. The police are phoned.

Tidmarsh is found brutally murdered, with a common household kitchen butter knife forcefully thrust into his spinal column. He is found, face forward, his face contorted, upon his desk. Under him is a partially written document to his young brother.

Police are baffled. Who murdered the man? How did they lock the door from outside? All we know is that Mr. Tidmarsh was alive beyond the setting of the house alarm….

Inspector Saltash–as narrated by Dr. Hawkins–takes on the case, and from here on, we are mostly given the story from Saltash’s viewpoint. He interviews the staff (kitchen, yard, garden, etc.) and the household members (his much younger brother and a young lady as their ward, set to inherit a fortune quite shortly). We learn that Tidmarsh was possibly in love with the young lady, however, she repelled his advances and preferred the company of his kindly young brother, who in turn was truly in love with her.

After our author establishes fine grounds for every person to have committed the crime and wondrously provides us with the usual Sherlock Holmes pastiche backdrop, Dr. Hawkins diverts the waning chapters back to his viewpoint, when he is reintroduced to the case. Hawkins, a psychologist, investigates, by asking the inspector to re-enact the position in which Anthony Tidmarsh was found at his desk. Crawling about, Hawkins finds some fine wood powdered particles, and learns that these came from nearby a wood mill.

We learn that the gardener works at that mill in his spare time. He is in love with one of the house staff, who has been holding a deep secret. She had an affair years ago with Tidmarsh and sired a boy. Wanting not to claim the boy as his own, nor wishing to marry the woman, he avoided scandal by keeping her in his employ, but, neither of them informed the child as to his social standing nor parentage. Ergo, both the child’s mother and her suitor have reason to murder Tidmarsh, for being an outright prick.

Hawkins further learns from the accounting books in the safe that someone has been embezzling tens of thousands of pounds from the young lady’s inheritance. The finger points toward the younger brother. Further evidence in the form of a rope and nail that may have been used to secure Tidmarsh’s door are found hidden in his room.

To add to the mystery, Hawkins, after inspecting all the ancient antiquities in the room,  discovers a replica crossbow firmly anchored to the shelf in a position established to murder Tidmarsh from behind. So, who set the device?

Dr. Hawkins reconstructs the scene to prove that Tidmarsh was not murdered, but, rather, he committed suicide, but with the intention of sending his brother to the gallows for the supposed crime!

His facial contortions in death were not from pain, but, immense concentration from realizing that the knife would soon impale him. The note on the desk did contain factual business data, but was written with a slant to be damning evidence against his brother. He hated him because the girl had refused his loving marital attentions. And, he himself was the one embezzling the funds. By marrying the girl, he avoids scandal; she could hardly bring her husband to court without testifying against him, etc.

In conclusion, Hawkins ends by discussing Norden’s “author friend,” and noting that he appears to have written quite a romance around the “Diary” episode. Hawkins inquires if Norden intends to relay this crime tale to the author, and he indeed shall. Hawkins says he has no objection, but, asks for it to be called “Love and Doctor Hawkins.” The author, obviously, is OUR author, Sidney Gainsley, having a little tongue-in-cheek poke at himself.

While my relaying of the plot may seem blasé stuff, I assure you, this novella is well-worth the read.

Currently I am chasing “The Expiator” by this author. This title story originates within his 1943 weird collection. I do not know what other tales appear; the National Library of Wales possesses a copy of this 32-page pamphlet, noted as published by Brown Watson, circa 1945. If anyone owns a copy, and is not firmly attached to it, I would love the opportunity to own and read this item…

“Love and Dr. Hawkins” by Sidney Gainsley

“The Limping Death” by Allan Stapleton – Gnome Publications (UK) 1945

GNOME The Limping Death

The Limping Death” by Allan Stapleton, subtitled “Terror Stalks by Night!” was published 1945 by Gnome Publications (28 Bedfordbury, W.C.2, London). The story begins on page 3 and ends on page 64. The publisher, like many of the wartime period, copied the hugely popular cover design of Penguin Books.

Other known Gnome Publications:

— Muchly Seldom – Stephen Ellison (1944)
— Frippery Tip – Stephen Ellison (1944)
— Death for Love – A. F. Garner (1945)
— Laughter in the Air (1945) cartoons
— Laughs on the Road — Keith Monk (1945) cartoons
— They Cried to Dream – H. G. Jacobsen (1945)

There were also two glamour pin-up saucy booklets entitled Curves and Shadows and Studies in Velvet by Stephen Glass. Another glamour publication includes Memories of Midnight (a 16-page booklet illustrated throughout). No doubt this publisher had further titles, yet to be discovered… Of those listed above, I’ve yet to locate Death for Love.

The Limping Death opens with a tranquil isolated village ripped apart by a sudden, savage murder. A housemaid is found by lantern light, horrifically mutilated. Inspector Small of Scotland Yard is sent to investigate, and hooks up with local police man, Sergeant Tedmarsh.

Another young lady is brutally slain and her boyfriend loses his mind upon finding her body.

We’re next introduced to an asylum and an odd doctor who raves about keeping their lunatic locked up at night, lest he roam the countryside. (By this point, I’m eye-rolling, thinking, please not another story where we blame the “retard” for sexual perversions and murders!) We learn that the mentally-challenged Todd has indeed repeatedly escaped and run into the towns where the murders coincide.

Reverend Shipley’s maid requests to leave early to attend a dance. Given permission, she falls prey to the murderer. Her corpse is found next morning, most of her lower abdominal cavity savaged and pulped.

That’s now three murders in ten pages! This novelette is a real “ripper” fest !!! Can it keep up the onslaught pace? You betcha!

Inspector Small investigates the asylum, following up on rumors. The doctor receives him, but informs him that they don’t have any patients fitting the description of a man with a “limp.” After Small departs, the doctor again reprimands his assistant, to ensure Todd is locked up.

Small is certain that the doctor is lying…

Small goes to the local station, and shares his thoughts with Sergeant Tedmarsh. He suggests they scope out the asylum that night, with reinforcements. While waiting later that night, they catch Todd climbing over the wall. To their astonishment, the locals are also on the scene and ready to slay the hapless ‘tard. The police save Todd and remove him to jail. Sergeant Tedmarsh is left on duty, to protect Todd, in case the townspeople revolt over night (by which time this begins to sound like the townspeople want to burn the Frankenstein monster alive, right?)

Small goes to sleep, but is re-awakened later in the night to learn that the jail is on fire. Once the blaze is eventually controlled and the wreckage sifted, he finds the cinder-corpse by the cell, and the charred remains of Sergeant Tedmarsh’s outfit and badge. Grim with dealing with his death and Todd’s escape, Small heads to the train station to learn if anyone departed. Learning that someone did, he obtains the destination and times. The man can hardly describe the purchaser, since they were hidden in a large ulster with the collar turned up. No recollection of a limp or other identifying features given.

Depressed, Small returns to the inn, to catch some sleep…

Meanwhile, the murderer disembarks the train and establishes himself in Soho. Answering an ad in the local paper, he finds a girl looking for employment as a maid. He has the agency send her to his “sister’s” house…. Receiving notice, the young lady goes to the house by way of train. Another person boards with her and she begins to worry. Her fears are soon realized when he comes toward her, and she faints! While out cold, the slasher tears her to pieces, then departs the train.

Not long after, another maid is set upon in the streets and collapses in a dead fright. However, Small is given his first real clue this time. Remarkably, before passing out, she put up a small fight and ripped away a tuft of hair.

Investigating the agency, he learns from the madame that the cloaked man had ginger hair. Small is slightly elated, as he has conclusive proof the tuft of hair likely came from this man.

Returning to the isolated village, he demands Tedmarsh’s body exhumed and examined. However, that night, while the casketed remains are retrieved and locked away until morning, the murderer sets the building ablaze and incinerates Tedmarsh’s body!

Chiding himself for dereliction of intelligence in failing to assign a guard over the body, Small is now against a wall. He no longer has evidence. Now he must resort to Plan B…set bait to catch the killer! But, how? Nobody knows where the killer is, and when he might strike!

News finally arrives to Scotland Yard. The killer failed in his latest attempt and the maid survived to tell the story. A man heard her muffled scream and came on the scene in time to save her life, while the murderer quickly fled. Asking for a description proves fruitless. She saw nothing but noted his voice sounded country, possibly Welsh.

While canvassing the town with a squad, Small and Sergeant Craddock, assigned to him to cover an area, hear a scream. Galvanized to action, they lumber to the scene and discover a man running away. The girl has survived, clambering to her feet. Small gives chase but the man escapes when an alley cat crosses his path and knocks him to his feet. In returning to Craddock and the girl, he discovers a recently dropped handkerchief,  and notices a laundry mark.

Next day, he hits every laundry location, since the Yard doesn’t know who made the mark. Later in the day he lucks out and the laundress describes the person it belongs to. Given the name and address of Mr. Edwards, he and Craddock spy out the area and climbing the step, ask the landlady to let them in. Knocking on Mr. Edwards’ door, they receive no reply. Small knocks in the door with his shoulder and learns that Edwards flew the coop, literally, out the window….

He discovers the charred remains of a letter in a fire-grate, advising Mr. Edwards to meet a Mr. Tuttle on the wharf, to set sail. Keeping under cover of darkness, Small waits for the arrival of Edwards at the wharf. A man appears, and while trying to detain the mystery man, Edwards knocks Small down and tosses the unconscious Small into the river, then flees the scene.

The dunking revives Small, and he’s eventually found by Craddock, cruising about looking for him. Realizing the murderer is fleeing England for America, the pair rush to the docks, to locate the boat helmed by Captain Tuttle. Finding it, they question Tuttle and learn more about Edwards, and decide to wait for the murderer’s arrival.

Unfortunately for them, the slasher watches them from the shore and realizing a trap is present, stealthily removes himself.

Running out of ideas, Small decides to bait the slasher, by placing an ad for a maid, and sending the lady (that answers the call) with a handgun, for protection. Following her, they watch as she goes inside a home, and then hear the gun go off. Busting in, they save the girl and capture Edwards, alias Sergeant Tedmarsh!

He confesses that he went on the killing spree purely by accident. The first murder was intentional. After the suicide of his son, he decided to murder the young lady (a housemaid) because she had been deceiving his son. She was no better (apparently) than a prostitute. The son had contracted a sexual disease. Coupling her unfaithfulness with the disease, he shot himself dead. Tedmarsh set himself to exact revenge. However, he couldn’t control the impulse to slay every housemaid he could, as they all bore, in his mind, the same taint.

Tedmarsh is led away, shackled, to his cell, to await his eventual fate….

A solid plot, plenty of killings, the bait-and-switch tricking the reader into believing “the-retard-did-it!” and the constant quick-action, made this fast-paced murder-mystery crime thriller wholeheartedly quite enjoyable. I would love to know the actual identity and history of this author. Could this have been their only literary endeavor? It hardly seem feasible.

An “Alan Stapleton” wrote the books “London Lanes,” “London Alleys, Byways and Courts,” and “Leaves from a London Sketch-book” during the 1920s-1930s. And, in a 1930 edition of The Nation and Anthenæum, we are given that the author is “an antiquary of some diligence,” and, that he is a rare breed blending of topographical writer and artist. Is this Alan and our Allan the same man?

 

“The Limping Death” by Allan Stapleton – Gnome Publications (UK) 1945

The Lone Ranger by John Theydon (1948)

CURTIS WARREN The Lone Ranger
It’s been a long while since I read a western by English writer John Theydon. Given that I have fallen behind on tackling the stack of digest-paperback westerns, I picked this one off the top.

THE LONE RANGER was published 1948 by Curtis Warren Ltd., sports a cover illustration by Kingsley Sutton, and the text begins on page 3 and concludes on 64. Priced at 9d, this quick-read kept me plunging headlong throughout. Why did I ever abandon Theydon?

The novel concerns Dave Logan, lawman, assigned to secretly protect a train loaded with gold bullion. The banker is riding West with his gold to deliver to the banks and Dave’s boss wants this shipment seen through. The area is rife with bandits, and while his boss wants that shipment safe, Dave’s real assignment is to track down the bandits, and capture or kill them.

The banker, coming outside for a smoke, finds Dave Logan on the train’s platform, enjoying the air. The banker thinks he is just another cowhand, not aware of the deception. Striking up a conversation, this is cut short when the train comes to an inexplicable stop. Worried that the train is being robbed, Dave drops off to investigate. Yet, there are no shots fired. He is returning to his car when shots are fired and he receives the world crashing in atop his skull….

Waking up much later, he finds the security personnel slaughtered, the safe blown open, and he and his horse the sole survivors. Spotting hoof-prints in the sand, Dave tracks them into the distant mountains, only to be shot at. This he considers a reward, meaning he has partly located the villains. Only one person is holding him down at rifle-point, so he circles the area, and believing to have caught the sniper unawares, is nonplussed to find the shooter’s location abandoned!

He’s suddenly shot at from another direction, and realizing that the shooter knew of his movements, shoots it out in the dark recesses of a cave. The man dies from multiple gunshot wounds. Searching the man’s clothes, he finds a letter from the fellow’s brother, another hoodlum, known to be in lock-up in Santa Fe.

Assuming that person’s identity, he rides into the nearby disreputable town, leaving the dead man to be found, later, by his comrades. Once in town, he nabs a hotel room and on entering the bar, finds a woman has held-up a bunch of unscrupulous-looking scoundrels at a card-table. She’s gorgeous (aren’t they always?) and mean and sure as hell capable of holding her own with a gun. Demanding they fork over misappropriated funds from her father’s late gambling run at a crooked table, Dave watches as one of the gunhands triggers a hideaway into action. Dave draws and blows the gun away. Retrieving the funds, the girl makes her exit while Dave lingers.

Once she’s gone, he explains who he is (in his new guise) and explains away his defending the girl he doesn’t know, but just couldn’t stand aside and watch a girl get hers. Ergo, feigning as a tough who is a sucker for dames. Elaborating that he is looking for his brother, the bartender informs him that he just shot the leader of the local gang who was with his brother.

Realizing he’s in a gritty position, Dave brazenly strikes out, heads to their rooming quarters, and enters. They are stupefied by his entrance. Explaining who he is, they finally cautiously accept him, but to prove his worth, he must steal the funds he just assisted the girl in retrieving. Agreeing to those terms, he departs…

…and returns to his hotel room. The girl has a room there, and enlisting the aid of the clearly honest hotel-keeper, he actually divulges 100% to them who he really is, the crook’s plans, etc. Dave has a plan to infiltrate the band, learn the identity of the real leader, and catch all of them.

The pair agree to get six other honest men, and pooling their funds, match the amount the girl has on hand. Sending one honest messenger to the next nearest town with a bank to pay off her father’s ranch-mortgage (the crook’s, in typical cliche fiction fashion, wanted the mortgage note to expire and the land has oil on it, unbeknownst to the owners…of course). This transpires while Dave returns to the rooms of the crooks. He tosses them the money, they blindfold him, and ride out, far away, to their secret headquarters in the mountains.

Part of the plan involves one of the honest six to trail him, and then they are to ride back and enlist the next town’s sheriff and posse…

Meanwhile, he and the party he rides with finally arrive, hours later, at their destination. Blindfold removed, he sleeps for a while on a bunk until the boss arrives. Brought away sometime later, he is led to another room where the boss is. The door opening, he overhears one of the gang explain who he is, only to hear the boss exclaim that THAT PERSON is in jail in Santa Fe!!! His bluff is exposed! What’s more, he recognizes the voice as the banker from the heisted train! He’s stealing his own gold! No shit, right?

A blazing gun battle ensues and Dave must shoot his way out or be hemmed inside the building and either smoked-out or shot to death. He’s shot once and stumbling about, aware of certain death, when all of a sudden a rifle begins cracking, repeatedly, eliminating his competition. Tossing his body behind cover, he’s shocked to find the shooter is none other than the girl! Unlike other works of fiction, John Theydon has his lovely lady as a resourceful tough girl, and not merely a piece to be admired. Handy with a gun, she continues to reload to punch holes in the competition, and refuses to relinquish her rifle to the wounded Dave, who feels his manly pride in jeopardy. They are soon to be outflanked when the posse arrives.

Surviving members of the gang turn and run, hop on horses, and take off. Bloodied and weak, Dave manages somehow to climb his horse, and in once-more cliche fashion, he has the fastest horse. Determined to get the banker, he ignores other members as they split away. They are peons. Insignificant. One has balls and attempts to stop Dave, but Dave merely shoots at him and rides on by.

The banker is frightened to learn that Dave has eyes only for him, and smartly, riding out of sight, he waits until Dave comes around a corner and pushes a boulder (because in Hollywood, they are all really just styrofoam in reality, right?) from above down at him. His horse shies away and Dave falls from his saddle. Spying the banker escaping once more, Dave commits himself to the one thing he despises: shooting down a horse. Taking sight, he murders the banker’s horse, which collapses and pins the man’s legs. Injured, but not dead, Dave takes him in…

Arriving in town with his man in cuffs, he finally faints from blood loss, wakes up later in bed, and finds the girl in another bunk, bandaged about the head from a gunshot wound grazing her forehead, making eyes at him. Well, we all know how this will end.

Last thoughts: The title of the book should be changed to “Lucky Logan,” given that Dave Logan makes much of family lore and the luck of the Logans, throughout.

The Lone Ranger by John Theydon (1948)