Spider Pete by Claude Stewart

STEWART Spider Pete

Sometime in 1946, Mitre Press published a 32-page (plus wraps) single-stapled booklet containing a selection of short stories by author Claude Stewart. I genuinely doubt that they are original to this publication. Most (if not all) of the Mitre collections of reprinted stories from a variety of sources: magazines, newspapers, journals, pulps, etc.

The cover features a young lady at her dressing table, putting on her facial makeup and screaming in absolute terror as a huge, hairy-legged spider tangles from the ceiling, about to pounce on her, while a creepy fellow lurks in the background.

Intrigued? Well, it was enough to hook me. I wanted to know.

Spider Pete leads off the collection, beginning on page 1 and ending on page 8. The story opens with Charlie Collins, Chief of Police to Wallington City, bored of his occupation and thankful that his contract was for only five years. Sadly, he was on the wrong side of completing those years. Nothing ever happened in Wallington City, nothing spectacularly out of the normal crimes, that is. Then a mysterious death is laid upon him to solve. A woman is found dead, and seems to show all the symptoms of dying from gas, however, her flat has no gas. He discovers an odd yellowish powdery substance near her, and suspects the powder to be the source of the problem. However, their scientific chemicals department hasn’t a clue what the item is. Yet another death occurs, this time a man. The newspapers carry the usual fanfare, that the police are stumped, murders go unsolved, etc. Collins is later in the week invited to a black tie affair, and while present, is shocked to see an old schoolmate, vastly different in appearance, but realizes it is he, for his mannerisms haven’t changed a bit, etc. This fellow is James P. Mullins, and after the party, they hook up. Drink, talk, the usual. He’s obviously the killer or the next to die, right? Ah, he’s the killer. While leaving the Chief alone in the room, Collins, unable to keep his natural instincts from investigating a covered bird-cage, discovers large spiders inside and…that yellowish powder, too. Mullins re-enters, discovers the game-is-up, explains he discovered these poisonous spiders while in Brazil, and brought them home. He trained them to follow orders and they released their poisonous yellow powders on cue, the gas given off kills the person. Mullins then releases one spider to attack the Chief, when, inexplicably, it turns and goes after Mullins…

Lend-Lease Murder spans pages 9 through three-quarters of page 18. Another typical story about irony. Young man rivals his brother, who is better at everything in life. Goes to war, while he himself is denied as inadequate. Brother obtains everything life can offer, while our fellow is dirt poor and can’t get his shit together. But, that aside, he loves and covets the finer things in life, appreciates them, something his brother does not. Fine art, clothing, drinks, lifestyle, etc., but, he can’t have them! So, we find our unlucky fellow working in a stylish nightclub, surrounded by the elite, when in walks a handful of American airmen. They party hard, get all the hot girls, become drunk…the place eventually closes for the night, and he and another worker are cleaning up the joint when he discovers one of airmen left his leather flight-jacket behind by accident. He keeps the jacket for his own. The two begin talking and he learns the other leads an unscrupulous life, working the black market trade. He wants in, so he can have money. The other agrees, they meet the big boss, and are instructed to hit a warehouse… Fast forward, the visit the warehouse, the night watchman stumbles upon our fellow and he bashes him over the head. They discover the warehouse 100% empty and figure they were played for patsies, and depart. Next day, our boy learns the watchman was found clubbed over the head and had died. Now he is freaking out, and nearly penniless. He figures he can’t return to his job, having practically quit, then spots an ad in the paper. A reward for the return of an American’s flight-jacket! He hates to part with it, but the money is too good to be true, so he brings it in, hands it over, receives the reward, goes to leave, and the cuffs are slapped on his wrists! What? Turns out that the jacket, had he gone through the pockets, contained various special papers, and when he knocked the fellow dead, those papers fell out, leaving the incriminating evidence behind. All the police now needed was for him to confess to the crime.

Overall, the best story in this feature is a scientific-crime thriller entitled Pay or Vanish, spanning the bottom quarter of page 18 through half of page 22. Now while I say “best,” I don’t mind any stretch mean that is a good tale. It has holes in the plot so big a semi-truck could roll through without scraping the edges. Our hero is an English secret agent and while checking in at a pay-phone he sees someone has written a message on the wall: “Rixley 3450.” Believing it to be a secret communication, he dials RIX 3450 and a woman answers. Keeping his voice low, he replies and she believes it is her lover. They meet and he shocks her by not being her lover (of course) but explains he understands she is in a predicament and wants to assist her. Uncannily, instead of thinking he a nutter, but fearful for her life, and needing to trust someone, she explains that they worked for a scientist in a secret laboratory. A special science was discovered, by which means the madman intends to blackmail the world for riches. Her boyfriend was supposed to the scientist and destroy everything, but has never returned. So, these two enter the premises, and our agent thinks the whole thing is a joke but discovers otherwise. The scientist is there, and before his eyes, he destroys the girl. Poof. She vanishes. Nothing left but her silver change and jewelry made of silver, which for some reason does not vanish. Another pile on the floor has more silver coins, and we learn that that is all remains of her boyfriend. The agent fires five bullets into him, but, the scientist hurls the substance out a window into the river. To his horror, people continue to disappear. How? Why? Has the madman already sold the secret to various parties? Or did they drink from the river?

Fatty Gives Evidence begins on lower quarter of page 22 and finishes on mid-28. I always despise the British “fatty” stories. They often turn up in young boys periodicals, making fun of fat kids, etc. Where will this one lead me? Fatty is an ex-model who turned to fat. When she was young and beautiful, she was scooped up by a rich millionaire and she got lazy and ate and ate and he told her she looked great until one day he said otherwise and it was too late to turn back. She was large and couldn’t be a model any longer. She assists a younger, lovely model with her wardrobe and makeup (for a living) now and insists the girl cease dating a particular wealthy man or he’ll steer her wrong. Return the gifts, etc or she might end up in a bad spot. She does. Fatty departs and is offered a ride home by another worker, when he stops, and claims he forgot something. Fatty knows that he is infatuated with the model, but says nothing. He comes running back, and begs her to forget that he ever went back in. She agrees. Next day, she discovers the girl was slain in her dressing room. The evidence points to the fellow, but, she turns the evidence to the suitor instead. The police investigate and learn that he did in fact murder the girl! Later, the innocent man asks why Fatty did this. She explains her past history, and that the suitor was actually HER original suitor. When she is finished, he never calls her Fatty again.

The final tale is The House with the Monkey Puzzle Tree, spanning the bottom quarter page 28 and ending on page 33 (inside rear cover). With such a title, I was hoping for a weird tale, but no luck there. It’s a crime story, of sorts. A woman and her child are roomers in a remote house far from town, and they are sneaking away in the night. The woman seems to have lost her marbles, and the child too young and useless, when they finally make it to town and look for help. A woman listens, then believing something is amiss, gets the police involved, but disregard it as the woman comes across as a mental lunatic. The woman still feels something is wrong and gets another cop to accompany her. The only bit of evidence that came through clearly was the near-whereabouts in which she may have roomed and a peculiar tree. They finally locate it at night, break in, find the place empty. The woman and cop split up, the cop disbelieving he is involved in this investigation, until the lady discovers a corpse. She faints and the story unveils that the place was used by black marketeers to move stolen goods, etc. and if the police had acted her the crazy woman’s ramblings earlier in the day, they would have caught all of them in the act. The irony? The first person the crazy lady came across at an intersection was the cop on traffic detail. She had tried to tell him the story but he dismissed her. Now, he realizes the error he made…

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Spider Pete by Claude Stewart

Want to Buy

I am hunting the following items:

Chicago Ledger (1901-1923)
Illustrated Story Weekly (1923-1924)
Weekly Ledger (1924-1925)
Blade and Ledger (1925-1938)

I am interested in the following years:
1901, 1902, 1903, 1904, 1905, 1906, 1907, 1908, 1909,
1910, 1911, 1912, 1913, 1914, 1915, 1916, 1917, 1918, 1919,
1920, 1921, 1922, 1923, 1924, 1925, 1926, 1927, 1928,
1929, 1930, 1931, 1932, 1933, 1935, 1936, 1937, 1938

Quote all issues.
I often buy spare copies as upgrades.

Please feel free to contact me anytime at:
morganwallace@gmail.com
These are permanent wants I’ve been collecting for many years.

I also collect regional papers, such as the Toronto Star Weekly Complete Novel supplements, the Magazine Sections, too. If you own fiction novel sections for papers from New Jersey, Long Island, or Bangor (Maine), please contact me.

Want to Buy

The Finger of Death by Henry Keyworth

Henry Keyworth’s The Finger of Death was published by Kangaroo Books, owned and operated by David Lynn (aka: David McClelland, formerly of New Zealand) around 1944. The story text begins on page 3 and ends on 72.

The rear cover advertises Frippery Tip, an English satire by Stephen Ellison. The library at the Oxford University received that title in 1944.

kangaroo the finger of death

Henry Keyworth is also responsible for at least four other titles.

Black Market Murders
Death in Gelley Wood
Killer by Night
Murder at the Grange

The featured cover is not held by any major British library, whereas the other four are held. My copy clearly has a cover defect. While it may appear that the left margin (nearly a full inch) was exposed to light and faded as a result, this is not the case. One may clearly see that the bold-faced words running into those discolored areas are NOT affected. An unusual printer’s defect.

The Finger of Death is dedicated to “J.Y.C.” for “successfully combining domestic and literary art.”

The story involves a room full of business investors discussing the ill-fated venture of Atlett’s Investment Company, Ltd., and the fact that most of the locals that they represent will be financially in ruin while they, themselves, are rich and have their millions in numerous business investments, so their portfolios are perfectly sound (save for one investor, who has to face the music as he also invested his family money and lost all of it).

Shortly thereafter, Sir Allan Vale receives an ominous note:

“Dear Sir Allan, The Moving Finger Writes—writes your name off the list of the living. You are a thief, unpunishable by any law but my own. Prepare to die!”

Later that night, he awoke to a noise in his bedroom, and found a man leaping towards him with a gleaming blade rushing down upon him…

That morning, Superintendent Cleveland, of Scotland Yard, is assigned to the murder and visits the business Sir Allan worked at. He learns that their investment company is bankrupt, and discovers that another person has received the same notice. Worried about the safety of each investor, he requests the personal addresses of each directorate with the intention of removing them from the city to a remote location. There, he can keep an eye on each person until the case is solved.

Sadly, good intentions and well-thought-out plans move too slowly in this novel. Another directorate is murdered in his bedroom while a policeman is on the premises acting as guard! We learn the killer leapt the outside garden wall, climbed in the window and assaulted his second victim.

And so the onslaught of murders go, one by one eliminating each directorate, until it is not the Cleveland the solves the case, but one local Detective Sergeant Rogers. With three murders already attained, and a fourth now in the isolated safe-house, Rogers quickly flees the scene, leaving many to speculate that he either is in hot pursuit of the killer, he himself is the killer, or, the killer murdered Rogers and removed his body.

Not so fast! Pages are rapidly running out and Rogers, removed from the scene, in fact has reported back to Scotland Yard and the police with the intention of requesting aid to arrest the least likely murderer of all…Superintendent Cleveland, of Scotland Yard…???

Realizing time is short, Cleveland adroitly manipulates the placement of his guards in the house and the directors and one by one quickly slays two more in mere minutes! He then quickly moves in to kill the last director, knowing full-well that Rogers must have departed to request the arrest of Cleveland. Somewhere along the line, he must have slipped-up and revealed his hand!

The police are too late to save the life of the final director, however, his overly-protective mother isn’t. Not trusting the police to protect her son, after watching and learning of each director’s death, she situates herself to watch over her son. Spotting Cleveland stealthily moving into her son’ room, she creeps behind and discovers Cleveland with an upraised blade, bloodied, preparing to kill her son. She shoots Cleveland dead.

This was a fun British pulpish pot-boiler of a thriller, with the identity of the killer adequately veiled until nearly the concluding pages.

The Finger of Death by Henry Keyworth

The Devil’s Dozen by Frederick C. Davis

A while ago, I wrote up a story by Frederick C. Davis reprinted in England by the 1930’s publisher Sharman Ellis Ltd. (If interested, click on the publisher’s name in the TAGS section). The cover art is simply signed as “S.E.C.” and I haven’t a clue who that would be, but the cover art closely adheres to a scene in the story (except the maid does not actually see the murder take place, as depicted here).

The Devil’s Dozen is the 8th title in the “Mystery Thrillers” series, and spans exactly 64 pages. The story features Davis’s recurring character, Lieutenant “Show-Me” McGee, as a policeman that disbelieves all evidence set before him until he solves the crime to his own satisfaction. Davis wrote a good handful of McGee tales during the early 1930s before bringing the series to an abrupt demise. I’m not sure how well the others fared in comparison to this one, but if they each were of equal measure, then as a whole, they aren’t too damn awful.

SHARMAN ELLIS 08

The story opens with the murder of Mr. Leach at the hands of Mr. Townland. We know this because Mr. Leach’s maid, Clarice, personally admits him to his home that night. Stunningly, after gunning down Leach, Townland phones the police, asks for the exact time, then explains to the officer over the phone (who turns out to be McGee) that he has just murdered Mr. Leach.

Bizarrely enough, upon rushing to the home of Mr. Townland to effect an arrest, McGee finds him likewise dead, an apparent suicide, but discovers that Townland was dead before Mr. Leach was murdered by him.

How is that possible?

McGee immediately dismisses all known factors and accepts only two facts. Both men are dead; Leach’s death is a known case of murder with a supposed witness, and Mr. Townland’s death is not a suicide case; he was actually murdered, and there are no powder burns on his clothes.

Both have the distinction of being employed at the same business. What’s more, while alone with the second stiff, McGee discovers a man hiding on the premises, trying to stealthily escape. David Washburn is caught and interrogated by McGee. Learning that Washburn arrived shortly ahead of McGee, he ascertains that David is present because he was searching for a missing man, name of Sylvester Morrison, at the request of Morrison’s daughter, Patsy, who he intends to marry.

Nonplussed, McGee discovers that Morrison likewise works at the same business, and that he is the Chief Automotive Engineer at LuxCar. He and the two dead men were the only three to have top secret clearance to a specific division working on a prototype that would extend driving distance vs fuel consumption. Such fuel economy would revolutionize the automotive industry and lock LuxCar in as the Number One builder of this specific engine.

Ergo, Morrison’s mind is now worth billions of dollars. Sniffing out a possible ransom case, McGee meets with the daughter, and not long afterwards, sure enough, a ransom is made out in the name of half-a-million dollars. The automaker is ready to pay that and more, to secure Morrison.

With zero police presence on the scene, McGee, from far away on top of a building, watches the money drop-off point. The funds are tossed off a bridge attached to a flotation device. Nobody picks up the bundle. It drifts down river, and then, mysteriously, turns around and heads against the flow!

Realizing that the bundle has somehow been fetched, McGee quickly escapes the building, and speeds along a riverside road. He passes what seems to be a granny hauling goods home. Discovering the parcel opened and empty, McGee chases down the granny, offers her a ride. She declines and he speeds off. Secluding himself a distance away, he watches the woman enter another vehicle, and it departs. Realizing that the woman is beyond-a-doubt involved, he, at a discreet distance, pursues the vehicle to a remote district, off a dirt road, to an abandoned derelict house.

He draws his gun, throws his bulk against a door, and bounding in, we are introduced to the kidnappers. Gunning both down, he retrieves the goods, and learns from the one surviving member several facts. One, that Morrison isn’t actually missing: he’s currently suffering a case of amnesia and in a holding cell at police headquarters! Two, that as surmised, Townland did not murder Leach. The dead kidnapper actually was a make-up artist (he was also the disguised old woman). Before making good with his knowledge, the building is suddenly blown thunderously to pieces by several automatic weapons. The kidnappers both are now dead and the fate of McGee is left unknown…

So, who opened fire on the house?

Enter the Devil’s Dozen, a close-knit group of hardened criminals that are on the outs locally, and prior to vacating the city, decide to pull one last gig. After hearing that a local man is worth potentially millions of dollars (since the ransom was announced at $500,000, the leader realizes he might be worth twice that) the gang learn that the two kidnappers were operating in their region, and that it must be they who kidnapped Morrison. (The logic behind this is told in more detail, but I won’t cover that here).

Knowing the location of their hideout, they await their return, then watch as McGee sneaks in. Waiting outside, they listen in and overhear the whole confession, including Morrison’s whereabouts. Obtaining said data, they murder everyone inside, and then speed off to the city…

In the city, they phone in fake calls to the police, demanding immediate assistance at the LuxCar plant, which is far out of town. Leaving a handful of officers to run the precinct, the dozen men fan out and storm the vacated police station.

Weary and bloody (and miraculously alive) McGee deliriously arrives in time to barricade the dozen assailants inside and assume a one-man assault on his own place of employment. In lustrous blood and thunder fashion, we readers are provided our own guilty pleasure as a gun battle ensues, and Davis artfully draws up a waged battle of wits vs bullets.

In the end, many of the dozen are dead or wounded, some arrested, and old man Morrison’s amnesia timely dissipates and he is bewildered to find himself in police custody. McGee faints dead away from exhaustion, adrenaline, and blood loss, to wake up in a hospital bed.

Two weeks pass, still at the hospital, and an officer delivers to him an addressed envelope. Opening it, he learns of Washburn’s marriage, and, finds himself the recipient of a “Thank You” check, totaling $10,000, signed by LuxCar’s owner! After all, what is $10k to LuxCar, when Morrison’s mind is worth billions?

According to the FictionMags Index website, there were only eight “Show-Me” McGee tales. If I am lucky, maybe one day I will have the privilege of reading more of them.

They (including this story) are as follows:

The Devil’s Dozen by Frederick C. Davis

Revenge Rides the Range by Will Frame

Some time ago, I read (and blogged) a western published by Muir-Watson, also published in 1949. This one is Revenge Rides the Range, by Will Frame; clearly, an alias, and clearly someone has a sense of humor. The actual identity is unknown to me, nor could I locate information online to unravel the mystery, however, I am certain of two things:

  1. the author of this book also authored the other Muir-Watson western.
  2. the cover artist is the same, too.

No copies are held by the British Library, the National Library of Scotland, nor anywhere on Worldcat or COPAC.

MUIR WATSON Revenge Rides The Range
Bud Jackson, ex-Sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps, formerly stationed at Honolulu and crack-shot, has been out riding the trails of the American West, hunting a man that framed his father back in Illinois. This man is known as Chicago Kelly, and, he made off with a ton of money from a forgery racket, leaving Bud’s dad to face the rap. His father subsequently died in prison, leaving Bud honor-bound to track down Chicago Kelly, and…

Bud awakens in the saddle under the blistering heat to the sound of gunshots. Galloping onward, he comes to a gorge. Down below, some men are shooting at a stagecoach. Realizing it must be a hold-up, Bud unlimbers his rifle, adjusts his sights, and knocks one of the assailants into the next life…if there is one.

Bud’s second shot knocked the hat off another of the fiends. Dismayed by his slightly  inaccurate shot, he pops one final shot at the rocks nearest the would-be robbers, and is rewarded to see that the remaining pair have decided to clear out.

Re-mounting, Bud heads into the gorge and is rewarded himself with gunfire in his direction. Realizing that those below believe he to be another bandit, he brandishes a white handkerchief, waving it high. The driver finally relents, permitting Bud to traverse the remaining distance in peace, after asserting he is friendly.

Turns out the coach carries precious cargo, bullion, and some passengers, too. Removing the bullion from the top of the coach, they lever the boxes into the coach, freeing rooftop space for the dead robber to be placed atop. Inside, space is now a premium, and the passengers are cramped. They become further constricted when one passenger, a young girl, asks Bud if he is from Chicago.

Nonplussed, he acknowledges that YES, he is, looks at her, and finds himself shockingly looking into the face of a fellow Chicagoan, who he knows. Mary Shaw invites him to join them in the carriage and continue their conversation, illuminating several disturbing factors locally, mostly, cattle rustling. Tying his four-legged friend alongside the carriage, he hops in and they head off toward town.

In town, the body is unloaded in the sheriff’s care, and while assisting in shifting the cases of bullion out to the bank, a burly brute ambles over and demands to know if Bud killed the bandit. Turns out it was his brother, and he requires payback. Seeing that the man is a dirty fighter, Bud takes matters into his own hands, and knocks the fellow down fast. Realizing he overplayed his part, the ruffian draws his six-shooter, only to have the nimble-fingered Bud quick-draw and blast it away.

Bud gives the barn-sized menace the option of “fists or pistols.” The monster accepts “fists,” and we are given to nearly two full pages of gratuitous street-fighting, which ends with Bud getting the idiot to fall back into a horse’s watering trough, much to the onlooking crowd’s amusement.

The sheriff and a well-dressed man, who he immediately decides is the local Judge, breaks in on the scene. The “judge” is actually Hiram Wheeler, president of the local bank, and grateful for Bud’s assistance in protecting the shipment of bullion. But Bud is looking beyond current circumstances. He’s seeing before him a sharp, well-dressed, clean-cut man, but behind him, in an old black-and-white newspaper cut-out, he’s seeing a different man, a man he personally wants for the death of his father.

Bud Jackson has found Chicago Kelly, now established seemingly as a reputable banker.

The book is 128-pages in length, and all this action transpires with yet another 100 pages to go! How will Bud insert himself in the local goings-on, convince the authorities that Wheeler is Kelly, discover the rustling plot, unmask a series of murders, and win the girl? Well hell, partner, you’ll just have to find and buy a copy of this book!

 

Revenge Rides the Range by Will Frame

Elizabeth Anthony’s MURDER novels

Elizabeth Anthony wrote two murder novels, “Dramatic Murder” and “Made for Murder.” Both were published by Hodder & Stoughton (London). The former was published 1948 whilst the latter appeared in 1950. Oddly enough, it seems that Elizabeth Anthony would fail to render another story until her short “Seventh Murder of Henry’s Father” appears in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine (Jan 1957). Then, inexplicably, she vanishes.

Or, did she?

Fact is, there is no such person as Elizabeth Anthony….

Aside from all the clues on the Internet and reference books, the most readily available clue manifests on the dedication page of “Made for Murder,” stating “To my sister-in-crime, Shelley Smith.”

Say what?

Shelley Smith is an alias, too. She in fact was born Nancy Courlander, and her sister’s real name is in fact Barbara Courlander. Under Barbara’s married name “Rubien,” she authored “An Island in Piccadilly” in Flying Colours Revue (1943) and the book “The Cup and the Song” in 1947, prior to her pair of murder novels.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself….

Our author was born Barbara Frances Courlander (16 April 1906) at 2 Douglas Mansions, Leux Road, Kilburn, London. She married writer Howard Rubien (I believe this to be Howard Nelson Rubien, whom also appeared in at least 6 films and television) and had one child, Elisabeth (note, not spelled exactly the same as Barbara’s alias). Barbara died 17 Feb 1996 at the Carisbrook Lodge Nursing Home, at Corrig Road, Steyning, Sussex, England.

Little is known about Barbara. I hope to one day be able to alter those minuscule facts, but, we’ll save that for another day. Daughter Elisabeth married (and divorced) Erik Hulsman, but not before giving birth to a son, Robert Hulsman. Robert would potentially be in this 60s or 70s right now, and last known whereabouts find him between jobs, potentially a truck-driver, residing in Canada. Robert, if you or any friends find this post, I would love to correspond and discuss these novels and their history, with you.

Now, on to the pair of mystery novels.

Dramatic Murder” opens immediately with a doctor and a young journalist driving to a castle, invited for Christmas. On arriving, they find the castle empty and devoid of life and sound. Where are all the guests? Where is the host? Gruesomely, they discover Dimpsie above the Christmas tree, arms spread-eagle, up upon a ladder, literally shocked to death. The police arrive, an inquest is performed, and death noted as accidental, if not foolish. But, our intrepid journalist, Miss Katherine Mickey, feels that Dimpsie simply couldn’t have been foolish enough to work on the tree while the lights were plugged in, especially with wet moccasins. Could it have been foul play? Which of the guests, all seemingly innocent and with nothing to gain from the playwright’s dramatic exit, could possibly have set the scene to murder? It’s all very unclear, initially, as each chapter introduces us to the various guests, and systematically, further murders occur. The killer may well have gotten away with the original murder, but Inspector Smith, whom was at the inquest, doesn’t believe in coincidences.

NOTE: Sadly, my copy lacks a jacket.
Click on the title above, courtesy of the
Classic Crime Fiction website, for the image.

fullsizerender1
Cover art: Bip Pares

Made for Murder” develops with an epileptic winning 10,000 Pounds betting on football matches. With her face and lucky winnings plastered across the English newspapers, and essentially a mental-moron, she abandons her job as housemaid and flees to London. Here, she naively falls for a conman. He takes her to Paris, marries her, convinces her to sign some documents, then murders the simpleton. Obtaining her banked funds from a safety deposit box, he returns to his own wife (a decent woman) and informs her that he has “made good” and come into a lot of money. The pair departs for Guatemala, where he plans to explore and rob archaeological sites. Meanwhile, a lady-friend to the maid’s ex-boss learns of the murder, and, learning that the police are disinterested, begins investigative work of her own. The ex-boss, a botanist, decides to pursue her hunt for a rare flower, in of all places, Guatemala! She injures her leg and meets the murderer and his wife, in a remotely located hacienda. The wife is a sweetheart, and lonely for contact. But, when the murderer learns that the lady is the maid’s ex-boss, and has a photo taken of him with his murdered wife, he determines to murder her and destroy this last superficial bit of evidence against him…

 

Elizabeth Anthony’s MURDER novels

Brothers of the Purple Plains by Steve Watts

Hold on there, pard! This western novel is pure dynamite! Now, whereas many British westerns are not worthy of note, however, boy was I impressed by this novel.

Brothers of the Purple Plains was written under the alias Steve Watts, and published by Muir-Watson (Scotland) by arrangement with the publisher Sydney Pemberton and distributed by World Distributors, Inc., 1949. The artwork is unsigned, and the artist is clearly the same as that of another Muir-Watson western in my possession, “Revenge Rides the Range,” which I will be reading and blogging in the near future.

The title recalls to mind Zane Grey’s classic “Riders of the Purple Sage.”
There are no plot similarities.

MUIR WATSON Brothers Of The Purple Plains
From the opening salvo of pages right to the end, I was hooked. It’s pretty damn good stuff, and I’d love to know true identity of the actual writer. Well-written and competent, the only weak point is the dialogue, which at times gets to be a bit cheesy with the heroes uttering “Gee” or exclaiming “Oh” or “Aw.” But hell, people do make such utterances in real life, so, why not here?

Three boys are orphaned after their wagon train is butchered by Indians and they are taken in by a preacher, who is often drunk and belligerent. Fast forward, the preacher is dead by the time the eldest boy is sixteen. They hit the trail and cover great extents of the West. Their current ages are not known.

The leader is Al Cummings. He’s described as “tall, well-built, fair-haired.”
His boyhood friends and lifetime mates include Mex Caliente, closest to Al in age, and “handsome in the dark fashion of his race, and the lightest hearted member of the trio.” Finally comes Jesse Hudson, “not as tall as the other two, but thick-set and strong as a stallion…quieter…than the others…a dour earnestness about him which seemed to come from his Scots ancestry.”

Having abandoned a prospective interest in a gold mine, they ride away from their fruitless earnings in search of work. In the horizon, Jesse, the more aloof member, spots what appears to be smoke rising in the distance. Riding closer, they find a house on fire.

Applying the horses to beat the trail north, they arrive in time to face a blazing inferno. Is anyone around? Inside? Alive? An accident, or…murder?

The trio hear something, and Al busts inside to rescue a woman and her baby. The latter is clearly dead, in the lady’s arms, a death-grip about it. Not bothering to remove the corpse from her arms, they find that the mother has been shot and left to die. And die, she does, but not before uttering the name BARTLETT.

Who is he? Her husband? A helper? A killer? All of the above?

Chapter two doesn’t drag things out either. Arriving eventually in an isolated town, the unimaginatively named Star City, the boys hit the local saloon, sidle up to the bar, and place their liquor orders. By the second page, we have another murder, a shooting out in the dark street, and the dying man staggers into the saloon, collapses, and utters BARTLETT before expiring.

The novel becomes mildly hectic when an awesome array of characters are introduced, including a saloon girl, whom Mex’s heart beats hard for (its beats hard for ANY girl, actually). While attempting to win her affections, she warns Mex to take his friends and leave town, quick, because they’re asking questions about Bartlett. Those questions aren’t healthy. Mex finds himself suddenly the focus and ire of her self-appointed boyfriend, who ambles in and decides to mix words and fists with Mex. The brute thinks he’s got Mex’s measure, but boy is he wrong. Fast with women he may be, but faster with fists and gun! After drenching his fist deep into the others gut, the brute makes for his hardware, only, Mex is pure lightning, wielding a pair of .38 revolvers.

While asking the brute his business, a gun is fired! Al and Jesse are behind the brute, facing Mex, Al with one of his guns smoking. One of the brute’s friends had tried to plug Mex from behind! Giving both men the boot, they ask the girl what the ruckus was all about, but she begs them to leave, flee for their own lives. But Mex is soft on the girl because he is soft in the head and assures her they aren’t going anywhere.

Rooming together in their hotel room, Al, the brains, is thinking over the death of the mother and baby, the murder at the saloon, the name BARTLETT, and the bruisers that caused a scene. Were they all connected? How? and, Why? Too many questions, no answers, he finally falls asleep…scarcely, only to hit the ground rolling, along with his friends, as a hail of bullets rip through the window. Taking turns, they maintain a guard on the room and window, all night, when a brick is hurtled through the window. A note is attached, with blocky words stating: GET OUT OF TOWN…QUICK, and signed “B.”

Talking with the sheriff the next morning, they are met by a local rancher, Vane Carson, who is frustrated by the sheriff’s inability to clean out the area of rustlers, led by Bartlett. Carson is the biggest rancher in the area, maintaining a huge spread, in the interests of the future owner, when she comes of age (not for about another year or so). Liking what he (Vane) sees, he asks the men to work for him, not as ranchers, but, as border-rangers, riding his borders, looking for clues as to the rustlers whereabouts, etc. Fresh faces that the rustlers won’t know.

The boys, short on cash, accept the generous offer. They ride out to the Bar Z ranch and meet Nance Greenley, future heir. All three boys take to mentally fawning and drooling over her beauty. Mex is the typical stud in asserting his affections. Jesse is perturbed to find himself attracted to her. Al, who previously shunned girls, is baffled by his own sudden interest in the young lady.

Brought to the bunk house, the trio are introduced to Carson’s foreman, Jeff Simpson. None of the boys like his looks. Desiring to make good fast work of their current occupations, Mex requests the locations of the other ranches and homesteads raided, but Carson refuses. He’s not interested in them, only his own ranch.

Splitting up, the boys cover ground fast and Mex wanders over to the corral, spotting Nance sitting on the posts, watching a ranch-hand trying to break in a horse, but he is constantly thrown. Mex laughs, and in an effort to impress Nance, saunters up to the dude and requests a try at the bucking monster. The horse is extremely intelligent and gives Mex the ride of his life, before eventually hauling off and hurtling him into space.

Out riding and inspecting the range the next day, the trio are taken by the wonderful country and beauty, only to return “home” and find the frowning foreman reprimanding them, and spit out that Carson is enraged. While they were off gallivanting, Bartlett’s crowd had stolen another fifty head that night.

All this action takes place in the first 35 pages, and the full book is 128 pages. I won’t ruin the rest of the plot, but I’ll spoil some of it now. One of the boys dies during a shootout at Bartlett’s secret lair, to be buried by the surviving member. We see a new side to this person, in mourning their friend’s death, and any past flaws are wiped out and replaced by the newly-molded character. The novel features a solid, credible plot with a mystery villain that any regular reader will see coming long before the conclusion, but how the whole fracas is wound up makes for damned good reading.

Brothers of the Purple Plains by Steve Watts