2015 August 31: “The Trackless Thing” by Justin Atholl

“The Trackless Thing” by Justin Atholl was published in 1943 by Everybody’s Books, a short-lived wartime outfit operated by the Kelly brothers. The cover art, unsigned, was used on a handful of titles by this publisher, and also by their partner, the Mitre Press.

ATHOLL The Trackless Thing 2

Superintendent Lakin must investigate the sudden is plagued by a series of crimes perpetuated by an unknown criminal, whom appears only interested in ransacking homes, tossing papers about, killing house pets (brutally), and apparently not stealing anything. At least nothing of worth.

Months go by, and the “Trackless Thing” has vanished, when suddenly, the town is struck by a pair of murders! And, in both cases, no visible means of forced entry is present.

Can Lakin solve the murders before another occurs, sending the town into a panicked tizzy? Who, or, what, is the Trackless Thing? Is it even human?

2015 August 31: “The Trackless Thing” by Justin Atholl

2015 August 31: “The Case of the Strangled Seven” by Preston Yorke

“The Case of the Strangled Seven” by Preston Yorke (cover art by Jeff Cook)
(aka: Harold Ernest Kelly, of alias Darcy Glinto fame, etc)

YORKE The Case Of The Strangled Seven

NOTE: I read this book years ago and reported upon it to John Fraser, an avid Kelly researcher.  I decided to freshen up on it, and copy the plot herewith as I wrote it up all those years ago.

A beat-weary constable stumbles upon a pair of strangled drug-gang distributors. He requests time off to investigate the area on his own. A lone member of the nefarious gang captures and binds him, and later sets fire to the hideout, with the intention of burning the constable. He escapes, with severe burns.

Meanwhile, our wonderful author abandons any pretext of surprising the reader about who the strangler is. A somewhat well-to-do businessman has lost his daughter to drugs, and has lost his grip on reality. He and some reliable professionals systematically hunt down the seven top members of the gang and strangle them to death.

His secretary learns the truth, so, he kidnaps her.

The constable continues to track the s.o.b.s who tried to snuff him. In the traditional climax he attempts to arrest both the businessman and leader of the outfit, (the former operates under the name of “Optimus One”). “Optimus,” who bizarrely has a sac of poison attached to one of his teeth, bites the businessman and dies a paralyzing death before the constable’s eyes. The businessman announces that there are notes in his office that will clear up the entire case, and then, he too promptly dies.

2015 August 31: “The Case of the Strangled Seven” by Preston Yorke

2015 August 31: “Killer’s Breed” by Bruff Curfew

Killer's Breed

This pseudonym is reputed to be the alias of N. Wesley Firth, but I sincerely doubt that Firth concocted the absurdities within. (At least, I hope that he wasn’t the only person utilizing this alias).

When Len Lannigan’s father, Jake, is maliciously stabbed to death with a Bowie, he discovers his father’s hoard of cash missing. Upon cleaning the blade and hilt, he finds an engraved name, and thus begins a ridiculous trek all over tarnation, following lead upon lead. Essentially, the blade changed hands through deaths and card games, etc., and it eventually comes down to that Jake’s friend, Breezy, whom keeps Len company throughout the entire hunt, is the murderer, which was entirely clear from the get-go. An awful plot-line that lends no credit to the action-packed cover art of a roped man with two revolvers in hand.

If all Bruff Curfew titles are by Firth, well, this is the worst example of all his Western output.

2015 August 31: “Killer’s Breed” by Bruff Curfew

2015 August 28: “It’s Only Saps That Die” by Buck Toler

Having recently finished reading Buck Toler’s “Killer on the Run,” I was less than thrilled with myself for having decided to chug through yet another Buck Toler title.

TOLER It's Only Saps That Die

And, so, we trudge along to the next thriller, “It’s Only Saps that Die.”

This was published by Everybody’s Books (1944) and features a wonderfully gruesome illustrated cover by Jeff Cook, showcasing a woman being ground to death between two large gears, and, while her blood spews out and her body is broken and twisted in half, a man is seen reaching down (too late) to try and save her life.

Let me spare you the details by stating that no such scene occurs inside….
Disappointed? Don’t be.

Unlike the prior read, which delved exclusively into the mind of a “killer on the run,”this novel is pure gangster-stuff with a Federal Agent thrown into the mix.

The investigation: how is it that while the war is going on, that, in America, with the huge beef rations, that certain companies appear to be functioning well above federal guidelines?

With the newspapers carrying stories of old-fashioned frontier cattle rustling, and beef companies filing cases that their refrigerated trucks are being hijacked by killers, special agent Captain Delane of the FBI is sent by Hoover to investigate, infiltrate, and smash the crooks.

He assumes the fictitious identity of Tex Radnor, a hoodlum looking for employment in Chicago. While there he crosses paths violently with a vicious ex-drug smuggler. He is caught and beaten mercilessly and left for dead; he is rescued by one of the hoodlum’s molls. Instead of fleeing, he waits in the smuggler’s office and beats two thugs [gleefully] into unconsciousness and delivers and impromptu beating onto the lead thug, until he gets the answers he wants.

Now set up to work with a big-time beef distributor, he starts small by driving their rigs. After weeks of inactivity goes by, Delane approaches the lower-level managerial thug-in-charge and presents himself as a thug-for-hire. The guy moves him up to thievery and thus begins the real action, as Delane (Tex Radnor) aids in the hijacking of beef trucks.

But when the head honcho himself learns of Tex, he is immediately suspicious of this young man, and has his boys bring Tex to his office. They torture him, attempting to beat the truth out of him. The boss, Rimmer, is keenly aware that Tex is an alias, and likely a Fed. They beat him near to death, toss him into river-boat sort of structure full of filth and hundreds of hungry rats, and leave him to his fate.

Will Captain Delane live? How will he escape? Will the rats nibble hungrily on all 21 of his digits? Will Delane be able to save face? Is there any sexual interest between he and the moll that saved him? How in hell will you get the answers to these questions unless you read the book?

This is Harold Ernest Kelly (aka: Buck Toler, aka Darcy Glinto, etc) at his very best.

“It’s Only Saps that Die” is gruesome, brutal, unforgiving, and harsh in Kelly’s visual depictions of America in the grips of gangsters willing to die for what they believe in: CASH.

2015 August 28: “It’s Only Saps That Die” by Buck Toler

2015 August 25: “Killer on the Run” by Buck Toler

I’ve been both dreaming and dreading reading this book, after years of experience reading other stories by him, under other aliases….

“Killer on the Run” was published under the alias ‘Buck Toler’ by Everybody’s Books (1944).
Cover art is attributed to what appears to read “Church.” However, glancing through the FreeBMD website shows nobody born, married, or died with such a surname.
Thus, an illustrator I know zilch about…. (Do you?)

TOLER Killer On The Run

The alias was utilized by Harold Ernest Kelly, one of two brothers operating the outfit.
Kelly had paid severely a couple years earlier for writing obscene books, under the alias of Darcy Glinto. The name failed to reappear until after World War Two ended. In the meantime, Kelly created several new aliases in which to freely operate.

Only three other books were published under the Buck Toler pseudonym:

  • The Bronsville Massacre (Mitre Press, 1943)
  • It’s Only Saps That Die (Everybody’s Books, 1944)
  • Tough on the Wops (Everybody’s Books, 1944-1945)

The hideout of Rudolph Max Kling, otherwise referred throughout the novel as Killer Kling,
is raided by the police and his entire outfit is busted. Kling escaped and is at a roadhouse
listening to the news over the radio, when his moll, Varia Rader, struts in, and informs Kling that they need to scram. The Feds are outside set to raid the joint, which, they do. Chaos ensues as they seek to escape the clutches of the law. By the third page Kling has already snapped a bullet into the belly of one agent and pistol-whips another two pages later.

They escape by jumping in the backseat of a customer’s car. Giving the innocent bystanders the OK to leave, the owner of the car clambers in and receives the cold steel welcome of a hollow barrel kissing his nape hungrily clamoring for blood. The feller doesn’t argue and taking instructions like a sap, drives the pair of hoodlums to safety. His reward? Yeah, page 9, read it, ya mug! His Colt revolver pumps a slug into the man’s gut. They make merry with his set of wheels until the auto becomes too hot to handle. They skip across the country, attempting numerous escape routes along the way: other autos, a train, a plane, etc. You get the idea.

Kling is mostly led (or, rather, influenced) by the intelligent and gorgeously stunning Varia Rader. She boasts more than just looks. She is pure evil, going so far as to coldly walking up to a cop and punching a hole through his skull in a hotel room to save Kling. Remorse? Nah. She flits throughout the book with a psychotically sinister smile and knows how to turn on the sensual juices when necessary.

If you pervs wants some sex, this isn’t the book for you. It’s pure, hardcore, unadulterated blood-and-thunder killer shit for you. What’s more, there are no page breaks, no chapter, nothing to give you relief. Kelly pounds Kling and Rader mercilessly upon you, until the very end, when they finally meet their match near the Mexican border in a Federal agent that uses his brain more than any other agent or back-town wayward law-preaching hick had thus far.

But boy, do they get their man (and woman) ???

I’m not tellin’!!!

2015 August 25: “Killer on the Run” by Buck Toler

2015 August 21: “They Don’t Always Hang Murderers” by Benson Herbert

After reading a Nazi thriller, I decided to “blitz” through this next book.

Benson Herbert’s “They Don’t Always Hang Murderers” was published by Lloyd Cole, originally released in boards, in February 1943. Copies sold out and it was re-issued April 1943. These, too, apparently sold out, for the publishers finally issued a “Cheap Edition” soft cover, the one featured below, a their Third Impression, on October 1943.

LLOYD COLE They Don't Always Hang Murderers

It features a lovely cover illustration by H. W. Perl, and is a 144-page digest paperback.
It’s unclear who the Golden Amazon (thank you, John Russell Fearn) lass featured is supposed to be within the novel, but, I suspect she is the secretary; but, I digress….(nice legs, though)….

The story involves Henry Wilcox’s addiction toward uncovering the mysterious whereabouts of a man whom he was best friends before the First World War. They both served together along with Henry’s brother, Clive. The friend, one Tracey Gooth (what a name!) is wounded in the leg and forever more, vanishes without a trace. Henry, likewise, is injured.

Returning from the war, Henry finds that his wife is missing. Try as he might, he can not locate her. Likewise, Gooth is missing, and his sweetheart, Joan, ends up marrying Henry, since they have something in common. There is no real love between them. She has money of her own (by which means is never honestly divulged, so, it must be inherited family funds) and she stakes Henry to business and pushes him to be successful, for which, he largely is.

Flash forward a couple decades. No clear year is given, but, let us assume that 25 years has passed since 1918, landing us upon the year this book is released. Sound good? Great.

Henry’s son, Arthur, has been having an affair and she sneaks out to his country estate to blackmail the family. Arthur, finally convinces her [Clara] to depart the estate for fear of upsetting the family. She leaves, but it is clear that she will return and continue the blackmail. She eventually is found dead, later in the novel, and it is presumed by Clara’s mother, that Arthur murdered her and that leads to another blackmail attempt, this time, on Henry and his business.

Enter Henry and his wife, Joan. He is easy-going while she appears to be the family “matriarch” in the iron-fist sense. She controls Henry and Arthur through fear. Henry submits to her wishes because he is ill and requires a medication to control it while Arthur is weak-minded and is simply afraid of her. Not to mention, Arthur works for his father.

The tale mostly revolves around the disappearance and sudden re-appearance of Tracey Gooth into their lives, and Henry’s brother, Clive, trying to substantiate the fact that Tracey, once a decent sort, has fallen on hard times since his debilitating wartime injury left him with a permanent limp, is now there purely to blackmail the family.

I’ll ruin part of the plot by announcing that facts arise that Tracey was not simply engaged to Joan prior to the war. They had in fact, secretly married, and, to top that off, Arthur is their son!!! Right as this information is ultimately divulged [at the end of the novel] in walks Clive, to proclaim that Henry is dead and that Tracey murdered him by supplying the carefully locked-up meds, which led to an overdose.

Do they believe him? Or, is there another person present that ultimately committed the crime? Sadly, what begins in earnest as an interesting novel of crime, attempted murder, a slanderous affair or two, etc., essentially collapses in the end with the most ridiculous soap opera endings. I recommend the book to anyone, but, ask only that they stop short of discovering the identity of the killer and the ultimate fate of that person in a quasi-“Fall of the House of Usher” like moment.

2015 August 21: “They Don’t Always Hang Murderers” by Benson Herbert

“The Black Phoenix” by Martin Lester (Curtis Warren Ltd., 1954)

“The Black Phoenix,” by Martin Lester, is in fact a spy thriller (a la James Bond-esque) written by Edmund Cooper. It was published by Curtis Warren Ltd. (February 1954) and represents Cooper’s second printed title.

British special agent Peter Mars, after infiltrating and demolishing a nefarious Russian plot early in the novel with the aid of an American special agent (actually, Peter lapses into amnesia throughout the entire episode after being bopped over the head) returns home to England for rest and relaxation.

However, in the espionage business, there is no such thing as snatching a little R & R, eh?

Peter Mars is immediately drafted to replace the recently deceased English counterfeiter Hildebrand, whom was knocked dead by a lorry. (On his deathbed, Hildebrand had mumbled incoherently some future arrangements). Thus assuming the role, Mars travels to Iceland and is immediately met with unpredictable complications: a driver that picks him up but presumably doesn’t speak English, and a young lady at the hotel accosts him under the guise of being Hildebrand’s wife!

Clearly the girl can blow his cover, but, incredibly, she doesn’t. She is there to locate her father, a Nazi officer, that she has not seen since the Second World War, and coerces Mars to bring her along with him.

With a note slipped under his hotel room door at night, he reads and readies himself for his ordeal. The pair are driven far away from civilization, then take a helicopter out to a remote island, seemingly uninhabitable, when a platform rises out of the surface. They land and the platform drops beneath the island to an underground facility, like something right out of an Ian Fleming thriller. (Mind you, Mr. Fleming’s first Bond book was “Casino Royale,” in 1953, so I’m not entirely certain what Cooper modeled his concepts after).

Having arrived, he is greeted as Hildebrand, since the girl does not betray his trust. Further, we learn she is the daughter one of the top brass Nazis. Point of fact, the entire underground base is a secret Nazi regime waiting to bring the world to its knees! And their deepest guarded secret: a young teen-aged boy that reportedly is . . . the son of Adolph Hitler!

Without revealing further details, I will say that I thoroughly enjoyed the well-thought-out initial Peter Mars tale of espionage and intrigue against the Russians, but, Edmund Cooper truly shines in this complicated tale of Nazism surviving years beyond the war, secretly plotting to undermine the world economic system. The entire “son of Adolph Hitler” could have been eradicated from the novel, as it lent absolutely nothing to the plot.  The fight scenes are intrinsic and elaborate, drawing the reader deeper into the chaos that ultimately ensues.

Cooper, sir … you’ve done a damn fine job entertaining me this week with your first two (of three) novel achievements.

“The Black Phoenix” by Martin Lester (Curtis Warren Ltd., 1954)