If you enjoy reading British gangster fiction, then this book is certainly up your alley. In fact, it is written and handled better than much of what I have read from the 1940s-1950s. Initially, I felt that Killer’s Progress had that rough, early Darcy Glinto portrayal of American gangster-ism about it. In other words, just another Brit writing slush about American gangsters, gleaned from books or movies. Yes, it is just that, however, the author, Frank Griffin, by this time, has now accumulated 2-years of developmental writing under his belt. His first novel, already blogged here, was Death Takes a Hand. That novel was atrocious. But that doesn’t mean it didn’t make for a mean read, and as a quasi-fan of Griffin’s criminal yarns, that didn’t stop me from finishing the poorly executed novel. Griffin was a work in progress.
Killer’s Progress runs 96-pages and was published in 1947 by Pendulum Publications. The cover art is unsigned, but may be the work of Bob Wilkin or Philip Mendoza. Regarding the cover art? I’ve no idea what it has to do with the novel, save for symbolism.
The opening pages trace the origins of a young British boy who would grow up to join an American mob gang in Chicago. Born Angelo Antonio Spirelli, the young lad is different from others in that he scarcely shows emotion, even when informed by his father that his mother is dying. Stealing some flowers from a nearby grave stone, he sneaks to the grave of his mother and deposits them. His first theft. A week goes by and his father, despondent over the passing of his loving wife, fails to return to work and blows his brains out. Sent to live with his brutish uncle and abrasive aunt, young “Tony” plans his escape.
Fleeing from the premises, he joins a seafaring vessel at age 17. Large and husky for his age, he has no problem passing for an older boy. Sailing for South America, he is introduced to the various lower denizens of colorful “life,” as it were. In five months, he is hardened into a shell of a man, but with much personality and well-developed muscles.
On returning to Liverpool, he draws his ships’ wages, and departs. Having seen what liquor can do to a man, he steadfastly has kept away from the bottle the entire time, and has built up quite a wallet. However, life at sea has not prepared him for life on land, and he is about to learn a tough lesson from unscrupulous prostitutes. Preying on his loneliness and masculinity, he is convinced to drink heavily and his funds are stolen from him while quite drunk. Regaining his wits come morning, he awakens to find the gorgeous beauty of the nightly escapades sound asleep beside him to be quite ugly in the daylight.
Falling out of the stinky hole, he wanders the streets and eventually learns that his cash is gone. Worse yet, he hasn’t a clue where he slept. Realizing the girls were in a conspiracy to steal his wages, he slowly backtracks until he finds the rooms and demands his funds. But when a brute enters the scene, he finds he must not only match brawn but brains against an assailant that is used to handling young men of his type. Having taken a severe beating and nearly losing, Tony retaliates and pummels the man to death. Locating his lost wages, he also discovers a veritable fortune cached away by this miniature gang of hoodlums. He decides to steal all the stolen funds.
Assuming the identity now of Tony Spears, he takes up residence near Elephant and Castle, meets some lads his age at a bar and finds one of the boys picks his pocket. However, when the boys are set upon by a tough, Tony takes him down and tosses him into a shop window. The group runs away and the pickpocket sneaks the wallet back into Tony’s clothes. Tony is no dimwit by this time, and knew the first and second occurrence, and sets upon the man, thrashing him about.
Apologizing for the attempted theft, the boy confesses he returned the funds because Tony stood up to the man that accosted them, and that made them friends. But, when that young man’s girlfriend plays friendly with Tony, he discovers that he’s been outplayed again. He exacts vengeance upon the boy…then flees to America.
Arriving in America, he hooks up with distant relatives and witnesses a gang shooting. Entranced by the callous gun-play and fast cars, he rapidly joins a gang, moves quickly to a top position, but becomes foolishly embroiled in a love triangle, liquor, and dazzled by guns and murder and cash.
When an innocent blonde damsel shamelessly walks in with a bullshit tale about Tony’s boss being setup to be wiped out, Tony takes the bait. He sends his best friend out to tail the damsel, but the young man is returned to the gang dead, battered and bloody. That beating was clearly meant for Tony. Learning the gang leader is also missing, he loads up a car of gangsters and they hightail it to the mobster’s home only to find themselves trapped in a burning, fiery inferno. Everyone is wiped out, save for Tony (who ends up shot up) and his partner. They escape after mowing down the rival gang, and Tony is removed and takes a week to heal.
Frustrated at being played the fool, he gathers his guns and makes a final play. Tony realizes that he is foolishly in love with the false idolized image of the blonde, but can’t shake her from his mind. Busting into his old gangster base, he finds a lower tier bully in control. Tony is certain this cretin set him up from the beginning, especially when he finds the blonde with him!
Tony murders all the gang, and despite being shot to pieces and bloody, tries to attain the love and affection of the blonde. She thinks he is insane. Not realizing he is the innocent party, she pulls an automatic and shoots Tony Spears dead.
2 thoughts on ““Killer’s Progress” by Frank Griffin (UK: Pendulum Publications, 1947)”
Was it unusual for such a short book to be published on its own? What was the format? Side stapled?
Not uncommon at all in England. Even before WW2 they did small digest-paperbacks. In this case, not a side-staple job, either.