Once more I return to the 1930’s with publisher Sharman Ellis Ltd. (Click on the publisher name in the TAGS section).
The cover art (cropped along the right edge in error by the printer) is simply signed as “S.E.C.” The cover closely adheres to a closing scene in the story. One wonders if the artist read the story or if the editor supplied the artist with the idea.
Tracks of the Turtle is the 7th title in the “Mystery Thrillers” series, and spans exactly 64 pages. The story features Clay (Oke) Oakley and his assistant, Archibald (Archie) Brixey. Oakley operates Secrets, Incorporated, a Hollywood detective firm that often-times works outside the law in the best interest of their Hollywood clients.
In this particular case, Oakley has received a call from a mansion, indicating that a murder has been performed. On arrival, a gorgeous lady and man accept their call, but assure the duo that no murder been committed, and, no such call had been made from the premises.
To their astonishment, a man is murdered out back near a shed, and wet prints are found near the corpse. Oakley suspects foul play on multiple fronts, and he and his partner immediately depart the scene in favor of their home base, rather than confront the police, whom are not very favorable toward them.
The next morning, the lady phones Oakley to return to the mansion. She explains that her father lives in the “shed,” which is more than it appears. She hires Oakley to unravel the case while protecting her father from a potential arrest and public humiliation. The family is afraid that the world would deem him insane.
The story becomes quite convoluted as we learn that she is an inept actress, that her father is rich and hell-bent on pushing all his monies towards her future in acting. The male that had opened the door earlier, with her, is her brother. Turns out that neither of them are actually the presumed insane man’s children. He adopted them as children, and reared them as his own.
The father suffers from a malady of the glands; they fail to sweat. He lives in the shed and copper pipes everywhere drip water and create an artificially damp environment. The shed is home to numerous turtles. The damp environment and pipes drip on the man even while he sleeps, to assist in his bodily functions. He fears that his malady is hereditary, so avoided having children of his own.
While investigating this shed, Brixey suffers from the dampness and contracts a cold, which while hardly noteworthy, introduces this somewhat bungling character as comic relief.
Further murders occur when the director of the girl’s first-ever feature film is being produced. He is found dead, after a gun is discharged. Wet footprints are at the scene of the crime, indicating the father was present. All clues point to him as the murderer, only, Oakley sees it differently.
Each murdered candidate was already dead! The shot(s) fired and that were heard never were the killing shots. They merely indicated a gun had gone off, and to draw someone to the dead bodies. The actual killer, while brilliantly leading the cops astray, hadn’t tricked Oakley one bit. The killer wanted the bodies to be found. But why? In all instances, wet footprints are present, and, each assassinated person had received a threatening note, signed with a turtle. Clearly the killer wanted the father to be accused of the crime.
But what was killer’s motive?
In this case, it’s simply MONEY.
The children each stood to inherit 50% of their father’s net worth upon death. And he is (or, was) worth millions. However, he has been pumping all his money into the movie, and the movie is an over-budgeted whale of a doomed project. Turns out the son is the murderer, of course. In the final scenes, at home, he shoots his sister in the leg, she faints (see the girl on the desk on the front cover). The other girl, gagged and bound to a wall post, is Oakley’s fiery red-headed secretary; she is given the author’s lazy treatment of quantitatively ejaculating that he should stay away from blondes. Cliche!
Before Oakley arrives to save the day, the father has arrived, and he attempts to get the drop on his son. He drops into the room and levers a round into his old gun, fires, and click! The gun fails to discharge. The son knocks him down, but, in the interval, Oakley jumps in (with the aid of a policeman) and they take care of the son. The policeman has a history and grudge against Oakley for interfering in past cases, and still believes that he ought to be arrested for (earlier) assaulting an officer (himself) and that the father is ultimately still guilty of murder.
Oakley works fast to prove his case and free the father from the clutches of what is clearly a policeman whom should be suspended from duties or re-assigned to another district. However, right or wrong, Oakley should be brought in on assault charges, which Davis (our author) blissfully overlooks.
All in all, a pleasing crime tale, and I can’t wait to tackle another Frederick C. Davis pulp story in the near future….
With much honor and respect to the late BBC man, Alan Whicker, whom died on 12 July 2013, exactly five years ago, I am posting this blog entry on his rare postwar crime novel. For those interested in reading about Mr. Whicker and his career, click on his name, above. For further information, check out the BBC Obituary and video.
“Some Rise by Sin” was published in 1951 by Stanley Baker Publications Ltd. (16 The Green, Richmond, Surrey). The novel runs 90 pages, and the publishers priced the novel at 1/9 (in the year 2000, this converts to 5.1 Pounds). Most paper-bound novels of this era were traditionally asking 1/- to 1/6, especially for a book of this page length. How did they get away with asking a higher rate when other mushroom publishers were asking less?
For those out there avidly collecting “drug” novels, this one ought to be a dream.
After his good friend, Basil Moore (a top newspaperman) is found dead, floating down the river Tiber, Alan Whicker, of the News-Dispatch, is assigned to the international hush-hush assignment of uncovering the filthy £10,000,000 drug racket that has taken hold of Europe. He must discover and infiltrate the distributors and unveil the identity of the ruthlessly sinister leader, known as Nummer Eins (Number One).
While on assignment, Whicker ends up falling in love with socialite Margo, a dancer and singer at the Golden Monkey nightclub. Sadly, he learns that she has rooming with her another man (Martyn) and they end up getting into a physical altercation. Whicker takes his lumps and ends up badly battered and bloody, but, victor in this embittered battle. He departs the nightclub, and despite Margo chasing and swooning over him, he shoves her affections aside. He has little interest in playing middle man to her love affair.
Wandering the streets and drinking at an all-night eatery, he returns to his quarters to find his bed occupied. He decides to let whomever it is sleep it off, but, realizes something is amiss. Going over to check his health status, he discovers the man isn’t breathing. Furthermore, it is Martyn, shot dead! Realizing that he has been framed for murder, Whicker heaves the body upon his shoulders and removes the corpse from the premises. He drives all over the city and out to the river to dispose of the cadaverous Martyn. Whicker (as author) introduces his fictional self to a humorous episode while trying to ditch the body. He’s pulled over by an International Patrol, which comprises of one British M.P., an American, a Frenchman, and a Russian. He quickly douses Martyn with liquor (in typical cliché form) and the police think he is just another drunkard.
Escaping their clutches, Whicker finally disposes of Martyn. Before doing so, he searches Martyn’s pockets. He finds a secreted document, in German, that reads: “Whicker einrifft Montag abend. Liquidierre ihn. Nummer Eins.” The note also supplies a phone number and the name of a boat. He returns to the late-night eatery to establish an alibi for his whereabouts, and returns later to his room. It isn’t long before local police arrive on the scene to investigate an anonymous tip. Unveiling no hidden dead bodies on the premises, they depart.
The next day, he dials the mysterious number only to discover it belongs to Margo! Is this loving vivacious girl the sinister Nummer Eins? It hardly makes sense. (Nor does it make sense to frame Whicker for murder and leave a note from the secret villain on his person; intentional? or a goof on the part of the author?)
Whicker confesses the all-night episode to his close compatriot, Gerry, whom is a locally stationed high-ranking officer. Together, the two infiltrate a drug den. Realizing they can’t depart without raising some eyebrows, they succumb to drugs. Whicker, unable to control his anxiety, relinquishes control of the situation to Gerry. The story shifts mostly to Gerry’s viewpoint on drugs. Unable to escape, they are offered a choice of “hashish, opium, heroin, a little morphine….” Gerry opts for peyote, much to the proprietor’s surprise. Forking over a thousand shillings for ten grains each, the pair are left in an isolated room, and the attendant injects both men. At the final moment, Whicker panics and begs not to be under the influence. Too late….
While initially loopy, Gerry explains the drug mescaline to Whicker, and its properties. After regaining a semblance of control over their mental and physical properties, the duo sneak out of the room and investigate other rooms. They are startled to see raving lunatics gone-too-far under the influence of cocaine, opium, etc. One room offers maniacs bouncing about from hallucinations. The effects of the peyote begins to finally really take effect, and they stumble back to their room.
Whicker elaborates on the effects of the drug, what he sees, feels, etc, for a few pages. One almost wonders if our BBC man actually has any first-hand experiences with drugs or if he cooperated with contacts that could supply information.
Eventually escaping the drug den from hell, Gerry and Whicker part ways. Whicker intends to make for Vienna, to follow-up another lead. While en route, he is pulled over and beaten nearly unconscious by two assailants. While delirious, he hears that they are ordered to murder him, but the other person present stays his hand from murder. Whicker later learns that his jeep was used as a means to pass something concealed, across the border. He was used as an unwitting accomplice, and Nummer Eins was at the back of this plot!
Whicker plods on, and chasing the mysterious boat that is preparing soon to leave (the one mentioned on Martyn’s note) he boards the vessel. He meets the captain, and knocks the man out. While out cold, Whicker sifts through the captain’s papers and finds the “case” that had been secreted on his jeep! It is filled with loose gems (diamonds, gold, pearls, rubies, emeralds, sapphires) and jewelry. He shows his newfound worldly goods to Gerry, and the pair return to the Golden Monkey, the club where Margo sings. They are certain the proprietor might recognize some of the jewelry and know who they belonged to originally. Why their interest in this angle? Well, the jewelry would have been relinquished in order to pay for the illegal drugs! So, whomever did so, is on drugs, and should know their point-of-contact. At least, that’s Whicker’s line of thought.
The proprietor, Tibor, recognizes only one piece, as belonging to…Margo! Whicker is stunned and disheartened. He later dines with Margo, and then drops the jewelry before her eyes, upon the table. He confronts her, but she only breaks down and cries. We are left to wonder if she truly is Nummer Eins or only a blubbering wreck because she ultimately knows this person’s true identity, and is afraid to tell the truth.
Dull and beside himself with serious depression, Whicker returns to the Golden Monkey to get drunk. While there, a British soldier walks in and salutes him in passing, while walking to the back, toward Tibor’s offices. Whicker is baffled as to why this man saluted him! True, he himself is in military attire, but, only a new recruit or recent transfer into the Zone would salute him, and, he knows neither are due to this area. Intrigued, he walks in on Tibor and this false soldier, only to find Tibor equally dressed as a soldier!
Tibor draws a handgun on Whicker, and explains the situation. The drug gang are removing themselves from Europe, with all their millions earned, and fleeing before the local governments discover and converge upon them. Irked that Whicker has survived all their murderous attempts, Tibor informs him that he won’t survive this one. The situation becomes stickier when Margo inexplicably walks in. She is oblivious that Tibor intends to murder Whicker. Margo again proclaims her love for Whicker, whom tries to convince her to flee the scene, lest Tibor kills her too.
His whole world ultimately crumbles when she confesses that she isNummer Eins! However, she never ordered the kills. Tibor did all this behind her back. She was in charge purely for the money. After the war left her husbandless and destitute, she used her charms and allure to establish a foundation for illicit drug-trafficking throughout Europe. Margo never believed she would fall in love again until she met Whicker. Then, she didn’t care about her Nummer Eins identity any longer, or the money. Willing to abandon the whole lot to Tibor and his mad crew, she attempts to save Whicker’s life but is gut-shot for her efforts.
Tibor and the gang flee, but all of Europe are put on high alert. They are found, eventually. Tibor is gunned down and the rest arrested, along with many corrupt political figures, etc.
Margo dies on the floor from the gunshot wound, in Whicker’s arms, whom forgives her for her illegal transgressions. He buries under in her native Austrian lands, under a tall elm tree. Grim and despondent, he leaves her and the churchyard, to return back to England….
Alan Whicker writes a very serious exposé of the world’s ultra secret underworld and drug trafficking problems following the conclusion of the second world war, supplying raw data on various countries, a variety of drugs and their concerns, etc. As the hero of our tale, Whicker must face unscrupulous military men, bed down a variety of foreign ladies, succumb to drugs himself (twice) to maintain his secret assignment (even though everyone seems to already know his assignment), dodge assassination attempts, survive brutal beatings, and get liquored-up repetitively. Initially I was disgusted with the novel and its blasé attitude toward various ethnic groups and countries, but, we must understand that Whicker was writing, on one level, a formula novel, and on another level, a novel rich and colored by the natural biases of the reading public. It is an outstanding literary endeavor and well-worth my time spent reading it.
Inside, on the title page, it says he is also the author of the following:
Threat of the Future
Korea Man (in Men Only, March 1951)
I have found that Whicker was a regular contributor to Men Only, appearing in at least 20 issues, perhaps more. It is in all likelihood that all the above entries appeared in that publication. He also supplied at least one short crime tale to Courier (April 1950). I think it would be interesting to read all of his early literary output and perhaps have them collected (with the estates permission).
When a battered copy of Love Packs a Six-Gun by John Frederick slid across my field of vision, I didn’t wait a second to snatch it up. The author is one of many aliases used by Frederick Schiller Faust, better known under his most famous alias, Max Brand.
Interestingly enough (to me) I had never read (to my recollection) any works by Mr. Faust. And given the somewhat obscurity of this Canadian publication via the Crown Novel Publishing Company, now was my opportunity. Printed in 1946, and noted to be “complete and unexpurgated,” I dove right in.
The cover art depicts a blond gunslinger facing off against an unknown figure, his own hand resting casually by his own six-gun. Behind the blonde is a red-dressed lady. The lower portion of the cover is mangled, leaving me to guess whether an artist signed the book or not, but, I have seen one other copy, and no signature was in evidence on that copy, either. However, if I had to guess, I would choose my Canadian artist to be Harold Bennett, based on the style of the “fingers” on the foreground gunman.
The original publication of this story initially had me baffled. This novelette never appeared in the pulps under this title, under any of his aliases. Reading the story quickly cleared the air….
Love Packs a Six-Gun debuted in Western Story Magazine, 26 March 1923 as “The Abandoned Outlaw” under the John Frederick alias.
The story introduces readers to two young boys playing at a schoolyard. The first, Oliver Beam, is an intelligent jock-sized boy, the boy that nobody can beat. The second is Clancy Stewart, a year younger, and his family recently moved out West. His father assigns the young Clancy to pick out the school bully, essentially, and beat him up. Beam is bewildered that this young upstart should mess with him, especially since he is noticeably smaller in frame than himself. The duke it out and Beam is further dumbfounded to find the younger boy a fair match for his oversized brawn. Neither refuse to give up and only break when a young pretty girl, Sylvia West, runs over to stop them from killing each other. Both are bloodied and bruised beyond recognition.
Each boy goes home, and while at Beam’s home, a knock at the door reintroduces the battered Clancy, demanding Beam to continue the fight. Clancy’s father refuses to permit him to step indoors until the fight is settled, with Clancy as victor! So ends Chapter One.
The next chapter slings us into the future. The boys are grown, graduated, in one form or another, and Beam is in charge of his father’s estate, and the richest bachelor in the region. Clancy’s family has always been dirt-poor, inept farmers, and his family is dead and gone. The “estate” is deeply in debt, and creditors have all come upon his father’s recent death to call in their debt(s). Nearly penniless, Clancy laughs them away, but one returns to collect or kill, so being his reputation.
Clancy easily guns the man down, walks into his cabin, phones the sheriff, and confesses to the killing. However, with no witnesses, he’s leery of being arrested. The sheriff is certain of the man’s innocence, and fully aware of the dead man’s reputation.
However, a janitor in town despises Clancy, for he represents everything that he himself is not. A born coward, Clancy is brave in the face of any fear. So, overhearing the sheriff talking on the phone to Clancy, he devises a plan to race afoot out of town, run into the oncoming Clancy, and lying to him, inform that the sheriff intends to arrest Clancy for the murder and use him as a springboard toward the upcoming re-elections.
Convinced, Clancy turns and rides away. Meeting Sylvia West at her father’s ranch, she has yet to hear of the murder, but Clancy informs her and she finally extracts from him that he loves her. Taking a chance, she kisses him, and realizes now, fully, that she is in fact in love with Clancy and not Oliver Beam. That fact had always been left undecided. She cares not for Beam’s money or good-standing. She’s ready to throw her life away and marry an outlaw.
Departing town and region, Clancy flees to parts unknown, works an ore mine, strikes it relatively rich enough to be financially solvent, returns, and presenting his hard work to Sylvia, she finds him inside and out a new man. Clancy again leaves….
Oliver Beam is certain that the outlaw is in the region. In fact, he is certain. Sylvia West is, while always friendly toward him, affectionately cold and distant. On this basis, he spends time at her father’s ranch and one night spots her on horseback riding into the wilderness. Whilst on foot, he chases her, knowing he can keep up because she has to ride slowly at night.
Stealthily he follows and she eventually reaches a remote cabin and finds the two lovers. Listening in, he finally enters the cabin and…well, let’s just say it ends in a shootout. Clancy wins, despite Beam’s astoundingly fast draw. Shot down, but not dead, the mortally wounded Beam is taken in and Sylvia dresses his wound and sends Clancy out for help. He returns with a clergyman, and instructs the man to convince her to marry Beam! She has no certain future with himself, and Clancy knows it, having been convinced by Beam. Bewildered by his assignment, the man rides down and attempts to convince the girl to marry Beam…
Clancy rides away, only to find a notice hammered on a cabin stating that Clancy is a free man, all charges dropped! Turns out that the janitor, on his death-bed, confessed his sin to the sheriff.
Overjoyed, Clancy rides back quick as hell to save Sylvia from marrying Beam. He eventually comes upon the clergyman, whom explains that Sylvia fought him tooth and nail, but in the end, he prevailed, and the two are married.
Clancy, dejected, rides away, only to reflect in astonishment that he wasn’t beat by the law, by Beam’s quick draw, but by a janitor, the town outcast.
The story has subsequently been collected in 1997 and 1998, first by publisher Thomas T. Beeler (Circle V Western, large print edition) and next year via Dorchester / Leisure Books mass market paperback edition. The tale also exists narrated on audio cassette.
When the mangled copy of Robert Sidney Bowen’s Make Mine Murder slid across my line of sight, I cringed, but I read it. Why…? A year prior (2015 or early 2016) I had read, for the first time, a short story by Mr. Bowen appearing in a wartime issue of Dare-Devil Aces. The tale intrigued me enough to wonder if this novel was actually a wartime propaganda novel disguised as a murder-mystery, or really what is purported to be.
Make Mine Murder opens with Gerry Barnes arguing with future wife (Paula Grant) over his decision to become a private detective. Gerry served in the 2nd World War and has inherited enough money (from the stereotypical dead uncle) to do whatever he desires.
He desires to be a dick-for-hire. She desires to marry him.
He tosses her the challenge of finding him his first case, preferably a nice juicy murder.
She does, which is where all credulity is thrown out the window. Still, the eye-rolling scenario is necessary to not only catapult our facetious protagonist into his first real case, but, toughen him up to reality. And boy, does he bungle it up awfully, showcasing that one, he is a flawed detective, and two, he can take his licks and learn from them. Ergo, he is human, and I like that in a story.
So…lovely Paula goes home to clean up and powder her nose, etc., and discovers a corpse in her bed. Hence, our charming cover art. She freaks out, and immediately phones Gerry, to get his ass over there, but pronto!
He tries. He really does. He fails….
An ape named Jake walks in and informs him that his boss demands his presence. Now. Gerry isn’t keen on keeping this newly formed appointment, and insists on getting past the ape. Nothing doing. He soon is introduced to the back seat of an automobile, tossed down, and kept in the dark as to the boss’s location.
The boss is one Mr. White, and while I’m not entirely certain, he may be an albino. He is described as good-looking and sporting the appearance of maintaining a tan, with pink eyes. His hair isn’t mentioned, but given his eyes and namesake, one leans toward believing he is an albino. But, then, how about that tan? Mystifying.
Mr. White wishes to hire the newly-created detective to find a missing person. Why? He wants an untried detective, with no reputation, to maintain a low-profile, plus, he has heard that Gerry has a huge ego. That ego means he will work hard to solve the case for Mr. White, with or without the hefty fee he promises.
The problem? Mr. White doesn’t know what the missing man looks like. He’s never met him. We do learn that the missing man has something Mr. White wants.
Gerry wants no part of this heist-Gerry-and-hire-Gerry plan, but Mr. White and his ape have other plans, and he tactfully agrees to accept the offer, lest he disappears, too!
The novel goes haywire as Gerry attempts to locate the missing person, whom he is certain is Paula’s dead man, while keeping out of the reaches of the police inspector (Bierman), whom wants his full cooperation or he’ll stomp him like a bug. With the aid of the usual newspaperman thrown into the mix, and a handful of socialites to create confusion, the novel haphazardly is drawn to a final conclusion and the killer revealed, but not before further murders are committed. Gerry solves the case, and that is the only thing that saves his rump from being tossed into the slammer. The generally tongue-in-cheek mood of the story takes an abrupt hard-boiled edge in the concluding pages, which was very much not expected.
Naturally, I won’t reveal the actual workings of the plot or the killer’s identity. In reading the book, you’ll figure that out readily enough, I’m sure, but, Bowen has fun forcing Gerry to learn the truth for himself, and, why.
I thoroughly enjoyed this romp through postwar America and the images Bowen created. The socialite scenes are in keeping with how Hollywood perceives the rich and eccentric to act and behave, without conscious thought to the realities of the rest of the world.
The steady pace, snappy dialogues, and fast action keep the reader hooked.
Have YOU ever read this novel? I’d love to hear your input.
Bowen’s best remembered in the pulp community for creating the Dusty Ayres and His Battlebirds magazine series. Among American’s youth during World War Two, he is fondly recalled for his Dave Dawson series and Red Randall war series.
Wikipedia has an entry for the author, but I’ve not dug deep enough yet into it to discern how accurate some of the data actually is, however, it’s fair to say that the majority is.
Now, as it turns out, this title has seen a handful of editions.
1946 – Crown (252-pages, 1st edition, hardcover in jacket)
1947 – Ideal Publishing Company (168-page mass market paperback)
via the Black Knight series, Number 30, unabridged
1949 – Checkerbooks (96-page paperback, abridged)
from the Library of Basil Rathbone series, Number 3
1955 – Original Novels Foundation (130-page booklet, likely abridged)
via the Star Books series, Number 277 (Australia)
And, at least one translated:
1959 – Ark’s Forlag (160-pages)
via the Rekord series, Number 67 (Denmark)
printed in Danish, as “De døde mænds guld”
The edition I have is the Black Knight edition. The cover art is unsigned, but features a man, dead, in a bed, and a woman looking on in horror. Thankfully, this scene actually does appear in the novel, and wasn’t a bogus cover created to generate sales.
Featured as No. 2 in the Blue Star Adventure series is Realm of the Alien by Chester Delray (the alias of Francis G. Rayer). This 64-page novella was published by Grafton Publications (Ireland).
Copies of this original Irish-published science fiction tale are quite scarce. No copies are held by any major UK libraries, according to the COPAC system, and only two in the United States per WorldCat. Dates of publication vary widely, from 1945-1947, whereas United States libraries guess 1950s, which is entirely erroneous.
The blurb on the rear cover suggests a tantalizing read!
FLYING TO VENUS Here’s a spellbinding epic of the vast mysterious worlds that science brings nearer day by day.You can go by space-ship to a land of thrills andterror in this gripping vivid panorama of life on Venus.By a brilliant new author of scientific fiction, the opening story makes credible an adventure that even the scientists never dared to dream.Meet, through Chester Delray, a civilization versed in its own monstrous methods of defence and terror … and fight, with him, the white man’s tense battle against the hidden powers that are more real than ever in the world today.
Too bad the novel hardly attains the level of grandeur presented in the blurb! The blurb is utter rot, however, there are some redeeming values to this novel.
A vast spaceship with perhaps hundreds of crew-members is flying to Venus to explore the planet, ascertain whether it is safe to inhabit, locate the rich ores believed to be buried beneath the planet’s crust, and, learn just what did happen to all of the previous ships that made the same journey. All the ships safely landed, reported back to Earth, but, then, inexplicably, radio silence followed. What was their fates?
The Flight Captain of the Starstream is Hughes, a man quite suited to the ordeal, departs the ship first, to test the air. In reality, we all know the Flight Captain would hardly be the person, among hundreds, to walk off the ship and provide such data. However, they land, he tests the air, discovers it suitable to breathe, then bizarrely enough, begins to head off on his own.
When Henson, leader of the expedition, orders him back, Hughes disregards the direct command and continues merrily on his way. Realizing that something is awry, one would hardly suggest sending out another person…and yet, the entire ship eventually disembarks and follows Hughes into the Venusian jungle, leaving Henson as the sole person aboard.
He eventually steps outside and finds himself under possibly a hypnotic suggestion, and carefree, ambles off into the jungle, too. He’s unsure where the others have gone, but his body seems content to walk in the same general direction…. Eventually, he is captured by sinister-looking creatures with tentacles, and led away and reunited with the rest of the hapless crew.
All captured, the crew are led to a Venusian city, and tossed into a jail. Also thrown in is another Venusian, smaller in stature, and unlike their captors, quite timid. The linguistics expert learns their language in no-time-flat (quite conveniently). This man learns that there are TWO distinct races on the planet, and naturally the sinister ones are “mad” and not right in the head. An electronics tower emits some form of radiation to keep their volatile insanity under control and enables them to capture the Earthlings.
Realizing that they are all to be sacrificed, they make a concerted rush at the door, knock it down, take out and overpower the jailers, and effect their escape. However, those that control the tower suspend their attempts, mentally, and they are re-jailed.
Their last attempt at freedom is when they are led to their deaths. While led out of the jail, they again overthrow the villains, and this time, make for the tower. Oddly and inexplicably enough, whomever controls the tower never flips the switches ON to halt their progress. The crew break into the tower, beat down the only Venusian controlling an array of switches in a second room, but find themselves otherwise trapped. The entire city of Venusians are jointly attacking the tower, using ladders to scale the walls and climb in the windows.
Swarming the tower, they break in, and a mad melee ensues. The humans are rapidly losing ground, and finally, they take notice of the timid alien (whom they rescued and carried along with them). It is suggesting they destroy the apparatus in the firstroom. Doing so, they learn the first room controlled the madness of the Venusians, and soon, they are brutally fighting among themselves.
The crew make good their escape, return to the ship, discover it is covered with lichen, remove it from the ship, and take off. They are free!
Or, are they? Nope. We’ve only finished half the novel.
The lichen has infiltrated the entire ship, is indestructible, and to add fire to their dilemma, the “pods” that the plant develops actually is the birthing stations for more “mad” Venusians. They burst out, fully developed, and pandemonium ensues on-board the Starstream. Overwhelmed by the aliens, they try to negotiate for their lives. The aliens suggest otherwise. They want to return to Earth, kill off the entire race, and take over the planet, in an expansion effort!
If they return home, the entire planet will be covered in this rapid-growing pink lichen with more aliens hatching in no-time. In an effort to dupe the aliens, they suggest landing on a Neptune moon, but the aliens themselves linguistically learn English! Realizing it is a trick, they negotiate to let the Flight Captain survive, if he takes them to Earth.
Shockingly, he agrees.
The crew, aware of what has transpired, make a mad dash for the flight room, but are repelled, constantly, after repeated attempts. Their own numbers rapidly diminishing, the crew’s apparently only female member commands their attention, informing that she has been experimenting with ways to kill the lichen. (Really? When the hell…?) She injects the serum into herself, and runs out to infect lichen and aliens. The crew is mortified that she has sacrificed herself, and head out to rescue her or die vainly trying.
The aliens shockingly begin screaming “The Great Plague” over and over, and suffer strange rashes. In a mad dash to escape the plague, they open the air-locked doors (in space) and are vacuumed out into the void, to die. The lichen, exposed to the woman’s “plague,” crumbles and deteriorates. The crew escape being sucked out the door by locking themselves in a compartment. But, with that door open, and that they’re speeding recklessly toward the Earth, and the Flight Captain, deprived of oxygen, now dead, who is piloting the ship?
They are all gonna die!!!!
Nope. In eye-rolling fashion, Henson makes his way to the flight cabin, takes control of the vessel, and peels off hitting a city and smoothly sails back into space. (All without being sucked out into space?)
All are saved (drats!)
Hurrah, and thank goodness; I’m done reading this science fiction tragedy. While it reads seemingly like complete rubbish, it’s worthwhile to note that unlike many UK sf pulpy stories, the female protagonist is never portrayed as a sexual object, and performs a heroic task, selflessly exposing herself to danger. And yes, she lives. The plague was only a danger to the aliens, not the humans. Sadly, we are never given to know just how she came to create the toxic cocktail, avoided being sucked out of the airlock, along with various other faults in this novel.
I don’t normally read Westerns, however, given that Clark Aiken was the alias of Frederick C. Davis, and I have already read a few published by Sharman Ellis, why commit myself solely to crime tales by this author? To be even more frank, I’ve never actually read a western by Davis.
Gunman’s Bluff appears here as by Clark Aiken, and the story spans pages 1 through 55. The remaining pages of this 64-page thin stapled digest-sized paperback is filled with an uncredited short story (“Beef Stung”) which turns out to be by Frederick C. Davis.
Apparently, this title appears twice by Davis. The second time was in 1935, and the lead character is registered as “Duke Buckland.” No such character appears in my copy. So, we can scratch that one. The earlier title appears for the November 1929 issue of North-West Stories. No further details are noted, however, it is likely that this is the correct story (it ran under his own name in the pulp, rather than under his alias).
The tale opens with “Kid” Corbin riding home to his father’s ranch, which is a destroyed bit of history. Burned out and left to die, his father suffered a horrible fate at the hands of a band of killers led by the vicious El Zorra, a masked bandit that nobody apparently has ever seen, save for various heads of the organization of murderers and pillagers.
Having arrived, Corbin is greeted by a neighboring rancher’s daughter (Derry Murchison) whom Corbin is in love with. Hardly has she ridden across the hill when someone with a long-range rifle attempts to annihilate Corbin. Hearing the echo of the shot, she rides back to investigate. Combining their limited information, she again departs and he rides to town, to meet with the local sheriff.
Sheriff Kinsburn was the person who initially wrote to Kid Corbin to apprise the young man of his father’s death. While in town, Corbin finds the horse belonging to the sniper, and the rifle in the scabbard. Calling the killer out, he guns him down. Much to his chagrin, when the sheriff comes to investigate, someone has made off with the dead man’s rifle. With zero evidence present, the sheriff is forced to arrest Corbin.
Corbin is forced to escape. He can’t solve the mystery in jail, and does not expect a fair trial. The town is loaded with the crooked element, and they want to lynch him.
Breaking free, someone in the dark hands him a gun. The mysterious party is a man, and that is all that Corbin discerns. Nabbing his horse, he takes off and is pursued by the sheriff and posse.
Shot and wounded, he rides into dense foliage and finds himself cornered. Inexplicably, someone from the party assists in his rescue. Turns out to be the girl’s father, from the neighboring ranch. Tricking the posse to chase Corbin in the opposite direction, the pair sneak off to his home. Quickly imparting information and questions, Corbin learns that this man was NOT the person that handed him a six-shooter. The mystery continues….
The girl’s father hides Corbin in another room just as the sheriff rides up and confronts Mr. Murchison. The latter isn’t interested in assisting the sheriff in corralling the young man, and insists that the sheriff is inept and that Corbin is innocent. Annoyed, the sheriff departs.
The story goes all over the place, before settling down to Corbin sneaking into the enemies lair in a cave, disguising himself as one of the marked bandits. All goes awry, he is captured, and while taken away by two men to be murdered, one of the masked men inexplicably shoots the other and shoots a sniper. Effecting their escape, Corbin is nonplussed to learn that this person was not only the man that gave him a six-shooter earlier in the novella, but, he is also his very own dead father!
We later learn that while he was indeed home when the ranch-house was set aflame, someone else was also in the home with him at the time. It was that person’s body they found charred to a crisp. Delirious, and near death, the senior Corbin dragged himself out the back door, wounded, and passed out far away from the burning home. The killers believed him dead the whole time. (Wait a minute! In what world does a gang of killers set fire to a house, after emptying their guns into it, and not cover all exits?)
Realizing he was better off playing the part of a dead man, he infiltrated the gang by wearing a mask and following the gang to their hideout. As thus he remained, the entire time, until his son goofed and blundered into their hands.
The pair pull off a few tricks and in the end rope the leader, whom turns out to be the sheriff, the only logical person left that could be the villain, unless it was someone else yet to be introduced to the reader.
Naturally, the story ends on good terms: the father lives; Mr. Murchison, wounded, also lives, and they go into partnership. And the young lovers? They will inherit everything….