“Make Mine Murder” by Robert Sidney Bowen

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.

BOWEN - Make Mine Murder

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.

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“Make Mine Murder” by Robert Sidney Bowen

Gunman’s Bluff by Frederick C. Davis

SHARMAN ELLIS 02 Gunman's BluffI 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….

Gunman’s Bluff by Frederick C. Davis

Three Miles from Murder by Frederick C. Davis

SHARMAN ELLIS 03In the late 1930s, English publisher Sharman Ellis Ltd. acquired the right to reprint several of Frederick C. Davis’s pulp stories.  It’s unclear whether those rights were obtained via the author, or the original publishers, or, his agent (if he had one).

The cover art is simply signed as “LB.”

None of the booklets in the series carry a copyright notice. They were published prior to World War Two, perhaps late 1936 or early 1937. The rear cover quotes the first four titles in the “Mystery Thrillers” series (of which this is #3) and that they are to be issued monthly. The featured read here contains two stories, and runs a total of 64 pages.

In Three Miles from Murder, Nicholas Bansak, a slot-machine racketeer, is shot to death in his home. There is no evidence as to who the shooter is. The maid hears the shot, finds his corpse, and quite naturally, phones the police. Arriving are Detective Lieutenant Frank Cooper. He is described as: “alert, muscular tension of a race horse.” His counterpart is lethargic Detective Sergeant Otto Schellhaus, and Cooper has zero respect for his partner, whom later remarks that he is no Sherlock Holmes (note, however, that S. H. figures in Otto’s surname). The pair are given 24-hours to solve the mystery or lose their jobs. To worsen the predicament, the body disappears! No body, no incriminating bullet, no murder! Right? Wrong. The maid saw the body, and the pair saw the body just before it pulled a Houdini. Crime has been running rampant in the city, and their only clue as a possible culprit to the murder, is one Ed Fox, whom now is the sole operator of slot-machines. The rash Cooper is convinced that Fox has fled the city upon calling at his home and finding he has not returned home overnight. The city is cordoned off, calls are placed, etc. Otto has other ideas, but Cooper isn’t interested. So, he nonchalantly follows up on them himself. He discovers that Fox has not fled, but, rather, is simply at work. Fox threatens to sue for slander and false-arrest. He is released, despite Cooper’s attempts to detain him. While Cooper is chasing up various angles like a rabid attack dog, Otto decides to investigate if it were indeed possible for Ed Fox to commit the crime. He learns that Fox’s home isn’t far from Bansak’s home, and, tallies off the mileage. While illegally snooping in Fox’s auto, he discovers a receipt noting that the car was recently worked on. Going to the shop, he obtains the mileage on the car. With this information, he maps out the mileage home, to the murder, etc. While driving all over town trying to discover just where a missing 3 miles may have led Fox (if he committed the crime) he discovers one circuitous route: the cemetery. And that very morning, the Chief of Police had a member of his family buried! Convinced that Fox slipped in and stole the body while they were distracted, Otto illegally convinces the caretaker to unearth the casket and crack it open. Scarily enough, only the body that is supposed to be present is accounted for. Worse than that, Cooper arrives on the scene and is mortified that find that Otto has dug up the Chief’s family. While being reprimanded, Otto freaks out and grabs Cooper into the car, and speeds all around the city like a raving lunatic the mileage per destination and insists the body has to be at the cemetery. They then strike upon the idea that the body IS at the cemetery, UNDER the casket. Returning to the scene, they lift the casket out of the ground and dig further. They haven’t got far to go before they find Bansak’s corpse and ultimately, prove that the bullet belongs to Fox’s gun.

Three Miles from Murder (via his alias Clark Aiken) was originally published under his own name in Detective Fiction Weekly (17 June 1933) and copped that edition’s cover (erroneously as “Three Miles to Murder”).

In the concluding story, Marmon speeds to the home of the Hartleys. The family has a legacy of being buried alive via freak accidents. Worse, Marmon’s fiancee is afraid of being buried alive. Her father was deemed dead, and to their horror, rose from the dead, only later to die in a mine cave-in. She informs Marmon that she suffers from the same malady that her father had, and that while she may appear dead, with no pulse, breath, etc., she is actually in a trance-like state. After her brother is shot fatally while chasing a grave-robber, Bernice faints and is presumed dead. The embalmers are brought in and Marmon chases them out. Eventually he resorts to violence, and carries a gun. Much time passes and someone breaks into her room. Hearing the noise, and bashes in the door and shoots the perpetrator whom is about to ram a knife into her chest. They tussle and someone bashes him over the head. The villain(s) depart down a trellis and escape. Marmon discovers the knife was left behind and realizes it belongs to the armory downstairs. Two others live in the house, and Marmon accuses them of attempted murder, the only logical option. While remaining once more on guard, they bring him food and tea and he staggers and passes out. His drink was drugged! Waking, he discovers Bernice removed and they couple acknowledge that they did dope his drink with sleeping tablets, because he was acting irrational. Speeding off to the embalmers, he bursts in as they are about to drain Bernice of her fluids. Pulling his gun, he locks them in a closet and takes her away to a secret location. Eventually, he thinks he hears her call faintly for water…. Or is it all really in his mind? The police are certain that he was the one that murdered Bernice’s brother, and that is why she fainted dead. Marmon discovers a letter with notes about the mother and jewels and following a lead, digs up the mother and learns that her necklace is fake! Only one person could have had access and the time to effect a swap: the embalmers. Calling the pair back to his house to claim the body, and to finally give up, the police instead appear first. Marmon begs them off and states the real murderer(s) are due. The couple, the cops, Marmon, and finally the embalmers are present. He reveals the fake necklace and lays the claim before the embalmers, whom stridently deny the accusations. There is no evidence. Or is there? Didn’t Bernice perchance see her brother’s killers? She did. She walks in and everyone is stunned. The conclusion is evident, as she points out who the killers are….

The Embalmers carries no byline. The story was originally published under his alias Garry Grant in Dime Mystery Magazine (March 1936).

Both stories are fun, entrancingly interesting reads. I look forward to obtaining and reading further stories by Frederick C. Davis in the near future. Stay tuned !!!

Three Miles from Murder by Frederick C. Davis

NICK CARTER returns in “Murder Unlimited”

Murder Unlimited
Murder Unlimited
 debuted as “Bid for a Railroad” in Nick Carter Magazine (January 1934). It was the second (of four) Nick Carter stories (originally written by Richard Wormser) to be bound and offered in digest-paperback format by the publishers Vital Publications in 1945.

Here, Nick is contracted to stop a competing railway line from putting a small-town line out of business. The owner is certain that they are using criminal means. Nick quickly learns that the railroad detectives assigned prior to the case, and still employed, are actually all corrupt and have criminal records of their own.

The son of the head villain (whom we never actually get to meet) goes so far as to deposit an extravagant amount of cash into the local bank (owned by the locals) and shortly thereafter, it is robbed at gunpoint.

Realizing that the bank doesn’t have enough funds to repay the villain’s son, nor the farmers and local homesteaders, if and when a run on the bank does develop (which turns out to be opening bell the next morning), Nick must chase the thieves, obtain the lost funds, return those funds in time to the bank before it opens, and coerce the largest depositors from extracting their funds, thereby tricking the locals to retain faith in the bank. It’s a nasty business but Nick is up to the transaction.

The head railroad detective is captured and after some trickery on Nick’s part, he agrees to turn evidence over against the villain’s son. Plus, the detective’s two assistants were murdered by the son, so he realizes his life is forfeit, otherwise. A local farmer-investor, duped into the dealings, confesses all, too. The local sheriff takes the son and the detective to jail….

NICK CARTER returns in “Murder Unlimited”

NICK CARTER and the “Empire of Crime”

In a fit of boredom, I decided to tap an American digest-pulp. Blindly extracting a book from the shelf, I found my fingers on a Nick Carter title. It wasn’t the first in the four-book series, so I moved my digits two to the left and extracted Empire of Crime by Nick Carter.

Granted, the world knows that Nick Carter (Nicholas Carter of dime novels) is an alias for a host of various authors, spanning several decades. I’m not interested in discussing them. There are plenty of other sites out there that have done just that, and to trod along those lines with something fresh and delightful…no. Just not doing it.

However, because there were only four issued by this publisher, Vital Publications, shortly after World War Two, this seems like an option. They were each reprinted by arrangement with Street & Smith, the magazine publishers of the Nick Carter pulps. As online records proclaim, the first 17 novellas were written by Richard Wormser, beginning in 1933.

Empire of Crime originally debuted as “Crooks’ Empire” in Nick Carter Magazine (April 1933). It was Wormser’s second Carter story. According to the FictionMags website, that was also his first fiction story. It seems incredible that the editors and bigwigs at Street & Smith should turn over a once-lucrative dime novel hero to a fledgling, untried author. And yet, that apparently is just what they did.

Or, did they?

Born in 1908, Wormser would have been 25 by this time. We know that from his memoirs he was already writing plenty by this time, but certainly he must have churned out some fiction prior to the Nick Carter stories. No?

In truth, his first sales were all to The Shadow magazine in 1932, under about a dozen different pseudonyms. Only the alias Conrad Gerson has been attributed to Wormser. Heaven knows what the others are. According to his own memoir (How To Become a Complete Nonentity), some issues had four stories by him, under four different aliases. I’m very tempted to take a stab at identifying those stories, but that is not the point of this post….

In this tale, special detective Nick Carter is hired by the New York City commissioner to track down a nationwide crime syndicate and destroy them. In gangster-era 1930s America, this novella was right at home with readers. If you are a Jason Bourne fan, you may wish to take special notice of this novel, because I would be splendidly shocked if the script writers hadn’t read this one themselves, including an amazingly daring elevator scene that, slightly altered, finds its way in the closing moments of the first Bourne movie (when Jason throws a dead body over the stairway and rides it to the bottom to cushion his fall).

But, I’m getting way ahead of myself….

Receiving a threatening death letter, Nick ignores the syndicates demands that he refuse the assignment. Hardly disposed to listening to the demands of criminals, Nick plunges into work, and is immediately attacked and captured. There ensues a crazy blood-and-thunder shooting scene in which Nick kills every assailant but one, and then doctors up his own appearance to match that of a criminal’s visage.

The pair arrested are brought before the commissioner for questioning. In his private quarters, Nick reveals his true identity.  With the commissioner’s sworn secrecy, Nick assumes the identity of one of the slain scar-faced criminals and is sent to prison. That prison being too soft for him, he is sent up the river to a tough-elements prison. There, he escapes and makes his way to a contact point on the outside. Said information was obtained from a prison-mate.

He eventually is led to a secret hideout. Nick is flabbergasted to learn that he is at the renown Kalgara’s Cover, a location that has been raided in the past, but turned up no evidence. Apparently the crooks in charge had outsmarted the police. Led down various tunnels, he is brought before the leaders and forced to explain how he came to escape, etc. They are upset over the demise of Nick Carter (whom is presumed dead, after the commissioner released info to the newspapers to run a circular about his death). The syndicate had grand plans for Nick Carter.

Nick, in the guise of the escaped criminal, is given the assignment of kidnapping a young wealthy heiress, for ransom. He refuses. Not in his line. After being roughed up a bit, he acquiesces, and a few thugs are sent to keep him in line.

He breaks in, gets away from the thugs, warns the girl, and phones the police. Hanging up the phone, her bedroom door opens with all 3 thugs in the house! A shootout occurs, and he is knocked senseless. The police arrive on the scene and Nick awakens. The girl is about to reveal that he is innocent but he motions for her silence, which, remarkably, she does just that. Led away from the scene as a criminal, he is cuffed. While distracted, Nick quickly slaps the other cuff on the girl’s arm, to force her to come with him. He knows that in all likelihood that there is another gang of hoodlums outside in a fast-car ready to mow him down with Tommy-gun fire. The syndicate doesn’t permit their kind to be captured. To be captured means loose lips, and those must be silenced.

Nick breaks away and tosses the girl over his shoulder and makes a run for it, while surrounded by New York’s finest. It’s all good fun, but, really, the author makes complete jokes out of the police nonstop throughout the novel. He escapes while carrying the girl (is he Hercules now?) and getting into a taxi (he’s already picked the cuff’s lock) they speed off to his own residence. Here, he squirrels her away in his abode in the care of his man servant. We never see nor hear of her again.

Sneaking off again, he makes his way back to Kalgara’s Cover, and explains how he escaped, once again. They are annoyed by his second failure and proclaim the death sentence. Nick smartly outwits the death decree by demanding a crooks’ fair trial, a rule that the syndicate does adhere to !!! Sadly, the sole remaining thug that broke into the girl’s home arrives and explains what actually happened, revealing that Nick Carter phoned the police. Sentenced again to die, he lucks out when the police decide once more to raid the place.

Death postponed, the lights are knocked out, and bedlam ensues. Shots are fired, and the door opens. Nick gets out with the assistance of another criminal, a mastermind high in the chain of command. Nick thinks that this other person is an investigator like himself, whom has snuck in and obtained the crooks’ trust, but in fact, he is a criminal. Foolishly revealing his identity to the man, he is nearly murdered.

While the police are actively raiding the building, Nick Carter finds Kalgara himself, hiding. Believing Kalgara to be a mere stooge, cashing in on the crooks using his facility, he helps Kalgara to escape, freely.

Escaping death once more, Nick Carter, wounded and battered, keeps moving. He soon tracks the New York communications to a radio tower, and breaking in, finds the man that last tried to murder him. Taking him down, Nick wipes out just about everyone present. He obtains diamonds that are meant to be transferred to Chicago. Taking these, he heads West to Chicago to crack that syndicate, too. While the novella constantly asserts that the syndicate is nationwide, it is clear that it is predominantly ruled by New York and Chicago interests.

Getting in contact with Chicago crooks, Nick is taken to another base. Here, he demands $100,000 for the diamonds. Learning that he is in front of the head crook here, he pulls his guns and we are gifted to another blood-and-thunder scene, on the top floor of a high-rise building. A Jason Bourne-esque moment occurs when Nick Carter must get from the top floor to the bottom, and kill everyone in his path. Unfortunately, the fastest route is the elevator, with all the dead men he has slain, piled up inside. He has cut off the power to the elevator, ruining the fuses. Using his gun, he shoots the elevator’s wires and the car drops. He jumps down and catches up in time (with the elevator) to smash at the bottom and he crashes into the corpses. Thrown and tossed about like a sack of potatoes, the beaten Nick Carter rises like the proverbial fucking Energizer bunny and, opening the elevator doors, (which ought to be a crumpled mess) exits, and shoots a bunch of baddies in the back, whom are shooting through holes in the walls at the police.

Suffering from numerous gunshot wounds, he is led away from the building after the police teargas bomb the place. Inside an ambulance, an attendant injects him, and freshly juiced-up, Nick escapes the ambulance, lands on the ground, and runs back to the scene of carnage. Going back up to the top of the high-rise, he breaks open a radio communication system, extracts TNT (the crooks blow themselves up rather than be captured, but Nick had cut off the power source, earlier), and rewires the radio so that he can track the frequency to the crooks’ lair.

Flying overhead, he finds the lair, and disabling his aircraft, crash-lands it among the fields of an apparent farm. He is captured by two thugs, whom, assuming he is legitimately a downed pilot, never frisk him. Led to a barn house, Nick Carter immediately takes the offensive, taking all concerned off-guard. Killing one thug, he breaks into the house and heads up the stairs only to be met by another assailant. Diving aside, the gunner shoots and kills the second thug that breaks into the room behind Nick Carter. Returning the favor, Nick kills the stairway man, and is met by a machine gunner.

Lobbing a grenade up, he eventually makes his way up the stairs and kills the gunner. The wall reinforced, Nick tosses in two more grenades and the wall comes down. He finds himself facing only two more crooks. One is a major head, but the other is Kalgara himself, no longer the cowering drunkard he appeared to be. Nick realizes he goofed and shoots the first man dead so that he can get at Kalgara. Getting too close, Kalgara gets his large ham-fist hands on Nick and goes to swing him about but misjudges his position and ends up throwing his own body out a window and down to his untimely death, in what must be one of the most eye-rolling scenes I read overall.

The book ends with Nick in bed at another nearby farm and he passes out…after reading a newspaper that announces big budget cut-backs in New York, which means he will only receive half the original proposed fee that the commissioner promised him.

NICK CARTER and the “Empire of Crime”

“The Crater of Kala” by J. Allan Dunn

When I first read “The Crater of Kala” by Joseph Montague, I honestly did not realize that this alias belonged to pulp fiction legend J. Allan Dunn. A quarter into the story, I began to wonder about the identity of the author whom had written such a quality sea adventure. Now, there is already plenty of information about Dunn readily available to anyone reading this article, so I won’t even bother to touch upon his life. Anyone interested in pursuing that route should click on his name.

The story was first printed in the American pulp People’s (1922 Dec 10) issue, running from pages 1 through 86, under his own name, J. Allan Dunn. Sadly, the lengthy novella did not cop the cover, so I won’t feature it in this article.

152137
The Crater of Kala” Joseph Montague (USA: Chelsea House, 1925)

Oddly enough, it was bound by Chelsea House in 1925 under the alias, Joseph Montague. Perhaps some enlightened biographer will have access to Dunn’s letters and fill in the reasoning.

The jacket illustration depicts a young man and woman frightened-out-of-their-wits while a dark-skinned fellow appears to fend off some unseen terror with a shield and spear. The man is wearing a hat and shirt and apparently a tie.

While the artwork has zero to do with this story, the illustration does originally appear on the cover of the pulp People’s (v41 #4, 1923 March 1st) for J. Allan Dun’s novella, “Drums of Doom.”

1934 F M MOWL The Crater of Kala
The Crater of Kala” Joseph Montague  London: F. M. Mowl, 1934

The Crater of Kala” was subsequently released in England twice, by the publishers F. M. Mowl. The first edition was released in 1934, priced at 9d net. Under the byline, the publisher notes: Never hitherto been published in this form.

The cover art depicts a hunched-over man, carrying a woman wearing (of all things) high-heels. Their clothes are ripped and torn. Plus, she appears to have fainted. In the background we have the suggestion of some exotic locale. The artwork is skillfully rendered by H. W. Perl, a relative newcomer (at the time) to illustrating covers. Sadly, the illustration hardly does the novel justice. At no time does this scene occur in the novel. Our heroine is a tough, no-nonsense woman, and certainly not given to wearing high-heels or a skimpily sexy suggestive outfit.

The next edition, a cheap edition priced at 3d, appeared either later 1934 or early 1935, and was also released by the publishers, F. M. Mowl. The artwork this time is classy or perhaps, respectably more serious in nature, depicting a man in white attire comforting a woman while a volcano is erupting in the background. I can’t quite make out who the illustrator is. The initials (bottom left) appear to be “N. C. W.” or “J. C. W.” with a long line striking down through the middle initial and splitting the date 1934 in half. It is this edition I possess and have read the following novel. The text runs from pages 1-125.

1934 MOWL The Crater Of Kala
The Crater of Kala” Joseph Montague  London: F. M. Mowl, 1934-35

The story opens with Jim Waring playing cards and cheated by two others: Chalmers and Fowler. Waring is certain that he lost his entire fortune to some sneaky play on their part, but can’t call their game, so departs nearly broke. Aboard ship we are introduced to a professor and his daughter, whom is entirely cold toward Waring, focused purely on her father’s exploration and researches. Waring, being a young man, is naturally inclined to notice her but realizes that she isn’t remotely interested in him.

Fate intervenes: the ship inexplicably strikes a derelict and the Southern Cross begins to sink. Everyone survives and makes for the lifeboats. Waring assists the professor (Gideon Lang) and daughter (Dorcas Lang) with their research bags and paraphernalia, into a lifeboat, abandoning all chances of saving any of his own possessions. A slight mutiny nearly occurs among the survivors on their vessel, after a storm separates the lifeboats and the mate is found dead, having suffered a cracked skull, during the sinking of the ship. Tossing him overboard, Waring finds himself cracking the proverbial whip as the professor takes charge and gets the crew shipshape and rowing toward salvation.

They eventually are rescued and land at Papeete (French Polynesia). Waring is penniless but treated fairly by one of the locals as a war hero, having served during The Great War alongside one of their own people, whom died. Worshiped and congratulated upon his bravery and success both at war and upon the sea, he languishes upon the island and refuses free board to ship back to America. He refuses to give up on his dreams, and is determined to somehow make good.

He later learns that the Langs have chartered a recently docked vessel. The captain is given to be an insane maniac, and the crew…not trustworthy. He is advised by his French-friend to apply for a job aboard. Cleaning up and shaving, he is presented with fresh clothes, all white (as depicted on my edition) and applies to the professor for a job aboard the Ahimanu.

The professor has not forgotten Waring’s fight aboard the lifeboat to preserve their lives, and for kindly saving all his gear. He immediately accepts Waring’s proposal, however, he must board the Ahimanu and discuss the matter with the captain.

Rowing out to the vessel, he overhears angry voices, and watches as two bodies are thrown overboard. They turn out to be cardsharps Chalmers and Fowler. The captain caught them at their game and, tossing them overboard, has kept all the money they possessed! That includes the monies stolen from Waring (not that he may lay claim to it from the captain). Presenting himself aboard in a position of supercargo on behalf of the professor, the captain, Johnson, is bemused, as he had already semi-promised the position to ‘Slop’ Beamish.

Rather than make a professional decision, he decides to let the pair battle it out, physically. The fight is long and drawn out, well-described blood and thunder stuff, no rules applied, save for those applied sparingly by the captain.

Waring eventually wins, and Beamish is demoted. Despite all that, Waring smells a rat and realizes that his position aboard is mere courtesy. He’s certain that Johnson intends to play foul by the Langs. Remarkably, the Langs are hardly novices to this sly game, realizing entirely that Johnson is leading them astray at sea. The professor, among other things, is quite a competent seafarer and able to read a compass. Upon challenging the captain, the entire scene turns chaotic as the entire ship’s nefarious crew turns out and tackles or restrains our trio.

In typical fashion, they are released and told to behave themselves and the captain will go easy on them. In real life, Waring has no value and would have been killed. Instead, Johnson relays that he intends to hold the professor hostage for $100,000. After landing, Waring is to go into town, and following instructions, have the money wired to the local bank, or some-such nonsense.

Meanwhile, before this all occurs, Johnson ships into a wayward island of Kalaiki, where he intends to hold the Langs hostage. It is an abandoned island, suffering from violent volcanic eruptions, and was once long ago inhabited by some unknown lost race. The Langs and Waring make for a cave and live there for a time while Johnson and his men party it up big-time on their schooner.

While in the cave, they discover an old relic by the lost tribe: a large stone statue. Professor Lang is confident that it has a secret opening leading into a passageway not visible to them, behind the statue, and that will enable them to escape from the villains. They eventually make a timely discovery of the access-point and pry it open. Unable to discern on the inside how to close the contraption, they rapidly flee down the passage while Johnson and his enraged crew stumble into a seemingly empty cave. The rage only boils over when they discover the opening in the statue. To further Johnson’s ire, the two crew-members he brought along are too superstitious to proceed further and scamper away. Johnson, in a fit of insane rage, pursues the trio down the passage.

During this entire confrontation between Johnson and his men, Waring and the Langs are halted at the edge of a deep pit. Looking down, they espy a dark syrupy liquid. A rotten wood beam is found to cross the expanse. Risking life and limb, Waring crosses and assists the professor across. Making her way over, the beam crumbles and disintegrates. Dorcas lunges forward and falls short of safety. Simultaneously, Waring tosses his life aside and dives out, too. He snatches the girl from certain death, only likely to join her in that dark expanse of hell far below. Thankfully, the professor lands on Waring’s legs and keeps him topside, permitting the girl to climb up Waring’s body.

All three safely across, the beam gone, Johnson stumbles in and is irate at discovering the trio missing. He can’t see them on the far side of the opening! Shockingly, a long tendril climbs out of the dark wet mass below and wraps itself around Johnson’s leg, and begins to haul on him. Frightened to death, and realizing his predicament, Johnson whips out a knife and begins hacking at the arms of the octopus. He eventually loses and is drawn down to peril, to become food. Waring snaps off a shot and Johnson and the octopus are devoured in the Stygian depths below. Johnson has met his fate.

Reconciled with being stranded on the wrong side of the pit, they eventually discover an exit and an Eden on the inside of the crater! Sadly, weeks later, they realize that there is no escape. The professor makes notes about his discovery and plans to leave them secreted on the island, to be discovered long after their death(s). However, in typical fictional fashion, Fate again intervenes. The volcano rocks the island with numerous tremors, the crater is ripped apart, and a chasm appears. The three immediately climb the walls and run through the chasm, realizing time is short before it may close upon them, crushing the trio to death. As if that was not enough, chasing them is a boiling cauldron of scalding liquid hell, pushing up from the depths of the island. They must escape the inferno or be disintegrated in that acid bath!

They escape through the chasm and the hot water cascades out after them. Realizing the island’s predicament, they escape to the beach and discover that the schooner is still anchored. The two superstitious killers took a smaller boat and departed in that, unable to manager the bigger vessel with their limited, unintelligent skill-set.

Remarkably, the three handle the ship, adroitly dodging sunken reefs and make for the open sea. Dorcas Lang and Jim Waring fall in love, after their harrowing ordeal escaping the island, and the professor is shocked to learn of their attachment, but pleased, all the same, leaving us, the reader, with a happy ending!

I heartily recommend “The Crater of Kala” to anyone fond of sea-adventure stories. It is cumbersome and well-padded in places, but, made for a damn fun read.

“The Crater of Kala” by J. Allan Dunn

Face Fifty Guns by Robert Moore Williams

ARCHER Face Fifty GunsAfter a bloodied, near-dead stage-coach driver arrives in town and reports an incident to the local law, Deputy Johnny Burke arrives on the scene of a horrific mess. A stage coach is reposing upon its side in a gully, and a man is lying dead on the arid dirt ridge.

Searching the dead man’s pockets, he learns the man was a marshal and finds his badge. Pocketing the badge, he rises only to be given the universal “Hands Up!” demand from a gorgeous (aren’t they all?) young lady, wielding a gun. When he fails to comply, she rips the air with a shot and he soon strips the inexperienced gun-handler of her smoking hardware.

When he learns that she is the lone survivor of the inbound wagon, he is baffled. Why hold-up an inbound coach? Only the outbound wagons were carrying funds from the nearby gold mining operations.

But when a trio of riders approach from town, and he ascertains that they are a marshal and deputies, he advises the girl to hide. Why?

On arriving he instructs the marshal to go blow, and hoists the girl’s long-barrel to enforce his talk, as the trio are out of their jurisdiction. Why are they out there, after all, five miles from the line that they control? Pretty peculiar stuff….

After departing, the girl, whom had been able to view from her tiny peep hole under the carriage one of the trio, positively identifies the big burly bear of a deputy as one of the hold-up men. Gaping, he realizes he’s got to draw a warrant, arrest the bear, and likely go toe-to-toe with a corrupt marshal whom, with his cronies, mysteriously blew into town shortly after gold was discovered.

Burke’s own co-deputy arrives on the scene, and informs him that the local bank confessed that the stage coach was actually secretly bringing in $25,000 cash to dispense to a client. He sends the gal down with him into town. But, on arrival himself, he finds his deputy missing, and so, strikes out alone to arrest the burly-bear. On entering the saloon, the bartender acknowledges the trio are in the back room.

He struts in ready to slap cuffs on and finds the girl in the room laughing it up with the men! She knows the marshal, and from all appearances, is quite intimately acquainted.

What’s going down? Who is the girl really? What’s more, where’s the bank money? Arresting burly-bear, he also slaps cuffs on the gal when he is unable to get her to confess to her charges against the deputy. Covering his departure with revolver upon the two others, he locks the deputy in a cell and tries to coax a confession from her. She clams up.

Then the deputy walks in, caked with road dust and sweat, and proclaims that while bringing in the lady, the marshal and two deputies, whom had been given the “go blow,” they showed up and took his horse and she road it into town, leaving him to rot. Further, while in town, he learns that she is really a dance-hall owner and married to Marshal Kerrigan!!!

The heat is turned up when the deputy is knifed, the pair escape their cells, and Burke has to face the trio and girl, along with a mob of 50 men armed with hardware, ready to kill a lone star deputy. How will he defeat the mob, arrest the trio, and recover the stolen loot?

Burke is one gun against fifty. Those are impossible odds. What he needs is….50 HONEST MEN !!!

A sure-fire, hard-hitting western. Face Fifty Guns by Robert Moore Williams originally was published by MAMMOTH WESTERN (Jan 1948) and here, is reprinted by the Archer Press, in a late 1948 edition. This British edition sports a wonderful action scene likely rendered by Nat Long.

Face Fifty Guns by Robert Moore Williams