Tracks of the Turtle by Frederick C. Davis

SHARMAN ELLIS 07Once 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.

Why? Well…

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….

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Tracks of the Turtle by Frederick C. Davis

Love Packs a Six-Gun by John Frederick

CROWN Love Packs A Six-Gun

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.

Love Packs a Six-Gun by John Frederick

“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.

“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”