NEXT STOP, THE MORGUE by Bevis Winter (the fourth Steve Craig thriller)

Next Stop–The Morgue is the fourth (of 9) Steve Craig private-eye thriller, published by Herbert Jenkins Ltd. in 1956.

The blurb on the jacket reads:

Craig is hired by an uncommunicative character to keep an eye on his daughter.
The girl turns out not to be the man’s daughter, but she certainly bears watching.
Then Craig’s client dies in peculiar circumstances.
It looks like murder to Craig, and from half a dozen suspects with
ready-made motives he begins to comb the facts. But it is not all hard graft.
The girls in the case are shapely and disposed to be clinging; and Steve,
ever-ready to mix business with pleasure, does little to discourage them.
Kitty, knowing the symptoms, first purrs warningly and then shows her
manicured claws. Money, vice and scandal spice this story which starts
with the suspected murder of a mystery-man and ends with
the death of an alluring nymphomaniac
.”

Well, that blurb isn’t entirely accurate. Kitty certainly doesn’t sharpen her claws on any competition. She scarcely shows sexual interest in Craig. And I’d hardly call the alluring girl a nympho, though she certainly utilizes her feminine abilities to get her way. The rest of the blurb concisely gives you the low-down, but leaves out a whole bunch at the same time. And I plan on doing the same, in case someone plans on obtaining a copy to read. But who cares when they are drooling over that luscious red-head doll-baby on the dustjacket? Without further ado, let’s provide some additional plot-fodder.

NEXT STOP THE MORGUE cover

The story opens with an exhausted Steve Craig at home, tired and hungry. The doorbell rings. He opens it. An older gentleman (Daneston) enters, and hires Steve Craig to follow his daughter (Constance) discreetly. Steve accepts the assignment for $500 cash. Departing, Daneston enters the elevator and a young, lovely lady steps onto Steve’s floor. She seems to be searching for the right door, when Steve offers assistance. He’s convinced she is looking for someone named Dickerson (must be a neighbor, introduced in a prior novel) but she wants him!

Seems she has a problem with some guy blackmailing her, and she wants a strong man to make sure he leaves her alone after she pays. Steve ends up hijacked by Marcia Van Bergen and driven to her house-party. There is no blackmailer. Firing his ire further is the discovery that his own secretary (Kitty) aided in the deceit. Irritated, tired, and still hungry, Kitty placates his mood by insisting he stay for the party and enjoy the complimentary food.

Steve relents, and eventually is introduced to the younger sister (Betty) for whom the party is hosted. Left alone with her for a moment, he makes small-talk and offers to dance with her, only to rebuffed. Thinking she is a snob, he is later informed that she is actually paralyzed from the waist down.

Embarrassed, Steve seeks to apologize for his ignorance, only to stumble upon her outside in the dark, talking to a strong man named Marcus. Calling to her in the dark, he finds himself physically assaulted by this behemoth of a brute and knocked unconscious. Waking ten minutes later, he borrows a Caddy and returns home, to sleep and recuperate.

The next day, Steve assumes his role trailing Daneston’s daughter (Constance) all over town. She eventually leads him to a young man (Mike Larkman) involved in an aquatic job, something along the line of the famous Billy Rose’s Aquacade, which involves swimming, music, and dance. He’s young, fit, and good-looking.

Departing, her vehicular meanderings finally lands him at a remote, rural barn. He abandons his wheels and hikes on foot. Entering stealthily, he hears voices on the next level. Climbing a ladder, he sees Constance stroking and caressing a huge beast of a man. He appears to be an imbecile (and, yes, he is). To his disgust he watches as she kisses him. Ironically, he notices she is equally repulsed. She appears to be gearing him up for something awful, trying to increase his anger at someone. But who? Why? To what purpose? He slowly eases himself back down the ladder when it becomes apparent that Constance intends to leave, but Steve makes too much noise. They hear him and he hauls butt, only to be pursued by the behemoth, who turns out to be Marcus, the same man who assaulted him at the party!

Having lost track of his car in the dark, he’s overtaken but manages to escape. Next day, he goes to report to Daneston and finds him arguing with a young man wielding a gun. Entering, he breaks up the confrontation and goes so far as to disarm the hoodlum, who appears to be blackmailing Daneston to the tune of thousands of dollars.

Getting rid of him, Steve tells Daneston that Constance isn’t his daughter, that she’s actually Daneston’s much, much, MUCH younger wife! She’s 34 years younger. And was formerly his secretary for a good while. Not divulging his knowledge up to then of Constance’s moves, he stays on the job and follows her the next day to a remote cabin and finds Constance and aqua-boy Larkman having sex. Disgusted, Steve realizes the case is essentially done. He detests divorce case investigations. He wants out.

Next day, he calls Daneston, deciding to hand back what remains of the unspent $500 and quit the assignment, only to learn Daneston swan-dived off his balcony and went splat. Visiting the apartment, he walks in and speaks with the police and family doctor. Steve’s convinced that someone tossed Daneston over the balcony, and that while Daneston’s medication does make him drowsy, wasn’t sufficient for the mishap. Plus, Constance, the widow, is feigning to be distraught; Steve walks into her bedroom and finds her on the bed, with the doctor leaning over her, making out! That’s now her ex-husband, Larkman, Marcus, and the “good” family doctor she’s locked lips with. Good grief.

More things don’t add up (would hardly be a detective novel if they did) and he wants to know more about Marcus, the imbecile. Constance was winding Marcus up for something. Murder? He could have tossed Daneston over the balcony. But, why? Clearly Constance inherits, plus life insurance, etc.  But what does Marcus get out it? Her? Maybe he thinks so, but no way in hell is she keeping that date!

Next day, Steve decides to visit Betty, the paralyzed girl. He learns that Betty and Marcus scarcely know each other. Marcus works at a farm run by an elderly couple. She, being crippled, tries to relate to the introverted, quiet Marcus. Eventually they hit it off, and Steve learns that Marcus has taken Betty for rides in his beat-up delivery truck, etc. Nothing more, nothing less. Betty insists that Marcus is not capable of violence, except in a protective manner. Then why assault Steve that night at the party? Betty informs him that her sister does not approve of Betty mixing with Marcus, and he was worried Steve had seen too much.

Not convinced, Steve trips out to the barn at night, to discover a corpse tossed against a fence. Turning on his flashlight, he gazes upon the beaten and throttled Constance. Looks like Marcus lost control and strangled her to death after learning she wouldn’t keep her promise. Steve hears a scream and finds Marcus hauling another woman into the barn. Steve recognizes his own secretary, Kitty, as the victim! She came out there not wanting Steve to handle the beast alone, and, against his orders, she made the drive, but instead came upon Marcus in the dark. Steve eventually gets Kitty free of Marcus and ties him up to the sturdy ladder. Then he phones the police from the elderly couple’s home.

Betty learns of the arrest and arrives at the police station with a lawyer. They talk to the jailed Marcus and eventually gather that Marcus, just like Steve, accidentally came upon the corpse of Constance. In fear, he retreated, then heard a noise, and saw Kitty approaching. Fearing for her life, he grabbed her, smothered her mouth, and was secreting her into the barn for her own safety, fearing the murderer was still on the premises, especially since he saw Steve’s flashlight beam and believed Steve to be the culprit.

The police chief releases Marcus with the aid of additional facts. Constance had flesh under her nails from clawing her assailant. Marcus was scratch-free. Steve is annoyed at the embarrassment of having accused an innocent man of murder. We learn that Marcus was Daneston’s imbecile son, from his first marriage. That wife went insane and died in an asylum. Not wanting the son, he gave the boy to his late wife’s parents! Hence the elderly couple at the farm raising him.

There remains one last mission. Arrest the person that murdered Constance. That leaves only one person with a motive: aqua-boy Mike Larkman.

Steve revisits that isolated decrepit cabin and finds Larkman inside sitting against the wall, with not a care in the world. He confesses that his jealousy of Constance’s constant flirting with men incensed him. He even went so far as to catch her smooching Marcus! Confronting her outside the barn, the fiery Constance sent him into an insane frenzy. By the time they were finished arguing and pushing one another around, she was dead. Mortified at what he had done, he vacated.

Steve discovers that Larkman has overdosed on the late Daneston’s medication. Larkman is rapidly going from drowsy to unconscious. Lifting the dead-weight upon his shoulders, Steve hauls him out of the cabin and carries him to his car, then speeds to a ward six miles away. Instructing the doc what med the man overdosed on, they get to work pumping his stomach…so that he may live to die, properly, by execution.

A fun novel from start to finish, one I scarcely had the ability to set aside. Each concluding chapter begged me to read the next, and given that I tend to read at night, you can bet I lost hours of sleep each night. But, hey! how about a little bit of background on the author…

Following the conclusion of World War Two, Bevis Winter found work editing and publishing Stag, a humorous magazine, from 1946-1948. Between those years, he contributed articles and short stories to Stag and other publications, honing his literary skills. Following the publication in 1947 of Sad Laughter, a collection containing some of his humorous short stories, Bevis sold in 1948 his first thriller Redheads Are Poison, followed in 1949 with his second thriller, Make Mine Murder (blogged back in 2016).

An avalanche of novels flowed from his typewriter from 1950-1954, mostly under his alias: Al Bocca. With the mushroom-publishers going out of business due to harsh English fines, censorship, bannings, and jail sentences, Winter rapidly found work writing under his own name for the respectable publisher Herbert Jenkins, supplying them with nine Steve Craig thrillers. These have been translated worldwide into a variety of foreign languages. And much to my own personal delight, the late 2022 issue of Paperback Parade published by crime-collecting afficionado Gary Lovisi features a bibliography on Bevis Winter! And if you wish to read this novel, good luck! Some lucky person(s) purchased the few copies that were on ABE. Maybe they had an inside track to the Winter bibliography.

NEXT STOP, THE MORGUE by Bevis Winter (the fourth Steve Craig thriller)

COMBAT: True War Stories # 2 (December 1956)

Combat is [according to the editor] a magazine with “true” war stories and a sprinkling of fictionalized war stories, and a combination of truth and fiction. The editor was Leslie Syddall.

Son of Albert Syddall (born 1899) and Rosannah (Rose) H. Stott (born 1893), Leslie was born 1922, and like his parents, in Bolton. Albert moved to the United States in 1926, with an occupation listed as “tin plate” worker and final destination initially entered as Philadelphia. This was crossed out and Wooding, Connecticut penciled in. No such place exists, so I’m not sure what the Wooding refers to. His English home address was: 84 Union Street, Bolton. I don’t think the residence exists today (online street images are interesting). Early 1927, Rosannah and son Leslie traveled to the United States. They returned to England that same year, then returned again in 1929, with a residence given as Philadelphia, PA. Rosannah left her son in England when the pair returned later in 1929, placed him in school, and then she returned to her husband Albert in Philadelphia. The 1930 United States census gives his occupation as a metal sheet laborer. Rosannah’s occupation in 1927 is given as that of a “hosiery winder” in 1927; as housewife in 1929. Leslie Syddall married Frances Johnson in 1956 in his hometown of Bolton. The pair had two children: Julie Syddall (1958) born in Farnsworth, and Barbara Syddall (1961) born in Bolton. Just how Leslie Syddall got into publishing is unknown to me.

The magazine was published by Vernon Publications but is generally considered Dalrow Publishing. If the cover format and layout looks familiar to British science fiction fans, that’s because Syddall clearly was working with the assistance of Peter Hamilton, editor and founder of Nebula Science Fiction magazine. Hamilton used the same format from 1952-1959, a tall digest magazine with the title and price and number up to with a white backdrop, the illustration squarely below that, and a thin white strip at the bottom often advertising the authors or a comment. Combat used that same formula. Don’t think so? I’ve posted both here for comparison! The connection is strengthened once you spot ads for Nebula inside issues of Combat. The artist for all illustrated covers was R.W.S., short for Ronald W. Smethurst.

The lead story is Tim Carew’s Gurkha Soldier, and it’s as authentic as they come. Despite that, I’d love for someone from India alive during WW2 to read this story and comment about the accuracy. The author notes that the story is “substantially true”, but the characters and regiment is a work of fiction. So, would you label this as a true story (as FictionMags Index has) or a fictional short story? I lean heavily toward the latter. Jitbahadur Pun is convinced to enlist in the British army during WW2 by a local surviving wounded veteran from the Great War. His experiences range from exposure to hot shower water, being forced to use soap, trim his lengthy hair to near baldness, and dress in military attire. Learning the various use of arms, hand-to-hand combat, tossing grenades, formation, and even riding on a train add to his new life experiences. A very different life to that of a dirt hill farmer. He and his new fellow Indian friends are sent east to battle the Japanese and during trench warfare he witnesses the brutality of life and death. His friends and superior officer are shot down. Snatching up his friend’s machine-gun, sans orders, he leaps up and moves forward, covering dozens of yards. He’s eventually shot but keeps going, mowing down the enemy and tossing a grenade. The next-in-line of command orders the men up and onward after seeing Jitbahadur Pun taking the offense. Our hero ends up losing a limb, recovers in hospital, and by 1951, returns home and is a celebrated hero. The story is filled with numerous terms from India and local flavor, etc., lending further authenticity. Searching online, the protagonist’s name should likely be spelled as “Jit Bahadur Pun”. Tim Carew was born 8 July 1921 at Bury St. Edmunds. Searching the Birth-Marriage-Death UK site I found a Carew died 1980, however, Tim Carew wasn’t his real name. The Library of Congress gives his name as John Mohun Carew. This I confirmed against the UK Birth-Marriage-Death Index, matching his surname and birth info; he died 3 September 1980. He indeed did serve with the Gurkhas down in India and other nearby countries. I am left to wonder if the above short story was excerpted from his autobiographical novel, All This and a Medal Too (1954). If not, it certainly first appeared in the British Army Journal no. 3 (January 1950) as by Captain J. M. Carew.

Next up is A Mission for Odette by W. F. Cousins. This appeared (per FictionMags Index) in London’s The Evening Standard, 4 May 1955 as part of their Did It Happen? series, but in fact is a work of fiction. As to the identity of W. F. Cousins, he ranked as a Captain and was an army PRO in Austria from 1946-1953. Captain Cousins became a staff member of Soldier magazine. This magazine debuted March 1945, but I’ve not had access to it to substantiate his full identity. In 1959, he was still with Soldier magazine and a co-winner of the Sir Harry Brittain Coronation Trophy (along with Sydney Spicer). The story takes place six years in the future after Germany loses the war, in a series of brief flashbacks before returning to the present and culminating in the protagonist completing his assignment: the delivery of a ring to a Jewish concentration camp victim. While in a concentration camp and slated for death in the gas chambers, Odette Churchill is given by Frau Knopf her gold ring. Somehow Knopf had managed to safeguard it past Nazi authorities and into the camp. Despite the Nazis knowing they were losing the war and the end was near, they continued to gas their victims. Realizing her number was likely up, Knopf gives her ring to Odette for safekeeping. If they both survive, Odette is to find a way to return the ring. If Knopf dies and Odette survives, make the most of the ring’s value. Odette survives but is not certain as to the fate of Knopf. Years pass, and discovering that Knopf may be alive, Captain Cousins (the protagonist) must cooperate with authorities in tracing her down and delivering the ring. He succeeds in locating her and after having her describe and sketch the ring, he extracts from a sealed box the very ring she sketched. To say she is shocked and surprised to be reunited with her ring is an understatement, especially since she is homeless and impoverished. The ring will help. It’s a feel-good story and apparently the second time the story has been told, the first time by Odette Churchill’s husband, per a blurb of this story in the Singapore Free Press, 6 September 1955. Bizarrely enough, there sort of really was a real Odette Churchill, only this was an alias; her real name was Odette Sansom, and her background is quite interesting. However, nowhere on her Wikipedia entry does it mention this story nor Captain Cousins.

One Eye, One Hand, One V.C. is by David Lampe Jr., and is the true story account of Belgian officer Carton de Wiart. Not making the grade in university, de Wiart enlisted in the Second Boer War and lost his eye. He would go to earn numerous injuries but always return to the front. He served in The Great War and various other campaigns. He lost his hand when it was blown to a pulpy mess, but not before extracting his own fingers when the doctor refused. The hand had to go shortly thereafter, regardless. The author provides a wonderful, partially fictionalized account of de Wiart and it is damned good fun. His capture during World War Two after his plane crashed led him to be locked away at the Castello di Vincigliata, and his subsequent escape through tunnels that took half a year to construct reminds me of the classic movie The Great Escape. I suspect this article originally debuted in an American “men’s” magazine, as he contributed to 1950s magazines such as True, Swank, and Flying Magazine, etc., but I’ve failed to nail it down.

Biscay Cruise by Stanley Maxted is another article in the Did It Happen? series that appeared in The Evening Standard, 24 June 1955. The table of contents page for CCM mistakenly gives it as Biscay Bay. The tale involves the narrator bringing along a Canadian Naval HQ friend aboard the HMS Onslow. The mission: discover whether the German’s shore guns along the Bay of Biscay were still being manned. While the tale does not provide any concrete dates, the real-life HMS Onslow did traverse this tract of water from July to August 1944.

Ray Carr brings us a short fiction story entitled Back Room Boy. Carr’s real name is Emile Charles Victor Foucar; born in 30 May 1894, Foucar rose to the rank of Second Lieutenant during The Great War and earned a Military Cross. He became a barrister and moved to Burma, residing there through World War Two and enlisting, rising to the rank of Colonel. While in Burma, he was instructed to write an account on the Burma affair. A decade later, Dennis Dobson published I Lived in Burma (1956). This short fiction story involves the “safe” adventures of Archie Fordingley, a good-looking, intelligent, self-made young businessman in his late 20s. The second world war is in full swing, and his unintelligent underling Jack Smith goes to war. Fearing the war will destroy his business by avoiding conflict, Archie eventually joins the war effort purely as a “back room boy”, an intelligence officer that sees no conflict. He bounced into Africa, then India, and now is sent to the Burma front, to gather intelligence on Japanese movements, etc. Arriving by Jeep, he is to meet with Major Denham but discovers a Jap sniper took him out. He’s introduced to the next gentleman in command, one Lieutenant Smith. Naturally, this is his old subordinate, Jack Smith. Only, he seems fresh, alive, lost a lot of weight and enjoys both the command and the war. Archie is woefully out of his class and realizes his ranking insignia matters little to the warrior before him. Jack shows him the rounds, all the while instructing him to be careful, duck, don’t rattle the bush, etc., Jap snipers, ya know! Well, the Japs cut them off and Jack takes command of one unit only to find the young man covering their other flank has been killed. Sitting on his duff, Archie digs up an ounce of courage, and lifting up a rifle, takes over the unit whose last ranking officer died. Holding out, the night passes, and come morning, all is silent, and Jack is glad the conflict is over, his first real action. Rising, he decides to check in on Jack, only to hear someone holler: “Careful, sir, snipers!” Archie smiles at the edge of the trench back at the young man as a bullet rips through the air and knocks him dead. Foucar would go on to have 15 stories published in Combat. Bizarrely, not a one are recorded as reprints. Was Foucar providing the magazine with original stories, or had these appeared elsewhere in some unknown English newspaper?

Sino-Japanese Incident is by Jack Borg, his first of three stories within the pages of Combat magazine. Borg is the alias of Philip Anthony John Borg, predominantly an author of a few dozen western novels as Jack Borg and nearly 30 more under two more pseudonyms, marking the trio of war stories as unusual entries. This a fictional account during the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945). Lieutenant Ugimoto is ordered by his Japanese commanders to seek out organized Chinese bandits creating havoc upon Japanese troops and use whatever means at his disposal. Coming upon a poor starving village, he interrogates the villagers, but they feign ignorance. The lie is in their eyes and after discovering two hidden rifles, he orders the entire populace to be slain and the village burned to the ground. Marching out, Ugimoto’s ragged troops are foot-tired, sleep deprived, themselves starving and thirsty. Eventually, one of his reconnaissance men spots a lush, secluded farm. On the property, an old man and young lovely girl. The man is interrogated but he just smiles at them. Angered, he’s tossed aside and they try the girl. She gives them no information on the rebel bandits. Ugimoto decides he’s going to spend the night inside, with the girl. Next day, a frantically frightened sergeant enters. Ugimoto dresses and steps outside to find the old man on his knees, the clothes stripped off and now he knows why the thirsty village and rebels have not ransacked this tiny farm. The man has leprosy. He’s shot dead. Turning on his heels, Ugimoto re-enters the home. The girl exposes some of her flesh, smilingly showing her spots. He shoots her dead, too, then extracts his honorable sword to disembowel himself. The sergeant bows out and runs away from the dreaded leprosy, only to find himself and his ragtag Japanese men riddled by lead from the hidden rebels. They’d been there all the time.

Bevil Charles supplies The Brief Return…, which centers around the protagonist (Reuben) being an archaeologist and unearthing a four-foot Mycenean statue of Aphrodite on the island of Cyprus. To protect it, he secretes the treasure in a crumbling church to the goddess on the island’s hill. He wishes to obtain a military truck to safely remove it to Nicosia, only the girl he is dating (Janet) is daughter to Major Holliday, in command of local forces. It’s unclear whether soldiers or terrorists recently attacked one of their own. Regardless, they are withdrawing from the area, as it is unsecure. During the process, the Major is ordered to investigate the island; rumor is the assailants have a stash of arms cached nearby. So, the Major informs Reuben he may not have a truck, nor can he go rescue the Goddess of Love. Janet wishes to see Cyprus and all her beauty, but her father has continuously blocked her interests. She knows Reuben is making covert plans to somehow rescue the statue. So, Reuben waits for the patrol and rolls his wheels into the procession. Nobody notices the extra truck. He then drifts away from them, being the tailing truck, and eventually hears movement in back of his truck. Someone is moving forward towards the curtained partition. Stopping and jumping out, he gruffly calls to the stowaway, who he expects to be a murderous soldier or terrorist only to find Janet inside. Unable to return her to safety, the two proceed to the crumbling hillside church and she is in awe of the beauty of Aphrodite. Reuben’s love for her admiration of the workmanship behind the statue’s history rapidly turns to horror as he realizes the enemy has been there ahead of him, and deposited crates of arms, dynamite, and grenades. Surely they will return, and double sure, they know the Major is to investigate the island. Cleary the rumor of their location was a plot to attack Janet’s father and crew, to murder all of them. Reuben must somehow run down the hill and intercept the Major before he hits the most likely point, a bridge-crossing! Instead, he hears voices outside and while Janet is inside packing up the smaller artefacts for Reuben, he watches in horror as a couple of killers approach. One splits away while the other gets closer. His stengun is still in the church, on the floor. All he exited with was Aphrodite, to place in the truck. He knocks out the man with the Goddess of Love! Then trusses the unconscious man. Heads down the hill after Janet’s father. Time passes and she is mortified to see the enemy moving in. Reuben can’t possibly make it in time, so she does the only thing possible to arrest everyone’s attention: she pulls pins and hurls two grenades into the church! They detonate and all the arms, dynamite, grenades, everything explodes. She’s thrown back by the concussive blast, but the earth-shattering explosion has done the job. The Major and men stop and turn their guns upon the enemy who are now spotted in rapid retreat after losing all their weapons. But, they are running directly towards Reuben and his stengun. He returns fire. They are all mopped up or captured. Hurrying up, Reuben finds Janet on the floor and professes his love for her, etc., and the Major walks in and learns all of what happened. He’s angry with the pair and naturally would court-martial them if they were under his command, but learning that Reuben sacrificed the Goddess of Love to save his daughter, he accepts that Reuben might actually be man enough to marry his daughter after all…then departs and chews out his N.C.O. An action-packed story that must have appeared elsewhere, I imagine…but where? Bevil Charles’ only claim to fame is that he also contributed the short story Night Flight to the Creasey Mystery Magazine which was adapted as Flight to the East in the Alfred Hitchcock Presents television series. This aired on 23 March 1958 and was reviewed and blogged by Jack Seabrook on his site concerning The Alfred Hitchcock Project, in which Jack is actively reviewing every episode and attempting to track down the source of inspiration. I was glad to assist Jack by providing him with a copy of the original story and suggestion as to the author’s actual identity. In my opinion, Bevil’s wartime action story is the more competent tale of the two, and not only ages well, but could easily be adapted to film. Bevil committed suicide at the age of 33. Perhaps someone will obtain his obituary (if one exists) which may clarify his life history and why he died so young. In case you are wondering, his full name was Bevil Charles Bertram Nance-Kivell. The latter part of the hyphenated name had struck an immediate chord; one Felix Kivell also appears in issues of Creasey Mystery Magazine. It was an easy guess that this was an alias. Eventually I’ll read, blog and review his later works, too.

Private Ted Hollows has just made his first kill, and one of them was a young, beautiful Malayan girl mixed amongst the armed bandits. The world blurs and later he’s in his tent. It’s nighttime and he’s not handling the situation very well. Under the cover of darkness Hollows slips away and staggers towards a distant coastal village, tired, thirsty, delirious. He collapses at the end of town and wakes the next morning. Walking in, he enters what essentially is a bar, orders a drink, and is accosted by two of the enemy. They order him to step outside. Unarmed and clearly a dead man whether he fights it out or not (after all, he is a deserter, so his fate is sealed either way) he calmly accompanies the pair outside. They raise their guns to shoot him down in the back and he flinches as the guns go off, mowing him down. Realization that he’s unscathed, causes him to eye the situation closer. Were they toying with him, teasing, only to still him? No; they are both dead in the dirt. His sergeant and another soldier step forward, reclaim Hollows, and inform him they are shipping out, going home. His asshole of a sergeant has a smile on his features, something nobody has ever seen prior. What’s more, a wink and a fatherly nod, he informs Hollows that none of this transpired. The story is entitled Ambush and written by George Sayce. I’ve no further record of this writer, but he could be English journalist George Ethelbert Sayce (1875-1953) who turned into a newspaper proprietor. He edited for a time the Brecon & Radnor Express.

Frank McKenna’s Bread is a humorous wartime story. It begins years after The Great War when two former POWs run into each other at a restaurant, and the one ribs the one dining on bread. He’s baffled as to the bread remarks until he reflects back to the war, when they were captives of the Germans. While out doing manual labor, a non-soldier German calls to him. Looking to and fro in case it is a trick, he approaches the hidden German who offers bread in exchange for money. Is he kidding? The POWs are poorly fed and vastly malnourished. He lacks the funds, so involves his friend. They investigate the German, find out he is legit, and with much pooled cash, obtain a few loaves of bread! The pair then set up a bargain system with the other inmates, and soon have tons of items to barter for bread. But what if the German tricks them, steals the goods, and keeps the bread? Our “hero” approaches the German and then screams “Unterofficer kommen.” The man flees for his life, while our two guys crawl in and discover a bag filled with loaves of bread. Too much for them. So they must share with the entire POW camp. Every man hides a loaf or two in their clothes and march under their German guards to the camp. But when one loaf, then two, fall from under the garments of one POW, they freak out until the guard snatches up each loaf and himself secretes them in his clothes! The climax is the next day all the POWs have bloated faces and bellies and arms for some bizarre reason. Allergic reaction? When the guards call them outside, they are mortified. The sentries call over Lt. Klaus, and he reprimands the captees, stating no German would ever look so…that is, until the German that snatched two loaves comes outside with the same bloated features! I’d sure love to know where this story originally was published.

Payment Deferred by H. M. Fisher originally appeared in the pamphlet-magazine called Lilliput (March 1943). It’s a short vignette. A man is promoted. In the newspaper, instead of 1942, there was a typo. It states promoted in 942. His cronies suggest he write the royals for a thousand years of backpay. In a drunken foolish stupor, he does just that, and posts it off. Next morning, he realizes to his horror what he has done. He receives a letter in kind, agreeing to the request! The flipside of the paper, however, shows someone has a sinister sense of humor, as they relate that since he was the only promoted officer a thousand years ago, he’s to be held accountable for missing stores of equipment and property during the Norman invasion. Said costs slightly outpace what was owed him, to the effect they request he pay them!

Graham Fisher relates History’s Most Fantastic Jail-Break, reportedly related to him by Wing-Commander R. W. Iredale (Robert Wilson Iredale) of the Royal Australian Air Force. While the name of the secret operation is not given, this true story concerns Operation Jericho. Interested parties may click on the link to read the recorded history there. I located via New Zealand digitized newspapers this tale was printed 7 January 1956 in The Press as History’s Most Fantastic Gaol Break. It was translated into Norwegian and appeared in the magazine Luftens Helter # 33 (January 1958) complete with photos, published as Amiens-raidet by Graham Fischer (sic).

During December 1944, our unnamed protagonist has escaped a poorly guarded makeshift concentration camp: a farmer’s stable. He’s got but a few Reichsmarks in his pocket, not confiscated by the Nazis. On the run, he makes it to a small town but can’t travel by rail too far. Anything more than 100 miles requires a police passport. So he must take short rail trips. But when he arrives in Amstetten, a small northern town in Austria, the ticket lady denies him on the ground that he is a foreigner. He realizes his accent gave him away, and to avoid arousing further suspicion from The Angel of Death, he leaves. He is forced to walk all night to the next railway station, to avoid capture. Afterall, the blonde bitch is suspicious and might call in the police. At the next station, he walks up and requests a ticket, only to be sold a return ticket to Amstetten! He’s mortified. He can’t ask the agent to cancel it and get a different one, in the opposite direction. It would clearly be a red flag. Then inspiration! He asks the same seller if he can have a return-ticket for when he is through being in Amstetten, so he does not have to obtain one at a later date? Yes; he succeeds but must settle in for the night and then take that second train. The author is George A. Floris, and his protagonist, now years after the war has concluded, wonders if the evil blonde, The Angel of Death, is still on duty at the ticket office, or married with a family, or realizes that she may have been his or someone else’s executioner. Floris has at least one article in The Contemporary Review no. 1053 (October 1953) entitled Hungary Under Horthy. He also wrote various articles and letters in The Economist, Sight & Sound (The Film Monthly), Blackfriars, and in US editions of Newsweek. His real name per 1956 British naturalization records is Gyorgy Sandor Schäffer, originally from Hungary. His real name turns up at least once in this foreign newspaper from 1929, the Budai Napló (7 January 1929). I wonder if this tale is a real-life account of his own escape from the Nazis, ergo, an excerpt from a book, or some other source?

This next entry is pure fiction. When Johnny Robins Flew… by Miles Tripp involves a young 18-years old Aircraftman, Second Class, overhearing Canadian flyers arguing about a leaflet-drop they are about to embark on. Seems their rear turret gunner is AWOL with some dame, late for their flight. Johnny Robins realizes this is his opportunity and steps forward. Casually explaining he can handle the gun and has experience, they finally acquiesce. He obtains a jacket and gear, but while in flight, discovers his gear is not enough to properly protect him from the freezing cold elements. He also lacks a parachute. And his helmet-gear does not have the proper apparatus to obtain oxygen. A simple flight goes awry when he suffers from oxygen deprivation and in delirium we see him interact with his girlfriend in various scenarios. Meanwhile, the Nazis flak is peppering the sky and planes take off in pursuit. The Canadians run into trouble and are screaming at him to return fire. He snaps briefly out of his reverie to return fire and takes out a plane sure to kill them. He then faints away from lack of oxygen. One of the crew checks on him and makes the discovery, and they rapidly blanket him with anything possible to save his life, but his fingers and toes are clearly frostbitten. The fictionalized scenario of their landing and having to move his body without anyone noticing is insane, and worse, he’s not permitted to admit he was on that flight. Despite harsh interrogation, he never confesses. The military thinks he merely smuggled aboard to see some action, not realizing he replaced another man. That other man, meanwhile, is brought up to speed and must rehearse his false role in the conflict. He earns a medal, and the now mostly fingerless Johnny Robins, married to his girlfriend, reads of the report, conflict, and medal. She too knows the truth and keeps it secret. He never earns a pension from “self-inflicted injuries” and years later, in the mail arrives the medal, with a note stating that it really belongs to him. I’m not sure where the story was first published, but I managed to trace an earlier edition in Chambers’s Journal (June 1953). Miles Tripp is an English mystery writer and novelist, born 5 May 1923 and died 2 September 2000.

No Bouquets for These by Arthur Catherall is the first of five serial installments. Suspecting it may have appeared previously, I discovered that Tempest published the full serial years earlier as a novel under the byline “Third Mate” in 1951 (per Whitaker’s Index). This alias is not listed anywhere online, as far as I can see. I located a single edition for sale on ABE. The seller only offered up a pitifully reduced quality scan (see here) so I wasn’t able to blow it up and identify the artist. Arthur Catherall’s novel is not recorded on his Wikipedia entry. Nor is a single copy held by any major English libraries, nor found on WorldCat listings. I don’t own a complete run of Combat’s serialization, so I beg your pardon and won’t delve any further.

Assuming, that is, that anyone actually survived reading up to this point !!!

COMBAT: True War Stories # 2 (December 1956)

Desert Intrigue by Earl Ellison (Hamilton & Co., 1949)

Desert IntriguePublished 1949 by Hamilton & Co., Desert Intrigue sports a charmingly romantic cover illustration by noted English artist Reginald Heade. The novel is penned by the pseudonymous Earl Ellison; that alias was, up until his untimely death, 100% written by N. Wesley Firth. Originally simply born as Norman Firth, he adopted the “Wesley” after his own father passed away. Firth was incredibly prolific and required the need to adopt numerous nom de plumes in order to have his fiction simultaneously published.

The publisher failed to paginate the novel. Assuming the frontis is Page 1, the story spans pages 3 through 94.

The next page begins a short story by Margaret Graham entitled One-Man Woman; this ends on Page 126. No clue who she is, though there was a fiction writer by that name operating at least between the 1890s-1910 era. This isn’t that woman. Pages 127-128 are ads.

Returning to Desert Intrigue, the blurb sets out the following:

Ever since Graham had been killed while flying in the R.A.F., Kathryn Morny had suffered an agony that nothing seemed to ease. But, sensibly, she realised that brooding would not help her face the empty years ahead, and when she learned that her new job was to take her journeying across the sun-drenched dunes of the Sahara, she felt that here was the opportunity she needed to escape from the bitterness that filled her heart. She felt drawn irresistibly towards the relentless desert, for her lover had been killed while flying over its far-flung wastes. Visiting the places, gazing at the scenes she knew he himself must have witnessed, somehow brought him very close to her…

Being an ardent fan and collector of Norman Firth, I originally thought, prior to viewing the blurb, that this book might just be another of his romance novels. A deeper hope held that due to the background image and suggestive novel title, it could be a French foreign legion novel! Dismayed by the latter, I was thrilled to discover the romantic novella actually contains mystery and action, and a bona fide plot.

Kathryn replies to a want-ad for a secretarial position to author and script-writer Steven Pendleton, who has been hired by the French government to write about the African desert, etc. Tagging along is his lovely wife, Fay. Naturally, one imagines that the distraught Kathryn will cause a catfight, attempt to become romantically involved with the author, but none of this is the case. They all get along perfectly.

Also involved with the adventure is a film crew consisting of an overweight French director, a camera and field man, and a cocky young Englishman (Ralph Cardingham) bent on conquering Kathryn. She is put off by his attitude, mannerisms, and speech.

While trekking across the desert wastes, Ralph sabotages the second truck (in which Kathryn, author, and wife travel) and his own group sets out early morning and creates a vast lead. They later are stuck in the shifting sands, and discover that truck #2 is nowhere in sight. Leaving his two pards behind to dig out the wheels, Ralph faux-heroically sets off on foot to rescue the missing truck, knowing full well it likely broke down at some point. However, Ralph runs afoul of a roving gang of bandits. They take him hostage and toss him in their fort. Shame they didn’t just behead him!

Meanwhile, back at truck #2, they have indeed broke down and realize that they must forge ahead on foot. Making their way across the desert, they spy the old abandoned WW2 remains of a known fort and make their way towards it, knowing that a well of water exists there. Entering, they are despondent to discover the place is inhabited…by many camels. Where are the owners?

Deciding to abandon the need for water, they make to quietly exit but find themselves rapidly surrounded by the murderous sheik-bandit and his gang of outlaws. They are tossed in the “jail” only to find the Englishman, Ralph, nonchalantly awaiting them. He bluffs his casual capture and the falsified facts of how he came to be there. The trio (Kathryn, Steven & Fay) believe maybe he isnt the scoundrel his reputation carries, after all. While yakking, the sheik enters and withdraws Kathryn to dine with; he is enamored by her beauty and intends to take her with him to his distant mountain stronghold.

In fact, they must leave soon, for a rival bandit-gang led by El Tigro is approaching. Little is known about the identity of El Tigro save that he is reportedly an Englishman who has adopted the ways of the Sahara and plunders and murders all in his path, but the more Kathryn learns about the violent El Tigro, the more she fancies he sounds like her lost love, Graham, who was shot down over the desert during the war years, crashed, and burned. His body was found nearby, charred.

Finding the fort soon under assault by El Tigro, who has zeroed on the sheik’s position, the villain again snatches Kathryn and sends her with his second-in-command to ride quickly to a remote mountain stronghold many miles distant. Remaining behind with his men, a blazing battle ensues. Realizing he is losing men and ground, the sheik abandons his ill-fated men to their demise and flees after his second and Kathryn…

El Tigro seizes control of the fort, learns people are locked inside, and brazenly busts in the door…to find himself face-to-face with an Englishman, a woman, and is stupefied to discover one of his WW2 flying mates (Steven Pendleton) in the cell. They recognize each other and it is revealed that El Tigro is indeed Kathryn’s dead lover, Graham! While much handshaking ensues, the cocky Englishman (Ralph) realizes he must rescue Kathryn first before El Tigro does, or he will have lost his sexual conquest. He leaps outside and steals El Tigro’s horse, and takes off in pursuit of the sheik and company.

El Tigro is infuriated by this act. That was his horse, and, the only horse remaining in the company. He must pursue via camel.

Fast-forward, the sheik’s second and Kathryn stopped for the night. The sheik eventually catches up and is enraged that the second didn’t continue onward through the night. He knifes the second to death. Not far on his heels, Ralph has gained ground via horseback and jumps the sheik! A dazzling fight ensues but ends with the sheik thrusting his knife into the young man. Leaving him for dead, the sheik grabs Kathryn, and departs for the stronghold…

Not much later, El Tigro arrives on the scene, discovers the young man mortally wounded, delirious, but still alive. Leaving Ralph behind, El Tigro continues his pursuit and eventually catches up with the sheik-bandit. The usual fight ensues, he wins, captures the bandit, and discloses his secret identity to Kathryn, however, no romance ensues. Graham believes that she married long ago and/or the young Englishman (Ralph) to be her lover. Plus, contracted to work for the French government under the guise of El Tigro, he is hardly free to pursue her. Keeping emotionally distant from her, they return to the wounded Ralph to find him tended by not only Steven and Fay, but, a French army company! How did they come to be there?

Well, El Tigro had sent communications back in advance of his raid on the fort, noting the sheik-bandit’s locale and requesting reinforcements. The bound bandit is turned over to French authorities and El Tigro is honorably discharged. Ralph informs all of his awful dreadful deeds but is forgiven by both Kathryn and the former El Tigro. Officially relinquished from active-duty, Graham is now free to pursue his former life…and Kathryn.

And the French film director? From all the aforementioned action, he now has a new motion picture idea, one that will not feature Ralph in the lead, but the late El Tigro, possibly, instead, who has suddenly found himself out-of-work, and he has the perfect romantic lead…

THE END … and then we tackle the bonus short story by Margaret Graham…who might well be an undiscovered alias for N. Wesley Firth…or not.

In short order, Denise is married to Robin Dane; her husband will soon pick her up and go on their honeymoon. Another woman appears on the scene; she claims to be married to the same man! Shows a marriage certificate. Our heroine is distraught, flees the abode, goes out for a drink; an old friend from her days of rural youth spots her and they chat. Denise does not disclose her marriage or woes. Her friend offers a farm-job with her and her brother. Accepting the job, the offer gives Denise the opportunity to escape her woeful predicament and not face the cad. While working on the farm, a young man attempts to convince the sister to marry him. She rebukes him. Our heroine learns why: she wants to be “loved,” and while the man does love her, he just isn’t “exciting.” Denise visits young man, explains what he needs to do to win her over. He takes this in stride and pursues the sister again: wins. With the sister soon out of the scene, Denise decides she can’t remain working on the farm, alone with an eligible bachelor. While short-cutting across the farm, Denise is nearly gored by a maddened bull. The farmer rescues her and clumsily professes his love for her. Denise isn’t the least bit interested. She still misses her own husband, Robin, but weeks have gone by…and remarkably, there he is! How did Robin find her? Well, she had written a letter to her landlady, no return address, but, postmarked the region she is in, which turns out to be a tiny area. Robin obtained the letter’s envelope, spotted the mark, traced it, and from there, asked around until he found her residence. He explains he also had a run-in with the “other wife” and that the woman was wrong. Her private detective had found the wrong man, that there are many other Robin Dane’s in England! When Robin confronted the other woman, she was equally dismayed she had wronged the young couple. All facts clarified, Denise and Robin continue their relationship, and…the farmer walks in to find them making out and he realizes he is now the odd-man-out. A sad ending for him, as he isn’t a bad fella.

Desert Intrigue by Earl Ellison (Hamilton & Co., 1949)

Search the Lady by Henri Duval

CURZON Search The Lady

Way back in 2019 I posted a blog entry on the Crime and Passion Series. As a refresher course on publisher history, etc., please click on the highlighted series name above or, click on the series name in the sidebar…

Search the Lady by Henri Duval (in this case the alias of N. Wesley Firth) was published 1946 by the Curzon Publishing Company. It ran 32 pages, tiny font, averaging 18,000 words. This title was printed twice, the first time priced at 9d, then at 6d. My copy is the second edition, released circa 1948.

The cover art is by noted artist S. R. Boldero (Stephen Richard Boldero) many years before he would become known for his cover art appearing on paperbacks in the mid-1950s through early 1970s. By this time, he was aged 48 years! What in the world was the doing before this? Is this one of his first cover paintings? His 1940s output is not even recorded on the Bear Alley blog site; this piece debuted nearly a decade before Holland’s earliest noted Boldero work. The FictionMags Index site records two internal magazine illustrations, each in 1949.

Unlike several other titles in the Crime and Passion Series, this one carries a blurb:

Vice and crime rule Britain’s Metropolis. This is the stark theme of this sensationally topical novel. So extreme, violent and ruthless do the vice lords become, that four public spirited young men decide that third degree methods must be used to break up the gangs. In order to “make the canaries sing,” they are prepared to flog the truth out of the molls and crooks who seek to terrorise the greatest city in the world. Here indeed is a really tough novel.

I can hear your big question now: does the novelette stand up to the blurb? Hmm…not hardly. Bear in mind that England was under strict censorship laws. They could infer a lot, but there were lines that authors and publishers alike simply could not cross. That’s not to say they didn’t dare do so and face fines and imprisonment for doing just that.

In Search the Lady, four friends meet at the Trades Club off the Mall after a series of intelligent robberies and murders come off without a hitch. With Pavlovian accuracy, the police all respond to the shrill whistle or beat of the bobby sticks, etc., and abandon their stations to attend or cordon off a crime-zone. This leaves other areas open to victimization. And victimize those other locales the crime boss does!

The friends include:
Chief Inspector Arthur Manning, of Scotland Yard
Stein, a wealthy magnate
Graham, a doctor
Jarrold (occupation unclear)

Jarrold actually is the one to suggest third degree, but Manning is initially all against the American practice of torturing criminals. Remarkably, Manning pulls a 180 and declares “The only way to fight murder and torture is with murder and torture.” What happened to not following the America’s brutal practices? Guess that was tossed out the window.

With Manning’s direct access to knowledge at The Yard, they soon obtain bearded and mustached disguises and tail a criminal from a recent heist. Capturing him, they toss him in Stein’s secluded cellar and threaten him. The crook is nicknamed Pinch Scrubbs (seriously?) and calls their bluff…or so he believes. Manning orders the boys to throw petrol on Scrubbs’ foot, lights a match, and the roast begins! Scrubbs screams as his foot catches fire and completely caves. He doesn’t know any names, save that he received orders from a man named Flannery, and a girl operating under the name of Linda Denvers.

Flannery can’t be found, but Linda Denvers can. Her residence is known by Scrubbs, as he was to later meet up with her and obtain his share of the profits.

Manning decides that he himself shall keep that appointment. Again putting on the absurd disguise, he ventures out and knocks at the all-ladies quarters. The landlady refuses to admit him, but he convinces her that he is Denvers’ brother. She relents, hesitantly, only because the girl had in fact noted she was expecting her brother. Against her own house rules, she admits the man. Knocking, the door opens and Manning is greeted by the young beauty found on the front cover of Search the Lady.

And believe me, he wants to, er…”search the lady.”

Excusing the nosy landlady, they parlay. Manning desires to know why the girl didn’t cry alarm. She confesses she was interested in ascertaining his true identity, and, would he possibly remove the absurd disguise which had already partially dislodged before her own eyes. Readjusting the beard, he grills her concerning the crimes. She disavows all, stating she is not a criminal, nor responsible for the murders. Finally, Manning convinces her to leave the premises with him to be grilled further and doing so, he is coshed over the head and left outside in the garden.

Coming to, he is miffed to find the girl gone, and confused as to how anyone knew he was meeting her. Did she somehow relay a message? The landlady, perhaps, is part of the gang?

Fast-forward, he meets his friends again, explains the lump on the noggin, the girl escaped, and they are back to nothing…except Pinch Scrubbs. They release him and then each take turns tailing him in the hopes that he will lead them to another gang member. Eventually, while drinking at a pub, he is met by another person. A meeting place is determined, and Manning hops a cab, and pays the cabbie to follow discreetly.

Deposited in an unsavory part of town, Manning briefly loses Scrubbs, but discerns a track through the woods that leads to an isolated, seemingly abandoned house. Sneaking up stealthily, he spies Scrubbs inside waiting patiently. And someone behind Manning informs him to reach for the sky. Turns out the destination was a means to trap Manning! Falling bait, he is led inside, trussed, and learns the ugly mug gunman is Flannery, an American. From this turd, he learns the big boss will be coming later to give final instructions regarding Manning’s fate, and the big boss had recently come from England to America.

A Scotland Yard man to the last, Manning slowly puts relevant fact Number One before his very eyes. Absolutely nobody outside his own crew knew that they were tailing Scrubbs. Fact Number Two, he now knows the boss has been to America. Only two people within the foursome have been to America, and one of them is lying trussed-up awaiting a death sentence. Who is it? Stein? Graham? Jarrold?

Enter the young lady, Linda Denvers! She was in another room, and finally walks in. She had heard a gunshot (Scrubbs had been shot multiple times after Manning made an initial attempt at freedom; Manning used Scrubbs’ body as a shield while Flannery finished him off, accidentally). Flannery candidly explains that Manning (who is feigning unconsciousness) murdered Scrubbs, then informs her that the boss and instructed she remain in her room. She whines that she is lonely and desires his company. Thinking she is making love-moves on him, he acquiesces, knocking back a lot of alcohol and demands a smackeroo from his future gun-moll. She kisses him on the forehead and he laughingly ridicules her. She finally has to give him a real smooch. Manning wants to vomit…

Eventually Flannery slumbers from too much alcoholic consumption and…Denvers grabs a knife, severs Manning’s cords (still pretending to be “out”) and then steals a letter from inside Flannery’s coat, then retreats to her room. Shocked at being released, he notes Flannery is still snoring away. Making his way up the stairs, one board creaks so he dashes all pretense at stealth and charges the door. Knocking it open he finds her partially undressed and no letter in sight. Allowing her to dress properly, he demands the letter; she feigns no knowledge of it. Finally, after an exhaustive search of the room, he determines to “search the lady.”

Mortified, she declares no proper gentleman would dare! Thankfully, Manning mans up to the situation and states “Then it’s lucky I’m no gentleman.” Sadly, English censorship comes into play and our author adroitly dodges the bullet by following that salvo by suggesting she hand over the letter and avoid her own blushes. She reaches down and extracts the letter. Reading it, he isn’t surprised to find it unsigned. The crime boss would hardly leave such a glaring clue. We eventually learn her real name is Vivian Lane, daughter of a banker who died as a result of the violent crimes. She desired to find the mastermind and kill the person or persons involved in the death of her father.

Remarkably, while planning to leave or even wait for the eventual arrival of the crime boss, they hear stealthy footprints nearing and…Jarrold enters! How does he come to be on the scene, when Manning had left no information as to his whereabouts?

Jarrold explains that obviously he was the next point-of-contact in the chain of tailing Scrubbs, and when Manning failed to report in from his last known location, Jarrold phoned the other two friends and retraced Manning’s steps. They knew he was at the pub watching Scrubbs. There, Jarrold determined he obtained a cab, learned which cabbie he hired, re-obtained that particular cabbie, was driven out to the last known location, and eventually found that isolated track through the woods, etc.

Then, another set of footprints can now be heard making for them! Hushing up and drawing their respective guns, they await the crime lord. Only, the door opens to reveal Graham. He repeats a nearly identical story, too, beginning with Jarrold’s call to he and Stein. In telling his story, another set of steps are hard and thus enters Stein.

You get the idea…

Flannery, still snoring, is bundled into an awaiting car, and dumped in Stein’s cellar. They plan to third degree him, but in the meantime, Manning must return to Scotland Yard and face some music. His chief is greatly angered by a lack of communication and Manning’s lack of proper protocol in reporting in, performing any work, nor obtaining any clues to solve the ongoing crime-wave that hasn’t abated a single moment. Manning does not inform his superior that he has actually been working, because doing so would reveal his unorthodox methods, and likely have him both terminated and locked away.

Departing from his boss’s scorn, he returns to the cellar to find Flannery missing! Manning now is certain he knows who is at the back of the brilliant crimes. But first, he must find Flannery. Knowing the man was too intoxicated to move on his own, plus, the solid door isn’t busted, he determines it must have a spare key or was picked. Searching the premises without informing its master, he finally discovers Flannery’s corpse.

Long story short, he phones Jarrold and Graham to return to the vast estate and abandon their locations. Then, while they are enroute, he walks in on Stein who is surprised to see him. Manning explains that he has called off the other two friends from watching for the big boss to arrive at the remote location. They each arrive, want an explanation. He gives the trio one: the big boss will never appear there to deliver the fatal news to kill Manning, because, HE IS RIGHT HERE IN THE ROOM WITH THEM.

Manning explains his moves, the fact that only these 3 mates knew his moves, that Flannery disclosed the boss had been to America and points out that aside from himself, only the wealthy Stein had also been to America. Plus, via Yard access, he discovers Stein’s prints on Flannery’s letter and that Stein once had a criminal background, involved in fraudulent stock companies.

Stein laughs, reveals a Mauser, instructs each member to tie up the next person, until only Manning and Denvers remains. She ties up Manning, and then Stein trusses her. Good old English literature…just couldn’t have the heroes all riddled by bullets from Stein, could we? Nope. He opens a window, climbs out, and is surrounded immediately by members of The Yard. Refusing to give up, he is gut shot. Mortally wounded, he remains on the ground while our remaining trio and the girl are unbound.

Manning walks outside, looks down upon Stein, who is dying, and proclaims he took a bullet but dodged the hangman….

Prologue…the Assistant Commissioner congratulates Manning, decides this one time to overlook proper protocol on Manning’s part but sternly states that he is to never again abandon The Yard and her esteemed practices. Manning agrees but declares that should the matter ever arrive to this point again, he will not hesitate to employ third degree. He departs into the waiting arms of Linda Denvers (aka: Vivian Lane) and eventually they are engaged, of course…

Search the Lady by Henri Duval

Fast on the Draw by Tex Elton (aka: Thomas P. Kelley)

THOMAS P KELLEY Fast On The Draw

Fast on the Draw by Tex Elton was published by Pastime Publications of Toronto, Canada.  This digest-sized paperback carries no copyright date but would be circa 1947 to very early 1948. English publisher Pemberton’s (aka: T. A. & E. Pemberton Ltd., as they are otherwise known) contracted Pastime to publish books on their behalf, due to strict paper rations in effect during and after the war. Hence why the red-circle on the cover sports no cover price. The Canadians didn’t fill it in, leaving it up to the English to do so. This further allowed Pemberton’s to export unsold copies to South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, etc.

The artwork is signed lower right by Canadian comic, humorous postcard, and magazine artist Wilf. Long; he is scarcely known in name, however, among SF and Fantasy aficionados, readily known for creating the gorgeous cover art to Thomas P. Kelley’s The Face That Launched a Thousand Ships which concerns the most beautiful lady in history, Helen of Troy (as a brunette) and the infamous Trojan War. In this novel, the narrator discusses the search for the burial and entombment of Helen, as rumor holds she was placed under a sleeping spell and…well, I won’t ruin the plot. Every serious collector ought to own a copy of that book, as it was Kelley’s first novel in 1941. Noteworthy fact: The first 4 chapters also appear in the ill-fated pulp Eerie Tales (July 1941) and the cover art depicts Helen of Troy as a slim blonde. Experts argue whether The Face That Launched a Thousand Ships was the first original Canadian-published fantasy novel, or not. The precise release date of the paperback is unknown and perhaps only Canadian fanzines may provide the most conclusive evidence.

Speaking of Thomas P. Kelley, Tex Elton is the alias of that worthy Canadian ex-boxer. He is best remembered in the pulp fiction community for his contributions to the American magazine Weird Tales. As I have already covered Kelley in prior posts (click on his tagged name) I won’t delve further. In fact, I covered another western by Kelley, via this publisher, earlier…the cover artist on THAT COPY was not signed but may be Wilf. Long, too.

This tale involves two Texas cowpunchers: Ham Spaulding is an older cowhand tagging along with recent college law graduate Joe Mondell, who prefers to ride the saddle than practice law. Having a falling out with his father, Joe forks leather and Ham follows him. The pair are penniless after being robbed (Joe) and the other loses his shirt gambling (Ham). Desperate for cash, they accept a job with a farm threshing outfit, not realizing the awful task ahead. Stranded penniless for a couple weeks of hard labor, they demand their earnings at gunpoint and depart. It’s not long before the chase is on and the pair steal a small boat and maroon themselves on a small island midstream. With the river running high, the pair sit tight and take their bearings…but come morning, they discover someone else has been on the island. Boot prints litter a worn path, which leads to a log. Looking in, they discover the looted cash from a recent bank heist. With the law already after them for having their earnings paid by gun, and now discovering the bank heist money in their hands, the duo is rightfully panic-stricken. Should they be found with the loot, nobody will believe they are innocent. Can you say “lynch-mob”?

Thomas P. Kelley expands what would have read as a fun short story into a long novella, filled with his usual expert padding and seemingly mindless dialogue. In the end, after various mishaps, they enlist the aid of the local marshal, who is running for office against the local sheriff (he’s up for re-election). Convincing the marshal of their innocence (actually, he’s certain they are insane, and nearly guns them down) the pair retreat under cover of darkness with the marshal, to the island, and remain hidden, waiting for the real bank robbing McCoys to make their entrance…the rushing heights of the river water is dropping, which means a navigable path by horse from land will be assured. The robbers are likely to make that trek and retrieve the loot.

And so embarks a nightly silence for days until a trio do ride across the river and make for the island. The three then attempt to capture the heist-men alive, but Joe plugs one to death (after the gunner pulls on Joe) and the other pair each run down their men. The marshal is gobsmacked to discover the identities and his run for office is assured.

Now, no proper western novel is complete without some form of lady-interest, and there is one, but she scarcely figures into the novel at all, except as a side distraction.

Fast on the Draw is blurbed as:

The story of two Texans who found themselves stranded and broke in a frontier city where Colts were Kings and each packed a deckful of death on his hip.”

Does this novella hold up to such a bold statement? Not really. I was searching for more gunplay, more dead men, but truly, we only obtain two dead men (a sheriff’s deputy being the actual first murder) but that aside, anyone interested in Kelley literature may wish to try to hunt themselves a copy, as a curiosity, at the least.

Good luck!

Fast on the Draw by Tex Elton (aka: Thomas P. Kelley)

Creasey Mystery Magazine # 2 (September 1956)

I tackled the debut issue of the Creasey Mystery Magazine way back in 2015 (click HERE to re-read that entry first). Four years later, I am returning to the task of revisiting that magazine, with the second issue. This was more of a wake-up reminder than a plan on my part. A recent blog reader asked me a question, and her question prompted this assignment. So, I’m dedicating this blog entry to Pennie.

Creasey Mystery Magazine (v1 n2, September 1956) UK: Dalrow Publishing.
The first three issues sported identical covers (no doubt to save on design costs), but, the one solid color differed per cover. The first featured a light blue cover, while this one has a red cover.

The lead story is Death to Joy by John Creasey. The tale is smoothly written, fairly fast-paced, and feels like a precursor to James Bond. It features his recurring popularly favorite detective Richard Rollison, aka The Toff. The plot takes place in Durban, Africa. Rollison seems always to be coincidentally in the right place(s) to view overlapping cases of good and evil, but hell, that’s fiction for you. Here we have Rollison watching a young teenaged lovely lady laughing it up watching the playful antics of Zulu boy while she and her company, an aged woman, sit upon a rickshaw. Rollison notes that another person is also watching the pair. He’s swarthy, handsome, well-dressed, and his eyes betray his thoughts. Rollison doesn’t like him. Fast-forward, Rollison’s at a special party-affair. Everyone is present there, too. Rollison asks local journalist Jim Crane who the females are. The younger gal is Elizabeth Dunn, slated to inherit a fortune; the older lady is her aunt and guardian. A young man dancing with her is Tony Cornish, money made from real-estate. The evil-looking gentleman and his female companion? Klimmer, dabbles in illegal activities, but never been caught by the police. The woman? Not his wife, but perhaps a lover. Her identity is not known to Crane, nor is it ever truly clarified later in the text. Fast-forward to another day. Miss Dunn visits Rollison at his room, looking for assistance. He pauses her, discovers a snooper at the door, they fight, he knocks him down, someone down the haul pulls a gat and shoots at Rollison. He dodges the iron pill. That would-be killer escapes. He looks like a pan-handler, a character with recurring theme throughout the text. I won’t divulge more on that, as it’s relevant to the story. Rollison assigns George, his “negro” boy, to assist. George is faithful to Rollison from some undisclosed prior assignment. I’m not sure if he shows up in other stories or not, but had he been developed more, he’d have made an interesting character of his own merit. Miss Dunn shies away from Rollison after guns and death are employed, begs off, and leaves without hiring Rollison. Too late. He’s accepted the case, whether she likes it or not. The gist: she saw in the newspaper a man was murdered and Miss Dunn fears that her lover, Tony Cornish, was the killer. Evidence suggests this, especially after an altercation between Dunn and Cornish, in which he calls her a Delilah! Seems he believes she stole papers from his place, especially after blackmailer Klimmer staged the suggestion. How Rollison solves the case and disables each would-be killer makes for a fascinating read and finalizes in the cliché manner. Cornish and Dunn are joined, and Rollison asks Dunn to do him one favor. Rollison’s returning to England, could she give George a job? She accepts, proclaiming “A thousand jobs!” to which Rollison rejoins “He’ll only need one.”

The next tale is The Lernean Hydra by Agatha Christie, continuing her series of tales featuring the obnoxious Hercule Poirot. Originally debuting in America’s magazine This Week, 3 September 1939 as The Invisible Enemy and it soon appeared in England’s The Strand (December 1939). Hercule Poirot returns, hired to squash rumors in a small town. A doctor’s career is near ruin after his wife dies. Rumors spread like wild-fire that he and/or the younger lady he’s suspected of being infatuated with poisoned his invalid wife. Rumors also suggest that while he cared for her, he never loved his wife. Poirot insists from the doctor full disclosure, no matter what. He finally acquiesces that it is true: he never loved his wife, he did care for her during those sick years, he is interested in the younger lady, she likewise is interested in him, they have never professed their love openly nor proposed marriage. No, he did not murder his wife. So, Poirot accepts the assignment and like the many-headed Hydra, must investigate every major talking head to discover the original source of the rumors, and discover whether there is any real truth to the rumors.

The Case of the Thing that Whimpered by Dennis Wheatley is excerpted from his collection Gunmen, Gallants & Ghosts (London: Hutchinson, 1943). It features psychic/paranormal/ghost-hunting investigator Neils Orsen, a Swede with bizarre facial structures and features. No doubt the tale was originally published in a magazine or newspaper, but I’ve yet to trace the original source.

In The Unhappy Piano-Tuner, Julian Symons’ popular detective character Francis Quarles is visited by the titular character who is married to a unfaithful woman. Requesting Quarles aid in fixing his marriage, the detective rejects the assignment, but takes up the “case” as the woman is found dead and the tuner is held on the charge of murder! The evidence? An open bottle of wine…poisoned. Did the distraught husband commit the crime? The room boarder? The milk man? This tale originally appeared in the 20 July 1950 edition of London’s The Evening Standard.

Eric Allen presents Strong-Arm Man, a short story spanning a few pages and culled from London’s The Evening News, 5 January 1953. The body-guard is assigned to escort a jeweled lady from a flight but she inexplicably slips him the envelope containing said jewels while the drifts away briefly. In walks a man insisting that he has already kidnapped said lady, and wishes to offer cash for the jewels, in exchange for the safe return of the lady. The guard decides not to play ball, and slaps a cuff on his wrist and the other’s wrist, when inexplicably the woman re-enters the scene, not kidnapped at all, and claiming to have been looking all over the place for him. He uncuffs himself and attaches the cuff to her and the briber! Appears she isn’t the real McCoy and he knew that before any of this nonsense transpired. An absurd story that could have been better developed as a longer feature.

Driver’s Seat debuted in This Week magazine on 25 March 1951 under the title Lady, You’re Dead!. It features Inspector Queen and his son, Ellery Queen, solving the unbreakable case. Four brothers own a business. Each own an equal cut. One dies. That cut goes to his widow. The three brothers have squandered their earnings and have fancy women. The widow plays her hand at the board meeting. She knows each brother has been quietly selling off a percentage of their stock to finance their foolishness: gambling, cars, women, etc. The original “contract” drafted between the brothers legally states that when one owns a majority of the stocks, they have the right to buy out the remaining stocks. She’s been buying their sold stocks through “dummies.” The boys have one week…and then…they are OUT. Mortified, they consult their lawyers. She’s right. She’s also found murdered on the day they are to receive their buy-out checks. Stabbed. A rain coat is found sodden on the premises. It belongs to the brothers. Which brother? They are all the same size. Wear the same jacket. And each is covering for the actual killer. Ellery enters the scene and informs his father the killer make a grave mistake in leaving the jacket, as one side is more sodden than the other. It belongs to the man that stuck his arm out the right-hand window to make “signals” while driving (yes boys and girls, in the old days, we used arms, not electronic turn signals, just like on bicycles). Well, one of the brothers drives an imported British auto, which obviously has the steering wheel on the right side of the car, not the left. So, he’s clearly the killer. I say…Why?!?!?!? All the jacket proves is that the fool left it behind. It doesn’t prove he did the deed. So, I find a flaw in this decisive conclusion, and so would any lawyer.

Victor Canning’s The Cautious Safe-Cracker is more of a humorous irony tale than a mystery. Originally published 4 July 1954 in This Week magazine, the protagonist is a bad-luck safe-cracker that strives for one last big hurrah. Carefully planned to the last detail, he enters the widower’s home, opens the safe, extracts the jewels…only to discover the man-of-the-house dead. Cause of death was likely a heart attack, on the way down to the floor he smacked his head and bled. The thief is in a predicament. Caught with the jewels, he’ll surely hang for murder. Unable to simply toss the jewels back in the case and pretend he never was there, he steals out into the night, tosses the jewels into an abandoned, long-unused well, walks into town, and does his utmost to establish an alibi. All goes awry. He tosses a brick through a storefront window. Nothing. Enters, steals from the cigar shop. Nothing. The dog doesn’t assault him. The owner doesn’t wake. Good grief. Realizing it’s a botched attempt, he makes to leave. The dog suddenly decides to maul him. Screaming, the owner wakes, and the cops finally make an appearance. He’s arrested, jailed, serves his time, gets out, goes to retrieve the jewels…only to discover the town has filled the well with cement and erected a monument to the memory of the dead man on the well’s site.

Like the preceding tale, this one is meant to be one of irony, and less about mystery. Peter Cheyney’s The Humour of Huang Chen involves two rival Chinamen and their murderous raiding gangs in old 18th century China, always trying to one-up the other. In this case, Huang Chen’s rival (Li-Tok) raids one of his areas, murdering everyone. Some of his loyal men escape, and along for the ride, they have captured an imminent physician. He is blind and without tongue. Huang Chen takes one look at the man, orders him to be isolated in a bamboo cage, then orders his gorgeous daughter brought before him. Arriving, he gives her instructions to go out with a small escort and be captured by his rival. She does, and is. Li-Tok sends a letter courier noting that he has captured Huang Chen’s daughter, and desires a trade. The girl for the physician. Huang Chen naturally agrees. The trade is made, and later, he has a letter sent to Li-Tok, noting he planned the swap, for the imminent physician has the plague. Honestly, a flawed tale. Obviously those that were in immediate contact with the plague-ridden physician of Huang Chen’s men would have been likewise infected. Online sources note the earliest known appearance of this story appears in the Peter Cheyney collection You Can’t Hit a Woman and Other Stories (London: Collins, 1937). According to an Australian newspaper that syndicated the tale mid-1937, it originated in the Birmingham Weekly Post. This likely was in 1936, as I found the tale syndicated in England, very late 1936. Unfortunately, the BWP has not been indexed that far back as yet.

Dorothy L. Sayers’ The Inspiration of Mr. Budd originally was published in the American weekly pulp Detective Story Magazine for the 21st November 1925 issue and next year in the UK via Pearson’s Magazine, March 1926. The tale is not one of mystery. Budd is a down-on-his-luck hair stylist. A series of bad luck and tarnished family has led him to be impoverished and bear a tainted name, so he moves his once successful business to London to disappear. Subsequently, he has aspired to win every sort of lotto, prizes, etc., that turns up from businesses, in newspapers, etc. Just now, he is reading in the local paper that there is a 500 Pound bounty / reward for genuine information leading up to the arrest of a wanted man. Ironically, a man fitting the very description enters his establishment requesting his hair style to be changed, a trim and coloring, claiming his current girlfriend doesn’t like his current look. Budd realizes the man is a fraud, with a fake hair dye already covering the man’s real hair. But, how to confront or capture the man? He doesn’t have the nerve nor the training, and reflecting back on the ad, recalls the reward was for information, not actual detainment. Mixing up a special dye concoction, he finishes the assignment and the man departs. Budd wastes no time in rushing to the authorities and imparting his knowledge, and, just what he did to the man’s hair. That’s the joke! He created a dye concoction that turned the man’s hair absolutely green! Word is rushed to all outlets. The police learn a man matching the description is holed-up on an outbound vessel, and has requested a hair stylist. They bust in and arrest a man with green hair. Budd attains the reward and, suddenly, a rich elitist pays his shop a visit desiring her hair to be turned green so that she can brag to be his first legal customer after the sensationalized arrest of the wanted man.

With A High Tension Lead by Roderic Graeme filling out the remaining allotted fiction pages, I’m direly hoping against all odds for a genuine mystery story. Unfortunately, I do not know where this story originates, as this certainly can’t be the first publication, can it? The son of famed Blackshirt creator Bruce Graeme (whose full name is actually Bruce Graham Montague Jeffries), Roderic Graeme Jeffries presents me with a solid crime story. A young man arrives home to find his aged uncle dead, stabbed in the back. He informs his sister (they both live with the deceased). The vast property and money was mostly willed to the pair, with the rest divvied up among other parties, etc. However, it’s learned the will had been destroyed the day prior. Bizarre… Motive? Was someone written out of the will? Was there an argument? Police swarm the scene, dust for prints, etc. An investigator makes an appearance and begins to interview the sister first, for about an hour. He then moves on to the brother, and asks all sorts of questions and makes unusual comments along the way. The story title concerns that the young man’s car had a problem and he drove it home despite this. The investigator thinks he a fool for doing so, and elaborates why. This brilliant mystery is solved in typical Hercule Poirot fashion by a seemingly obnoxious investigator, and I’m not going to reveal the how and why of it. Bizarrely enough, JRG is only credited with two short stories on FictionMags. When his father tired of authoring Blackshirt novels, the son took up the series, cementing his name in history with his father.

The Creasey Mystery Magazine concludes with a book review section credited to Mr. Creasey (and going so far as to recommend one under his alias of Jeremy York) and an article by Michael Underwood concerning the metropolitan police.

Creasey Mystery Magazine # 2 (September 1956)

Possession by N. Wesley Firth

Possession 1

Possession was published by Grant Hughes Ltd., circa 1948.
The novel carries no byline on the covers, but the interior title page gives the author as Sheila A. Firth; she was the daughter of prolific author Norman Firth. Tragedy haunted the Firth family when Norman inexplicably died at the young age of 29, on 13-Dec-1949; cause of death given then was tuberculosis. He left behind Sheila (age 4) and a young wife (age 22).

Possession was actually issued twice, both with covers by noted English artist H. W. Perl.

The first edition was printed by The Fodhla Printing Co., of Dublin, Ireland. The inside front cover sports a typical Joan the Wad ad. Interior rear cover also features an ad, for Joan the Wad and Jack O’Lantern, etc. This true first edition (featuring likely Margaret Lockwood and Michael Wilding) failed to sell. Remainder stock was returned, covers stripped, and a new cover commissioned.

The second edition was printed and published by Grant Hughes, this time featuring one of Perl’s regular models. It’s unknown how well this edition sold. Both the inside front & rear cover is entirely white, no ads present.

Remarkably, neither edition is held by the British Library nor any other known major English library per COPAC, nor worldwide per WorldCat.

Possession 2

Contrary to the typical romantic plots, our heroine does NOT give up her Hollywood job in favor of love, but she is mixed up in the cliché “eternal triangle” plot…

Andrea Ellis was a nobody until discovered by producer Harry Grant. Pairing her with Steward Tracy for 5 years, the two have made Harry Grant a fortune and Andrea Ellis is now in demand to play the lead in the film version of the same play. Only thing is, she desires a break from acting.

Refusing to inform Harry Grant where she intends to vacation, she foolishly informs her private staff, and Steward Tracy, deeply in love with her, manages to extract the information. Learning she intends to abandon New York in favor of the beaches and playgrounds of Miami, he lets slip that he will vacation with her. Frustrated at the deception, she’s doubly-cross that Steward revealed her plans to Harry Grant.

Grant sees an angle and sends publicity agent Carl Cotton south to set the ball rolling, only that “ball” turns into a wrecking ball.

Arriving in Miami, Steward proposes marriage (he has been proposing numerous times and she has always turned him down). Now, upon the beach, she finally accepts, reluctantly, and he coerces a promise from her to not break the promise. Desiring to keep the engagement secret fails when a cub-reporter for a local paper arrives on the scene. Or was the reporter tipped off, further forcing the marriage?

To further worsen matters, Carl Cotton makes an appearance during the newsboy’s interview, and announces that Andrea Ellis is to be the “prize” date at the Krackly Krispy Krunchies Hour radio show; the winner is selected from a finalist of three men who are to provide the new winning tune for the show. She is not amused. The first two contestants aren’t noteworthy, but the third dazzles her the moment they each set eyes upon one another. It’s literally love at first sight.

With a love triangle forming, Andrea finds herself morally bound to a man she does not wholeheartedly love, and a man she does not know at all but feels inexplicably drawn!

The young man is Jay Niles, a “bum” who lives in the slums of Miami, in a converted railway car. Andrea, fascinated by the musician, convinces Jay to show her where he lives. Believing she is just some snob and wants to look down on the common poor person that can’t make good, they exchange words and she finally proves she is more than just an elitist. After all, she did not dress fancy, did not put on make-up, nor do her hair. She came to the date as a normal-looking girl.

The pair elude Carl Cotton’s appointed paparazzi and spend private hours alone. Andrea is intrigued to learn more about Jay and his musical interests; he seems to be quite talented. He plays an instrumental piece for her; she then asks to have it as a keepsake. Jay doesn’t care. It’s been offered everywhere. Nobody wants that type.

Never to see another again, she returns to her life and, when the producer offers her the next Broadway gig, she learns that the entire play is to be essentially silent, and without music! Discovering that Jay’s piece would fit the play perfectly, she presents it to Harry Grant only to be rebuffed without hearing the musical piece.

She then goes to the author of Harry’s production, and there has the music played. He loves it and tells Harry it is “in.”

Displeased with her move, Harry must accept the author’s decision, and further, realizes Andrea must be in love or infatuated with Jay. He is eager to destroy this relationship as he likes her and Steward Tracy together.

Jay becomes a success along with the play; his wallet grows from dust to greenbacks, etc. All the while, Jay refuses to see Andrea alone, as he does not wish to interfere with her engagement to Steward Tracy, who he personally feels is a swell guy.

But, when Steward accepts an acting job in Hollywood, and is gone for weeks or months, Andrea and Jay can no longer repress their desires and well…you can guess the rest! Still, they must keep their meetings secret lest the press discover the truth; their bosses too, and worse yet would be for Steward Tracy to learn second-hand that she has been unfaithful.

Jay insists she inform Steward in person of her decision to break off the engagement, but before she can, on his return flight to New York, the plane goes down in flames, killing nearly everyone onboard. Miraculously, Steward survives, only to have both legs fully amputated.

Jay convinces her that she must marry Steward as the truth would devastate him. Despite her desires not to, she is eventually guilted into marrying Steward. Jay removes himself entirely from the scene, and vanishes for an entire decade…

Ten years have passed, and Steward’s health has been in continual decline. His body was severely damaged from the plane crash and is succumbing to reality: death. He finally dies a happy man and she is free to pursue Jay. But will he even want her? Is he now married to someone else? Isn’t she visually too old, no longer youthfully desirable?

Well, Harry Grant and Carl Cotton drag her out from retirement and inform her that they have just the right position in a proposed play for her to fill. Arriving at Harry’s home, they meet out on the balcony and discuss the proposal. She is mystified as the role sounds like her real life drama. Harry concludes that they have found the perfect man for the role and in walks Jay, salt-peppered hair, older, but still very much in love with Andrea Ellis after all these years … THE END.

A very pleasant romance story, delightfully written by N. Wesley Firth. I confess that I was surprised he would attach his daughter’s name to such a work, given her young age at the time. Sadly, she passed away some years back, and never had the chance to read any of the works appearing under her name, nor under her mother’s name.

NOTES: Steward Tracy clearly is clearly supposed to resonate with readers as being Hollywood actor Spencer Tracy. Harry Grant came across to me as actor Cary Grant, as I couldn’t think of a producer with a similar name. Not sure who Andrea Ellis is supposed to portray. Nor certain who Carl Cotton or Jay Niles would be. Anyone have ideas?

Possession by N. Wesley Firth

She Was No Lady by Al Bocca

Unlike the previously blogged Al Bocca gangster novel, this story isn’t a gangster novel. Oh, don’t get me wrong…there are gangsters. The plot here revolves around protagonist Al Bocca (yeah, the fictional name of the author) who is a private investigator. More on the plot in a moment.

She Was No Lady

She Was No Lady was published by Scion Ltd. circa July 1950 per Whitaker’s Index under the Al Bocca alias; as previously discussed, this is one of a handful of pseudonyms belonging to Bevis Winter. The digest-sized paperback features cover art signed “Ferrari”. This was one of many aliases used by Philip Mendoza. One glimpse at the cover art (a canary blonde dame with large jugs, bra and scanties disclosed, and long shapely legs, wielding a small handgun) and you know that the Irish censor board were all over it. A quick look at their register proves we are correct. I imagine it was banned by other countries as well.

My copy has a faded “Brown’s Book Exchange” rubber stamped under the author’s name, and I’m grateful to the person that smartly placed it where the artwork itself would remain unmarred. It’s a well-read copy, with a reading crease, and several dog-ear creases to the lower right cover. Otherwise, clean and sound.

The novel opens on page 5 and concludes on page 127. Our protagonist (Al Bocca) is walking the street with his luggage, having just departed the Okeville Station (um, there’s no such place). He eventually enters a bar. Departing, he’s met by a gun-totin’ cretin, and soon joined by another creep. They force him into a taxi and eventually arrive in a disreputable part of California. (I’m not sure by this point what city we are in, but the author claims we are going to the corner of Wellington and Medusa; there’s no such intersection). They push him into a room, and an ape going by the name of Big Nick begins to systematically slap him around. Seems Bocca is suffering maltreatment due to a case of mistaken identity. They want some bloke named Murray. He convinces them to look at his identification. Wrong name, wrong guy, and worse yet, Bocca is a P.I.

Convinced that Bocca isn’t Murray, they apologize and help the messed-over Bocca to his feet. Big Nick instructs the hoods to drive Bocca to his lodgings. They do so, with reluctance. One decides to get smart and follows Bocca to his apartment door. Big mistake. Bocca has recovered his wits and decides to exact vengeance for the beating he suffered. After doing so, Bocca extracts the fellow’s gun, dumps out the cartridges, hands it back, and tosses him out.

Next day, Bocca is hired over the phone by a nameless entity. They meet at his apartment, and Bocca is nonplussed to find himself looking at a man that seems to resemble himself. This clearly is Murray, the guy the hoods were hunting. He’s got a job for Bocca: find a girl. Her name is Mickie. Seems Murray is worried about the girl who has gone missing. And he’s paying Bocca a cool grand in cash to find her.

We later learn from other sources that it’s believed she is holding jewels from a heist pulled off by a bunch of gangsters and her brother. So, the gist is there was a jewelry heist. Something went wrong. The jewels are missing. Some turn up at a pawn shop. The girl’s brother is arrested for passing stolen goods. He serves time. The girl is suspected of hiding the goods. Two rival factions are looking for the goods. Murray is later found dead in Bocca’s pad. Why? Did the killer(s) know he was Murray or think they were bumping off Bocca? Meanwhile, the brother escapes prison. Toss in a two-timing doll-face and you’ve got part of the picture. But let me tell you, Bevis Winter never, ever, makes it that easy. He likes to toss in a twist…somewhere.

Now, I won’t ruin the plot from here, but let me tell you, it’s a fun and wild ride, and reminds me just why I love reading Bevis Winter. His detective novels carry a strong pace, enough tough hard-boiled dialogue and sarcasm to make you smile throughout. The most irritating part of his novels: a lack of attention to regional details. If you are from California, his dropping of locales will bewilder you. Most are fake or so far apart that the distance makes no sense. Where is Bocca based? Hard to say, unless I can trace that very first novel that Bocca debuts. Even then, I’m not confident we will learn the truth.

Until then, I’ll look forward to tackling my next Bevis Winter novel.

She Was No Lady by Al Bocca

Mystery Magazine (UK: William C. Merrett, 1946)

Heritage Auctions on May 20th will go live with a remarkable collection of rare pulps. I decided to finally release this blog I prepared years ago to coincide with the fact that HA also has a copy listed. Their copy sports worn, rubbed covers, creasing to spine, etc., but might be better than my copy, given that mine has a strange blue mark on the cover. I’m not complaining. It’s a rare item, and condition hardly matters. Or, does it?

A copy is indexed on the FictionMags Index site, but whoever sent FMI their data is all kinds of WRONG! Click on the link above and follow my logic.

Foremost, the information states that only ONE STORY is inside this magazine. That’s 100% wrong. Now, you might say that perhaps the other stories were ripped out of the magazine and the original supplier of that data never noticed. Hooey! The start of the second story begins on the back of the concluding first story. Ergo, if they truly thought only one story was present, they should have noticed that the sole indexed tale was also missing the concluding page of text!

Second mistake? It’s recorded as a pulp. That’s not really accurate. True, the stories originated in the American pulp Dime Mystery Magazine, but this isn’t pulp-format. Would you say pulp stories reprinted as a paperback anthology is a pulp? No.

Third mistake? Aside from stating that the Jacobson story isn’t present, that person also failed to mention the THIRD story on the cover. Yeah, that one, at the bottom of the cover in the red banner strip.

So, let’s clear up a lot of misconceptions and get this one right.

MERRETT Mystery Magazine
Mystery Magazine (ca. 1946) Published by William C. Merrett

Mystery Magazine (circa 1946) was published by William C. Merrett (a WCM Publication bubbled-in lower right cover) and priced at 2/-. It measures 5.5 x 8.5 inches, and is a stapled digest-sized magazine. The cover art originates from the 1938 July issue of Dime Mystery Magazine (as do the first two stories) and, lucky YOU, if you enjoy my post, you can READ those first two stories online by clicking HERE but alas, not the third tale; that appeared in the 1939 July edition (a year later from the prior two).

From cover to rear, the magazine represents 36 pages, although the first un-numbered page, Page 1, begins behind the front cover. The rear cover is numbered 35 and contains the conclusion to the final tale. There isn’t a Table of Contents page.

(1-12)   “Goddess of the Half-World Brood” by Henry Treat Sperry
Dime Mystery Magazine, 1938 July

(13-26)  “The Werewolf of Wall Street” by Edith and Ejler Jacobson
Dime Mystery Magazine, 1938 July

(27-35)  “Horror’s Holiday Special” by Wayne Robbins
Dime Mystery Magazine, 1939 July (as by W. Wayne Robbins per FMI site)

GODDESS OF THE HALF-WORLD BROOD
by Henry Treat Sperry

A delightful tale that immediately delivers on the weird vibe. Husband and wife of undisclosed ages are shipwrecked on an island that ought not to exist. Jim and Marion stumble ashore after their private vessel slams onto a coral reef and sinks, thanks to a hurricane. Drenched and exhausted, Marion is oblivious to the dozens of glowing eyes in the dark reaches of the island-jungle, but Jim takes it all in quite gravely. The pair discover a pathway, clearly constructed by humans, and discover a cottage. Knocking on the door while watching those ever-present eyes, Jim hurls his lone weapon (a piece of wood from their wrecked ship) at the shadowy beasts and finds the cottage isn’t locked. Opening the latch, they slip in and find the recently slain remnants of a “Negrito” (hey, the author’s word, not mine) torn all to hell and partially eaten. Marion screams and Jim pushes her into a chair facing away from the grisly mess. Covering it up, he looks up stunned into the barrel of a “large-calibre pistol” held by a “deeply tanned young man of about my own age.” We soon learn that he also shipwrecked upon the island 8 years earlier with an original crew of 12 men, his sister, and the “Negrito” later acquired at a port. We later learn the sister was 16 at the time of their voyage, so now we have an approximate age of all currently alive. The tanned youth’s name is Richard Wanderleigh; his first name is never repeated. The sister soon arrives and is dressed skimpily; the sister calls him “Dick” when she discovers the carcass in the home, instead of outside, where she has purposefully left it. She’s angered at him for dragging the corpse inside, but reason isn’t disclosed, as she makes like a clam upon seeing they have visitors. The tale unwoven is that one by one each of the dozen men mysteriously dies and in their place a strange beast, or, as she calls them, a “shroud” appears. Jim begins to form a theory, as these jackal-like beings seem to sport human-like traits. Is there some strange, mystical powers acting upon these beings? We don’t know, but we do know that the Wanderleigh excursion involved tracking a specific “thing” and that they found it before their untimely accident. Is this unnamed thing responsible for the men’s deaths and subsequent birthing of the shrouds? Another day passes, Jim is exploring the otherwise tiny island, when he locates the sister (Sicily) sunning herself while surrounded by all of the shrouds (one has its head resting on her bare thigh). They rise, sensing his approach, and make to rend him to pieces but abort the attack at her command. Is she partially in control of these beasts? She details that her brother is not to be trusted, and that he has made wild claims that she is a Siren and responsible for all the men’s deaths, that they all coveted her, etc. Meanwhile, the island appears to be disturbed, and it is clear that it is prone to blow itself to smithereens. All hell breaks loose. Jim splits and returns to the cottage in search of his wife, only to find her missing and her clothes ripped to shreds on the floor. Realizing Wanderleigh has her, he goes nuts, not knowing even where to begin his search. Bewilderingly, while running about, one of the shrouds convinces him to follow it in the opposite direction he had chosen to search. It eventually leads him to Sicily who explains she has never known love, practically throws herself upon Jim, but constrains herself and informs him that his wife, Marion, is captive aboard a sea-faring vessel that Wanderleigh built in secret, but Sicily accidentally discovered, while exploring (with her shrouds, no doubt). Jim runs down to the water alcove, finds the vessel, the island is still blowing itself apart and spewing gasses and lava everywhere, the world is shaking in every direction, but he manages. Locating it, he does battle with Wanderleigh, who shoots him once in the fleshy part of the shoulder (cliché, missing the bones) and splits his skull a glancing blow, before Jim grabs the man’s head-hair, and lands a solid knock-out blow. Boarding the vessel, he unties the naked Marion, and discovers the boat is not only ship-worthy, but, submarine-worthy, being entirely turtle-decked and streamlined. After all, when the island blows, in all likelihood the vessel didn’t stand a chance of escaping; it would be dragged down and down and down until the suction released them, if at all. Before battening himself in with Marion, he entreats Sicily to leave the island with them, but she says no. He finally attempts to carry her, only to find the shrouds nipping his heels and must give up. They all depart and Jim watches in pained anguish as Sicily and her brood decide to stay and die. Back aboard, Jim tethers Marion inside (for safety) and while pushing away, watches far in the distance as Sicily and the brood of shrouds rise up against the volcano rim and one by one jump in. With each “death” a lava geyser belches skyward to envelop each being. Jim goes under, seals the hatch, tethers himself in, and prepares for the volcanic ride of a lifetime. Yes, they survive, and an hour later he pops the hatch as they are on the surface once more. The island is gone, but in those final moments, he was certain that he did not see 12 beasts leap into the fiery liquid flames…”it was twelve men…”

THE WEREWOLF OF WALL STREET
by Edith and Ejler Jacobson

Chet Wallace, a Wall Street multi-millionaire, taps his son, a doughnut truck-driver, for an investigative job. Originally, Chet had no intention of simply giving his son the luxury life. He wanted him to earn his living and place in the world by his own means. However, there are strange events transpiring on Wall Street. And he needs an outsider. Enter one Ronald (Ronnie) Wallace. We learn that he wants Ronnie to look into Harry Gaines, one of his partners, to explain his wild buying and selling sprees. Harry inexplicably walks in and begins drawing cold water from the water-cooler in Chet’s office. One gulp, two gulp, three…and keeps going, insatiably. It is hot outside, and inside, but not in Chet’s room, since he’s the top dog, but it shouldn’t be that hot. Harry and Ronnie say hello to each other (they do know one another) and shake and Ronnie discovers the man’s hand is ice-cold and frail-feeling to the touch. He informs father that the man is clearly sick. Chet says “sick or crazy…or both.” Later in the day, Ronnie phones his girlfriend, Terry, to explain he must call off their date, but before he can, she informs him she is standing him up tonight. From her voice he can tell she doesn’t actually want to, and learns she is going over to the Haines’ home to be with Marcia, Harry’s wife. Something is clearly wrong, and Ronnie informs her that if they are to be a couple, they do things together. She accepts, they go over, hear a painful scream, Ronnie batters down the door, leaving Terry in the hallway while he investigates, and discovers the ravaged remains of Marcia, a bloody mess, and barely alive. And outside on the fire escape landing, leering in from the window, a twisted ugly white face that looks like Harry-gone-mad, with purplish eyes and red teeth. He returns to tend to Marcia, only to find her face and throat is mostly gone. Her blood is pouring out of her and while he staunches the flow, he can’t stop the fact that she is dying. Terry is missing (did she see Marcia and run?) and Ronnie is covered in blood, making him out to be the murderer. Fleeing the scene, he makes his way home (after calling for a doctor and police) and runs into Sandra Howard, a woman his father saved from a motor accident and gave a blood transfusion to. Now she apparently lives with them? There’s a lot of odd holes in this story. Anyway…Ronnie gets cleaned up and fresh clothes on. Harry Gaines appears at their home, and asks Sandra to come with him. They argue the point, but she acquiesces, much to Ronnie’s surprise. What hold does Harry have over Sandra? And how could the cold-blooded murderer so calmly dare walk into the Wallace household without batting an eye at Ronnie? Ronnie jumps into his roadster to pursue Harry and Sandra through New York, but loses them. He eventually determines that they were headed for Wall Street. But, at night? That district is closed at night, empty of virtually all night life. He parks, and comes across what appears to be a hooker. She asks if he is interested; he blows her off, and then wonders what she is doing hooking in an area devoid of life. Doesn’t add up; she should be in a higher populated zone. Following her, Ronnie watches her enter his father’s Wall Street building; he runs up and tries the door and WHOOSH! something flies by and splats on the pavement beside him. It was a female. She was either thrown out the window or jumped. Either way, she’s a pancake now. The doors open and a couple of things like Harry Gaines come out and scoops up the carcass and drag it inside. He hears what he believes is Terry’s voice scream for help, but a cop appears. Ronnie explains that people are inside murdering other people (yeah, that sounds sane). Arrested, he’s taken to the station, and released on bail after his father comes and pays. A day has gone by and he’s freaking out. Terry might be dead. And he hasn’t a clue how to proceed. His father has him work at the office that day, to keep an eye on Harry Gaines and all the others that are acting strangely. He receives news from Chet that Terry is okay. Apparently she is with Sandra, who is tending her in an hysterical state. Sandra used to be a nurse, and is caring for her, and states Terry doesn’t want to see Ronnie. Supposedly, Terry thinks she saw Ronnie murder Haines’ wife, Marcia. So Sandra is caring for her, and has her own daughter, Maxie, assisting. Terry is mentally beside himself. He, kill Marcia? Perhaps she saw all the blood on him, then? Midway through the work day, Ronnie, while thinking up a plan, sitting in his father’s office, is surprised by Harry Gaines walking in. He looks like death and accuses Harry of keeping Terry on ice. Threatening to call the police on Harry, the latter states that he lives with his wife and could easily claim he fled when he saw Ronnie murder her. Laughing, he departs and goes back to work. Ronnie soon discovers that Harry is actually buying while the world is selling. Everything he is buying dirt cheap is seemingly worthless…or, is it? Many of those investments would likely rebound in the future. Ronnie quickly sells everything Harry is buying before the hammer of the day concludes. Mortified and whiter than a sheet, Harry staggers in and proclaims he himself is likely a dead man now due to Ronnie’s efforts. Harry states he’ll die of a thirst water can’t slake, and makes for Ronnie. He protects himself and knocks Harry down, and gashes him, but barely a drop of blood comes out. In fact, he hardly has any blood to bleed! Harry eventually expires there on the office floor, leaving Ronnie with only one clue: to be in the Wall Street district again at night. But, where? Which building? Wait! the hooker! Will she be out there again? She is! He approaches her that evening, and she escorts him to a locked investment firm, and miracles, extracts a key! Leading him inside, they drink and he passes out. Waking up, he finds himself tethered to a chair and facing Sandra!!! She’s the mastermind behind everything and explains that when she received her blood transfusion, she learned it wasn’t enough and Chet kept helping until his own doctor advised against it. So, she turned to others and they developed leukemia. Well, she brainwashed them into continuing to help her and signing over their fortunes, too. Her own daughter, about Ronnie’s age, assisted. In fact, under all that hooker makeup is Maxie. Ronnie is appalled and discovers that they appear to have fed off of…him! Will he eventually develop the same sickness as these leukemia-werewolves? She forces him to call Chet over to marry Sandra, so that she can legally obtain an appearance for her sudden wealth, and in exchange, Terry gets to live. After much threats and a showcase of werewolf-like men hovering over the nearly nude Terry, Ronnie acquiesces and phones dad. Chet arrives, and goes in the room where Terry is held, actually knows what is going on, to some degree, when shockingly, in Terry’s room, someone fires a shot. Chet runs in there, more shots are fired, and out comes his dad supporting Terry on one side, and…Maxie on the other side??? She explains her mother had gone too far, and she didn’t want Ronnie hurt because she secretly was in love with him, too; she pulls out a gun and blows her own head off. Ronnie collapses from blood loss, to wake up another day. Terry is there, caring for him, and explains she remembers nothing after Marcia’s body was discovered. She had been drugged the whole time. Ronnie, fearing for Terry’s life, explains he can’t marry her until he knows his own condition. Chet flies in a famous doctor, and tests him. He’s clean! or, is he? They marry, but every night, Ronnie lies there and wonders when he will grow thirsty and rip into the sleeping form at his side….

HORROR’S HOLIDAY SPECIAL
by Wayne Robbins

Generally, I detest a humorous horror story, but Robbins handles the choice wondrously. The scene is a locomotive bound for destination-unknown, but, our narrating protagonist, Steve, is ultimately bound for Colorado, to be locked up in a mental institution. Aboard the train is his fiancée (Connie), business partner (Vance, who is trying to steal Steve’s girl), and Steve’s doctor, who keeps doping Steve to keep him calm, sleeping, and unable to simply think. Certainly a dangerous combination… While dinner is being served, a porter is delivering a meal under a domed tray to a woman diagonal from their seating arrangements. Lifting the dome, Steve describes the decapitated, bloody head that rolls off the tray and thuds upon the ground, rolling about. Everyone is mortified. Steve can’t control his laughter. All assume that he, the resident nut, somehow roamed the train and sliced off the man’s head. Where is the body? That’s soon located, without hands. Where are the hands? Another corpse is discovered dangling outside a window (yes, the train is still moving) and the head inside the sill, barely attached. Opening the window to retrieve the dead man, they lose the body, which is sucked outside and lost forever, while the head remains in their hands. Steve finds the other person’s missing hands in his effects, stuffs them in his own pockets, and decides he must ditch them. Until then, he returns to his seat, exhausted. The drugs are taking their toll. A woman and an annoying whining boy are asleep, a comforter over them both and trailing upon the floor. He crawls under the comforter to sleep! While there, the everyone aboard goes nuts realizing that Steve is missing. Stampeding past his location, he soon realizes the air is suffocating under there, and, blood is pouring down on him from above. The child is dead, and his head soon falls off. He places the head on the woman’s lap and exits. Seeing the crowd far ahead investigating, he tosses them the hands and locks himself in the ladies’ lavatory. The hands land, screams emit, they break down the door, and strap him into a straight-jacket (did all 1930s trains have one???) While constrained to a berth, all go to sleep, and he finally wakes from his drug-induced slumber. Restrained, he swings his tethered legs over the side and knocks out a guard. Then he slices the legs apart on the metal bed, cutting his legs in the process. Now loose, he ambles around and finds Vance murdering other people on the train, one by one. Worse yet, he has Connie, and has temporarily dyed his hair blonde and is speaking like Steve. Connie is convinced. Clearly Vance is the killer and has been placing all these deaths at Steve’s fingers to ensure he is locked away forever, and then he can take over the business. Steve spots the BREAK-IN-CASE-OF-EMERGENCY glass, does so, and rapidly slices his way through the straight-jacket enough to wrench free one arm, then another… (seriously?) Well, we know how this ends. He takes down Vance, saves Connie (Vance had decided to kill her because she had earlier sworn undying devotion to Steve and would never leave him) and must beat a confession from Vance that he is the actual killer before the survivors decide to do something very final about Steve.

Mystery Magazine (UK: William C. Merrett, 1946)

Water Rustlers by Hoyt Merion

THE ELY PRESS Water Rustlers

Featured is Water Rustlers by Hoyt Merion (sic), a side-stapled 64-page booklet, a western novel, published in England by The Ely Press.

When did The Ely Press operate?
What titles did they publish?
I know of only two fiction titles….

No major English libraries (according to COPAC and WorldCat) hold any books published by The Ely Press.

Nor is there a single record that anyone ever existed by the name of Hoyt Merion. However….

The mystery deepens when one realizes that the author also appeared with two “r”s in their surname by a more prominent publisher, Wells Gardner Darton (WGD) spanning 1947-1951.

The English Catalogue of Books from 1948-1951 lists several titles by Hoyt Merrion via WGD. And therein lies any possible clues…but I do not have direct access to those volumes!

The following titles appeared under the Hoyt Merrion name:

  • El Fuego’s Line (1947)
  • Unlucky Win (1947)
  • Valley of Lost Brands (1947)
  • When Chance Horns In (1947)
  • Rustlers of Yellow Dust Valley (1948)
  • Water Rustlers (1949)
  • “Cat” Tracy Keeps His Word (1950)
  • Ride-Along Rafferty Horns In (1951)
  • Ride-Along Rafferty Stops By (1951)

The novel I read via The Ely Press is Water Rustlers, and that title likewise appears above, in 1949. The artwork is signed, however, it is indecipherable, exquisitely tiny, appearing just to the left of the horse’s snout. The printer is listed as Westminster Printing Works, and they definitely operated from 1946-1947. This seems to indicate that The Ely Press may have issued Hoyt Merion (sic) titles prior to WGD, but this is inconclusive. BTW, the other title by Hoyt Merion (sic) via The Ely Press is Dumb Mahoney’s Music. This title apparently was never reprinted by WGD unless it appeared under a new title. I’ll touch upon that tale at a later date.

The plot involves the stereotypical jobless cowboy riding into a new town. Hitching his pinto, Stella, to the saloon post, he enters Clem Rafferty’s saloon (did you notice the saloon owner’s surname? The author’s last two novels feature that name, too) and bears witness to an attempted murder upon rancher Bud Ginty. Lending his guns to protect the rancher finds jobless Tim Raines hired on as a cowhand to a doomed ranch. Drought is upon the ranch, but their neighbor (Galt) has plenty of water from the underground spring. And, he refuses to share unless Bud’s beautiful daughter, Kitty, marries him. Then he will permit Ginty’s thousands of cows to drink. Or they will die.

While out on a ride, Raines hears distant booms and investigating further afield, sneaks onto the Galt ranch lands only to be knocked out. Captured, Raines is bound and tossed in an attic space. He will be murdered after Galt marries Kitty, who has eventually agreed to marriage to save her father’s ranch.

In typical fashion, our hero manages to escape, investigates the source of the explosions, and discovers a secret cave that leads under the earth, and a series of pipes pumping water out from under the Ginty lands! Returning to the ranch, he’s in time to assist Bud Ginty in stopping Kitty from going through with her marital vows. Gathering all the available men, they raid Galt’s ranch and a wonderful gun-battle ensues.

Raines is knocked out, unhorsed, and wakes up to discover a bullet nearly ended his life, but a metal plate on his hat saved his life. Raines announces his intentions to acquire the late Galt’s ranch, and requires a lover to assist in its operation. Naturally, Kitty obliges.

And I must confess that I enjoyed this novel enough to pursue reading the next one. Perhaps if I luck out twice, I may decide to chase the others.

Water Rustlers by Hoyt Merion