“Killer’s Progress” by Frank Griffin (UK: Pendulum Publications, 1947)

pendulum-killers-progress

If you enjoy reading British gangster fiction, then this book is certainly up your alley. In fact, it is written and handled better than much of what I have read from the 1940s-1950s. Initially, I felt that Killer’s Progress had that rough, early Darcy Glinto portrayal of American gangster-ism about it. In other words, just another Brit writing slush about American gangsters, gleaned from books or movies. Yes, it is just that, however, the author, Frank Griffin, by this time, has now accumulated 2-years of developmental writing under his belt. His first novel, already blogged here, was Death Takes a Hand. That novel was atrocious. But that doesn’t mean it didn’t make for a mean read, and as a quasi-fan of Griffin’s criminal yarns, that didn’t stop me from finishing the poorly executed novel. Griffin was a work in progress.

Killer’s Progress runs 96-pages and was published in 1947 by Pendulum Publications. The cover art is unsigned, but may be the work of Bob Wilkin or Philip Mendoza. Regarding the cover art? I’ve no idea what it has to do with the novel, save for symbolism.

The opening pages trace the origins of a young British boy who would grow up to join an American mob gang in Chicago. Born Angelo Antonio Spirelli, the young lad is different from others in that he scarcely shows emotion, even when informed by his father that his mother is dying. Stealing some flowers from a nearby grave stone, he sneaks to the grave of his mother and deposits them. His first theft. A week goes by and his father, despondent over the passing of his loving wife, fails to return to work and blows his brains out. Sent to live with his brutish uncle and abrasive aunt, young “Tony” plans his escape.

Fleeing from the premises, he joins a seafaring vessel at age 17. Large and husky for his age, he has no problem passing for an older boy. Sailing for South America, he is introduced to the various lower denizens of colorful “life,” as it were. In five months, he is hardened into a shell of a man, but with much personality and well-developed muscles.

On returning to Liverpool, he draws his ships’ wages, and departs. Having seen what liquor can do to a man, he steadfastly has kept away from the bottle the entire time, and has built up quite a wallet. However, life at sea has not prepared him for life on land, and he is about to learn a tough lesson from unscrupulous prostitutes. Preying on his loneliness and masculinity, he is convinced to drink heavily and his funds are stolen from him while quite drunk. Regaining his wits come morning, he awakens to find the gorgeous beauty of the nightly escapades sound asleep beside him to be quite ugly in the daylight.

Falling out of the stinky hole, he wanders the streets and eventually learns that his cash is gone. Worse yet, he hasn’t a clue where he slept. Realizing the girls were in a conspiracy to steal his wages, he slowly backtracks until he finds the rooms and demands his funds. But when a brute enters the scene, he finds he must not only match brawn but brains against an assailant that is used to handling young men of his type. Having taken a severe beating and nearly losing, Tony retaliates and pummels the man to death. Locating his lost wages, he also discovers a veritable fortune cached away by this miniature gang of hoodlums. He decides to steal all the stolen funds.

Assuming the identity now of Tony Spears, he takes up residence near Elephant and Castle, meets some lads his age at a bar and finds one of the boys picks his pocket. However, when the boys are set upon by a tough, Tony takes him down and tosses him into a shop window. The group runs away and the pickpocket sneaks the wallet back into Tony’s clothes. Tony is no dimwit by this time, and knew the first and second occurrence, and sets upon the man, thrashing him about.

Apologizing for the attempted theft, the boy confesses he returned the funds because Tony stood up to the man that accosted them, and that made them friends. But, when that young man’s girlfriend plays friendly with Tony, he discovers that he’s been outplayed again. He exacts vengeance upon the boy…then flees to America.

Arriving in America, he hooks up with distant relatives and witnesses a gang shooting. Entranced by the callous gun-play and fast cars, he rapidly joins a gang, moves quickly to a top position, but becomes foolishly embroiled in a love triangle, liquor, and dazzled by guns and murder and cash.

When an innocent blonde damsel shamelessly walks in with a bullshit tale about Tony’s boss being setup to be wiped out, Tony takes the bait. He sends his best friend out to tail the damsel, but the young man is returned to the gang dead, battered and bloody. That beating was clearly meant for Tony. Learning the gang leader is also missing, he loads up a car of gangsters and they hightail it to the mobster’s home only to find themselves trapped in a burning, fiery inferno. Everyone is wiped out, save for Tony (who ends up shot up) and his partner. They escape after mowing down the rival gang, and Tony is removed and takes a week to heal.

Frustrated at being played the fool, he gathers his guns and makes a final play. Tony realizes that he is foolishly in love with the false idolized image of the blonde, but can’t shake her from his mind. Busting into his old gangster base, he finds a lower tier bully in control. Tony is certain this cretin set him up from the beginning, especially when he finds the blonde with him!

Tony murders all the gang, and despite being shot to pieces and bloody, tries to attain the love and affection of the blonde. She thinks he is insane. Not realizing he is the innocent party, she pulls an automatic and shoots Tony Spears dead.

“Killer’s Progress” by Frank Griffin (UK: Pendulum Publications, 1947)

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

You Can Run So Far! by Michael Barnes

After an aborted attempt at reading a British gangster novel published by Curtis Warren Ltd., which I adamantly refuse to name (both because it was among the worst example of its short-lived era and I simply do not wish to acknowledge and create an absurd following among collectors of utterly ripe and smelly shit) I found myself choosing between a gangster novel or a tough detective novel. Then I thought, why not run with both options?

SCION You Can Run So Far

Published in 1952 by Scion Ltd., Michael Barnes writes You Can Run So Far! in the semi-traditional faux-American gangster-esque style with some slight plausibility.

Marc Bellini (a name best attached to an alcoholic mixed cocktail) is fleeing from New York police, when he happens upon a drunkard in a bar bound for England. Murdering him comes easy; he dons the dead man’s clothes, boards a boat under the assumed name of Luigi Oliveri, and escapes. However, Luigi, was no more innocent than our protagonist!

Waiting for Luigi is drug-peddler Charlie Sweet. He is nonplussed to find that the boat has arrived, but Luigi has failed to appear! He’s not the only one. The police had learned of the body-switch, but Inspector Jerry Carlton, alias “Commando,” arrives too late. However, he learns from a constable that Charlie Sweet had also been present. Interviewing Sweet within a club, he soon learns that Sweet is clearly a dishonest, underworld citizen, who simply has skated through life without being caught. Handing Sweet his business card, Sweet casually chucks it.

The Commando didn’t like that. Laying his hand upon the man’s arm, he exerts his sinewy strength upon Sweet’s arm and, striking perfectly a pressure point, places Sweet into extreme agony, and orders Sweet to pick up the discarded card, and retain it.

He does.

Departing, Commando tells his underling “Badger” to place a man on Sweet, watch him daily.

Eventually, events transpire that lead Marc to hook up with an old pal in a dive, and his old friend brings him unwittingly directly to Charlie’s lair, who becomes enraged, knowing full well that the police might be watching, and  Marc walks right into his place of business! He decides to get Marc out of the way by eliminating the man that killed Luigi. He sends him on an assignment that is rigged to fail. Either he dies, or, he is caught by the police.

The whole plot comes unhinged when Marc’s friend decides not to go through with that plan and save Marc’s hide. They escape and decide to set up their own organization, bring American real crime and violence to London, where the cops don’t carry guns! Their first stop: create bedlam at Charlie Sweet’s joint.

This accomplished, they continue to wreak havoc until Marc is forced into hiding. He busts into a girl’s flat. She is in love with Sweet, but has been systematically replaced by another, more attractive girl. Desperate to regain his love, she coerces Marc to kill the girl.

This goes awry when the younger girl’s older sister gets to Charlie Sweet first and plugs him. Badger takes the older sibling away. Then Marc makes his appearance. Taking them both hostage at gunpoint, he forces Commando Jerry to get him to the airport and board an international flight for South America, where he intends to disappear. These closing pages make for some great action-packed reading as Commando physically takes charge of the situation, tens of thousands of feet in the air, and dukes it out with the equally well-built Marc Bellini.

Pages 108-110 turn into pure a la “Passenger 57” movie chaos as the door blows open and Jerry forces Marc out of the plane, nearly dragging himself along for the ride. But when passengers grab his ankles, feet, legs, and begin dragging him back into the plane, Marc refuses to let go of Jerry as his own body is battered and buffeted, outside. Eventually, he loses his grip and screams away and down to his eventual splattering death…a modern thriller would have had him sucked into a plane’s turbines.

Not a strong novel throughout, the pace was adequate and the plot hung on just enough to keep me from tossing the book into the trash bin. The concluding action scenes redeemed the novel enough for me to recommend it to anyone that may be interested.

You Can Run So Far! by Michael Barnes

Crooks’ Honeymoon by Paul Swift (Brown Watson, 1949)

BROWN WATSON Crooks Honeymoon
Crooks’ Honeymoon Brown Watson, 1949

Paul Swift’s Crooks’ Honeymoon was published in 1949 by Brown Watson Ltd., with unsigned artwork depicting a seemingly enraged maniac about to strangle a cute blonde bombshell with his necktie. The artist looks familiar, but I can’t pin the person down. The British Library holds a copy, and claims that the cover title reads “Trust No Man.” Those words certainly aren’t on my copy.

The rear cover advertises two books as “now available” in this series. The first is Ladies Beware (by Paul Swift, per Oxford University library and Trinity College Dublin library). This book is not held by the British Library.

One further title is advertised: “Dramatic Detective.” Now THAT sounds like a series, and NOT an actual title. No author is provided, however, Oxford and Trinity hold copies, recording the novel as by Winston Parker (who?) and each provide that the title is Women Kill As Well.

The author’s identity is unknown. It must surely be an alias. At least two further novels exist by Paul Swift, those being Sinners at Sea and Studio Love. Despite the romantic titles, both are crime tales.

All four Swift novels are registered 1949, and each run 126 to 128 pages.

But enough on the bibliographic data. Let’s tackle the novel….

Chester Vynes, a man who dreams of becoming the modern-day (post WW2) Raffles, receives an anonymous phone call that his business associate has been murdered. The reader is introduced to Chester as a spineless thief, imagining the horrors that may soon transpire, when yet another phone call occurs. This one has a man instructing Chester to be outside, in ten minutes, if he wants to live.

This, he does.

Getting into a car with a couple of apparent hoodlums, his anxiety gets the best of him and Chester begins flailing and screaming. They knock him out. When he recovers, it is in a basement. A woman’s voice proclaims “About time…” He opens his eyes to espy the most lovely girl ever imagined. And she is part of this gang? He soon learns that they murdered his partner, because he was holding out on them. Further, they are not the master thieves. They too are part of a larger organization, based out of Paris. Basically, they perform the thievery, and the goods are sent to a fence, broken apart, and shipped abroad, rather than attempting to sell the goods locally in any part of England.

After beating Chester into submission and having him confess that his late partner was not sharing proceeds from their last heist, they arrange for he and the girl to partner up and hit a high-society function. Turns out the lady is formerly a part of society, but has maintained the charade since the death of her cheating spouse. Arranging to have the pair masquerade as husband and wife, they dance together to get used to one another.

Immediately Chester realizes he is in love with her and he feels that she is romantically interested in him. Turns out she is aroused by him.

The pair attend the function, perform the thefts, toss the goods to another member that departs in a vehicle, then create holy hell at the mansion, and everyone awakens to discover that they have been robbed.

A detective soon discovers rope fibers on the couple’s window sill, and realizing they are to be caught, they murder the man, and dump his body in shrubs far down the road. Shocked that they have committed a first-hand murder, they keep the crime secret from the syndicate. However, the body is eventually discovered and plastered across the newspapers.

The Paris syndicate learns of the grisly death, and it doesn’t take a genius to figure that Chester and the girl killed the detective. They are each brought across to Paris, separately, to perform yet another robbery, this time, not working together. Chester performs admirably, but the getaway car is spotted and the scene becomes a hectic mess as his muscled assistant murders another man. Blood sprays everywhere and onto Chester’s shirt.

Escaping with their lives, Chester is treated brutally by the head of the syndicate, who Chester fears is lusting after his girlfriend thief. He’s right. He’s soon beaten and battered to a pulp and, tied up, left to rot while she arrives from England. The leader awaits her arrival, they hook up, and he takes her out to dine.

Chester escapes with the dimwitted assistance of the muscled help, on the basis that the ogre obeys commands. Originally paired and assigned to the heist, the leader had instructed the mindless-one to obey Chester’s every command. Learning that that command was still embedded in his skull, he convinces the ape to untie him and assist in his escape. Uncovering some fresh clothes, he soon dresses in proper gentleman’s attire and hastens to the opulent hotel to confront the leader and expose the fraud to his girlfriend.

Chester becomes violently insane and inadvertently murders the leader. Taking it on the proverbial lam, the girl takes his cues (oddly enough, she was a much stronger central character in the first half of the book, and becomes a limp biscuit the remainder) and Chester returns to a building he resided in long ago, when he first learned in Paris how to steal. Re-assuming his old Parisian identity, he informs the landlady that he is engaged, and that they wish for a room. Chester keeps the girl hidden away the whole time because Paris police are looking for an English couple.

Instructing her to change her hair style and color, he brings her a change of clothes and adopts a clothing style he wore originally years ago. He must also obtain fake passports. While in the process, another cretin reading the newspapers discovers that he must be one of the English murderers and commences to extort funds from him. Chester drugs the man, and pushes him into the river to drown. He obliges.

Returning to the hotel, Chester is frightened to discover the police are doing a room-by-room search of his boarding house. He slips the girl a knock-out drug to put her to sleep, then shoots her in the chest, then twice more to ensure her death. Then he turns the gun around and swallows the next bullet.

Ironically, down below, the police had just finished looking at their passports, in the hands of the landlady, and decided the couple were NOT the ones they were hunting!

Crooks’ Honeymoon by Paul Swift (Brown Watson, 1949)

“One if by Night” by Max Steeber and Richard Bernstein (1953)

PANTHER One If By Night

Having stumbled through the maudlin nightmare that was Steeber and Bernstein’s other published novel by Panther Books (previously blogged) I decided to punish myself further by tackling what I hoped would be a better novel. Was it?

One if by Night was published by Panther Books in 1953 and large, spanning over 220 pages of text. Unfortunately, Panther used very thing cover stock and my copy split in half. There currently is a paperback copy for sale on ABE, and two hardcover copies in jacket.

Blonde, dressed in red, smoking a cigarette, while a man with a cig in his mouth leans against a wall listening to her sell him a story. Oh yeah, that dame is selling, selling his soul and a grand or more of his cash, earned from beating dice. But in order to court death and steal his money, you’ve got to have something on him.

Blackmail…sure. She’s working the extortion racket, her and Joey Bernard, the prick that sicced her on him. But this all goes back a ways, back to Los Angeles, where he is planning to murder Lola, his wife. She’s two-timed Rex, our anti-hero protagonist, with every single dick in-and-out-of-town she could place her hands on. He’s had it. She’s certified DEAD. He just has to find her.

A “friend” he knows to be whoring her meets with him and they drink. Rex browbeats the fellow verbally into confessing her whereabouts. She’s at a lousy, cheap hotel. They go there. He goes in, intention: murder. She’s already dead. Someone beat him to it. Only thing is, she’s clearly been battered, beaten, badly done in. Rex is known for knocking her around, spousal abuse.

He freaks, panics, leaves, visits another dame he throws in with whenever he’s down-and-out, she’s too good for him, and maybe really loves him. Gives him her 4-1-1. He pockets it, doesn’t think, doesn’t even look at it. No idea what she wrote. Doesn’t care. Departs again, and crashes his car over the cliff. He’s thrown clear, but his face is an absolute disaster.

Painstakingly, he drags his warm corpse up to the roadway and a trucker stops, pulls him in, and realizes the bloodied mess might be worth something, to someone. Rex is brought to an unscrupulous medico, and while out, gets rid of the trucker but locates the scrap of paper. Phones the number. Gets the girl. She comes out, pays off the medical cretin, takes Rex away, selling her wheels for quick-cash and heads southeast to New Orleans.

Rex can’t control his gambling compulsion and wins $3,700. The house isn’t happy. They know he’s no good, let’s him have the money, but don’t come back. Why should he? He’s got moola again, ready to move on. Only he doesn’t. He and the girl stick to New Orleans. Bad play. Another louse recognizes Rex for who he is, tries to blackmail him. No luck.

Enter the girl on the cover. Rex calls her “Beautiful,” for lack of another name. She blackmails him; he hustles her down by half, but has zero intention of paying her. Why should he? She doesn’t seem to know him, right? She zings him in the end, confessing who he is, she’s in it with Joey Bernard, they got the screw and gonna twist it sharp.

Departing, he’s shocked to be busted by the other girl. How did she know where to find him? He’d left her at the hotel. Turns out Joey phoned her, said he was an old friend, and Rex was two-timing her with a stunning broad. Coughing up the location, she locates Rex and spots the pair framed in the window by the light, close, seemingly intimate. She’s jealous; it’s all she needs to see. Trust is out the window.

They have “it” out in the street, and he can’t clear his name. How can he? Rex slaps her around after she calls him “little” this and that too many times, she runs away and he chases her. Can’t have the world without her. Who writes this crap? Someone that saw one too many Bogart film, perhaps. It reads like a part written for Bogart, anyway.

I won’t go into the sewage that pads out the rest of the novel but will state that Rex’s name is remarkably cleared of all wrong-doing, but a vengeful L.A. detective tracks Rex down in New Orleans and gives him days and days of “treatment.” Rex refuses to break. He didn’t murder Lola. Next chapter, we find Rex asking for his lawyer. Geezus, Steeber and Bernstein sure know how to skip details. Turns out another of Lola’s lovers (Ray) murdered her, or, was accused of it, after he confessed to some intimate details.

The assault and battery of Lola, pre-death, was due to Ray finding her with Rex’s “friend” from the start of the novel. Ray is a beast, and batters the lover to the ground. He’s not getting up. He then savages Lola, then leaves. She swallows a bottle of sleeping pills, liquors it down, and that’s that. Suicide, essentially. Coroner pronounces her dead not from the beating, but self-inflicted. Rex is a free man, only the L.A. copper in New Orleans doesn’t know it yet, for several days…

So, Rex is free, he loses the girl that rescued him. She wants a decent man in her life. The money, the $3,700??? Gone. After being released from his New Orleans beatings, he returned to the hotel. It had been cleaned out. Nothing remains. Rex is back to zero, penniless. The scene fades away with Rex watching a distant boat on the Pacific, wondering where it is going…

Now, I’m sure SOMEONE out there enjoys this sort of story. It’s the stuff noir lovers love to watch on the silver screen. Clearly the two Steeber and Bernstein novels were originally rejected screen-plays. They were then converted into novels but failed to land an American publisher, and eventually landed in England via Panther Books.

The cover entices the reader with the header “SHE made him feel SMALL…CHEAP.”  Trust me; well before I finished this book, I felt the same way. Used. The only thing not cheap about this novel of the underworld was the 2/- cover price. I’ll bet back in 1953 the poor slobs that purchased this sewage howled. They wanted their money back. I sure do. However, if you are a completist collector of noir fiction, this one is a must for you.

“One if by Night” by Max Steeber and Richard Bernstein (1953)

Brief Interlude by John Eagle (1947)

GRANT HUGHES Brief Interlude
Brief Interlude (1947)

When this book arrived, I immediately looked forward to reading it.
The lower right corner of the cover states:

A Detective Thriller with an unusual sex interest.
“Find Dr. Schultz” turns into a slogan
which sweeps the country.

Brief Interlude was published by Grant Hughes, circa late-1946 or early-1947, and features a lovely cover illustration by H. W. Perl. It is 98-pages in length, and written by John Eagle.

Who?

This was the alias of William Bird (“eagle,” “bird,” get it?). He also wrote as John Toucan (guy clearly had a sense of humor). Born 3 March 1896 in Croydon, Surrey, William Henry Fleming Bird died in 26 July 1971 in Benfleet, Essex.

The following stories appear in magazines:

As William Bird:
Critical Age (ss) Futuristic Science Stories # 12 (John Spencer, 1953)

As John Eagle:
Act Without Footlights (ss) Crime Shorts # 2 (Gerald G. Swan, 1944)
The Invisible Necklace (ss) Detective Shorts # 2 (Gerald G. Swan, 1946)

As John Toucan:
Genesis (nv) Worlds of Fantasy # 13 (John Spencer, 1954)
Point in Time (ss) Wonders of the Spaceways # 5 (John Spencer, 1952)
Repercussion (ss) Tales of Tomorrow # 8 (John Spencer, 1953)
War Potential (nv) Tales of Tomorrow # 5 (John Spencer, 1952)

He also wrote several novels under house names (list courtesy of the isfdb website):

War of Argos (Curtis Warren, 1952) as Rand Le Page
Two Worlds (Curtis Warren, 1952) as Paul Lorraine
Operation Orbit (Curtis Warren, 1953) as Kris Luna
Cosmic Conquest (Curtis Warren, 1953) as Adrian Blair
Third Mutant (Curtis Warren, 1953) as Lee Elliot

And Jets # 7: Blast-off into Space (Jonathan Cape, 1966) was under his own alias, Harry Fleming. Several other novels also appeared under this alias.

At least one further novel appears under the John Eagle alias (also in my collection) and that is Reckless Journey, published by Hamilton & Co., 1947, with again a cover illustration by H. W. Perl (the Bear Alley blog states it was illustrated by Brabbins; perhaps a variant cover exists). I’ll be preparing this title for a future blog post.

NOTE:
A novel in America called THE HOODLUMS
was published in 1953 by Avon Books,
carrying the John Eagle name.
Who actually wrote this???

But, let’s return to Brief Interlude. First and foremost, this novel was painfully difficult to read. The author carried on a dialogue that often left me confused. I may one day make a second pass at the novel (reasons why explained later).

The novel opens with English men and women alike wondering who and where this elusive Dr. Schultz–the person mentioned on the front cover–is. This unknown person has created a question that becomes a running mockery of a slogan and causes inquisitive persons to seek out and find Dr. Schultz, who turns out to be essentially a mad-scientist using mind control messages subliminally hidden in his television ads and  assorted films that he forces his clients to watch.

The sex interest turns out to be a young lady who apparently died in a fire. However, her lover is certain she is the nurse at Dr. Schultz’s establishment. The two women, after all, are identical. Realizing she is the same and proving it are two different things. It is soon discovered that the doctor murdered his own nurse, swapped the bodies and regularly uses his mind-altering technology to slowly brainwash the girl into believing she truly is the insane doctor’s nurse. But…why?

Enlisting the assistance of amateur-detective Aubrey St. Clare, this pseudo-science fiction / crime detective-esque novel nearly concludes when he and the girl’s lover commit an act of breaking-and-entering, are caught by the doctor at gun-point, and locked away in the cellar. Thankfully, St. Clare’s crime-fighting female partner (Miss Lennie French, a newspaper reporter) earlier in the tale obtained a job there, and helps them to escape. The police arrive on the scene and the whole messy gobbledygook thankfully comes to its dreadful conclusion, with a villain tossed off the roof to his grisly demise.

As noted, the erratic dialogue and the bizarre plot drove me bonkers but I may well decide to revisit this tale and see it through again.

Brief Interlude by John Eagle (1947)

Frontier Sheriff by John Theydon

CURTIS WARREN Frontier Sheriff
John Theydon is overall a solid, competent writer. I enjoy his westerns, but, like any writer, the quality varies. The last one I blogged about was fun, but this one felt a bit sluggish.  Frontier Sheriff was published by Curtis Warren in 1949 and features cover art by Nat Long.

Sheriff Tex Draper, rather young for his age, must deal with local cattle rustling and murders. Despite his age, he is a savvy fellow, but a bit thick when it comes to realizing that his deputy has been secretly in cahoots with the outlaws. An excellently drawn-out gun battle ensues in the closing chapters, and in typical style, Tex gets the girl. He also earns the respect of the girl’s father, whose animosity toward him is legend, but, has a wry sense of humor, remarking that his daughter will make Tex “a danged good deppity.”

Guess we know who the new sheriff in town is, heh?

Frontier Sheriff by John Theydon

“Oh! Miss Green” by Harry Lex (UK: Curtis Warren, 1954)

Oh! Miss Green was published January 1954 by Curtis Warren Ltd., and given on the cover to be by “Harry Lex,” clearly a pseudonym. Sadly, the identity of the author is currently unknown. At least one other novel appeared under this name: Main Drag.

The cover artist is not known, and proclaims at the bottom “Private Eye and Public Dolls.” The rear cover lists a handful of other titles recently released as available in Curtis Warren’s hardcover “Lion Library” series. The Lex title here is given to be a “detective” novel.

It isn’t.

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Oh! Miss Green may well have a detective, but he certainly isn’t solving any crimes. The novel involves American gangsters pursuing Julia Green (the dame on the cover should actually have blonde hair and green eyes), and per the author, a “figure that made Jane Russell look like she’d been on a six months’ slimming course.”

Per the blurb:

Mike Reilly, Private Investigator, was waiting for his first case when in walked the eye-shattering Julia Green — and, brother, was this girl hot! Because she had seen him murder Jerry Saunders in Chicago, Cal Johnson, big-time racketeer, had flown to London in pursuit of Julia and was out to remove her and her evidence to a place where she would no longer be a threat to his own life. To protect Julia, Mike calls in Pete Redowski and his boys; an through the streets of Soho, Chicago hoodlums and Pete’s boys chase each other. To trap Johnson, the D.D.I. Reynolds asks Julia to return to the Diamond Club for a farewell performance. The trap is sprung but Johnson outwits Reynolds and Mike, and Julia is trapped. How they turn the tables on the Chicago racketeer is the highlight of this fast-moving and most exciting first novel by Harry Lex.

The blurb actually reads more like a plot synopsis than anything else, which adequately saves me all the time in the world from having to regurgitate the plot-vomit. Naturally, Reilly is captured and beaten up, and later saves the girl from Cal Johnson, and, also from Morelli, an ape of a “hood” brought over from America who specializes in murdering with his bare hands or a rope. All the typical fanfare of British gangster novels are present in this charming novel, and the stereotypes of American gangland literature naturally made their way in.

Despite the standard fare of gangster-esque literature, this novel held my attention long enough to warrant jumping off a very high cliff. The fact is that the majority of the British gangster novels are complete rubbish. That aside, it is a competently written novel and damnably rare. Given that this was published January 1954, and that Edmund Cooper churned out 3 original novels for Curtis Warren Ltd. during this period, naturally I wonder whose real name lies behind Harry Lex.

“Oh! Miss Green” by Harry Lex (UK: Curtis Warren, 1954)

The Indestructible by Rolf Garner (1954)

The Indestructible
The Indestructible
by Rolf Garner (alias of Bryan Berry) was published by Hamilton & Co. as Panther Books #104 (1954) with cover art by John Richards. It appeared in paperback and hardcover editions.

The novel belongs to a trilogy involving the fate of Venus aeons after atomic warfare obliterated much of life on Venus and on Earth. This, the third novel — having followed Resurgent Dust (1953) and The Immortals (1953) — may readily be read as a stand-alone novel.

Various citizens on Venus are “hearing” voices in their head, advising them to not make a voyage. But, most of these citizens have no plans to make any sort of voyage. When a fisherman makes a trip to the city to see a doctor about the voices in his head, he is nonplussed to learn that others have likewise heard the same warning! The doctor calls Lord Kennet, ruler of Venus, and the lord himself makes an appearance to discuss the issue with the citizen.

None of the citizens hearing the voices have anything in common, and it’s not long before we discover that his own wife has also heard the same voices! Later we learn that perhaps the message is to stop Lord Kennet from blasting off from Venus…in a newly-constructed spaceship, built with the intention of visiting Earth. But who is sending the message? And, how? Telepathy? Lord Kennet does not care. Nothing will stand in his way to visit Earth…not even the discovery that two of his own flight crew have likewise received that very same message!

Blasting off from Venus, the voices continue to beat at the two onboard the ship until…they abruptly cease. Both are stymied by the silence. However, they are rapidly approaching Earth and must decide where to land, etc. Kennet decides to land the ship in a remote area, seemingly devoid of life. In fact, no real sign of life was apparent, anywhere, save for some animals.

Dropping the ladder, they are shocked to discover muscular beings headed their way, with flamethrowers and swords. Noting that the humans are using their flamethrowers, Kennet unlimbers his atomic pistol, ,returns fire, and kills some of the approaching men. His efforts are in vain as he and his men find themselves telepathically immobilized! A voice in their head proclaims that they are prisoners and forces them to drop their weapons. Kennet, realizing that someone has invaded their thoughts, forces himself to think of anything…anything…but the fact that he is immortal.

What? Oh yes, I forgot to mention, earlier in the novel, the author rehashes the prior novel’s and notes that another being, an immortal, had passed on to Kennet and his wife immortality and the ability to heal themselves. Kennet is certain that such knowledge in the wrong hands would be devastating. Even the citizens of his own planet are entirely unaware of the “gift” that was bestowed upon the Venusian lords.

The Venusian crew are telepathically forced to march through the marshes and into an elevator shaft. Eventually, they arrive at the villain’s fortress, are jailed, and left to rot in their assorted cells, when, remarkably, another telepathic voice visits Kennet. This new voice must convince Kennet that he is NOT in the employ of the villain’s telepathic crew. He is the last telepath among the rebels. The remnants of the local rebel faction, that is. Most of the rebels were murdered while sending out their warnings across space to Venus, trying to warn them to not make the trip to Earth. The villain’s telepaths picked up the mental transmissions and sent out their killbirds to annihilate the rebels.

The killbirds are large, electronic machines that hover forever above the ground, perhaps by some anti-gravitational means, and are highly weaponized. They also seem to possess some form of intelligence guiding system, and are operated by a remote control device wielded solely by the main villain, simply referred to as the Overlord. From the descriptions of the killbirds, they sound like modern-day killer drones. Apparently, after the atomic wars, these killbirds remained forever in existence, perpetually stationary around the earth, never moving. That is, not until the Overlord’s minions discovered a secret computer room and got everything operational. Discerning their purpose and abilities, the Overlord quickly assumed control of the entire planet. (Side note: why any of the assorted good-or-bad telepaths didn’t simply freeze the Overlord and then take the remote is beyond me.)

Returning to the rebel telepath, whose name is Grant, they work together to effect the Venusian’s escape. Faking having been poisoned by Earth-foods, the guards worry that they may die and bring in the doctor…however, the regular doctor is not who arrives, but someone else. Turns out this is Grant, the telepath. Upon entering the jail, he rapidly immobilizes the jailers, frees the Venusians, and quickly they make their escape, slaying anyone in their way.

Once out of the city, Grant leads them to another secreted rebel, who takes them to a functional submarine. The Venusians are informed that telepathy does not work under the deep depths of water. Grant remains behind, to throw off the Overlord’s minions and confuse the two telepaths. Satisfied that he has pulled off his task, Grant dons diving suit hardware and meets the submarine. There, Kennet and Grant privately devise a means to retaliate, destroy the killbirds, and eliminate the Overlord.

But, how can they pull this off, when the killbirds assassinate everything before humans can get in distance to cause them potential destruction? Returning to the surface, they put their mission into action.

Utilizing his immortality and ability to rapidly heal, Kennet walks boldly out into the open where his spaceship is heavily guarded and proclaims that he is unkillable, because his God (Ata) has gifted him.

They try. They fail.

The killbirds are sent in and shoot him with what must be lasers. Kennet rapidly reconstructs himself. All the while, Grant protects his brain against attempts by the evil telepaths from seizing control of him. While all are shocked and distracted, Kennet whips out his atomic pistol from behind his back and shoots down the pair of killbirds. Then the game is on! Why? When one killbird falls, the next nearest killbird on the planet will abandon its post to investigate and fulfill the prior’s mission, against the commands of the Overlord’s remote control device! Kennet stands his ground time after time as each killbird eventually appears and fires at him. In the end, he is surrounded by great heaping piles of slagged killer machines.

The Overlord himself is dead, having been slain by the rebels; the telepaths are both dead; the army is on the run or slaughtered. Kennet is all for killing everyone in the city, but Grant convinces Lord Kennet that once the city realizes the Overlord and top minions no longer exist to instill fear, that one by one they will be quite elated to throw down their arms and return to peaceful means….

The first half of the novel was sluggish, with a strong desire to build a firm foundation for the rest of the novel’s plot, but, really began to pick up the pace once the Venusians landed on Earth and were captured by the Overlord. Overall, the novel receives a passing grade and I can’t wait to one day go backwards and read the preceding novels in the trilogy.

The Indestructible by Rolf Garner (1954)

“Same Song, Next Verse” by Max Steeber and Richard Bernstein (1953)

PANTHER 91 Same Song, Next Verse
Same Song, Next Verse by Max Steeber and Richard Bernstein Panther Books 91, 1953

In 1953, UK publisher Hamilton & Co., via their mass market paperback line Panther Books, published two books within the same month, co-authored by Max Steeber and Richard Bernstein.

Those books:
Same Song, Next Verse – Panther # 91
One If by Night – Panther # 93

Both writers are Americans from the Hollywood film industry, and both books are likely rejected film scripts that they reformatted into novels, which only found an available print market in England.

Richard Bernstein was born August 8, 1922 in Rochester, New York and died October 29, 1983, in North Hollywood, California. During the late 1940s-1970s, he was a screenplay and film writer along with producer on various films.

Max Steeber is the alias of Maximilian Petrus Ribbers; he was born on January 10, 1919 and died on February 22, 2011 in Van Nuys, Los Angeles, California.

Jointly, the two also worked on the film The Gun Hawk.

The cover art to Same Song, Next Verse is by John Richards, and features an iconic dangerous blonde in yellow attire; in the background, a hulk-like brute. Reading the yellow strip at the top of the cover, you know immediately the brutish fellow with the Three Stooges-esque “Moe” haircut is a boxer.

The story opens with boxer Tony Alvarez mentally drifting back in time over the sequence of events that landed him in a car with two strange fellows: his promoter and a hanger-on, essentially.

Tony only knows how to fight. That’s his occupation, and he means to get to the top of the game and be rich. But he is always in hock to his promoter, throughout the novel. Snatches of his memories flit by quickly and without any real consistency or warning to leave any reader confused. We know in one moment Tony finds his father dying from a knife-wound, and learning the killer’s identity; he finds the slayer and despite knowing he’s up against a professional killer, wades into the knife-man; bloodied, Tony eventually disarms and kills him. The knife-man was already a wanted man for Tony’s father’s murder, and now Tony has added his own name to the role-call of wanted men by the local police. With his promoter’s aid, they flee the city. (Despite later in the novel returning to his hometown, no further mention of this murder is made, nor is he arrested.)

The rest of the novel is a succession of boxing fights, all wins, and his promoter taking a swing at a beloved New York boxer. Tony is supposed to lose, but instead, he wins and they rake in the moola. Naturally, the mob aren’t happy. We all know you don’t mess with the mob.

Through it all, Tony wants this night singer and stripper named Connie (the canary on the book’s front cover) to be his wife. He eventually strong-arms her into marrying him, crushing her hands until they bleed into his own meaty palms. Once the ceremony is complete, she hauls off and slaps him and disappears. He’s deeply angered but his promoter convinces him to ignore her (he can’t) and move along, that she will come back…only things take a turn…

The mob. They want their money. The promoter refuses to have Tony take the fall, because he can’t convince Tony to do any such thing. It’s not in his genetics. So, they beat the promoter viciously (no details given) and suddenly he placates them, that he will find a way.

So, he over-trains Tony, and keeps him drinking too much. Add fuel to the fire, he knows that Connie is sour over the marriage. Visiting her privately, he convinces her to join him in ruining Tony before the big fight. The mob stands to win BIG if Tony falls.

Enter Tony, going to Connie’s pad; she liquors him up and he discovers something wrong with the firewater. When the phone rings, he beats Connie to the phone and hears his promoter’s voice on the other end asking to know if the plan went through without a hitch. Realizing he’s been slipped a mickey, he departs without even dealing Connie any harm! Fast-forward, Tony is in the ring, his promoter missing, and getting out-boxed. He can’t seem to connect, deliver a solid blow, he’s too sluggish, and despite all this, refuses to throw in the towel. Eventually, he is K.O.’d

His fast fall from grace, his promoter fleeing town with his wife, and penniless, he attempts to abandon the squared ring and obtain a normal slob’s job. No go. Every job he takes, he destroys. He can’t even drive a simple route without destroying 3 trucks! Some years pass, he’s absolutely destitute, and makes one last try at the ring. He survives his bout, wins, but the cost is he loses vision in one eye.

Despite his eyesight loss, he determines to head West for another scheduled fight, but plays chicken with an approaching train, which he is certain he can beat. He is speeding recklessly across the terrain. He’s crossing the tracks at an angle in which he can finally turn his good eye along the rails and the bright head-beam of the locomotive obliterates Tony…

Naturally, the heavy-weight champion of the rails wins. It always does.

“Same Song, Next Verse” by Max Steeber and Richard Bernstein (1953)