Ray Stahl briefly appeared in the Crime Doesn’t Pay Series in 1953, after backlash from the English government against gangster novels. Prior to 1953, the name that appeared on the front of this particular run was “Bart Carson.” Yeah, that Bart Carson. The newspaper reporter that ditched a career attached to a paying job to run solo as a tough investigative, smart-mouthed reporter.
Both bylines are the work of author William Maconachie, a highly competent writer of American-style gangster novels filled with colorful wit and sarcasm, vicious criminals, and cold-as-ice dames that even give our heroically former reporter, Bart Carson, the frigid treatment.
Married in 1948 to Nellie Betts (born 6 October 1911; died 1980 in Wallasey, Cheshire, England). For Nellie, William was her second husband. She married young in 1933, first to Vivian Osmond Weights (whom she divorced; he died 1978).
Her second husband, our author, was born William John A. Maconachie (20 May 1917) and his death was registered January 1988 in Birkenhead, Cheshire, England.
But, let’s skid off the history lesson and return to the novel…
Bart is fresh off a case in “Murder Mayhem,” having gotten away with some hood’s goods (like that, eh?) and also snatches a pile of maps. Why? Well, back before we had digital bullshit up-our-ass to tell us where to go (and yuh KNOW what I mean! pun intended) you had to KNOW how to read a damn map to get from Point A to Point B. Once upon a time, the United States also did not have an international highway system, either, but that’s another story….
Likes I says, bub, Bart’s got some maps, and he’s fresh from a case. He’s doin’ good, ya know. The big crime boss is outs, but the rackets ain’t stayin’ quiet long. There is a shake-up happening in New York, and someone is moving the chess pieces, ’cause only the winner can take all, see?
Bart’s up to his eyes in bullshit when hoods move in to retrieve one of the maps he unwittingly obtained, which is marked with a series of “X”s and”Y”s. The former denotes businesses purchased by the new proposed crime boss. The latter, future propositions. And when the latter are all gone, there won’t be but “X”s remaining, and they ain’t there to denote romantic kisses.
Bart is beaten, tortured, and taken for a drive to be murdered, but comes out aces every time. How this character never made it to the big old silver screen is beyond me, given that he was the only UK gangster writer to entertain a success in England and appear numerous times in print across The Great Pond in America. Likewise, “Bart Carson” enjoyed translations in foreign countries, too. He should have made a brief Hollywood commodity, to say the least.
But he didn’t, and his English originals remain to this day highly collectible and damnably rare to obtain.
Naturally, Bart solves the riddle behind who the mastermind “Brain” is, when a dying criminal cops to it. Hardly any brilliant deduction there, when he doesn’t have much to do but lean down and catch a dying hood’s last gasp. Remarkably, even saving the life of the chief of police’s daughter doesn’t avail him a hug or kiss from the central dame in the novel, contrary to the workings of most gangster novels of the period.
Give Bart Carson (or Ray Stahl) a try. You won’t be disappointed.
Some time ago, I read (and blogged) a western published by Muir-Watson, also published in 1949. This one is Revenge Rides the Range, by Will Frame; clearly, an alias, and clearly someone has a sense of humor. The actual identity is unknown to me, nor could I locate information online to unravel the mystery, however, I am certain of two things:
the author of this book also authored the other Muir-Watson western.
the cover artist is the same, too.
No copies are held by the British Library, the National Library of Scotland, nor anywhere on Worldcat or COPAC.
Bud Jackson, ex-Sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps, formerly stationed at Honolulu and crack-shot, has been out riding the trails of the American West, hunting a man that framed his father back in Illinois. This man is known as Chicago Kelly, and, he made off with a ton of money from a forgery racket, leaving Bud’s dad to face the rap. His father subsequently died in prison, leaving Bud honor-bound to track down Chicago Kelly, and…
Bud awakens in the saddle under the blistering heat to the sound of gunshots. Galloping onward, he comes to a gorge. Down below, some men are shooting at a stagecoach. Realizing it must be a hold-up, Bud unlimbers his rifle, adjusts his sights, and knocks one of the assailants into the next life…if there is one.
Bud’s second shot knocked the hat off another of the fiends. Dismayed by his slightly inaccurate shot, he pops one final shot at the rocks nearest the would-be robbers, and is rewarded to see that the remaining pair have decided to clear out.
Re-mounting, Bud heads into the gorge and is rewarded himself with gunfire in his direction. Realizing that those below believe he to be another bandit, he brandishes a white handkerchief, waving it high. The driver finally relents, permitting Bud to traverse the remaining distance in peace, after asserting he is friendly.
Turns out the coach carries precious cargo, bullion, and some passengers, too. Removing the bullion from the top of the coach, they lever the boxes into the coach, freeing rooftop space for the dead robber to be placed atop. Inside, space is now a premium, and the passengers are cramped. They become further constricted when one passenger, a young girl, asks Bud if he is from Chicago.
Nonplussed, he acknowledges that YES, he is, looks at her, and finds himself shockingly looking into the face of a fellow Chicagoan, who he knows. Mary Shaw invites him to join them in the carriage and continue their conversation, illuminating several disturbing factors locally, mostly, cattle rustling. Tying his four-legged friend alongside the carriage, he hops in and they head off toward town.
In town, the body is unloaded in the sheriff’s care, and while assisting in shifting the cases of bullion out to the bank, a burly brute ambles over and demands to know if Bud killed the bandit. Turns out it was his brother, and he requires payback. Seeing that the man is a dirty fighter, Bud takes matters into his own hands, and knocks the fellow down fast. Realizing he overplayed his part, the ruffian draws his six-shooter, only to have the nimble-fingered Bud quick-draw and blast it away.
Bud gives the barn-sized menace the option of “fists or pistols.” The monster accepts “fists,” and we are given to nearly two full pages of gratuitous street-fighting, which ends with Bud getting the idiot to fall back into a horse’s watering trough, much to the onlooking crowd’s amusement.
The sheriff and a well-dressed man, who he immediately decides is the local Judge, breaks in on the scene. The “judge” is actually Hiram Wheeler, president of the local bank, and grateful for Bud’s assistance in protecting the shipment of bullion. But Bud is looking beyond current circumstances. He’s seeing before him a sharp, well-dressed, clean-cut man, but behind him, in an old black-and-white newspaper cut-out, he’s seeing a different man, a man he personally wants for the death of his father.
Bud Jackson has found Chicago Kelly, now established seemingly as a reputable banker.
The book is 128-pages in length, and all this action transpires with yet another 100 pages to go! How will Bud insert himself in the local goings-on, convince the authorities that Wheeler is Kelly, discover the rustling plot, unmask a series of murders, and win the girl? Well hell, partner, you’ll just have to find and buy a copy of this book!
Hold on there, pard! This western novel is pure dynamite! Now, whereas many British westerns are not worthy of note, however, boy was I impressed by this novel.
Brothers of the Purple Plains was written under the alias Steve Watts, and published by Muir-Watson (Scotland) by arrangement with the publisher Sydney Pemberton and distributed by World Distributors, Inc., 1949. The artwork is unsigned, and the artist is clearly the same as that of another Muir-Watson western in my possession, “Revenge Rides the Range,” which I will be reading and blogging in the near future.
The title recalls to mind Zane Grey’s classic “Riders of the Purple Sage.”
There are no plot similarities.
From the opening salvo of pages right to the end, I was hooked. It’s pretty damn good stuff, and I’d love to know true identity of the actual writer. Well-written and competent, the only weak point is the dialogue, which at times gets to be a bit cheesy with the heroes uttering “Gee” or exclaiming “Oh” or “Aw.” But hell, people do make such utterances in real life, so, why not here?
Three boys are orphaned after their wagon train is butchered by Indians and they are taken in by a preacher, who is often drunk and belligerent. Fast forward, the preacher is dead by the time the eldest boy is sixteen. They hit the trail and cover great extents of the West. Their current ages are not known.
The leader is Al Cummings. He’s described as “tall, well-built, fair-haired.”
His boyhood friends and lifetime mates include Mex Caliente, closest to Al in age, and “handsome in the dark fashion of his race, and the lightest hearted member of the trio.” Finally comes Jesse Hudson, “not as tall as the other two, but thick-set and strong as a stallion…quieter…than the others…a dour earnestness about him which seemed to come from his Scots ancestry.”
Having abandoned a prospective interest in a gold mine, they ride away from their fruitless earnings in search of work. In the horizon, Jesse, the more aloof member, spots what appears to be smoke rising in the distance. Riding closer, they find a house on fire.
Applying the horses to beat the trail north, they arrive in time to face a blazing inferno. Is anyone around? Inside? Alive? An accident, or…murder?
The trio hear something, and Al busts inside to rescue a woman and her baby. The latter is clearly dead, in the lady’s arms, a death-grip about it. Not bothering to remove the corpse from her arms, they find that the mother has been shot and left to die. And die, she does, but not before uttering the name BARTLETT.
Who is he? Her husband? A helper? A killer? All of the above?
Chapter two doesn’t drag things out either. Arriving eventually in an isolated town, the unimaginatively named Star City, the boys hit the local saloon, sidle up to the bar, and place their liquor orders. By the second page, we have another murder, a shooting out in the dark street, and the dying man staggers into the saloon, collapses, and utters BARTLETT before expiring.
The novel becomes mildly hectic when an awesome array of characters are introduced, including a saloon girl, whom Mex’s heart beats hard for (its beats hard for ANY girl, actually). While attempting to win her affections, she warns Mex to take his friends and leave town, quick, because they’re asking questions about Bartlett. Those questions aren’t healthy. Mex finds himself suddenly the focus and ire of her self-appointed boyfriend, who ambles in and decides to mix words and fists with Mex. The brute thinks he’s got Mex’s measure, but boy is he wrong. Fast with women he may be, but faster with fists and gun! After drenching his fist deep into the others gut, the brute makes for his hardware, only, Mex is pure lightning, wielding a pair of .38 revolvers.
While asking the brute his business, a gun is fired! Al and Jesse are behind the brute, facing Mex, Al with one of his guns smoking. One of the brute’s friends had tried to plug Mex from behind! Giving both men the boot, they ask the girl what the ruckus was all about, but she begs them to leave, flee for their own lives. But Mex is soft on the girl because he is soft in the head and assures her they aren’t going anywhere.
Rooming together in their hotel room, Al, the brains, is thinking over the death of the mother and baby, the murder at the saloon, the name BARTLETT, and the bruisers that caused a scene. Were they all connected? How? and, Why? Too many questions, no answers, he finally falls asleep…scarcely, only to hit the ground rolling, along with his friends, as a hail of bullets rip through the window. Taking turns, they maintain a guard on the room and window, all night, when a brick is hurtled through the window. A note is attached, with blocky words stating: GET OUT OF TOWN…QUICK, and signed “B.”
Talking with the sheriff the next morning, they are met by a local rancher, Vane Carson, who is frustrated by the sheriff’s inability to clean out the area of rustlers, led by Bartlett. Carson is the biggest rancher in the area, maintaining a huge spread, in the interests of the future owner, when she comes of age (not for about another year or so). Liking what he (Vane) sees, he asks the men to work for him, not as ranchers, but, as border-rangers, riding his borders, looking for clues as to the rustlers whereabouts, etc. Fresh faces that the rustlers won’t know.
The boys, short on cash, accept the generous offer. They ride out to the Bar Z ranch and meet Nance Greenley, future heir. All three boys take to mentally fawning and drooling over her beauty. Mex is the typical stud in asserting his affections. Jesse is perturbed to find himself attracted to her. Al, who previously shunned girls, is baffled by his own sudden interest in the young lady.
Brought to the bunk house, the trio are introduced to Carson’s foreman, Jeff Simpson. None of the boys like his looks. Desiring to make good fast work of their current occupations, Mex requests the locations of the other ranches and homesteads raided, but Carson refuses. He’s not interested in them, only his own ranch.
Splitting up, the boys cover ground fast and Mex wanders over to the corral, spotting Nance sitting on the posts, watching a ranch-hand trying to break in a horse, but he is constantly thrown. Mex laughs, and in an effort to impress Nance, saunters up to the dude and requests a try at the bucking monster. The horse is extremely intelligent and gives Mex the ride of his life, before eventually hauling off and hurtling him into space.
Out riding and inspecting the range the next day, the trio are taken by the wonderful country and beauty, only to return “home” and find the frowning foreman reprimanding them, and spit out that Carson is enraged. While they were off gallivanting, Bartlett’s crowd had stolen another fifty head that night.
All this action takes place in the first 35 pages, and the full book is 128 pages. I won’t ruin the rest of the plot, but I’ll spoil some of it now. One of the boys dies during a shootout at Bartlett’s secret lair, to be buried by the surviving member. We see a new side to this person, in mourning their friend’s death, and any past flaws are wiped out and replaced by the newly-molded character. The novel features a solid, credible plot with a mystery villain that any regular reader will see coming long before the conclusion, but how the whole fracas is wound up makes for damned good reading.
I won’t lie. The crudely-executed cover art drew me in… I’ve read many short stories and novels that deal with artist and murder, so expected not too much from this one.
Death Stills the Brush was written by F. W. Gumley (better known for his children’s / juvenile stories) and published by the Mitre Press, 1946. It is a small side-stapled 32-page pamphlet, typical of the war and early postwar years. Mitre Press’s fiction division flourished during the war years, but didn’t last long.
The story is fairly simple. A young lady is modeling for an artist, whom is working on a sculpture. While he is using one lady for her body, he desires the other girl for her head and face. The former is jealous and we are led to believe that she later destroys the piece while it as yet not unveiled at a museum. The guard shits a brick when he sees the defacement, realizing his career is over.
The girl’s father discovers her daughter is modeling for the artist. Turns out he despises the man, for some “past” reason. Angered, he orders the girl to desist. He personally visits the artist and threatens the man’s life.
In typical fiction-fashion, the man is found dead, murdered. Witnesses heard the threat and of course, her father is investigated.
However, there is more wrongdoing occurring behind the scenes, as a man of mystery surfaces early, claiming to an once-popular artist whom was railroaded into prison. Having lost the ability to work with his hands, he wishes to exact his own vengeance.
So, who killed the artist? The jealous girl? The other girl’s father? The imprisoned artist? Or, someone else???
Lucky for you, if you remotely care, I own a spare copy of this title….
With much honor and respect to the late BBC man, Alan Whicker, whom died on 12 July 2013, exactly five years ago, I am posting this blog entry on his rare postwar crime novel. For those interested in reading about Mr. Whicker and his career, click on his name, above. For further information, check out the BBC Obituary and video.
“Some Rise by Sin” was published in 1951 by Stanley Baker Publications Ltd. (16 The Green, Richmond, Surrey). The novel runs 90 pages, and the publishers priced the novel at 1/9 (in the year 2000, this converts to 5.1 Pounds). Most paper-bound novels of this era were traditionally asking 1/- to 1/6, especially for a book of this page length. How did they get away with asking a higher rate when other mushroom publishers were asking less?
For those out there avidly collecting “drug” novels, this one ought to be a dream.
After his good friend, Basil Moore (a top newspaperman) is found dead, floating down the river Tiber, Alan Whicker, of the News-Dispatch, is assigned to the international hush-hush assignment of uncovering the filthy £10,000,000 drug racket that has taken hold of Europe. He must discover and infiltrate the distributors and unveil the identity of the ruthlessly sinister leader, known as Nummer Eins (Number One).
While on assignment, Whicker ends up falling in love with socialite Margo, a dancer and singer at the Golden Monkey nightclub. Sadly, he learns that she has rooming with her another man (Martyn) and they end up getting into a physical altercation. Whicker takes his lumps and ends up badly battered and bloody, but, victor in this embittered battle. He departs the nightclub, and despite Margo chasing and swooning over him, he shoves her affections aside. He has little interest in playing middle man to her love affair.
Wandering the streets and drinking at an all-night eatery, he returns to his quarters to find his bed occupied. He decides to let whomever it is sleep it off, but, realizes something is amiss. Going over to check his health status, he discovers the man isn’t breathing. Furthermore, it is Martyn, shot dead! Realizing that he has been framed for murder, Whicker heaves the body upon his shoulders and removes the corpse from the premises. He drives all over the city and out to the river to dispose of the cadaverous Martyn. Whicker (as author) introduces his fictional self to a humorous episode while trying to ditch the body. He’s pulled over by an International Patrol, which comprises of one British M.P., an American, a Frenchman, and a Russian. He quickly douses Martyn with liquor (in typical cliché form) and the police think he is just another drunkard.
Escaping their clutches, Whicker finally disposes of Martyn. Before doing so, he searches Martyn’s pockets. He finds a secreted document, in German, that reads: “Whicker einrifft Montag abend. Liquidierre ihn. Nummer Eins.” The note also supplies a phone number and the name of a boat. He returns to the late-night eatery to establish an alibi for his whereabouts, and returns later to his room. It isn’t long before local police arrive on the scene to investigate an anonymous tip. Unveiling no hidden dead bodies on the premises, they depart.
The next day, he dials the mysterious number only to discover it belongs to Margo! Is this loving vivacious girl the sinister Nummer Eins? It hardly makes sense. (Nor does it make sense to frame Whicker for murder and leave a note from the secret villain on his person; intentional? or a goof on the part of the author?)
Whicker confesses the all-night episode to his close compatriot, Gerry, whom is a locally stationed high-ranking officer. Together, the two infiltrate a drug den. Realizing they can’t depart without raising some eyebrows, they succumb to drugs. Whicker, unable to control his anxiety, relinquishes control of the situation to Gerry. The story shifts mostly to Gerry’s viewpoint on drugs. Unable to escape, they are offered a choice of “hashish, opium, heroin, a little morphine….” Gerry opts for peyote, much to the proprietor’s surprise. Forking over a thousand shillings for ten grains each, the pair are left in an isolated room, and the attendant injects both men. At the final moment, Whicker panics and begs not to be under the influence. Too late….
While initially loopy, Gerry explains the drug mescaline to Whicker, and its properties. After regaining a semblance of control over their mental and physical properties, the duo sneak out of the room and investigate other rooms. They are startled to see raving lunatics gone-too-far under the influence of cocaine, opium, etc. One room offers maniacs bouncing about from hallucinations. The effects of the peyote begins to finally really take effect, and they stumble back to their room.
Whicker elaborates on the effects of the drug, what he sees, feels, etc, for a few pages. One almost wonders if our BBC man actually has any first-hand experiences with drugs or if he cooperated with contacts that could supply information.
Eventually escaping the drug den from hell, Gerry and Whicker part ways. Whicker intends to make for Vienna, to follow-up another lead. While en route, he is pulled over and beaten nearly unconscious by two assailants. While delirious, he hears that they are ordered to murder him, but the other person present stays his hand from murder. Whicker later learns that his jeep was used as a means to pass something concealed, across the border. He was used as an unwitting accomplice, and Nummer Eins was at the back of this plot!
Whicker plods on, and chasing the mysterious boat that is preparing soon to leave (the one mentioned on Martyn’s note) he boards the vessel. He meets the captain, and knocks the man out. While out cold, Whicker sifts through the captain’s papers and finds the “case” that had been secreted on his jeep! It is filled with loose gems (diamonds, gold, pearls, rubies, emeralds, sapphires) and jewelry. He shows his newfound worldly goods to Gerry, and the pair return to the Golden Monkey, the club where Margo sings. They are certain the proprietor might recognize some of the jewelry and know who they belonged to originally. Why their interest in this angle? Well, the jewelry would have been relinquished in order to pay for the illegal drugs! So, whomever did so, is on drugs, and should know their point-of-contact. At least, that’s Whicker’s line of thought.
The proprietor, Tibor, recognizes only one piece, as belonging to…Margo! Whicker is stunned and disheartened. He later dines with Margo, and then drops the jewelry before her eyes, upon the table. He confronts her, but she only breaks down and cries. We are left to wonder if she truly is Nummer Eins or only a blubbering wreck because she ultimately knows this person’s true identity, and is afraid to tell the truth.
Dull and beside himself with serious depression, Whicker returns to the Golden Monkey to get drunk. While there, a British soldier walks in and salutes him in passing, while walking to the back, toward Tibor’s offices. Whicker is baffled as to why this man saluted him! True, he himself is in military attire, but, only a new recruit or recent transfer into the Zone would salute him, and, he knows neither are due to this area. Intrigued, he walks in on Tibor and this false soldier, only to find Tibor equally dressed as a soldier!
Tibor draws a handgun on Whicker, and explains the situation. The drug gang are removing themselves from Europe, with all their millions earned, and fleeing before the local governments discover and converge upon them. Irked that Whicker has survived all their murderous attempts, Tibor informs him that he won’t survive this one. The situation becomes stickier when Margo inexplicably walks in. She is oblivious that Tibor intends to murder Whicker. Margo again proclaims her love for Whicker, whom tries to convince her to flee the scene, lest Tibor kills her too.
His whole world ultimately crumbles when she confesses that she isNummer Eins! However, she never ordered the kills. Tibor did all this behind her back. She was in charge purely for the money. After the war left her husbandless and destitute, she used her charms and allure to establish a foundation for illicit drug-trafficking throughout Europe. Margo never believed she would fall in love again until she met Whicker. Then, she didn’t care about her Nummer Eins identity any longer, or the money. Willing to abandon the whole lot to Tibor and his mad crew, she attempts to save Whicker’s life but is gut-shot for her efforts.
Tibor and the gang flee, but all of Europe are put on high alert. They are found, eventually. Tibor is gunned down and the rest arrested, along with many corrupt political figures, etc.
Margo dies on the floor from the gunshot wound, in Whicker’s arms, whom forgives her for her illegal transgressions. He buries under in her native Austrian lands, under a tall elm tree. Grim and despondent, he leaves her and the churchyard, to return back to England….
Alan Whicker writes a very serious exposé of the world’s ultra secret underworld and drug trafficking problems following the conclusion of the second world war, supplying raw data on various countries, a variety of drugs and their concerns, etc. As the hero of our tale, Whicker must face unscrupulous military men, bed down a variety of foreign ladies, succumb to drugs himself (twice) to maintain his secret assignment (even though everyone seems to already know his assignment), dodge assassination attempts, survive brutal beatings, and get liquored-up repetitively. Initially I was disgusted with the novel and its blasé attitude toward various ethnic groups and countries, but, we must understand that Whicker was writing, on one level, a formula novel, and on another level, a novel rich and colored by the natural biases of the reading public. It is an outstanding literary endeavor and well-worth my time spent reading it.
Inside, on the title page, it says he is also the author of the following:
Threat of the Future
Korea Man (in Men Only, March 1951)
I have found that Whicker was a regular contributor to Men Only, appearing in at least 20 issues, perhaps more. It is in all likelihood that all the above entries appeared in that publication. He also supplied at least one short crime tale to Courier (April 1950). I think it would be interesting to read all of his early literary output and perhaps have them collected (with the estates permission).
Featured as No. 2 in the Blue Star Adventure series is Realm of the Alien by Chester Delray (the alias of Francis G. Rayer). This 64-page novella was published by Grafton Publications (Ireland).
Copies of this original Irish-published science fiction tale are quite scarce. No copies are held by any major UK libraries, according to the COPAC system, and only two in the United States per WorldCat. Dates of publication vary widely, from 1945-1947, whereas United States libraries guess 1950s, which is entirely erroneous.
The blurb on the rear cover suggests a tantalizing read!
FLYING TO VENUS Here’s a spellbinding epic of the vast mysterious worlds that science brings nearer day by day.You can go by space-ship to a land of thrills andterror in this gripping vivid panorama of life on Venus.By a brilliant new author of scientific fiction, the opening story makes credible an adventure that even the scientists never dared to dream.Meet, through Chester Delray, a civilization versed in its own monstrous methods of defence and terror … and fight, with him, the white man’s tense battle against the hidden powers that are more real than ever in the world today.
Too bad the novel hardly attains the level of grandeur presented in the blurb! The blurb is utter rot, however, there are some redeeming values to this novel.
A vast spaceship with perhaps hundreds of crew-members is flying to Venus to explore the planet, ascertain whether it is safe to inhabit, locate the rich ores believed to be buried beneath the planet’s crust, and, learn just what did happen to all of the previous ships that made the same journey. All the ships safely landed, reported back to Earth, but, then, inexplicably, radio silence followed. What was their fates?
The Flight Captain of the Starstream is Hughes, a man quite suited to the ordeal, departs the ship first, to test the air. In reality, we all know the Flight Captain would hardly be the person, among hundreds, to walk off the ship and provide such data. However, they land, he tests the air, discovers it suitable to breathe, then bizarrely enough, begins to head off on his own.
When Henson, leader of the expedition, orders him back, Hughes disregards the direct command and continues merrily on his way. Realizing that something is awry, one would hardly suggest sending out another person…and yet, the entire ship eventually disembarks and follows Hughes into the Venusian jungle, leaving Henson as the sole person aboard.
He eventually steps outside and finds himself under possibly a hypnotic suggestion, and carefree, ambles off into the jungle, too. He’s unsure where the others have gone, but his body seems content to walk in the same general direction…. Eventually, he is captured by sinister-looking creatures with tentacles, and led away and reunited with the rest of the hapless crew.
All captured, the crew are led to a Venusian city, and tossed into a jail. Also thrown in is another Venusian, smaller in stature, and unlike their captors, quite timid. The linguistics expert learns their language in no-time-flat (quite conveniently). This man learns that there are TWO distinct races on the planet, and naturally the sinister ones are “mad” and not right in the head. An electronics tower emits some form of radiation to keep their volatile insanity under control and enables them to capture the Earthlings.
Realizing that they are all to be sacrificed, they make a concerted rush at the door, knock it down, take out and overpower the jailers, and effect their escape. However, those that control the tower suspend their attempts, mentally, and they are re-jailed.
Their last attempt at freedom is when they are led to their deaths. While led out of the jail, they again overthrow the villains, and this time, make for the tower. Oddly and inexplicably enough, whomever controls the tower never flips the switches ON to halt their progress. The crew break into the tower, beat down the only Venusian controlling an array of switches in a second room, but find themselves otherwise trapped. The entire city of Venusians are jointly attacking the tower, using ladders to scale the walls and climb in the windows.
Swarming the tower, they break in, and a mad melee ensues. The humans are rapidly losing ground, and finally, they take notice of the timid alien (whom they rescued and carried along with them). It is suggesting they destroy the apparatus in the firstroom. Doing so, they learn the first room controlled the madness of the Venusians, and soon, they are brutally fighting among themselves.
The crew make good their escape, return to the ship, discover it is covered with lichen, remove it from the ship, and take off. They are free!
Or, are they? Nope. We’ve only finished half the novel.
The lichen has infiltrated the entire ship, is indestructible, and to add fire to their dilemma, the “pods” that the plant develops actually is the birthing stations for more “mad” Venusians. They burst out, fully developed, and pandemonium ensues on-board the Starstream. Overwhelmed by the aliens, they try to negotiate for their lives. The aliens suggest otherwise. They want to return to Earth, kill off the entire race, and take over the planet, in an expansion effort!
If they return home, the entire planet will be covered in this rapid-growing pink lichen with more aliens hatching in no-time. In an effort to dupe the aliens, they suggest landing on a Neptune moon, but the aliens themselves linguistically learn English! Realizing it is a trick, they negotiate to let the Flight Captain survive, if he takes them to Earth.
Shockingly, he agrees.
The crew, aware of what has transpired, make a mad dash for the flight room, but are repelled, constantly, after repeated attempts. Their own numbers rapidly diminishing, the crew’s apparently only female member commands their attention, informing that she has been experimenting with ways to kill the lichen. (Really? When the hell…?) She injects the serum into herself, and runs out to infect lichen and aliens. The crew is mortified that she has sacrificed herself, and head out to rescue her or die vainly trying.
The aliens shockingly begin screaming “The Great Plague” over and over, and suffer strange rashes. In a mad dash to escape the plague, they open the air-locked doors (in space) and are vacuumed out into the void, to die. The lichen, exposed to the woman’s “plague,” crumbles and deteriorates. The crew escape being sucked out the door by locking themselves in a compartment. But, with that door open, and that they’re speeding recklessly toward the Earth, and the Flight Captain, deprived of oxygen, now dead, who is piloting the ship?
They are all gonna die!!!!
Nope. In eye-rolling fashion, Henson makes his way to the flight cabin, takes control of the vessel, and peels off hitting a city and smoothly sails back into space. (All without being sucked out into space?)
All are saved (drats!)
Hurrah, and thank goodness; I’m done reading this science fiction tragedy. While it reads seemingly like complete rubbish, it’s worthwhile to note that unlike many UK sf pulpy stories, the female protagonist is never portrayed as a sexual object, and performs a heroic task, selflessly exposing herself to danger. And yes, she lives. The plague was only a danger to the aliens, not the humans. Sadly, we are never given to know just how she came to create the toxic cocktail, avoided being sucked out of the airlock, along with various other faults in this novel.
“Spawn of the Vampire” by N. Wesley Firth (published 1946 in Britain by Bear Hudson Ltd.) is a semi-silly / crime tale involving newlyweds on their honeymoon, in the Old Country.
The cover art is by H. W. Perl.
While there, they meet an actress, and a man; the latter is researching claims that a vampire exists in the vicinity. He learns firsthand the truth; the vampire hypnotizes and mentally forces him to run off a cliff. Splat!
The newlywed husband is mortified by the local happenings and superstitions, but, when his own wife goes missing, all fingers point to the supposed vampire.
Firth concludes this horror tale in stereotypical fashion: eliminate the villain and then they flee the area, only to arrive in ANOTHER haunted town facing their OWN vampire crisis!!!
An amusing thriller and sought-after by hardcore vampire collectors.
Personally, I enjoy Firth’s writing style, and if anyone has a Firth short story or novel, I am interested in reading more of his works. Besides writing for all genres under N. Wesley Firth, he supplied westerns as “Joel Johnson” and “Bert Forde,” etc., and crime stories as “Earl Ellison” and “Leslie Halward” (among several other pseudonyms he used during his brief writing career).