“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.

img_20190129_0001

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)

“Danger at Midnight” by Frank Griffin

I’ve been chasing Danger at Midnight for perhaps over a decade, without success. So when Zardoz Books turned up a pricey reading copy (a couple years ago now) I wasn’t picky. In fact, regarding books I read, I’m never picky.

The author was born Charles Frank Griffin on 15 Oct 1911 and despite disappearing in the 1950s, he wasn’t dead! He simply retired from writing. He actually lived a nice long life, passing away 5 Feb 1984 in Cornwall. He sired at least 13 children (from 1934-1956, that I’m aware of) and served during the second World War.

His first known crime novelette is Death Takes a Hand (Bear Hudson, 1945). I posted a blog on this novel May 2017.
NOTE: click on author’s tagged name in sidebar to revisit that post.
Griffin wrote at least 14 further crime/gangster novels (both in paperback or hardcover formats) and at least two known westerns. Remarkably, he even cranked out one children’s novelette, via a new alias: Charles Atkin “Black Rock Island.”

Griffin had also written “Women’s Legal Problems,” slated to be released 1942, however, it was completely and utterly destroyed during one of the Nazi’s numerous air raids. Additionally, he reportedly contributed to British propaganda magazine published in Russia. Unless the articles carried his byline, it is impossible to trace and confirm. Griffin also freelanced for numerous British periodicals and newspapers. Again, sans a byline, I’ve been unable to trace any those varied contributions. A further nonfiction effort, My Queen is Dead, has never been traced, was slated to be released by Hutchinson in 1952.

[cough cough] Oh. Right. Let’s return to the book itself….

mellifont-danger-at-midnight
Danger at Midnight” by Frank Griffin (Mellifont) Dublin, Ireland

Danger at Midnight opens with Martin Blake, broke and jobless, walking late one night to a distant town, to attend to a job interview, when he hears a distant scream. Having served in the army, he’s no slouch, and immediately launches into action-mode. Picking is way around the dark recesses of the night-roadway, he finds two cars on the side. Both are abandoned. Further sounds of a tussle, far out in the night. Pushing his way silently through the dense overgrowth, he espies two male figures depositing a young woman into a hole. Rushing among the pair and takes the duo on, fists flying and tackling the cretins. One applies a pressure-point technique to him and then they escape.

Martin unbinds the girl and suggests a call to the police. Bizarrely enough, she feigns ignorance as to the identity of the men and, furthermore, wishes to avoid police involvement.

The story develops that she is the head of a major smuggling syndicate with hundreds of contacts, and a rival start-up gang has decided to move into her territory. Unfortunately, while they have obtained her “book,” they are unable to crack her codes. The novella explores the far-reaches of the vast underworld, greed, lust, and an innocent man’s battle with his love for a desperate villain whom is both sinister and gorgeous and his own personal battle (right vs wrong).

In the end, the story falls apart, relying on the plot cliche that the woman has a younger, equally beautiful sister, who is innocently unaware of her sister’s occupation. She is captured by the rival gang and inadvertently rescued (briefly) by Martin Blake. In that brief encounter, he falls in love with her and realizes that what he felt for the older sister wasn’t love, necessarily.

While on a solo rescue mission, Martin steals the codes and offers them to the rival gang, in exchange for the young girl. Clearly he has made a foolish mistake; remarkably, his ex-lover and gang has located the rival base and raids it. During the ensuing dazzlingly frightful gun-battle, most are slain. She and the rival gang boss die shooting one another, and on her death bed, she begs Martin to take care of her sister…

Honestly, all-around, an excellently written, fast-paced crime novel. If you have the opportunity to locate a copy, and love this sort of genre, I wholeheartedly recommend Frank Griffin’s gangster-esque novella.

 

“Danger at Midnight” by Frank Griffin

“Love and Dr. Hawkins” by Sidney Gainsley

BROWN WATSON  Love And Dr Hawkins
Love and Dr. Hawkins (Sidney Gainsley)

Love and Dr. Hawkins” by Sidney Gainsley was published in 1945 by Brown Watson Ltd, runs 64-pages, measures 4.75 x 7 inches. At first glance, this booklet appears to be a romance. The cover art (unsigned) depicts a young lady clasping her forehead and looks surprised. At the top, the cover proclaims this publication to be “A Sidney Gainsley Thriller!!”

The novella is narrated by Dr. Hawkins, relaying to Professor Norden a past, strange criminal case that he solved.

(NOTE: these characters originally debut in Gainsley’s Did This Really Happen?weird story collection, with the taleThe Diary which I’ve already been blogged about. Refer to THAT entry for biographical data on the author.)

When Anthony Tidmarsh fails to rise and take his breakfast, the staff worries, and finally, they bring in a strong-man to bash down the door, which takes multiple attempts. They find Tidmarsh very much dead. The police are phoned.

Tidmarsh is found brutally murdered, with a common household kitchen butter knife forcefully thrust into his spinal column. He is found, face forward, his face contorted, upon his desk. Under him is a partially written document to his young brother.

Police are baffled. Who murdered the man? How did they lock the door from outside? All we know is that Mr. Tidmarsh was alive beyond the setting of the house alarm….

Inspector Saltash–as narrated by Dr. Hawkins–takes on the case, and from here on, we are mostly given the story from Saltash’s viewpoint. He interviews the staff (kitchen, yard, garden, etc.) and the household members (his much younger brother and a young lady as their ward, set to inherit a fortune quite shortly). We learn that Tidmarsh was possibly in love with the young lady, however, she repelled his advances and preferred the company of his kindly young brother, who in turn was truly in love with her.

After our author establishes fine grounds for every person to have committed the crime and wondrously provides us with the usual Sherlock Holmes pastiche backdrop, Dr. Hawkins diverts the waning chapters back to his viewpoint, when he is reintroduced to the case. Hawkins, a psychologist, investigates, by asking the inspector to re-enact the position in which Anthony Tidmarsh was found at his desk. Crawling about, Hawkins finds some fine wood powdered particles, and learns that these came from nearby a wood mill.

We learn that the gardener works at that mill in his spare time. He is in love with one of the house staff, who has been holding a deep secret. She had an affair years ago with Tidmarsh and sired a boy. Wanting not to claim the boy as his own, nor wishing to marry the woman, he avoided scandal by keeping her in his employ, but, neither of them informed the child as to his social standing nor parentage. Ergo, both the child’s mother and her suitor have reason to murder Tidmarsh, for being an outright prick.

Hawkins further learns from the accounting books in the safe that someone has been embezzling tens of thousands of pounds from the young lady’s inheritance. The finger points toward the younger brother. Further evidence in the form of a rope and nail that may have been used to secure Tidmarsh’s door are found hidden in his room.

To add to the mystery, Hawkins, after inspecting all the ancient antiquities in the room,  discovers a replica crossbow firmly anchored to the shelf in a position established to murder Tidmarsh from behind. So, who set the device?

Dr. Hawkins reconstructs the scene to prove that Tidmarsh was not murdered, but, rather, he committed suicide, but with the intention of sending his brother to the gallows for the supposed crime!

His facial contortions in death were not from pain, but, immense concentration from realizing that the knife would soon impale him. The note on the desk did contain factual business data, but was written with a slant to be damning evidence against his brother. He hated him because the girl had refused his loving marital attentions. And, he himself was the one embezzling the funds. By marrying the girl, he avoids scandal; she could hardly bring her husband to court without testifying against him, etc.

In conclusion, Hawkins ends by discussing Norden’s “author friend,” and noting that he appears to have written quite a romance around the “Diary” episode. Hawkins inquires if Norden intends to relay this crime tale to the author, and he indeed shall. Hawkins says he has no objection, but, asks for it to be called “Love and Doctor Hawkins.” The author, obviously, is OUR author, Sidney Gainsley, having a little tongue-in-cheek poke at himself.

While my relaying of the plot may seem blasé stuff, I assure you, this novella is well-worth the read.

Currently I am chasing “The Expiator” by this author. This title story originates within his 1943 weird collection. I do not know what other tales appear; the National Library of Wales possesses a copy of this 32-page pamphlet, noted as published by Brown Watson, circa 1945. If anyone owns a copy, and is not firmly attached to it, I would love the opportunity to own and read this item…

“Love and Dr. Hawkins” by Sidney Gainsley

“The Limping Death” by Allan Stapleton – Gnome Publications (UK) 1945

GNOME The Limping Death

The Limping Death” by Allan Stapleton, subtitled “Terror Stalks by Night!” was published 1945 by Gnome Publications (28 Bedfordbury, W.C.2, London). The story begins on page 3 and ends on page 64. The publisher, like many of the wartime period, copied the hugely popular cover design of Penguin Books.

Other known Gnome Publications:

— Muchly Seldom – Stephen Ellison (1944)
— Frippery Tip – Stephen Ellison (1944)
— Death for Love – A. F. Garner (1945)
— Laughter in the Air (1945) cartoons
— Laughs on the Road — Keith Monk (1945) cartoons
— They Cried to Dream – H. G. Jacobsen (1945)

There were also two glamour pin-up saucy booklets entitled Curves and Shadows and Studies in Velvet by Stephen Glass. Another glamour publication includes Memories of Midnight (a 16-page booklet illustrated throughout). No doubt this publisher had further titles, yet to be discovered… Of those listed above, I’ve yet to locate Death for Love.

The Limping Death opens with a tranquil isolated village ripped apart by a sudden, savage murder. A housemaid is found by lantern light, horrifically mutilated. Inspector Small of Scotland Yard is sent to investigate, and hooks up with local police man, Sergeant Tedmarsh.

Another young lady is brutally slain and her boyfriend loses his mind upon finding her body.

We’re next introduced to an asylum and an odd doctor who raves about keeping their lunatic locked up at night, lest he roam the countryside. (By this point, I’m eye-rolling, thinking, please not another story where we blame the “retard” for sexual perversions and murders!) We learn that the mentally-challenged Todd has indeed repeatedly escaped and run into the towns where the murders coincide.

Reverend Shipley’s maid requests to leave early to attend a dance. Given permission, she falls prey to the murderer. Her corpse is found next morning, most of her lower abdominal cavity savaged and pulped.

That’s now three murders in ten pages! This novelette is a real “ripper” fest !!! Can it keep up the onslaught pace? You betcha!

Inspector Small investigates the asylum, following up on rumors. The doctor receives him, but informs him that they don’t have any patients fitting the description of a man with a “limp.” After Small departs, the doctor again reprimands his assistant, to ensure Todd is locked up.

Small is certain that the doctor is lying…

Small goes to the local station, and shares his thoughts with Sergeant Tedmarsh. He suggests they scope out the asylum that night, with reinforcements. While waiting later that night, they catch Todd climbing over the wall. To their astonishment, the locals are also on the scene and ready to slay the hapless ‘tard. The police save Todd and remove him to jail. Sergeant Tedmarsh is left on duty, to protect Todd, in case the townspeople revolt over night (by which time this begins to sound like the townspeople want to burn the Frankenstein monster alive, right?)

Small goes to sleep, but is re-awakened later in the night to learn that the jail is on fire. Once the blaze is eventually controlled and the wreckage sifted, he finds the cinder-corpse by the cell, and the charred remains of Sergeant Tedmarsh’s outfit and badge. Grim with dealing with his death and Todd’s escape, Small heads to the train station to learn if anyone departed. Learning that someone did, he obtains the destination and times. The man can hardly describe the purchaser, since they were hidden in a large ulster with the collar turned up. No recollection of a limp or other identifying features given.

Depressed, Small returns to the inn, to catch some sleep…

Meanwhile, the murderer disembarks the train and establishes himself in Soho. Answering an ad in the local paper, he finds a girl looking for employment as a maid. He has the agency send her to his “sister’s” house…. Receiving notice, the young lady goes to the house by way of train. Another person boards with her and she begins to worry. Her fears are soon realized when he comes toward her, and she faints! While out cold, the slasher tears her to pieces, then departs the train.

Not long after, another maid is set upon in the streets and collapses in a dead fright. However, Small is given his first real clue this time. Remarkably, before passing out, she put up a small fight and ripped away a tuft of hair.

Investigating the agency, he learns from the madame that the cloaked man had ginger hair. Small is slightly elated, as he has conclusive proof the tuft of hair likely came from this man.

Returning to the isolated village, he demands Tedmarsh’s body exhumed and examined. However, that night, while the casketed remains are retrieved and locked away until morning, the murderer sets the building ablaze and incinerates Tedmarsh’s body!

Chiding himself for dereliction of intelligence in failing to assign a guard over the body, Small is now against a wall. He no longer has evidence. Now he must resort to Plan B…set bait to catch the killer! But, how? Nobody knows where the killer is, and when he might strike!

News finally arrives to Scotland Yard. The killer failed in his latest attempt and the maid survived to tell the story. A man heard her muffled scream and came on the scene in time to save her life, while the murderer quickly fled. Asking for a description proves fruitless. She saw nothing but noted his voice sounded country, possibly Welsh.

While canvassing the town with a squad, Small and Sergeant Craddock, assigned to him to cover an area, hear a scream. Galvanized to action, they lumber to the scene and discover a man running away. The girl has survived, clambering to her feet. Small gives chase but the man escapes when an alley cat crosses his path and knocks him to his feet. In returning to Craddock and the girl, he discovers a recently dropped handkerchief,  and notices a laundry mark.

Next day, he hits every laundry location, since the Yard doesn’t know who made the mark. Later in the day he lucks out and the laundress describes the person it belongs to. Given the name and address of Mr. Edwards, he and Craddock spy out the area and climbing the step, ask the landlady to let them in. Knocking on Mr. Edwards’ door, they receive no reply. Small knocks in the door with his shoulder and learns that Edwards flew the coop, literally, out the window….

He discovers the charred remains of a letter in a fire-grate, advising Mr. Edwards to meet a Mr. Tuttle on the wharf, to set sail. Keeping under cover of darkness, Small waits for the arrival of Edwards at the wharf. A man appears, and while trying to detain the mystery man, Edwards knocks Small down and tosses the unconscious Small into the river, then flees the scene.

The dunking revives Small, and he’s eventually found by Craddock, cruising about looking for him. Realizing the murderer is fleeing England for America, the pair rush to the docks, to locate the boat helmed by Captain Tuttle. Finding it, they question Tuttle and learn more about Edwards, and decide to wait for the murderer’s arrival.

Unfortunately for them, the slasher watches them from the shore and realizing a trap is present, stealthily removes himself.

Running out of ideas, Small decides to bait the slasher, by placing an ad for a maid, and sending the lady (that answers the call) with a handgun, for protection. Following her, they watch as she goes inside a home, and then hear the gun go off. Busting in, they save the girl and capture Edwards, alias Sergeant Tedmarsh!

He confesses that he went on the killing spree purely by accident. The first murder was intentional. After the suicide of his son, he decided to murder the young lady (a housemaid) because she had been deceiving his son. She was no better (apparently) than a prostitute. The son had contracted a sexual disease. Coupling her unfaithfulness with the disease, he shot himself dead. Tedmarsh set himself to exact revenge. However, he couldn’t control the impulse to slay every housemaid he could, as they all bore, in his mind, the same taint.

Tedmarsh is led away, shackled, to his cell, to await his eventual fate….

A solid plot, plenty of killings, the bait-and-switch tricking the reader into believing “the-retard-did-it!” and the constant quick-action, made this fast-paced murder-mystery crime thriller wholeheartedly quite enjoyable. I would love to know the actual identity and history of this author. Could this have been their only literary endeavor? It hardly seem feasible.

An “Alan Stapleton” wrote the books “London Lanes,” “London Alleys, Byways and Courts,” and “Leaves from a London Sketch-book” during the 1920s-1930s. And, in a 1930 edition of The Nation and Anthenæum, we are given that the author is “an antiquary of some diligence,” and, that he is a rare breed blending of topographical writer and artist. Is this Alan and our Allan the same man?

 

“The Limping Death” by Allan Stapleton – Gnome Publications (UK) 1945

The Lone Ranger by John Theydon (1948)

CURTIS WARREN The Lone Ranger
It’s been a long while since I read a western by English writer John Theydon. Given that I have fallen behind on tackling the stack of digest-paperback westerns, I picked this one off the top.

THE LONE RANGER was published 1948 by Curtis Warren Ltd., sports a cover illustration by Kingsley Sutton, and the text begins on page 3 and concludes on 64. Priced at 9d, this quick-read kept me plunging headlong throughout. Why did I ever abandon Theydon?

The novel concerns Dave Logan, lawman, assigned to secretly protect a train loaded with gold bullion. The banker is riding West with his gold to deliver to the banks and Dave’s boss wants this shipment seen through. The area is rife with bandits, and while his boss wants that shipment safe, Dave’s real assignment is to track down the bandits, and capture or kill them.

The banker, coming outside for a smoke, finds Dave Logan on the train’s platform, enjoying the air. The banker thinks he is just another cowhand, not aware of the deception. Striking up a conversation, this is cut short when the train comes to an inexplicable stop. Worried that the train is being robbed, Dave drops off to investigate. Yet, there are no shots fired. He is returning to his car when shots are fired and he receives the world crashing in atop his skull….

Waking up much later, he finds the security personnel slaughtered, the safe blown open, and he and his horse the sole survivors. Spotting hoof-prints in the sand, Dave tracks them into the distant mountains, only to be shot at. This he considers a reward, meaning he has partly located the villains. Only one person is holding him down at rifle-point, so he circles the area, and believing to have caught the sniper unawares, is nonplussed to find the shooter’s location abandoned!

He’s suddenly shot at from another direction, and realizing that the shooter knew of his movements, shoots it out in the dark recesses of a cave. The man dies from multiple gunshot wounds. Searching the man’s clothes, he finds a letter from the fellow’s brother, another hoodlum, known to be in lock-up in Santa Fe.

Assuming that person’s identity, he rides into the nearby disreputable town, leaving the dead man to be found, later, by his comrades. Once in town, he nabs a hotel room and on entering the bar, finds a woman has held-up a bunch of unscrupulous-looking scoundrels at a card-table. She’s gorgeous (aren’t they always?) and mean and sure as hell capable of holding her own with a gun. Demanding they fork over misappropriated funds from her father’s late gambling run at a crooked table, Dave watches as one of the gunhands triggers a hideaway into action. Dave draws and blows the gun away. Retrieving the funds, the girl makes her exit while Dave lingers.

Once she’s gone, he explains who he is (in his new guise) and explains away his defending the girl he doesn’t know, but just couldn’t stand aside and watch a girl get hers. Ergo, feigning as a tough who is a sucker for dames. Elaborating that he is looking for his brother, the bartender informs him that he just shot the leader of the local gang who was with his brother.

Realizing he’s in a gritty position, Dave brazenly strikes out, heads to their rooming quarters, and enters. They are stupefied by his entrance. Explaining who he is, they finally cautiously accept him, but to prove his worth, he must steal the funds he just assisted the girl in retrieving. Agreeing to those terms, he departs…

…and returns to his hotel room. The girl has a room there, and enlisting the aid of the clearly honest hotel-keeper, he actually divulges 100% to them who he really is, the crook’s plans, etc. Dave has a plan to infiltrate the band, learn the identity of the real leader, and catch all of them.

The pair agree to get six other honest men, and pooling their funds, match the amount the girl has on hand. Sending one honest messenger to the next nearest town with a bank to pay off her father’s ranch-mortgage (the crook’s, in typical cliche fiction fashion, wanted the mortgage note to expire and the land has oil on it, unbeknownst to the owners…of course). This transpires while Dave returns to the rooms of the crooks. He tosses them the money, they blindfold him, and ride out, far away, to their secret headquarters in the mountains.

Part of the plan involves one of the honest six to trail him, and then they are to ride back and enlist the next town’s sheriff and posse…

Meanwhile, he and the party he rides with finally arrive, hours later, at their destination. Blindfold removed, he sleeps for a while on a bunk until the boss arrives. Brought away sometime later, he is led to another room where the boss is. The door opening, he overhears one of the gang explain who he is, only to hear the boss exclaim that THAT PERSON is in jail in Santa Fe!!! His bluff is exposed! What’s more, he recognizes the voice as the banker from the heisted train! He’s stealing his own gold! No shit, right?

A blazing gun battle ensues and Dave must shoot his way out or be hemmed inside the building and either smoked-out or shot to death. He’s shot once and stumbling about, aware of certain death, when all of a sudden a rifle begins cracking, repeatedly, eliminating his competition. Tossing his body behind cover, he’s shocked to find the shooter is none other than the girl! Unlike other works of fiction, John Theydon has his lovely lady as a resourceful tough girl, and not merely a piece to be admired. Handy with a gun, she continues to reload to punch holes in the competition, and refuses to relinquish her rifle to the wounded Dave, who feels his manly pride in jeopardy. They are soon to be outflanked when the posse arrives.

Surviving members of the gang turn and run, hop on horses, and take off. Bloodied and weak, Dave manages somehow to climb his horse, and in once-more cliche fashion, he has the fastest horse. Determined to get the banker, he ignores other members as they split away. They are peons. Insignificant. One has balls and attempts to stop Dave, but Dave merely shoots at him and rides on by.

The banker is frightened to learn that Dave has eyes only for him, and smartly, riding out of sight, he waits until Dave comes around a corner and pushes a boulder (because in Hollywood, they are all really just styrofoam in reality, right?) from above down at him. His horse shies away and Dave falls from his saddle. Spying the banker escaping once more, Dave commits himself to the one thing he despises: shooting down a horse. Taking sight, he murders the banker’s horse, which collapses and pins the man’s legs. Injured, but not dead, Dave takes him in…

Arriving in town with his man in cuffs, he finally faints from blood loss, wakes up later in bed, and finds the girl in another bunk, bandaged about the head from a gunshot wound grazing her forehead, making eyes at him. Well, we all know how this will end.

Last thoughts: The title of the book should be changed to “Lucky Logan,” given that Dave Logan makes much of family lore and the luck of the Logans, throughout.

The Lone Ranger by John Theydon (1948)