“Realm of the Alien” by Chester Delray (Dublin, Ireland: Grafton Publications)

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!
GRAFTON Realm Of The Alien
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 and terror 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 first room. 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?

Nobody.

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.

But hell, it is fiction, after all…

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“Realm of the Alien” by Chester Delray (Dublin, Ireland: Grafton Publications)

Spawn of the Vampire by N. Wesley Firth

Spawn Of The VampireSpawn 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).

Spawn of the Vampire by N. Wesley Firth

“Easy Curves” by Nick Baroni

Easy Curves by Nick Baroni was published circa 1950 by Curtis Warren Ltd.; it begins on page 3 and concludes on 128. The front cover illustration is by H. W. Perl, appearing to be one of his customary painted (colorized) photos of a model or actress. Sadly, my copy is in complete ruin: the front cover is severely ripped and torn. A chunk of the lower cover along the spine is missing. However, these are incredibly difficult to obtain, so I won’t complain.

CURTIS WARREN Easy Curves

The novel was one of many penned by Albert Edward Garrett (born 1917) since the 1940s, a career that spanned a few decades.

He frequently under the alias “Edgar Garrett,” this appearing first on “Headline Holiday” (John Crowther, 1944) and later resuscitated for his Western novels of the 1950s and 1960s.

For the mushroom publishers, he wrote under a slew of identified books, and no doubt, many more yet to be confirmed. Below are two examples of his crime titles:

Bart Banarto – The Big Panic – Edwin Self, circa 1953
Johnny Cello – Corruption’s Tutor – Scion, 1953

It’s not the focus of this article, however, to delve into this author’s literary career, for which there are many other sites already admirably suited, so let’s return to Easy Curves for a moment. This novel embraces all that is hard-boiled and sleaze. Loads of violence, bloodshed, tons of unscrupulous sex and rapes, etc.

Gangster boss Joey Grindle and his boys are in a tight spot straight into the novel. A rival gang has moved in and are blissfully mowing down their competition. Joey is a survivor, and while convincing a couple of his boys to give up and head out front, he blasts his way out the back and escapes. Joey captures a rival gangster and beats the hell out of him to learn who squealed. When he learns that his younger brother’s “steady” spilled the beans, he busts in his brother and the girl. Relating the misadventures and the extinction of the Grindle gang, his brother is nonplussed and quickly angered to find that his girl sold them out. Trying to worm her way out of death, she attempts to seduce Joey, during an act of misinterpreting him. He catapults her into another world with a single shot through the heart.

Brothers Joey and Eddie take it on the lam and lay low for several weeks. Instructing Eddie to avoid female attachments in future, they hook up with one-night-stands to sate their urges. Joey, however, becomes infatuated with a girl that gives him the works and dumps him the next day. He doesn’t mind doing that to any girl, but no girl is gonna give him the one-night treatment. Possessed, he stalks her, but lands one of her friends, instead. They hook up and while on a drive to a cottage, they are intercepted by her aged wealthy husband and his hired hoodlums. They beat the living tar out of Joey and leave him for dead on a tombstone with a cement angel looking down on him, wings spread.

Something in him has cracked, severely. Mentally unstable, he is tended by a mob doctor and nursed back to health. But he doesn’t wait long to drag Eddie and some fresh cohorts into an assignment to kill everyone at the mansion that beat him to death. The doll-baby is happy that they are all dead and she is free. Convincing her to stay away from him until the news dies down, she plays her part admirably to the newshounds and law.

Time passes, they hook up, take a drive, and another group of hoods pull them over. Beaten severely and captured, he awakens to find his girlfriend on a bed and raped by a man he let take the rap for him years earlier. He had escaped prison and was hunting Joey the entire time. Having located Joey earlier in the novel, he followed him to the mansion and realized there was the opportunity for a monetary rake-off, a la bribery. He convinces an apish ogre to join his ranks, and others. After raping the girl, the ape is given his turn. Rapidly unhinging, Joey struggles free, grabs a gun, and shoots her dead. The ape dims is lights quickly.

He reawakens in a basement, bound and chained to a wall, battered and beaten to death. His brother and help break him out, but it’s clear to all present that his mental stability is rapidly waning. He’s dangerously close to losing touch with reality.

Fearing that everyone is out to get him, Joey begins a one-man war against his own gang, thinking that they are taking over the gang. He kills everyone, often mistaking his guards as long-dead rival gang members. In the final scene, he has it out with his brother Eddie, and top lieutenant, whom he is certain intends to take over the gang. Eddie, realizing that Joey is indeed too far gone, pulls his gun. The lieutenant pulls his and shoots the gun out of Eddie’s hand (he’s still loyal after all) and Joey shoots him.

Joey, not wounded, last man standing, gloats, and while Eddie is slowly bleeding out to death, the lieutenant, shot himself a couple fatal times, shoot Joey dead, realizing many innocent parties will continue to die if he doesn’t. He is the last to eventually die in that office, with the final thought that none of this should ever have happened….

 

“Easy Curves” by Nick Baroni

“The Man of Many Colours” by David Braza

MODERN FICTION The Man Of Many Colours

This lovely item has been sitting on my shelf for a very long time, begging to be read….

The Man of Many Colours” is by David Braza, whose actual identity is unconfirmed. This 126-page digest-paperback was published by Modern Fiction Ltd. around September 1953 and is a “Detective Spy Thriller.” Perhaps what arrested my eye was the Ray Theobald artwork. It’s hard to ignore the scantily clad female in the backdrop.

The book opens with the police force chasing a man whom is jumping across rooftops. Eventually, the narrating policeman apparently shoots once and kills the man. The whole scenario feels wrong to him and the spends the rest of the novel moping around trying to learn more about the man, the circumstances, and just what building and offices the apparent cat burglar was either trying to break into, or, had succeeded in entering. Anyone reading realizes that the latter is the case, he isn’t convinced. He’s more focused on the fact that he actually had to draw his sidearm and kill a man.

Unfortunately for him, and the reader, our would-be hero is a mutt of a character, whom takes a backseat to another character, halfway through the novel. He is eventually disclosed as an M.I.5 operative, and while he requires the active assistance of the local police force, and in fact requests this specific officer to continue his investigative work, he himself relinquishes very little in the way of facts until too late.

They are time and again brought back to a circus, to the freak show circuit. The center attraction (for them) is a seemingly deaf-and-dumb behemoth, whom is colorfully tattooed from head to toe (hence the title of the book). And yes, if you are into INK (that’s “tattooing” for those in the know, among other choice words) then perhaps this book will have a market for tattoo collectors. This man is eventually kidnapped and brought to the docks to be shipped overseas.

Racing against time, they board several unscrupulously run seafaring vessels before lucking onto a cabin containing the “freak” and the person in charge of smuggling him out of the country. The freak ends up dying, having been giving a massive drug overdose. Only thing is, the freak is not the right man. And the smuggler was tricked, not aware of the duplicity.

Combining all known details, we are led on a wild chase that leads to an anti-war movement convention and Communists, which pretty much explains the spy thriller elements of this novel. The ensuing chase(s) lead them to the man behind the whole entire charade…for one man, a mole, has been hindering their every step. Someone privy to police operations. Turns out the Chief Constable was the head conspirator! On arriving at his estate, they find that he has committed suicide. Rather than print this damning evidence, M.I.5 buries the incident as a heart attack case.

But, where is the freak?

Without any due explanation, it is deduced that he never was smuggled, but locked away somewhere on the circus grounds. They investigate at night, and crawling through the tunnels of a ride that normally is flooded by day, they find a side door. Inside is the vixen on the front cover (no, she’s not skimpily clad) wielding a gun. They take her apart, but, the freak is released, and in his insanity, he batters them aside and escapes. Chasing after him, the tunnel is suddenly flooded with water by the tattooed man. A light in one hand, gun in the other, the police detective inches forward in the inky, watery gloom, when suddenly a boulder is hurled at him (see the front cover). Thankfully, the boulder is nothing more than a painted styrofoam prop, and while it stuns him and forces him to drop the gun, he’s not seriously injured.

With the assistance of the M.I.5 operative, they subdue the mentally deranged lunatic (for aren’t nearly all freak show participants portrayed as abnormal in old literature?) and all Communist parties are arrested.

And the girl? She was put on trial and convicted. Turns out our policeman didn’t kill the rooftop hopper. She did.

The tattooed behemoth? He died months later, having mysteriously drowned in a river.

The novel is spotted with holes and inconsistencies, but, my overall verdict is that the novel was captivating enough a read to warrant a second look for anyone else interested in tackling the task. Or, you might just wish to acquire it for the cover art…like most collectors.

 

 

 

“The Man of Many Colours” by David Braza

The Black Wraith by Raymond Buxton and Ben Bennison

STANLEY BAKER The Black Wraith

Raymond Buxton (author) and Ben Bennison (sports journalist) team up for “The Black Wraith: A Story of the Dog Tracks” (aka: See How They Run) published by Stanley Baker Publications Ltd., in 1952. (Click on STANLEY BAKER in the “tags” section for another book I read October 2017)

The precise identity of Raymond Buxton is currently unclear, and from online research, I see that this topic has already been tackled, so I will move along to the novel itself.

The cover art features a stylish blonde paying a creepy-looking man a ton of money. No such scene ever transpires within the novel.

At its heart, “The Black Wraith” is a dog racing novel. We are introduced to Bart Bentley, an unscrupulous soul whom learns from another underworld denizen that up in Ireland, he might find the fastest dog that has never been raced. Bentley departs the train and eventually meets the O’Dare clan, which consists purely of father Patrick and his daughter, the lovely Sheila. They are poor and in dire straits. The father is a mechanic owes the local government(s) taxes and like.

Bentley takes advantage of their situation, playing up the London gentleman, whom got away from the big city for rest and relaxation. In fact, he wants to slowly claim control of the dogs and Sheila, the supreme prize. After attaining her confidence, he suggests that they train her two greyhound dogs (Sweep and Sooty). Afraid to go with him to London, he then suggests a chaperone. She obtains a relative, Kay Mulvaney, a spirited-fiery young lady that ultimately (privately) informs Bentley that she is onto his plans, but, has no intention of crossing his path. She’s in it for two things: the money and escaping to the city.

Agreed, the trio embark to London, and Bentley in no time begins to have the dogs trained at a derelict track, quietly, so that nobody becomes suspiciously awakened to the fact that Sheila has in fact two dogs in training. The world soon is introduced to the unknown Sweep, whom does just that. Sweep blows past the competition and repetitively begins to win races. No fool Bentley, he informs each of the local rackets about the dog, to ensure that they are equally satisfied, since they are aware of his darker reputation.

Bentley’s greed grows. He begins to toss Sooty into the mix, to purposely lose some races. On the sly, he bets on the sure dog, while placing public bets on Sooty (listed as Sweep). Sooty is fast, but seconds slower that Sweep, and, not as intelligent.

His funds growing by leaps and bounds, he has forgotten to include one other ally in his winnings. The person that first informed him about the dogs! That man slowly becomes enraged to the point that he goes to one of the big-noises, whom just lost thousands of pounds at a recent race “fixed” by Bentley.

To make matters worse, the floozie that Bentley normally shacks up with over the years is actually deeply in love with the louse. She learns that Bentley has been not only evading her (believing him to be busy on the tracks) but, also having sex with Kay Mulvaney. She and Sheila had been staying at a large home the during much of the novel. Kay wanted to escape, badly, as early mentioned, and with her share of Sweep’s winnings, finally sets herself up in some nicely furnished rooms.

Not satisfied with the winnings that Bentley bestows upon her, she flirts with Max Glicka, the man whom was just noted to have lost thousands of pounds on Sweep (er, Sooty). As anyone knows, that multi-faceted love triangle is bound to collapse.

Bentley’s floozie, Bessie, introduces herself to Sheila, and, while under alcoholic influences, reveals the truth to her, going so far as to state that if Sheila goes to Kay’s flat at “x”-hour, she will find Kay and Bart together.

However, Bessie arrives at that flat first, and forcing her way in, past the trim and scantily clad form of Kay, she finds Bentley in bed, inappropriately dressed. Next arrives Sheila, and she is aghast. Developments spiral out of control when Max Glicka, Kay’s other lover, also appears on the scene, to learn the truth of the fixed dog races.

Enraged beyond any sense of self-control, and realizing her wealth-building whorish empire is crumbling, Kay lifts a chair to clobber Bessie, but is shot dead by her erstwhile exposure! Bessie had found a revolver in Bentley’s clothes (at her apartments, where he sometimes stayed) and she brought it along for protection. Having never wielded a fire-arm in her life, she is shocked to find that she has shot and killed Kay! The gun drops to the ground, the police and called and Max makes sure nobody leaves the scene of the crime.

The next chapter switches to Bessie, imprisoned, awaiting trial. All the witnesses are present and are questioned. Each are honest save for Bentley, and Bessie’s lawyer, however, is one of the best in the country. He wrings enough of the truth out of Bentley to satisfy his case. The jury comes back: “manslaughter!” She collapses and is carried away, to serve her one-year sentence.

Time passes again. Sheila is rich, back home in Ireland, with her pa. She has saved the homestead and converted the back into a kennel. She receives a letter postmarked from Canada, and learns that Bentley, whom vanished after the trial, fled across The Great Pond and settled in Canada, and further, Bessie has joined him!  She, a goodhearted young lady, decides to “gift” the pair with one of her newest pups…and so the novel ends.

Personally, I care little for any sort of sport story, however, Raymond Buxton delivers decent dialogue and a stupendous backdrop of color and an okay-enough plot to keep you plodding along. I heartily recommend this novel to anyone looking for a fresh escape.

 

The Black Wraith by Raymond Buxton and Ben Bennison

Murder Involved by T. C. H. Jacobs

PALADIN Murder InvolvedThis book is an enigma….
The cover to Murder Involved is rudimentary, and busy. We have two men dragging what appears to be an unwilling third body along the pavement to an awaiting vehicle. Are they rescuing him, prepared to give him the third degree at some secret location, hold an impromptu meeting in the auto, or kill him down the road? So many options!

To add to the confusion, the bottom of the cover proclaims that this title is part of the Dick Barton Library. And yet, I could not locate this title in any crime fiction indices nor recorded anywhere online. Worldcat and COPAC and the British Library have zero copies.

I couldn’t wait for Murder Involved to arrive, so that I could perform some investigative work….

When it did arrive, I was further flummoxed. Despite the dilapidated state of the book (chunk of spine missing, upper two inches spine to cover split, lower inch split and torn an inch into the cover from the spine and barely attached, rear cover entirely lacking) there is enough here to work on. But I was still somewhat baffled.

Here are the details:

Publisher: Paladin Press Ltd. (30, Gaywood Street, London)
Printer: Hollyfield Printers Ltd., Friern Barnet, London, N.11.
Published in association with Ariel Productions Ltd.

On the last interior printed page (bear in mind the rear cover is missing) are four titles. Two of the titles are actual Dick Barton novels, being Jail Break and The Black Panther, both listed as “by arrangement with the B.B.C.” Let’s focus on those two titles before moving on to the other two….

Now, some quick research online shows that broadcasted scripts for Dick Barton and the Affair of the Black Panther actually was written by Geoffrey Webb. I’m not sure when this was originally broadcast (in the U.K.), but the Australian broadcast was on 3 November through (?) December 1949, representing Story # 9 in the radio series. Then, in 1952, Atlas Publications published The Return of Dick Barton: Special Agent — The Black Panther. No author is given. However, this very same book later was re-released by Paladin Press Ltd., likely 1953. Paladin Press obtained the right to handle the series. The Atlas book sold poorly, and Paladin retrieved all unsold copies, stripped off the covers, issued a new cover to help move the remainder stock, and slapped a sticker over the original Atlas cover-page. So, same book, simply re-packaged with a fresh cover.

COPAC shows that Oxford University and Trinity College Dublin has Jail Break, listing the author as Dick Barton, and registered 1953. I’m not sure where this falls in the B.B.C. radio series.

Now, the other two titles listed on the reverse clearly state that they are not Dick Barton. They both are credited to T. C. H. Jacobs, and feature one Slim Sullivan. It’s unclear why Paladin Press deviated from running the Dick Barton name, however, one may readily insinuate that they did not have the rights to utilize the name in their fiction stories.

Adventure in Paris, which is listed on the BBC list as a Dick Barton radio play (Story 2: Dick Barton and the Paris Adventure) is clearly NOT a Dick Barton story. As noted, the rear of this book states it features SLIM SULLIVAN (whom is a private detective). The ultimate question is: was the book a re-write of the radio play?

Likewise, the book that I have (Murder Involved) definitely does feature Slim Sullivan. However, the rear cover lists this title before the Paris title. So, was it the first Slim Sullivan title, or no?

None of the major UK libraries appear to have Adventure in Paris nor Murder Involved. Was the Paris title published (assuming it indeed is the fourth) or was the series nixed?

While much of the actual history surrounding these latter two novels is a complete mystery, the answers may repose at Penn State University, whom hold the research and literary papers of author T. C. H. Jacobs. If anyone lives in the vicinity and regularly performs research there, I would love for you to tap that collection and retrieve copies of all relevant letters and correspondence, includes sales receipts, etc.

Now, you’ve patiently slogged through my ramblings, and are wondering just what is the plot of this book, right? Trust me, you aren’t missing much.

Private Detective Slim Sullivan has just been contracted by Samuel Budd to track down Percy (an American), the son and future heir to a large fortune, whose father (Justin Van Gault) has died. His mother, Mrs. Van Gault, is now in London, having learned that Percy is a weak-minded fool and is mixing it up with an “undesirable character.” Her name is Helga Bonne, a German whom previously worked at The Virgin Maid, but quit and latched onto Percy.

Quitting Mr. Budd’s company, Slim visits Percy’s mother, to obtain further details. We don’t learn much more from her beyond the scant details already divulged. She requests that Helga be removed, whether by deportation, bribery, and less scrupulous methods. Satisfied that Slim can find means satisfactory towards Helga’s removal, he signs on with an advance payment, and attends to the assignment.

Visiting Helga Bonne at her apartments, the door opens and his eyes are greeted to “the picture of some Norse goddess” and “wore her hair like a gleaming crown of gold with two thick plaits woven in a heavy coil above her head.” She assures Slim that she isn’t interested in Percy’s presumed fortune, or if he ever retrieves one red cent from the family. She is in love with Percy, despite his alcoholism and flirtations with an exotic dancer at the place of her former employ. Helga is also very much surprised to learn that Percy’s mother is in London; she was under the impression that Percy’s mother was an invalid. Slim comes clean and confesses his assigned task, but believes that she is in fact in love with Percy.

Unexpectedly, another door in the apartment (likely leading to her bedroom) opens and out lumbers Percy. He is the not the weak-kneed, frail boy that Slim expected. He is a “big, broad-shouldered fellow” and taking him in wearing pajamas, discounts the drunk as a serious threat. That is, until a “fist like a ham” knocks him out….

Waking up in the hallway, Slim stumbles outside and ambles home. Here he is greeted by Mugsy Spewmacker, described as “a short, broad-shouldered man with a chest like a barrel, a battered, homely face and a jaw which defied all the efforts of a razor to keep it free from stubble.” Described as tough, dumb, loyal like a dog, this ex-American was saved from a life in prison by Slim long ago and has stuck with Slim ever since.

Returning to Mrs. Van Gault’s hotel room, he asks her for a description of her son, should he actually run into the man. She’s mystified and states that is unnecessary. The assignment is remove the Helga, not track Percy. Slim explains that he might accidentally run into the boy while in company with Helga, and doesn’t wish to create a stir. Satisfied, she describes Percy but fails to accurately describe his eyes! Slim is now wholly convinced this woman, whom Helga thought to be an invalid, truly is not Percy’s real mother, but an imposter.

So, what is the real deal? Confirmed is that Percy indeed does stand to inherit a fortune, very soon. Clearly the faux Mrs. Van Gault is in league with a person or other parties to remove Helga from marrying Percy, assure he remains single or maybe even kill him and leave the path clear for some other potential heir. Slim doesn’t like his limited options, and continues to play the field.

Visiting The Virgin Maid, he witnesses the exotic dancer and her control both over the crowd and the intoxicated Percy. They leave together. Mugsy and Percy depart, and trail them to her apartments. There, they stealthily wait for developments. Surprisingly, another person arrives and heads up the steps. It’s one Maxy Fischer, a killer. A couple minutes later, the duo hear a muffled or startled cry, then silence. Shortly thereafter, Maxy departs.

The coast clear, the pair make haste up the steps and to the room, whose door is left open. Inside, the cliche scene: Katina lying dead with a bloodied puncture wound on her back, and Percy passed out, holding the bloody knife.

Realizing that Percy has been framed for murder, they commit a further crime by messing with the entire scene, extracting and cleaning the knife, retaining it, and lug the unconscious Percy to their car. From there, they arrive home and lock him away both for his safety and from prying eyes of the police.

The situation out-of-control, Slim phones Helga and asks if she is alone. Confirmed, he arrives at her flat and going in, spills a complete lie: Percy killed Katina! Her face shows immense shock, much to Slim’s disappointment. He was hoping to know if she was aware of the murder-plot. Caught unawares by this disclosure, he reveals that he is willing to hide Percy from the police…for a fee. He must also discern some method of clearing Percy from the presumed crime (the police will know that he left in her company). A fugitive from the law can hardly inherit a dime!

He shows her the knife, but she has never seen the weapon before. Slim is now certain that the knife did not belong to Percy. Smuggling her into his home, with her aid, they convince the drunk and befuddled Percy that he, in his drunken stupor, murdered the dancer.

While running about, comparing clues, Slim heads to his own detective agency (only took him until page 58) and we are introduced to Daisy Jones, his secretary. Stereotypical beauty she is not! Rather, we are given to understand that Daisy is “short, dumpy, mousy-haired and wore horn spectacles when she was typing.” The novel rapidly degrades into the realm of sleaze when Slim “came behind her and slid his arm around her. His left hand cupped her breast and he squeezed softly. The colour flamed in her cheeks and she pushed his hand away.” The scene is entirely unnecessary. To worsen matters, the author toots Slim’s horn with this casual explanation of the deed: “Maybe it was his warped sense of humour, but he never could resist embarrassing her. Daisy had about as much sex appeal as a suet pudding.”

After their brief encounter, he sends her on a mission, then establishes a social call with the possible assassin, Maxy Fischer, on the grounds that Slim’s secretary obtained a letter confirming that the faux Mrs. Van Gault is in fact Fischer’s wife, Flora, whom is also the real Mrs. Van Gault’s actual sister. Percy’s mother died ten days earlier. With Percy rubbed out or committed to an asylum, the sister becomes legally the next-of-kin! Confronting Fischer with these facts, he then bribes Fischer to pay him funds if he can get Percy shipped back to America, away from English lockup, etc. He plays the card that Percy murdered Katina, and that for a fee, he’ll help Percy escape, return home, and Maxy and Flora can themselves essentially have control over Percy and the inheritance. Maxy bites.

The murder is discovered and hits the newspapers. It’s not long before the police pay Slim a social call. Prior to the police arriving, Mugsy removed Percy and the pair went to a distant cottage, leaving Slim to expertly wipe the place clean of Percy’s prints and hairs, etc. One police officer arrives, and he substantiates that Slim Sullivan and Mugsy were spotted at The Virgin Maid that night and their car was seen in the vicinity of Katina’s apartments. Disliking coincidences, he is politely interrogated.

Slim confesses the “gist” of the assignment, quite crudely referring to Helga as a “German whore” whom Percy’s mother is not pleased with, but at least she is a “white European. Katina is described to the officer as “the coloured bird” and later as “a God-knows-what-breed….” Later, a fingerprint crew is brought in.

After the police depart, he visits Sam Budd, the person that originally brought him on board, and gives him the third degree. Slim’s not amused at being dragged into a web of lies and murder. He perpetuates his own lie that Percy murdered Katina and adds to this a fresh one…that Helga and Percy married days ago. Budd is caught unawares, and threatens to track that registered marriage. Slim laughs and informs Budd that he can, but he doubts that it has been released and registered yet at the Somerset House.

The irony is, that Helga is indeed married! She confesses this to Slim Sullivan, whom is both amused (his lying jest is in truth a reality) and mortified (her life is now in danger). And it wasn’t days ago. It was a month ago. The marriage will be officially recorded and public knowledge! Departing her apartment an hour later, Slim is accosted again by an officer, spying on his movements.

The officer insinuates that Slim was “busy” and lets slip that that the police are aware of her marriage. Slim feigns surprise, that he was not aware that is married. It’s revealed that the police do not know she is married to Percy; in fact, they have a record that she is married to one Gustav Bonne, serving a life sentence in a German asylum. Slim is secretly amused, as this means her marriage to Percy is null and void. Naturally, she could get a divorce, but, she would have to legally re-marry Percy, and that is clearly not part of her original plan, as her and Gustav used to operate a bribery racket, hitting on wealthy men and catching them in elicit positions, etc.

In the end, the office departs and Slim chews over the information. He’s angered to learn that Helga has perfectly played him and painted him a complete fool. Feeling like a mug, he heads home, hoping that Mugsy and Percy are getting along well at his secret cottage….

Mugsy in fact was not getting along with Percy. He disliked the wild Yank; his arrogance grated on his nerves. Thankfully, the man emptied a bottle of liquor and passes out. Grateful of the peace and quiet, Mugsy turns in and goes to bed. Unbeknownst to all, a robber has been casing the remote cottage, and once the lights go out, he goes in. Snapping a flashlight upon the dozing Mugsy’s face, he knocks Mugsy out with two solid lumps with the aid a blunt object. The robber is dismayed that neither Mugsy nor the unconscious Percy have any real funds upon their persons. Mission accomplished, the goes to leave, but spots another bottle of nearly empty liquor on the table. Snatching this up, he escapes, but, in a moment of foolishness, manages to get killed by a drunk driving along the country road. The drunk never realizes what happened until the next day, when he finds a piece of cloth on his car, and now knows he didn’t simply hit a pot-hole.

The police are called in after the body is discovered, and one of the C.I.D. men that visited our private detective is on the scene. He hefts the emptied liquor bottle and examines it, no doubt holding it up to the sunlight, to count the fingerprints. Meanwhile, earlier, back the cottage, that morning, Mugsy slowly drags himself out of bed from his beating, makes coffee. Percy challenges Mugsy for having robbed him while drunk, and Mugsy delivers a K.O. to the point of Percy’s chin. Asleep once more, Mugsy ties Percy up with wire (which he later escapes from) and departs, to hike a few miles to the nearest telephone.

While on his hike, he drops into the weeds and watches the police and C.I.D. man handling the liquor bottle. Mugsy mentally panics. Three sets of fingerprints are on that bottle: Percy, Mugsy, and his boss, Slim Sullivan!!! He continues on his way and calls Slim’s home. He’s not home. Then he phones the office, and leaves a message with Daisy, whom five minutes later relays it to their boss.

Angered over the matter, he irrationally chastises Mugsy’s inability to handle Percy, even if just for one night. He heads out to the cottage to professionally wipe away all fingerprints and remove any trace of their presence.

Returning to the city, Slim is confronted by the policeman again, and the cards are laid bare. It’s clear that Slim has been dishonest with the police and he begs the officer a respite until the next morning to give them Katina’s actual killer. The request granted, the officer departs and Slim informs his secretary to close shop….

Re-visiting Maxy Fischer’s flat, he confronts Maxy with the truth that he now knows Maxy was the actual killer, that Helga had found a dislodged button, and intends to blackmail Maxy. The latter wishes to know just how Helga knows his identity. Slim professes that he told Helga. Maxy is displeased with the matter, and they come to an agreement over raising the bar of the bribe that Slim was gonna extract from Maxy, if he kept “mum” about the entire affair. Agreeing to terms, Maxy infers that he will take care of Helga, by making it look like a suicide.

Slim leaves and quickly visits Helga. Bringing her up to speed, she is dismayed to learn that she is bait to trap a killer. Playing her part well the entire time, she is up to the “act. ” Slim hides, and Maxy knocks. Opening her door, she feigns no knowledge of who Maxy is, and he forces his way inside. She then exclaims she recognizes his mug, that he is the man that knifed Katina! Maxy is annoyed to learn that Slim had told the truth and Helga indeed does know that the murder was not committed by the drunken Percy. Demanding the lost button, she pulls a pistol on him. He slaps it aside and laughs. The gun wasn’t even loaded!

He pulls out a length of cord and begins the process of strangulation and setting the stage to make it look like a hanging, all the while the two have been talking about Katina’s murder and the whole plot. Slim jumps out of hiding and proclaims that Maxy’s entire confession has been recorded. A fight ensues and from out of another room, suddenly Mugsy appears on the scene and pulls his gun, shoots Maxy’s gun-hand, and putting all his weight into the swing, Slim Sullivan knocks out Maxy.

In conclusion….

Maxy is arrested, to be tried for murder, etc.

Percy had already been found, after his escape, attempting to obtain liquor sans any funds on his person and upon police arrival, was in the process of destroying the establishment for refusal to provide him with alcohol. He has been locked up to dry out.

Helga’s marriage to Percy is cleared. Turns out her ex-husband died in prison months ago. Further, she apparently really does love the moron.

In lieu of his being in jail to dry out, Helga decides to forget about her husband (for now), and making some moves on our private detective, decides to see if she can straighten out Slim Sullivan !!!

Murder Involved by T. C. H. Jacobs

Strange Hunger by Michael Hervey (Hamilton & Co.)

 

HAMILTON Strange Hunger
STRANGE HUNGER – Michael Hervey (U.K.: Hamilton & Co,. 1948) Illustration by H. W. Perl

Strange Hunger was published by Hamilton & Co. (Stafford) Ltd., London, and per the Oxford University library (the British Library lacks a copy) received by them in 1948. The novel runs from pages 3 to 128, and the font is tiny.

A long time ago, back in the 1990s, legend held that this book had two different covers in existence. I’ve since determined that was pure fantasy and that the only cover that exists is this one by H. W. Perl. He often used local models or painted cut-outs of movie stars and starlets for his covers. This cover has absolutely zero to do with the contents of this book. If a cover variant does exist, which is entirely possible, as Hamilton & Co. has created such thing, I should definitely like to know!

I’ve read many works of fiction by Michael Hervey over the years. He was a fiction factory whom specialized in short stories. Reporting sales in the several thousands, he supplied his details to Guinness Book of World Records and would go uncontested for decades. Because so many of his sales were to obscure wartime and postwar publications (booklets and magazines) as well as regional and city newspapers (yet to be digitized), indexing his works is very obnoxious. I made a minimal effort, and notched over 400 entries. That excludes reprints and retitled stories, for which he had hundreds. Leaving his English homeland for Australia during the early 1950s didn’t help this situation any, as he continued to sell in all manner of locations. Thankfully, unlike many of his contemporaries, he apparently did not utilize aliases. Further, I also possess a letter, dated 1948, detailing many of the magazines and newspapers that he sold fiction to, globally! Perhaps, one day, in the far-flung future, those distant countries may make their collections digitally available….

Neither here or there, I was blindly reaching out to the bookcase, probing for my next throne-room read, when my fingers chose the smoked-spine copy of Strange Hunger. Smoked, because it was stocked at a railway station and the smoke from the trains ruined the exposed spine of the book, along with the top and side edges of the pages. The bottom edges were not exposed, and are, as thus, quite clean. Too, the interior pages are spotless.

In fact, I was entirely surprised by the plot. Well, it isn’t really so much of a plot, as it is a social-political utopian novel, outlining Hervey’s personal beliefs. Here, we have proletarian writer Michael Hervey (which, incidentally, is not his real birth name, either) ghosting himself as the young, wealthy, world renown genius Paul Richardson.

Paul has contrived to invite the greatest minds living (just after WW2) to his home with the purpose of inviting them to abandon their homes, their countries, etc., and join him on a pilgrimage, to create the perfect society. He has purchased, with his unlimited millions, a large set of islands, isolated from the world, and there he has grand plans to be self-supporting, and, allow time for all brains to focus their energies on research and development, without global interruptions, or, as Paul puts it:

“a miniature State, ideal in as far as man can make it ideal.
One free from Want, Misery, Ignorance, Suppression, Greed,
Cruelty, Intolerance, Persecution, Exploitation, Illness, and Disease.”

His only real foil is found in the aged genius mind of Staines, whom apparently fosters an intense dislike for Richardson. Staines vocalizes his disdain repeatedly for every idea and concept that Richardson contrives. However, our author, Hervey, limits his discord to minute outbursts, a few short lines, while allowing Richardson a paragraph, two, sometimes a page or more, to blabber incessantly. Any noted genius will be more than capable of parrying Richardson with an equal amount of verbal riposte, and yet, not once do we see this carried out.

Eventually, all parties present agree to join Richardson, including Staines. But why? Even on the isolated islands, Staines continues to be the agitator. Along for the romantic ride is his less-than-intelligent girlfriend, Valerie. She’s not stupid, and she puts up with his eccentricities. It’s initially unclear what her contribution will be to the novel, unless he and she will be a futuristic version of Adam and Eve (Oh hell, I hope not; I hate those sort of stories).

Eventually, a warship arrives, and disembarking are Slavs. They wish to purchase the island for military purposes, to protect themselves, etc. Name any price! Nope. The brains are not interested in selling. Fine, we’ll come back and take your island by force!

They depart, and a different country’s representative arrives, wishing to double the Slavs’ offer, whatever it was, but they are surprised and elated to learn that the islanders already rejected the offer. Pleased, they present one of their own and are equally rebuffed. Angered, they depart, leaving behind the same threats as the Slavs.

Next day, the Slavonese government sends their air assault team out, and the island geeks are shaking in their…boots? I’m not sure what they are or aren’t wearing. Honestly, they are free to wear whatever they like. That aside, how are the geeks to repel a military invasion, whether by land, air, or sea?

Miraculously, Hervey  divulges that Richardson had created a “death ray,” but scrapped the project long ago. However, he eventually learned how to bend those cosmic rays and created an amnesia ray. Hervey even goes so far as to explain that the rays, prior to his altering them to being harmless, were originally every bit as deadly as those proposed by fiction writers! Situated high up in a towering laboratory, Richardson sends out his cosmic rays in a dome around the island, and when outsiders cross the rays, they become confused. Their training and instinct cause them to return to base (so he claims. No doubt in reality some would panic and hit the eject button, or crash, or keep going).

And what if a country finds a way to counter those cosmic rays, asks Staines. Nonsense. Richardson (Hervey) assures the populace that the rays can’t be bypassed. Simply impossible. The Slavs make repeated attempts to bypass the rays, with failure. Finally, they trick the islanders to come out and meet them. Here, they capture 50 youngsters. Richardson, annoyed, increases the wattage and knocks every Slav aboard, including the youngster, unconscious. Boarding their vessel, they recover their own people and depart. The Slavs return home, and eventually give up their offer to buy or assault the island. Now, they wish to buy the secrets of the ray. No dice.

Midway through the novel, Richardson and Valerie ship out with others to retrieve tons of parentless children in a war occurring in South America. Sailing to Buenos Aires, we are once more tossed into a verbal battle between Richardson and the sailors regarding social and political viewpoints. Docking, he is met by a local contact person, and driven to a hotel. Here, he leaves Valerie, in the hotel room, and is met by another contact person.

Believing this to be a further contact, he innocently accepts the offer, and is captured by…Slavonese soldiers! Wow, the plot is running really bare by this time, indeed. Richardson chuckles it off as bad scenes he often read about in penny dreadfuls. They threaten to hold him hostage until he coughs up the death ray schematics. He refuses. Ah, but they can be very persuasive. He chuckles, and there ensues the usual worldly discussions about conquest.

They lock him in an unknown room, and leave him alone. The windows are firmly barred. There is no other escape route. He wishes he had read more crime stories. Well, he always professes brains over brawn, so he must think his way out of this one. Time passes, and the Slav representatives and local thugs walk in and finally give him “the treatment.” Yes, he is beaten and battered and tortured in classic hard-boiled fashion, mercilessly. He is beaten in and out of consciousness. Eventually, he awakens, bloodied and bruised, his eyes gummy and closed shut. Bombs are going off in the distance. The revolution or war or whatever, has made its way into the interior. The building takes a near direct hit, and finally he is freed from his captivity. Sort of. Now he is drowning in water. And bombs are still falling. The Slavs and thugs are missing. Maybe they died in the bombing? He doesn’t know, nor care. He must escape. And what became of his girlfriend, Valerie? They had confessed to her capture….

Or, had they? Come the next chapter, we learn that she actually is still at the hotel in Buenos Aires, with the real contact person that initially met them at the docks. He despairs to learn from Valerie that Richardson was picked up, but he had not detailed anyone to do so. Worried, he is prepared to search for Richardson, but an aerial raid on Buenos Aires occurs, and they must all seek shelter. They and the rescued children hasten to the docks and board the ship.

Meantime, Richardson is crawling and stumbling through the bombed streets and reaches the docks, unscathed. With waning, ebbing strength, he subconsciously manages to attain the ship and drag his near-fainting body aboard. Those below hear a disturbance topside and the contact man goes above and discovers Richardson. Jointly, he and Valerie drag the bloodied body below and minister to his wounds. He later wakes up, the ship bobbing along out at sea, returning to the island.

To his innate horror, although he refuses to admit it, he learns that Valerie has fallen in love with a doctor that they brought along from Buenos Aires, one Stephen Kenyon. Richardson and Valerie break into a dissertation on intelligence versus hormones, essentially. She doesn’t wish to be loved for her brains, but also valued for herself, her beauty, etc. They have a falling out, and she confesses that she loved Richardson once, but it was his mind, his intelligence, but not himself. He professes his love and learns that he must vie for her attentions. He has been so into himself that he has largely ignored her own wants and needs. And, so the story goes…

While Paul Richardson had mentally prepared for everything, that was the second failure he met with. The first, his capture, beating, and inability to bring his brains to his rescue. The second, the likely loss of Valerie’s affections and sole companionship. The third rose in the form of a hurricane, something that region of the sea had never really suffered from. A freak storm of nature rose up and battered the islanders, destroying buildings and causing some deaths.

In the midst of the storm’s aftermath, Stephen Kenyon is given the podium and announces many medical plans, including abolishing “pain,” and altering DNA, etc. Staines and he enter in large arguments, of course, and then Richardson and he verbally dual. In the end, Richardson divulges that he received a letter (real or otherwise, is unclear) claiming that the residence are tired of Staines and wish him removed. Calling on the islanders to prove the letter a fraud, Staines is shocked to find nobody stand or support him. Ousted, he departs by boat and returns to the mainland. Here, he is interviewed by newsman and military and political powers alike. Infuriated, he informs all that Richardson and those on the island are fanatics bent on destroying the world, and, the only way to bypass the cosmic rays is to have someone on the island destroy the apparatus.

The interview is broadcast via wireless, and Richardson and all listen to his spiel. Discouraged by his views, Richardson still wishes Staines was present, as he is the top physicist in the field.  Valerie proclaims that they received a letter of request from another physicist, asking to be allowed on the island. Accepting this, the fellow, by name of Drayton, eventually arrives. He is shown his room, and Richardson assigns Valerie to give him the guided tour. She initially refuses, proclaiming that he is potentially more detestable than Staines. Laughing this off, Richardson assures her that he is merely tired from his long plane ride.

Showing him around the cosmic ray apparatus room, Valerie notes that Drayton accidentally drops a fountain pen, which rolls under the devices. While endeavoring to retrieve it for him, he grabs her, and yanks her out of the complex. Sound-proofed the building(s) may all be, the island is still greatly aware of the demolishing boom that annihilates the laboratory. Drayton escapes, and Valerie survives, left to explain the cause.

The islanders panic, the cosmic ray field is down, and they are sure to be invaded. Don’t worry; Richardson had constructed a duplicate device in his spare time! All they must do is take it out of storage and help him lug it up the mountainside and install it. While setting up the replacement, they hear an armada of plains approaching. Bombs began dropping, and in timely fictional fashion, Richardson’s rays are turned on and the planes repelled as the fly-boys all suffered sudden cases of amnesia.

Drayton is captured, and we learn that the real Drayton refused to cooperate with the invasion. His real name is Bailey, and his assignment was strictly to infiltrate the island demolish the equipment so that the Federation could invade and send reps to talk with the leaders. They scorn him for this, but he disclaims all knowledge of the aerial assault, assures them (honestly) that he was not privy to the planned, wanton murders.

Richardson, displeased with the plans, decides to convert Bailey and puts him to work in the hydrophonic fields. Weeks pass, and the fields are attacked by millions of insects. To worsen matters, an unstoppable assault by birds occurs, eating all the crops. Richardson is frustrated that the greatest minds in the world have not come up with a simple plan to repel the very casual act(s) of nature.

Pages more develop with he and Stephen Kenyon discussing medicines, altering DNA, etc. It ends with Richardson confessing that he is certain that he has made progress with Bailey, whom recently suggested planting medicinal herbs, when all of a sudden, over the wireless airwaves, the radio blurts out that the Federated States and the Slavs are at war! The last and final chapter of this novel purely deals with the 2-year war that ensues, and the closing chapters reveal that the armies finally lay down their arms and refuse to fight any longer. Richardson and the islanders celebrate and it is decided that once more, they must show the world their way of living beats the world’s way, with peace, love, and harmony….

Strange Hunger by Michael Hervey (Hamilton & Co.)