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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THOMAS P KELLEY Fast On The Draw

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fast on the Draw is blurbed as:

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

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

Good luck!

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

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

pendulum-killers-progress

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Possession by N. Wesley Firth

Possession 1

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

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

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

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

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

Possession 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Possession by N. Wesley Firth

You Can Run So Far! by Michael Barnes

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

SCION You Can Run So Far

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

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

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

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

He does.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You Can Run So Far! by Michael Barnes

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

BROWN WATSON Crooks Honeymoon
Crooks’ Honeymoon Brown Watson, 1949

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This, he does.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PANTHER One If By Night

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brief Interlude by John Eagle (1947)

GRANT HUGHES Brief Interlude
Brief Interlude (1947)

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

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

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

Who?

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

The following stories appear in magazines:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brief Interlude by John Eagle (1947)

Frontier Sheriff by John Theydon

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

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

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

Frontier Sheriff by John Theydon

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

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

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

It isn’t.

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

Per the blurb:

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

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

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

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