Gerald Kersh – The Battle of the Singing Men, and selected stories (1944)

STAPLES The Battle Of The Singing MenIt’s a rare opportunity to read such an obscure publication and enjoy it. Such was the high level of expectation.

Gerald Kersh hardly needs any introduction. You can readily GOOGLE his name in quotations marks, and find zillions of sites, mostly copycats of each other, happy to cough up information on the author. Ironically, most of the sites plagiarized data from each other (as the same wrong data appears on every site).

In a brief note, Gerald Kersh is English-born, Jewish, his autobiographical novel Jews without Jehovah was published 1934 and the novel was suppressed as libelous by his family (for failure to conceal their identities) and is subsequently quite rare, obtained broader fame with Night and the City in 1938 which led to two films, and if his death should have led to becoming an obscure footnote in literary history, author Harlan Ellison has noted that Kersh is his favorite author. This has inspired a whole new plethora of readers and created new fans of his material.

Kersh lives!

His older, earliest stories often deal with the lower echelons of humanity and, quite realistic portrayals they are; no doubt ripped from real-life experiences and as a result, fictionalized on some level. I’ve never actually read a collection of his works. A story here or there in various publications, over time, certainly.

The cover title states The Battle of the Singing Men and Selected Stories. Inside, the title page merely states Selected Stories. It was published by Staples and Staples in 1944. This yellowish-orange colored booklet contains only 9 stories.
The original publications are noted after each title, below:

7 – The Battle of the Singing MenJohn o’ London’s Weekly, December 8, 1939
13 – Will to PowerThe Star, November 5, 1938
17 – DudelsackJohn o’ London’s Weekly, October 9, 1942
20 – The Musicians
* First publication unknown
31 – The UndefeatedIllustrated, Sept 27, 1941
41 – The StoneJohn o’ London’s Weekly, June 20, 1941
47 – The Drunk and the BlindPenguin Parade #4, 1938
54 – Prometheus Evening Standard, June 23 1938
57 – The Extraordinarily Horrible DummyPenguin Parade #6, 1939

The last tale is the only “fantastic” or supernatural story present, and, fails to touch upon any new territory. Like many of its predecessors, the tale involves a ventriloquist’s dummy that has an evil spirit. That spirit turns out to be his asshole father. Earlier versions of this sort of tale often involve artists creating models from clay, marble, etc, and the form evilly coming to life and either leading the person to insanity or eventual death.

STAPLES Selected StoriesThis edition was originally preceded by a thicker digest-paperback edition, same publishers, under the title Selected Stories, being No. 2 in their Modern Reading Library (1943). This edition actually saw at least two editions, both identical, save for the copyright notice. The book also contains an acknowledgement, courtesy of Mr. Kersh, dated, November 1942. The pages are bound in “hard” paper covers, and contains 23 stories.

Confused? Perhaps not, but for collectors, or more accurately, completists, most do not know about the orange “cheap edition.” It’s not properly indexed anywhere online, this (the Internet) being universally the first place most look to for their information.

Hence my note that many (most?) online sources are plagiarists! The orange edition is often cited as having been published by Everybody’s Books! And, to further that comment, I suspect I know how that attribution came to pass. See, Everybody’s Books was also a bookstore, and often took in battered books during the war years, and gave them a new life. As you know, the war years were tough on publishers and printers, due to strict paper-rationing. So, what better way to make money than stripping off the damaged covers and re-issuing a fresh one? They did just that, and for those not in the “know,” they assume the book is a rare variant published by Everybody’s Books. But if you look closely at the covers, it clearly states “Everybody’s Re-Bound” edition. These re-bound editions are largely ignored and recorded, as thus, in error.

It is perhaps important to further note that both of these editions published by Staples and Staples predate the mid-1944 release of The Horrible Dummy and Other Stories published in England by William Heinemann.

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Gerald Kersh – The Battle of the Singing Men, and selected stories (1944)

Weird and Occult Library # 3 (Gerald G. Swan)

weird-and-occult-library-3

It’s been a real pleasure reading all three of these lost gems. That Gerald G. Swan decided to unearth his trove of unpublished manuscripts, acquired back in the 1940s, and publish them during the 1960-61 era, is phenomenal.

The contents for this issue:

(1-5) The Incredible Awakening by Norman C. Pallant
(5-15) Black-Man’s Magic by Frank C. Brooke
(15-25) Labyrinth of Zekor by S. G. J. Ouseley
(26-34) Silvester’s Oasis by Henry Rawle
(34) The Hill of Worms by A. S. Quilter Palmer(35-43) As White as Snow by Ian Mercer
(43-47) A Guest of Vanderdecken by Ernest L. McKeag
(48-52) The Last Word by A. E. Crawley
(52-57) The Yellow Mask by John Body
(57-62) Corner Cottage by A. M. Burridge (sic, Burrage)
(63-64) A Lot of Gammon (uncredited)

The first story is of a dreaming man slowly waking up. While the dreamer awakens, worlds within the realm of his mind come crashing down and entities vanish in the blink of an eye. The Incredible Awakening may represent our own existence being but a dream. It’s unclear, bizarre, and unusual, and I like it all the more!

The author, Norman C. Pallant, has written a handful of
other weird stories and science fiction tales.

In Black Man’s Magic, the story reads like something L. Patrick Greene might have written for his African adventure pulp stories. Captain Ferguson saves the life an African’s child, and in return, grants him a vision into the future, one to solve a crime, and the other, a noise from the wand of African man from earlier in the story, to save his life! Only he can hear the noise and save his life it does, for the villain pulls a gun. Following the rest of the vision, he goes directly to the hidden false identity gear, a stowed gun, and then, elsewhere, to stashed cash that nobody could possibly normally locate. This even baffles the local police. When asked how did he solve the mysterious crime, was it “black magic” he replies, that no, it was “black-man’s magic.”

Frank C. Brooke is no stranger to selling stories
to Gerald G. Swan. Typically he can be found as the
writer of juvenile stories for boys and girls.

Lybyrinth of Zekor…titles like that are always interesting. You KNOW you are about to read some weird and unusual story. At the least, the title infers something out of the ordinary. A vacationing couple are duped into hiring a local and visiting the sunken ruins of an immense building. While underground, they discover it is a lost cult, and other vacationers are lured below, capture and murdered. They escape and the lost city inexplicably explodes and sinks further, killing all inhabitants.

Ouseley has contributed other weird stories
to this genre field, with equal ability. Some are
of the purely outlandish variety but many simply
are concluded with irrational endings.

Silvester’s Oasis is typical deliriousness in a desert. While dehydrated and near death, he is rescued by a man of the desert whom takes him home and Silvester finds himself transported back through time, hundreds, perhaps thousands of years. He is mistaken for another person, and he becomes romantically involved with a lady, whom all males are forbidden to contact. Taken before the supreme ruler, he learns of his fate but times inexplicably change and he is back in the present. A weak conclusion that left me wondering why the author went to the trouble to write an otherwise interesting story.

Henry Rawle is no virgin to the weird genre.
Click on his name in the side-bar to read more about
from another of my earlier posts.

The Hill of Worms is a half-page vignette. Dead guy buried in cottage, murdered, year later comes back to haunt the murderer. The locals find him dead and in the corner, instead of a dead decomposed man, a dead adder.

Initially I thought As White as Snow was going to turn out to be a Romeo and Juliet spoof. Don’t ask me why; I simply believed that to be the case. It was, close enough. Our Romeo is romantically involved with working with the church when he is introduced to an intoxicating young beauty. They fall in love, kiss, then she breaks off mortified, and confesses that they can never be together. She has leprosy, and then runs off a cliff. Our Romeo is found at the drinking establishment, and our narrator runs to him to save their lives, after learning that the guy does NOT have leprosy. He learns of her demise too late, and is thankful that Romeo hasn’t done anything foolish. But, he has. The drink is drugged. He dies. So, a twist on an old story. While he isn’t named Romeo, she IS named Julia.

Despite fearing that A Guest of Vanderdecken would be typical fluff, I plunged into McKeag’s version of the ill-fated voyage of the Flying Dutchman. When a man is lost at sea and deliriously near death, a storm saves his life, providing much-needed drinkable water. Spying a ship, he and his small boat are pulled aboard and he is revived. On securing his health, he is mortified to find those on board are wearing antiquated outfits from hundreds years ago, and the ship of the ancient seafaring sort. But when he learns the identity of the ship’s captain, and that they are nearing the Cape, he loses his grip on sanity, realizing that if they get past the Cape, the ship and all her crew are doomed to repeat their adventure until the end of time, and that somehow, in this time loop, he has joined their crew! As the crew hurrahs! at passing the Cape, their bodies rapidly age and disintegrate, as does the ship. Just before it crumbles out of the present to rejoin the ghostly past, our narrator dives into his own boat and lands safely in the water, to be picked and saved.

Although the impression given was that all the stories
present are lost, unpublished stories, fact is, this story
actually was published, by Gerald G. Swan, in the
May 1949 issue of Cute Fun. Perhaps they needed
further filler material for this volume or lost their own
records indicating it had been published.

In The Last Word, an old man and nurse at an infirmary heatedly dislike one another. The “why” of it is entirely unclear. Perhaps it is purely a matter of personality. The old man one night is having an attack, and the nurse, happening to be on duty, takes her time in giving him his meds. Taking too long, he dies, but sets his sights on her, in death, to haunt her. Time passes…. His favorite wheel chair is constantly avoided. Anyone trying to use it leap out of it immediately, as if pushed, prodded, poked, etc. The wheelchair one night is found out of place and the head nurse reprimands the killer-nurse. She takes umbrage to the charge, and after it occurs again, begins to keep an hourly watch on that chair. It happens again. Finally on the third night, she tries to put it back, but finds the chair evading and pursuing her about the infirmary. Everyone is asleep, save for the narrator, whom watches as the chair steers her to the balcony and shoves her over the edge.

The Yellow Mask is given to have been the cause for many a strange death and insanity. A pair of men decided to investigate the ancient dilapidated remains of an opium establishment, where their buddy was last known to have visited, prior to succumbing to insanity. They find indeed that something sinister and supernatural is present.

John Body is the alias of John Brody. He wrote other short
tales for Gerald G. Swan. He also had a brief career writing
science fiction for New Worlds magazine.

Corner Cottage by A. M. Burrage (erroneously spelled here as Burridge) is typical campfire stuff. Family takes up residence in a cottage that annually is abandoned due to a curse. An entire family died there. The current residence–and artist and his wife and son–move in and disregard local gossip. But when events and noises rattle them for weeks and months, the climax comes on the very annual night the dead family, er, well, DIED. Coming home from the pub, the artist walks in on his wife and two very dead visitors, with bullet wounds in their heads, from a double-suicide. Their son is upstairs screaming and bawling that a dead girl is in his room. They move out the next day, and later read that the cottage caught fire and burned to the ground. The artist prefers to believe that the dead scared them away to save their lives. Did they?

A. M. Burrage prolifically wrote for at least three full decades.

The vignette A Lot of Gammon is purely tongue-in-cheek humor poking fun at small village lore surrounding ghosts and the like. Amusingly enough, the local tells informs the outsider that he was told how to invoke curses and use witchcraft, but states it’s a lot of gammon, or bunk. As a jest, he grabs the broom, sits upon it, and recounts the words he was to use to fly. Shockingly, the broom lifts and takes off, with the man screaming BLIMEY into the night….

 

Weird and Occult Library # 3 (Gerald G. Swan)

Weird Shorts: First Selection (Gerald G Swan, 1944)

Weird Shorts

Weird Shorts: First Selection was published by Gerald G. Swan in 1944 and priced at 7d. This 36-page stapled pamphlet contains 7 short stories. It is actually the only edition.

Up first is “In Alien Valleys” by Henry Rawle.
Typical social gathering at the local pub, one of those fire-side chats, discussing ghosts and psychical phenomenon and the traditional naysayers that take control of the conversation until the ‘silent-looker-on’ off to the side coughs their way into the discussion. This person is usually another noted scientist or doctor or, just some bloke that knew to attend one of these gatherings. In any case, his morbid tale is of his own mind suffering astral projection but the effects are proven by his awakening and the marks left behind by a giant taloned bird are upon his very body. Naturally, anyone can scoff at this conclusion. While the tale of being projected onto another planet was a fun read, the freshly made scars could be readily faked from a variety of sources. The tale has a very “dated” feel to it.

Henry Rawle has contributed many weird tales to the
British mags of old, including the following:

  • Armand’s Return, (ss) Ghosts & Goblins, 1938
  • The Bride of Yum-Chac, (ss) Occult #1 ’45
  • Dr. Gabrielle’s Chair, (ss) Space Fact and Fiction # 2 ’54
  • Fiorello (ss) New Acorn Jun/Jul 1949
  • Flashback, (ss) Occult #2 ’46
  • Gruenaldo, (vi) Weird Story Magazine #1 ’46
  • The Head of Ekillon, (ss) Ghosts & Goblins, 1938
  • In Alien Valleys, (ss) Weird Shorts #1 ’44
  • The Intruder, (vi) Weird and Occult Miscellany, 1949
  • Marley’s Masterpiece, (ss) Mystery Stories #18 ’39
  • Revanoff’s Fantasia, (ss) Tales of Ghosts and Haunted Houses, 1939
  • Silvester’s Oasis, (ss) Weird and Occult Library #3 ’60
  • The Voice of Amalzzar, (ss) Weird and Occult Library #2 ’60

Next is Trevor Dudley-Smith’s “The Immortal Guardian,” which also treads upon the usual. A woman’s long-suffering brother is dying, and, commits suicide. Before dying, he surrenders onto her his ring to wear, and promises to watch over her throughout life. Much time has past since his departure, and, while she and her husband are driving away to catch a flight, she is horror-stricken to note the ring is missing! They return to the hotel and learn that a maid found it in the shower drain. How did it fall off? It had never come off or been removed prior. They miss their flight, and next morning, while reading the newspaper, the husband is in awe to learn that the plane crashed. Was it fate, luck, coincidence, or … her brother?

The former name of Elleston Trevor, he obtained greater
fame later as Adam Hall with his “Quiller” crime novels.

Sigrid’s House” by Dallas Kirby is a tale of demoniacal possession.
Long ago, a lovely lady married a preacher and then tried to corrupt his soul and sell it to the devil. He fought her and the house exploded from within, after he fought her off with his silver cross. Every seven years, a stranger happens along and is stranded in the vicinity and happens upon the house and is never seen or heard from again. Enter our hero, a detective on assignment, headed off to investigate illegal transportation of drugs. He never makes his destination, for his wheels become stuck in the mud during a torrential downpour. Seeing a light in the distance, he decides to make a break for it and finds himself at a desolate mansion of sorts. Entering, a servant brings him to his master, a stunningly beautiful girl. Whether his drink was doped or she worked black magic upon him is unclear, but, he becomes aware dreamily that he has told her of his entire assignment, etc., and then jerks fully awake as a spark from the fireplace burns him. Shucking the evil power holding him, he’s now fully coherent and in perfect control of his faculties. Midnight is drawing near and he realizes that he is in the evilly rumored Sigrid’s House. He goes down to the basement, and finds the girl in a trance calling out to the devil himself, and an evil THING does manifest. Realizing that he is to be the final sacrifice to bring her Self back to life (and the demon, too) he lunges forward upon the preacher’s old silver cross, performs some brief battle with cadaverous creature from hell using the cross, and the home and explodes. He awakens in Hoyt, where he was to perform his duties. He is battered and bruised from his ordeal, but is being aptly cared for by a woman, whose husband found him dazed and near death, clutching in his hands a branch of wood in the form of a crucifix…

Dallas Kirby is the alias of David J. Gammon; he contributed two
other odd bits, both to the publisher Gerald G. Swan, being:

  • Come Brother, Come!, (ss) Weird and Occult Library #2 ’60
  • The Incredible Solution, (ss) Yankee Science Fiction #21 ’42

Night of Terror!” by E. A. Cross is more a crime story than a weird one.
Your typical fat, bloated, rich asshole is driving through the countryside when his car fails him. Walking to a home in the remote region during a storm, he is welcomed by an older man, whom turns out to be a scientist. While left alone, the visitor stumbles into the laboratory and discovers that the man is insanely carving upon brains of missing “other” visitors and leaving them alive as brainless halfwits. Scared out of his mind, the portly man tries in vain to escape but is captured, tied to a bench, and commits suicide rather than be operated upon. The joke is on him. The intent WAS to scare him to death, as a prank. The asshole, turns out, had stolen another man’s woman and she died. The scientist was the father, and the halfwit running around? the woman’s original betrayed lover, also in on the gag.

Elizabeth Anne Cross contributed at least two more shorts, both
to Swan, being general fiction stories. 

David Alun presents us with an awfully good tongue-in-cheek sinister spoof on Adolph Hitler as Udolph Litter. In “The Demon and the Dictator,” a lesser demon is sent to earth to corrupt a tiny country’s tyrant into committing flagrant atrocities. The dictator is repulsed by Melite, the ugly little demon, so it changes form to a fuckably cute little girl in a dancer outfit. We are led to believe that Udolph kisses the girl (and is zapped) and they might even have intercourse over the years. Melite convinces him to sign off on a form to provide Melite with a “ball” and in exchange, Melite gives him the world (sort of). Many many years pass and Udolph is conquering the world but is not ready to die just yet, each time becoming more and more wretched and evil. Melite suggests killing the Jews (I’m surprised this made it into the text). Tired of waiting, Melite uses his demon abilities to coerce Udolph to blow his brains out, and Melite collects an evilly hardened little ball, being Udolph’s soul. Melite was assigned to obtain a solidly functional soul-ball for the upper demons to play Rugby with, incidentally…. It’s a damn good story, despite the spoof being chillingly close to reality.

This author’s identity has never been cemented, however,
I suspect that this is David William Alun Llewellyn. Who?
Yeah, that’s what I said, too. Check out the following link.
If you read it and concur, let me know. I’m fairly confident this is our man.
http://www.sf-encyclopedia.com/entry/llewellyn_alun

In “The Revenge of Arnul,” author W. P. Cockroft presents a man whom has been wronged and robbed his whole life by a man that competed with and bettered him in all tasks and assignments and goals throughout childhood and later years, even going so far as to claim the woman he loved. Tired of the constant suffering, he went on to pursue a career in the sciences, an area the other had zero interest. Many years, decades perhaps, pass. The scientist sends a letter of invite to his one-time competitor, and he accepts, but brings a gun with him. He realizes that something is afoot, and is prepared to defend himself. The scientist informs him that he has created a time machine and he has succeeded in sending a motion camera into the future and recorded certain events. He shows him one such reel, indicating the wife’s great sorrow. And then he shows him his own death, being hanged for the murder of the scientist! Angered and frightened, he attacks the scientist and threatens to destroy the machines, believing the scenes are faked. While fighting, he fatally shoots the scientists, whom laughs to death, proclaiming his own death was what was needed to solidify the future’s reality, otherwise, it was just one of many such futures. With his dying breath, he tells his killer to play one last reel. The man plays the reel, which shows HIM entering the house, going into the library, talking to the scientist, and plays on through to the final kill scene. In a fit of utter insanity, he destroys everything and is arrested for murder. His lawyer can’t fathom why he won’t plead to self-defense, but, he’s seen the future, and knows that the hangman’s noose is unavoidable….

I wrote up another Wilfred P. Cockroft tale many months ago
(see: They Came From Mars) but never discussed the man himself.
He contributed to SF and Weird fandom alike from
1934 through 1954, appearing earliest in the world’s
first science fiction newspaper (Scoops), made a couple sales to
American pulps, appeared in Britain’s debut issue of Tales of Wonder, etc.

I. O. Evans presents a ghoulish Norse revival of “The Kraken.” Bringing in a geologist to investigate seaside phenomenon of the sea floor seeming to rise, Jarvis is gobsmacked to learn that the sea does indeed appear to have risen several dozen feet, making the bottom quite visible in places. Numerous tourists have come to the beach to take pictures, boats aplenty are adrift, anchored and watching, and the British navy is on the scene, when, inexplicably, the whole of the ocean floor suddenly rises and bubbles to the surface, becoming a rubbery gelatinous mass. The situation worsens when tentacled claws shoot out and begin grasping sea-goers and dragging them under for nourishment. Jarvis, our geologist, immediately realizes that they are dealing with the historically fantastic Kraken of Norse mythology, but, hasn’t a clue how to defeat the creature. The navy does battle with the beast, and the beast retaliates by pulling an entire warship under. Depth charges are unleashed, and the Kraken drops and creates a whirlpool that drags every ship under to a watery grave. Nothing seems to kill or permanently injure the beast. Bombs fail. Cannonballs bounce off the rubbery body. Anti-aircraft fire penetrates but really does nothing else, other than annoy the creature. In the end, it is the English weather that sends the critter swimming away to the deeper and COLDER recesses of the Atlantic depths.

Idrisyn Oliver Evans contributed only the one known weird story,
one science fiction tale involving a robot-boxer
(The Passing Show, 15 Jan 1938), and translated
two of Jules Verne’s tales (“Frritt-Flacc” and “Gil Braltar”)
both for The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.
https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Author_talk:Idrisyn_Oliver_Evans
For further interest, here is a link detailing his books:
https://www.librarything.com/author/evansio

In conclusion, below are the publication’s specs:

Weird Shorts: First Selection [#1, 1944]
(London: Gerald G Swan, 7d, 36-pages, 4.75 x 7.5 inches, stapled pamphlet, cover art: unknown)
2 * In Alien Valleys * Henry Rawle
5 * The Immortal Guardian * Trevor Dudley-Smith
8 * Sigrid’s House * Dallas Kirby
15 * Night of Terror! * E. A. Cross
21 * The Demon and the Dictator * David Alun
25 * The Revenge of Arnul * W. P. Cockcroft (sic)
30 * The Kraken * I. O. Evans

Weird Shorts: First Selection (Gerald G Swan, 1944)

“Gang Shorts” – 3rd Collection

Gang Shorts 3
Gang Shorts # 3

Gang Shorts: 3rd Collection
Printed 1945 in England, by Gerald G. Swan.
Published double column, on 36 pages.
Cover price: 7d.

The booklet is comprised of:

  • Black Huntress by Norman C. Pallant
  • Honi Soit… by G. H. Lister
  • The Broken Window Cord by Ronald Horton
  • Sadie Gets Her Story by Stella Dene
  • They Always Get Theirs by Leslie Bussey
  • Roast Beef? Take it Away! by Preston D. Olsen
  • Limited Risk by G. H. Lister

The lead story is Norman C. Pallant’s “Black Huntress.”
Public Enemy No. 1 “Joe Conner” has made a name for himself, making money and slaying his enemies. He thinks his life is 100% positively secure, until a dame in black begins a cross-country chase. Believing her to be the widow of a man he wiped out years ago, he flees to further recesses of the country, and always, he finds her there. While attempting to vanish, he holds up a bank, and, who should walk in but the dame! Pushing his gat into her chest, he threatens to kill her and run with the goods, but the bank teller pumps him full of lead. In conclusion, the police interrogate the woman in black, only to learn that she is an autograph hound!!!

Norman Charles Pallant was born 14 February 1910
in the Hitchin district, died the end of 1972, in the
Haringey district. His literary output, as follows:

Up next is “Honi Soit…” by G. H. Lister.
Montgomery Smith is an Englishman whom has outlived his usefulness as a swindler of his own countryman. Relocating to the United States, he quickly administers thievery and lies, and builds up a rapid reservoir of cash. Looking for bigger game, he convinces a man to pay him an immense amount of dollars, and in return, Smith coughs up a family heirloom, a sword, that when possessed gives the owner the title of an English gentleman. Desiring to be a Lord, the American readily agrees. Smith goes out to a shop, buys an old sword, has a fake certificate created, and the whole process is complete. Things go rapidly wrong when a pair of criminals hold them up for their hard-earned cash. In the process, Smith ends up with the dame, whom is convinced he really is a wealthy Englishman. Fleeing America with the toots, he begins to work on a plan to unload the broad….

Gordon H. Lister was born 1914 and died 1996.
His output seems limited strictly to Swan publications:

Ronald Horton supplies “The Broken Window Cord.”
Ray Lester is gonna hang for attempted murder. But investigator ‘Dad’ Morgan literally finds “holes” in the botched murder scene, and a loose cord in a trunk drilled with air-holes seals the real killer’s fate!

Ronald Harcourt Horton was born Qtr 2, 1902 in the
Solihull district, and died 1987.
While his output appears limited, I suspect he sold stories
to numerous rural newspapers throughout the country.
He also turns in various boys’ annuals.

Stella Dene supplies “Sadie Gets Her Story.”
Blonde bombshell newsgirl Sadie is handed the assignment of bringing back to her paper a real humdinger. While investigating a young man whom appears to be cozying up unflattering-like with the local mob enforcers, Sadie inexplicably finds herself kidnapped, in a case of mistaken identity! While trying to find a means of escape, she contacts her boss and reveals the secret location of the Bronx Gang. The place is raided and she is rescued, in what is otherwise a fairly weak story.

The identity of “Stella Dene” is murky.
What is known is that she (or he?) wrote a handful of
girls’ short stories for the various Swan publications.

Up next is “They Always Get Theirs” by Leslie Bussey.
Lefty leaves his entire life fortune and business to two ex-criminals, whom find themselves currently booted from Lefty’s business by hardier gangsters. Forced out with the option to LIVE or DIE, they choose to live. But, when they receive a copy of the Will, they find themselves in possession of a coded message, that, when deciphered, reveals that the business is a time-bomb, and, if not reset on a regular basis, the entire premises will explode. It does, and takes out all of the criminals in on the initial plot to wipe out Lefty. And the pair of heirs? They play is straight, open and operate a drive-in!

Leslie Bussey’s works appear to be “almost” exclusively
attached to the Swan outfit. Due to the common nature
of his namesake, his birth and death years are unknown.
He also contributed to Swan’s “Detective Album, 1947” and
the “Crime Album, 1947.” I’m not sure about the 1946 editions.

Preston D. Olsen’s “Roast Beef?–Take It Away!” is without meaty substance.
Two thieves snatch a diamond studded ladies’ accessory, break it apart, and hide the diamonds inside a golf ball. Fleeing America in order to sell the diamonds on the black market and avoid another criminal whom is onto them, they find themselves on the short end, crossing an English pasture and pursued by a bull. When the bull smacks the rump of the man possessing the diamonds, he finds himself lacking his own inherited family jewels. Discerning that the bull must have swallowed the bling, they purchase the bull and have it shipped back to America, to be slaughtered. The joke is on them; no golf ball, no jewels. Later, a story circulates in the Odd Column back in England. A bird’s nest was found to contain the golf ball and inside, the diamonds!

The true identity of this author is unknown.
Further, this is the only known tale to appear under this name.

Gang Shorts wraps up with “Limited Risk” by G. H. Lister.
Again returns our lovable criminal-scoundrel, Montgomery Smith. Looking for some fresh excitement in his retirement from criminal activities, Montgomery strolls through Central Park, listening to various orators denouncing this-and-that, and one in particular, is beating the drum against citywide corruption, in the form of a strong-arm faux-insurance broker, named Perelli. Using his enforcers to pressure local small businesses to cough up a percentage of their hard-earned profits towards insurance, this protection racket is beating up resisters and burning out the rest. Smith decides to use his skills to unseat Perelli, by flipping the tables and landing him in jail.

“Gang Shorts” – 3rd Collection

“Detective Pocket” Gerald G. Swan

Detective Pocket

Detective Pocket was published by Gerald G. Swan [circa 1944-1945], boasts 36-pages, and is a 5 x 6 ¼ inch stapled booklet. The action-packed artwork is uncredited.

The contents are as follows:

○ 2 ● Pattern for Murder ● Douglas Stapleton ● nt Crack Detective Stories, 1944 Jan
○ 11 ● How Dead Was My Valet? ● Henry Norton ● ss Crack Detective Stories, 1944 Jan
○ 18 ● “D” for Diamonds and Death ● A. J. Cruse ● ss

As noted above, the lead two tales are actually reprints from an American pulp. The final story is written by British author A. J. Cruse, whom wrote the following known stories, all for Gerald G. Swan (information courtesy of FictionMags Index site).

Pattern for Murder” involves a young man inheriting a property, only to find much of the local townspeople against his presence. His family has a long-standing feud with another family. However, the feud has been nonexistent for decades, until his uncle is found dead. Reportedly dead by suicide, he learns firsthand that his uncle was in fact murdered, when an identical attempt is made on his own life. Performing simple detective-investigative skills, he learns the truth about his family, and who is next in line to inherit, should he die!

How Dead Was My Valet?” is actually quite an idiotic title. The valet is dead. No question. Ward Frame is released from prison, after five years lock-up, to meet with his loyal valet, whom reportedly has information regarding who really stole securities from the bank heist that he was sentenced for stealing. But, when he finds his valet shot dead, twice, above the eyes, he knows he’s in for the hot seat this time. Mere seconds pass and the cops have the house surrounded, and the only footprints on the scene are HIS, as the dust is thick and undisturbed. Refusing to accept the frame-up, he convinces the police to permit him a 24-hour stay, to prove his innocence. Investigating the bank premises, he learns that the bookkeeper fudged the numbers and that the securities are bogus. They never existed!

Cruse’s tale–“‘D’ for Diamonds and Death“–is fun stuff. Multiple murders occurs, beginning in England, when a clerk kills his boss for a recent arrival of diamonds. He in turn is murdered by a sea man. The sea man is slain in New York by the mob. The diamonds end up in the hands of a wealthy, respected citizen, and he in turn is killed by the notorious Shadow. Enlisted to solve the crime is Waring. He interrogates all family and staff on-hand, and narrows it down to a very small list of possibles, but not before someone takes a potshot at him with a poisonous blow dart. There are only two persons present capable of handling the weapon, but which one is guilty?

Both the American reprints and the UK (original?) story hold up well and better yet, if you are interested, this pamphlet DOES turn up from time to time.

“Detective Pocket” Gerald G. Swan

The Prison Murder by Rex Dark

MELLIFONT The Prison Murder

The Prison Murder” by Rex Dark was first published by Wright & Brown in 1939, then later released in soft cover, via the Mellifont Press, in 1943. Published as a 96-page digest-paperback, it doesn’t sport a price anywhere on the cover or the spine, nor is one mentioned on the inside.

Looking at the author’s name bubbled onto the cover, I even wonder if the artwork is original to the book or recycled. The illustration certainly has zero to do with the contents.

The identity of Rex Dark has never been ascertained, although guesses abound. Let’s look at who else wrote for Wright & Brown. “Roland Daniel” immediately comes to mind. Same letters, same time period. However, I’ve not read enough of either author’s works to make a definitive statement.

The novel opens with Amelia and her husband, simply referred to by their joint surname of Cressman, discussing the plans to obtain certain papers from another crook. He has a silenced revolver loaded with two bullets. While preparing in an alternate room, Amelia opens the window and fires off both bullets. To her amazement, the muffled retort does not travel to her husband. Unaware that he is proceeding to plan with an empty weapon, he departs with the gun. Amelia was worried that he intended on killing their prey, hence the real reason she fired off the rounds….

Cressman makes his way toward his target, goes inside the man’s abode, and is dumbfounded to find the man already dead, two bullets in him. The door crashes in and the police enter. It’s an open-and-closed case for them. A dead body, two bullets, a killer on the premises, and, his weapon has been recently fired. He is taken away to prison, where he proclaims emphatically he is innocent of the murder, but not the premeditation thereof….

Chapter Three introduces us to private detective Bartholomew Dane and later, to Inspector Thackeray. The inspector has just phoned and is inviting himself over to dinner and a select bottle of wine but foremost, Dane finds himself dealing with a young girl (Miss Virginia Hyam) of fine social standing, whom has received a threat-letter. Deciding that the letter is credible, he and Thackeray stake out a restaurant in which she is to meet the writer. While there, they spot two hoodlums, but they do not seem interested in the girl. After much time has passed, the pair join her table, deciding that the letter-writer either was spooked or is a no-show. Virginia is certain that they are putting on false airs to comfort her, but is convinced that she is ultimately in some form of danger.

While following Virginia home, from a safe distance, they find a rat named The Weasel rifling through the residence trash. Certain that he is part of the plot, he refuses to cop to anything evil and states he is merely searching for scrap metal to sell during the war effort. They have no grounds to detain him, so let him go.

From the girl’s residence, we are introduced to her father, a servant name of Gant, a house female companion name of Mrs. Julian Northmore (whom seems to have affections toward Virginia’s father), the father’s private in-house secretary (Peter Tallack), and a man whom under false-pretenses of wealth is hitting on Virginia (Henry Ransom). Her father, Sir Bernard, having too much money and time in retirement, often pursues human interest cases. His current fad is prison reform.

Tallack, on Sir Bernard’s behalf, schedules all of them to visit the local prison and see what the true conditions are like. While there, they meet Cressman, whom talks privately and in earnest with Sir Bernard. What is whispered between the two, we are never told. A couple hours later, the warden is informed that Cressman has died, from an apparent suicide. However, Tallack remarks that a man on the verge of pointing his finger at the true murderer would hardly kill himself. Furthermore, he notes, that he saw someone pass him a drink, while they were departing. Virginia supports this claim, as she too saw the mug.

It is later ascertained that he indeed consumed poison from the mug. The five (Sir Bernard, daughter Virginia, Mrs. Julian Northmore, Peter Tallack, and Henry Ransom) are immediately under suspicion, as they were within the time-table as suspects to have slipped Cressman the poison.

Throughout the rest of the novel, Tallack acts like an amateur detective, openly theorizing how each of the four (himself excluded, because one does not accuse their own self) could or would have murdered Cressman, what evidence he might have had on each and the outcome. The evidence he creates is spectacularly damning on all counts, and everything remarkably comes to a head when it is learned that Amelia Cressman appears to know who performed the actual murder!

That night, infuriated by the police constantly tracking their every move, Virginia stages an escape for the five to a night club and announces loudly to the driver a different location. The police are lulled into a false security and accidentally permit the car to slip away. No fear; they know which night club they are heading toward, right? Wrong. On arrival, they realize that they were duped.

Private detective Bartholomew Dane and Inspector Thackeray are irked to learn of the deceit, and to further vex the situation, Cressman’s widow is found stabbed to death. Fully realizing the importance that one of these fools is a cunning murderer, they decide to lay a trap for the man or woman, by setting the final climatic scene to lure the killer into the open.

They fool the ill-fated person into believing that Cressman’s wife has actually not only survived the stabbing, but, is coming to the house to finger her would-be killer. As the lady enters and is announced by the butler, the killer, shockingly, turns out to be Peter Tallack, whom in reality is Sir Bernard’s dead nephew!!!

(Earlier in the novel we learn that the nephew, whose real name is not Peter Tallack, of course, got into a fight in America with a New York “tough” by the name of the Bowery Kid, over a girl. Reportedly, on being slain by the Bowery Kid, she told the police that the dead man was actually slain BY THE BOWERY KID, in order to save his life. Now, he and she had shrewdly returned to England and in order to avoid a scandal, had slain others to obtain his own father’s Will, which declared him the initial rights holder to the monies and estate. However, being a murderer, he could never claim to be heir. He’d have been locked up! Hence, the murders and blackmail racket).

Returning to the house, on hearing Cressman’s wife’s name announced by the butler, he draws out his gun and seeks to make good his escape but is thwarted at the open window by the police. He ends his life by blowing out his brains. His girl-friend maintains her silence as to his true identity in order to still obtain the promised blackmail funds and not sully the family name….

The Prison Murder by Rex Dark

Jeff Cook, illustrator / artist

Over two decades ago, I made a conscious effort to shift from American publications to British, with a focus on wartime and postwar mushroom publishers.

While visiting the house, or, more precisely, the attic of Howard Devore, I purchased a few wartime efforts by the Mitre Press. One was “The Man Who Tilted the Earth” by Justin Atholl. The copy appeared to me desperately distressed, with worn covers and fraying, well-thumbed edges. However, this title is not the point of this article. The point is, I love the crudely executed artwork that burped into existence seemingly only during those war years.

ATHOLL The Oasis Of Sleep

The Atholl cover was not signed, but, I had read the story and began hunting further Atholl books. My next title was “The Oasis of Sleep.” This was signed by illustrator Jeff Cook, and the vibrantly bold style caught my eye immediately. I wanted more by this guy. But, what other books had he illustrated? The Internet was still young back then, I was still on dial-up, and I was on the wrong side of The Great Pond to pursue a research endeavor at the British Library. So, I did it the hard way, and learned that Jeff Cook did not simply appear during the war years.

He began much earlier….

The earliest illustrated effort by Jeff Cook appears to be actually not with books, but, on sheet music covers! His artwork can be found on pieces released by Lawrence Wright Music Company (as early as 1929), B. Feldman & Co., Gilbert & Nicholls, and Cecil Lennox Ltd., etc. The last known piece that I have traced appears in 1935, with perhaps one further in 1940. For the most part, none of the covers are exciting. So, how did he hop from sheet music to book covers? I haven’t the foggiest, but, I hold out hope that someone from his family may one day find this article and fill in the blanks.

Moving along, the earliest known book illustration occurs in 1933, with children’s books for the publishers Art & Humour Publishing:

  • Elfin Adventures
  • Woodland Fairies

He next appears handling a handful of dust jackets for Wells, Gardner & Co., illustrating the covers of the following books:

  • Alice A. Methley “Summer Hours and Summer Flowers” (1937)
  • Alice A. Methley “Winter Days and Winter Ways” (1937)
  • William Rainey “Admiral Rodney’s Bantam Clock” (1938)
  • Harold Bindloss “The Boys of Wildcat Ranch” (1938)
  • Daniel DeFoe “Robinson Crusoe in Short Words” (?)
    cover art by Gordon Robinson, with interiors by GR and Cook

From 1939 to 1941, I have found no evidence of his output. Could be I simply haven’t located them yet, or, perhaps, he enlisted. Cook resurfaces, illustrating several covers for Everybody’s Books and Mitre Press, from 1942-1944.

He then turned his hand to children’s books, illustrating covers and supplying interior art for the Walker Toy Book ‘Dinky Series’ published by Renwick of Otley, with such titles as:

  • Kitchen Capers” (#75)
  • The Old Chimney Corner” (#80)
  • The Old Mill” (#83)
  • Scarum Sam” (#87)
  • Tea Time Tale“(#91)

Also for the same publishers, “Our Boys’ Tip Top” was an omnibus loaded with tales by F. W. Gumley and others. The frontispiece was by Jeff Cook, and internally, he supplied illustrations to tales by Arthur Groom and L. E. Shorter.

Additionally, he supplied art to at least one postcard, for “The White Horse Hotel, Bampton, Devon.”

So, who is Jeff Cook?  With his earliest known piece appearing circa 1930, I wanted to believe that he got into illustrating at a fairly young age, perhaps out of high school or college. With that purely as my basis, this, below, I believe to me by man. If anyone has any further information about Jeff Cook, please contact me.

Jeffrey Cook (11 Feb 1907, died 13 Oct 1979)
son to Frederick COOK and Kate Annie ROWLAND (married 1894)
siblings:
Gladys (10 May 1900; died 1982)
Clifford (Dec 1905)
Bernard (19 Feb 1908; died 1990)
Kate (3 Feb 1910; died 1998)
Elizabeth (20 Dec 1914; died 1999)
It’s also possible he had two earlier sibs, names of Donald and Hilda.

 

Jeff Cook, illustrator / artist