NEXT STOP, THE MORGUE by Bevis Winter (the fourth Steve Craig thriller)

Next Stop–The Morgue is the fourth (of 9) Steve Craig private-eye thriller, published by Herbert Jenkins Ltd. in 1956.

The blurb on the jacket reads:

Craig is hired by an uncommunicative character to keep an eye on his daughter.
The girl turns out not to be the man’s daughter, but she certainly bears watching.
Then Craig’s client dies in peculiar circumstances.
It looks like murder to Craig, and from half a dozen suspects with
ready-made motives he begins to comb the facts. But it is not all hard graft.
The girls in the case are shapely and disposed to be clinging; and Steve,
ever-ready to mix business with pleasure, does little to discourage them.
Kitty, knowing the symptoms, first purrs warningly and then shows her
manicured claws. Money, vice and scandal spice this story which starts
with the suspected murder of a mystery-man and ends with
the death of an alluring nymphomaniac
.”

Well, that blurb isn’t entirely accurate. Kitty certainly doesn’t sharpen her claws on any competition. She scarcely shows sexual interest in Craig. And I’d hardly call the alluring girl a nympho, though she certainly utilizes her feminine abilities to get her way. The rest of the blurb concisely gives you the low-down, but leaves out a whole bunch at the same time. And I plan on doing the same, in case someone plans on obtaining a copy to read. But who cares when they are drooling over that luscious red-head doll-baby on the dustjacket? Without further ado, let’s provide some additional plot-fodder.

NEXT STOP THE MORGUE cover

The story opens with an exhausted Steve Craig at home, tired and hungry. The doorbell rings. He opens it. An older gentleman (Daneston) enters, and hires Steve Craig to follow his daughter (Constance) discreetly. Steve accepts the assignment for $500 cash. Departing, Daneston enters the elevator and a young, lovely lady steps onto Steve’s floor. She seems to be searching for the right door, when Steve offers assistance. He’s convinced she is looking for someone named Dickerson (must be a neighbor, introduced in a prior novel) but she wants him!

Seems she has a problem with some guy blackmailing her, and she wants a strong man to make sure he leaves her alone after she pays. Steve ends up hijacked by Marcia Van Bergen and driven to her house-party. There is no blackmailer. Firing his ire further is the discovery that his own secretary (Kitty) aided in the deceit. Irritated, tired, and still hungry, Kitty placates his mood by insisting he stay for the party and enjoy the complimentary food.

Steve relents, and eventually is introduced to the younger sister (Betty) for whom the party is hosted. Left alone with her for a moment, he makes small-talk and offers to dance with her, only to rebuffed. Thinking she is a snob, he is later informed that she is actually paralyzed from the waist down.

Embarrassed, Steve seeks to apologize for his ignorance, only to stumble upon her outside in the dark, talking to a strong man named Marcus. Calling to her in the dark, he finds himself physically assaulted by this behemoth of a brute and knocked unconscious. Waking ten minutes later, he borrows a Caddy and returns home, to sleep and recuperate.

The next day, Steve assumes his role trailing Daneston’s daughter (Constance) all over town. She eventually leads him to a young man (Mike Larkman) involved in an aquatic job, something along the line of the famous Billy Rose’s Aquacade, which involves swimming, music, and dance. He’s young, fit, and good-looking.

Departing, her vehicular meanderings finally lands him at a remote, rural barn. He abandons his wheels and hikes on foot. Entering stealthily, he hears voices on the next level. Climbing a ladder, he sees Constance stroking and caressing a huge beast of a man. He appears to be an imbecile (and, yes, he is). To his disgust he watches as she kisses him. Ironically, he notices she is equally repulsed. She appears to be gearing him up for something awful, trying to increase his anger at someone. But who? Why? To what purpose? He slowly eases himself back down the ladder when it becomes apparent that Constance intends to leave, but Steve makes too much noise. They hear him and he hauls butt, only to be pursued by the behemoth, who turns out to be Marcus, the same man who assaulted him at the party!

Having lost track of his car in the dark, he’s overtaken but manages to escape. Next day, he goes to report to Daneston and finds him arguing with a young man wielding a gun. Entering, he breaks up the confrontation and goes so far as to disarm the hoodlum, who appears to be blackmailing Daneston to the tune of thousands of dollars.

Getting rid of him, Steve tells Daneston that Constance isn’t his daughter, that she’s actually Daneston’s much, much, MUCH younger wife! She’s 34 years younger. And was formerly his secretary for a good while. Not divulging his knowledge up to then of Constance’s moves, he stays on the job and follows her the next day to a remote cabin and finds Constance and aqua-boy Larkman having sex. Disgusted, Steve realizes the case is essentially done. He detests divorce case investigations. He wants out.

Next day, he calls Daneston, deciding to hand back what remains of the unspent $500 and quit the assignment, only to learn Daneston swan-dived off his balcony and went splat. Visiting the apartment, he walks in and speaks with the police and family doctor. Steve’s convinced that someone tossed Daneston over the balcony, and that while Daneston’s medication does make him drowsy, wasn’t sufficient for the mishap. Plus, Constance, the widow, is feigning to be distraught; Steve walks into her bedroom and finds her on the bed, with the doctor leaning over her, making out! That’s now her ex-husband, Larkman, Marcus, and the “good” family doctor she’s locked lips with. Good grief.

More things don’t add up (would hardly be a detective novel if they did) and he wants to know more about Marcus, the imbecile. Constance was winding Marcus up for something. Murder? He could have tossed Daneston over the balcony. But, why? Clearly Constance inherits, plus life insurance, etc.  But what does Marcus get out it? Her? Maybe he thinks so, but no way in hell is she keeping that date!

Next day, Steve decides to visit Betty, the paralyzed girl. He learns that Betty and Marcus scarcely know each other. Marcus works at a farm run by an elderly couple. She, being crippled, tries to relate to the introverted, quiet Marcus. Eventually they hit it off, and Steve learns that Marcus has taken Betty for rides in his beat-up delivery truck, etc. Nothing more, nothing less. Betty insists that Marcus is not capable of violence, except in a protective manner. Then why assault Steve that night at the party? Betty informs him that her sister does not approve of Betty mixing with Marcus, and he was worried Steve had seen too much.

Not convinced, Steve trips out to the barn at night, to discover a corpse tossed against a fence. Turning on his flashlight, he gazes upon the beaten and throttled Constance. Looks like Marcus lost control and strangled her to death after learning she wouldn’t keep her promise. Steve hears a scream and finds Marcus hauling another woman into the barn. Steve recognizes his own secretary, Kitty, as the victim! She came out there not wanting Steve to handle the beast alone, and, against his orders, she made the drive, but instead came upon Marcus in the dark. Steve eventually gets Kitty free of Marcus and ties him up to the sturdy ladder. Then he phones the police from the elderly couple’s home.

Betty learns of the arrest and arrives at the police station with a lawyer. They talk to the jailed Marcus and eventually gather that Marcus, just like Steve, accidentally came upon the corpse of Constance. In fear, he retreated, then heard a noise, and saw Kitty approaching. Fearing for her life, he grabbed her, smothered her mouth, and was secreting her into the barn for her own safety, fearing the murderer was still on the premises, especially since he saw Steve’s flashlight beam and believed Steve to be the culprit.

The police chief releases Marcus with the aid of additional facts. Constance had flesh under her nails from clawing her assailant. Marcus was scratch-free. Steve is annoyed at the embarrassment of having accused an innocent man of murder. We learn that Marcus was Daneston’s imbecile son, from his first marriage. That wife went insane and died in an asylum. Not wanting the son, he gave the boy to his late wife’s parents! Hence the elderly couple at the farm raising him.

There remains one last mission. Arrest the person that murdered Constance. That leaves only one person with a motive: aqua-boy Mike Larkman.

Steve revisits that isolated decrepit cabin and finds Larkman inside sitting against the wall, with not a care in the world. He confesses that his jealousy of Constance’s constant flirting with men incensed him. He even went so far as to catch her smooching Marcus! Confronting her outside the barn, the fiery Constance sent him into an insane frenzy. By the time they were finished arguing and pushing one another around, she was dead. Mortified at what he had done, he vacated.

Steve discovers that Larkman has overdosed on the late Daneston’s medication. Larkman is rapidly going from drowsy to unconscious. Lifting the dead-weight upon his shoulders, Steve hauls him out of the cabin and carries him to his car, then speeds to a ward six miles away. Instructing the doc what med the man overdosed on, they get to work pumping his stomach…so that he may live to die, properly, by execution.

A fun novel from start to finish, one I scarcely had the ability to set aside. Each concluding chapter begged me to read the next, and given that I tend to read at night, you can bet I lost hours of sleep each night. But, hey! how about a little bit of background on the author…

Following the conclusion of World War Two, Bevis Winter found work editing and publishing Stag, a humorous magazine, from 1946-1948. Between those years, he contributed articles and short stories to Stag and other publications, honing his literary skills. Following the publication in 1947 of Sad Laughter, a collection containing some of his humorous short stories, Bevis sold in 1948 his first thriller Redheads Are Poison, followed in 1949 with his second thriller, Make Mine Murder (blogged back in 2016).

An avalanche of novels flowed from his typewriter from 1950-1954, mostly under his alias: Al Bocca. With the mushroom-publishers going out of business due to harsh English fines, censorship, bannings, and jail sentences, Winter rapidly found work writing under his own name for the respectable publisher Herbert Jenkins, supplying them with nine Steve Craig thrillers. These have been translated worldwide into a variety of foreign languages. And much to my own personal delight, the late 2022 issue of Paperback Parade published by crime-collecting afficionado Gary Lovisi features a bibliography on Bevis Winter! And if you wish to read this novel, good luck! Some lucky person(s) purchased the few copies that were on ABE. Maybe they had an inside track to the Winter bibliography.

NEXT STOP, THE MORGUE by Bevis Winter (the fourth Steve Craig thriller)

She Was No Lady by Al Bocca

Unlike the previously blogged Al Bocca gangster novel, this story isn’t a gangster novel. Oh, don’t get me wrong…there are gangsters. The plot here revolves around protagonist Al Bocca (yeah, the fictional name of the author) who is a private investigator. More on the plot in a moment.

She Was No Lady

She Was No Lady was published by Scion Ltd. circa July 1950 per Whitaker’s Index under the Al Bocca alias; as previously discussed, this is one of a handful of pseudonyms belonging to Bevis Winter. The digest-sized paperback features cover art signed “Ferrari”. This was one of many aliases used by Philip Mendoza. One glimpse at the cover art (a canary blonde dame with large jugs, bra and scanties disclosed, and long shapely legs, wielding a small handgun) and you know that the Irish censor board were all over it. A quick look at their register proves we are correct. I imagine it was banned by other countries as well.

My copy has a faded “Brown’s Book Exchange” rubber stamped under the author’s name, and I’m grateful to the person that smartly placed it where the artwork itself would remain unmarred. It’s a well-read copy, with a reading crease, and several dog-ear creases to the lower right cover. Otherwise, clean and sound.

The novel opens on page 5 and concludes on page 127. Our protagonist (Al Bocca) is walking the street with his luggage, having just departed the Okeville Station (um, there’s no such place). He eventually enters a bar. Departing, he’s met by a gun-totin’ cretin, and soon joined by another creep. They force him into a taxi and eventually arrive in a disreputable part of California. (I’m not sure by this point what city we are in, but the author claims we are going to the corner of Wellington and Medusa; there’s no such intersection). They push him into a room, and an ape going by the name of Big Nick begins to systematically slap him around. Seems Bocca is suffering maltreatment due to a case of mistaken identity. They want some bloke named Murray. He convinces them to look at his identification. Wrong name, wrong guy, and worse yet, Bocca is a P.I.

Convinced that Bocca isn’t Murray, they apologize and help the messed-over Bocca to his feet. Big Nick instructs the hoods to drive Bocca to his lodgings. They do so, with reluctance. One decides to get smart and follows Bocca to his apartment door. Big mistake. Bocca has recovered his wits and decides to exact vengeance for the beating he suffered. After doing so, Bocca extracts the fellow’s gun, dumps out the cartridges, hands it back, and tosses him out.

Next day, Bocca is hired over the phone by a nameless entity. They meet at his apartment, and Bocca is nonplussed to find himself looking at a man that seems to resemble himself. This clearly is Murray, the guy the hoods were hunting. He’s got a job for Bocca: find a girl. Her name is Mickie. Seems Murray is worried about the girl who has gone missing. And he’s paying Bocca a cool grand in cash to find her.

We later learn from other sources that it’s believed she is holding jewels from a heist pulled off by a bunch of gangsters and her brother. So, the gist is there was a jewelry heist. Something went wrong. The jewels are missing. Some turn up at a pawn shop. The girl’s brother is arrested for passing stolen goods. He serves time. The girl is suspected of hiding the goods. Two rival factions are looking for the goods. Murray is later found dead in Bocca’s pad. Why? Did the killer(s) know he was Murray or think they were bumping off Bocca? Meanwhile, the brother escapes prison. Toss in a two-timing doll-face and you’ve got part of the picture. But let me tell you, Bevis Winter never, ever, makes it that easy. He likes to toss in a twist…somewhere.

Now, I won’t ruin the plot from here, but let me tell you, it’s a fun and wild ride, and reminds me just why I love reading Bevis Winter. His detective novels carry a strong pace, enough tough hard-boiled dialogue and sarcasm to make you smile throughout. The most irritating part of his novels: a lack of attention to regional details. If you are from California, his dropping of locales will bewilder you. Most are fake or so far apart that the distance makes no sense. Where is Bocca based? Hard to say, unless I can trace that very first novel that Bocca debuts. Even then, I’m not confident we will learn the truth.

Until then, I’ll look forward to tackling my next Bevis Winter novel.

She Was No Lady by Al Bocca

The Long Sleep by Al Bocca

The Long Sleep was published in 1950 by Scion Ltd. and represents the 4th book written by Bevis Winter under the Al Bocca pseudonym. The cover art is signed Ferrari; this is the alias of Philip Mendoza, who also signed as: Garcia, Zero, Gomez, etc.

The novel opens with Rick Morrison walking down the ‘hood, having recently been released from prison for a small-time crime. He’s looking to hook up with his girlfriend (Lola Madigan) only to discover that she has been two-timing him with an Italian “wop” by the name of Matt Corelli.

Disclaimer: Keep in mind that this is a 1950s novel, and we are still fairly fresh from exiting World War Two against the Germans and Italians. Slurs such as “wop” were commonplace terms in “gangster” novels. Any racism in these novels are not necessarily any reflection on the author’s actual personal beliefs.

Disgusted that Lola has been lip-smacking Corelli, Rick decides he will snatch her back from Corelli… But first, he needs money.

Picking up where he left off (criminally) he hooks up with another ex-jail-mate by the name of Lee Ackerman, who has the schematics to a rich old man’s home. He also knows that he and a butler are the only pair in residence, their movements, sleeping patterns, etc. Breaking in proves to be easy, but the whole scene goes haywire when the old man atop the staircase points a firearm down at them.

Rick refuses to shoot the old man. What’s worse, Lee Ackerman finds himself in a tussle on the ground with the butler. Tossing his handgun down to Lee in the darkness, Rick moves to leave when the gun goes off. The butler is done for, and the old man falls down the staircase to his death. Departing the house with the stolen goods, they hook up with their driver (a young female named Sonia) and speed away.

The goods are cached along the way and the trio split up. Rick phones his partner the next day only to discover a voiceless person has answered the phone. Repeating the call again nets the same result. A lifted receiver, but no speaker! Fearing the worst, Rick discovers via the newspaper that the police have arrested Ackerman and Sonia. The former has been charged with murder. Blood and dirt and scrapings are found on his body and clothes. Sonia, being quite young and inexperienced with the law, apparently has coughed up the fact that a third party (Rick) was involved.

Realizing the police are hunting him, Rick enlists the aid of Lola to obtain a fast car, then he races to where he believes the money and jewels are cached, finally discovers the location and the pair make their getaway. Lola isn’t too keen on bugging out on Corelli, as he has long reaches. The man practically owns her, having gifted her with jewels, furs, etc.

Ditching their wheels, the pair stereo-typically hop a railway car and sleep off their fright inside and permit the train to assist in their nocturnal escape. With the train coming to a sudden stop, Rick and Lola jump out before their “car” can be searched. Lola’s having no fun over the expense of having ditched a cozy situation with a repulsive-looking man in the city versus being on the lam with a loser with a pretty face.

They eventually obtain another set of wheels and make their way to San Francisco, and into the joint run by Siegal. Explaining that he is a wanted man out East, and having pulled off a botched jewelry heist, Siegal agrees to help but unwilling to match Rick’s cash demands for the jewels. Figuring the jewels to be too hot, he offers a much lower rate and travel out of the country. But the deal sours when Seigal learns that Rick has a girlfriend along for the ride. Demanding that Rick brings the jewels and the girl along for inspection, Rick finally relents and agrees to the terms.

Arriving at the agreed meeting place proves to be Rick’s undoing. Turns out that back East, Corelli has put out the word that a hood has made off with his girl and wants the girl back…and the man held. Rick is beat and knocked out and left in a houseboat. Waking up sore and bloodied, Rick scours the houseboat for a means of escape. All means are firmly secured. But, discovering he still has matches, he sets door frame ablaze and rapidly begins to suffocate from the flames and smoke. The door frame begins to weaken as he continues to throw his body against it then finally parts.

Making his escape, Rick drops into the water as people ashore notice the boat is on fire. Swimming far from the scene, he drags his body from the water. His suit is a mess, his twisted and battered, but he makes his way into a shady part of town and is met by a prostitute, who takes him up to her apartment to get cleaned up…after he promises to pay her.

While in her pad, we learn her sob story. Her old man died at San Quentin in the gas chamber after a botched job, leaving her a widow, and working her body for cash. Rick and her end up on the bed making out. Next day, he phones a cab and makes to leave, promising to mail her the money. Shockingly, she states she doesn’t want the money, that he can keep it. She’s more interested in skipping town with him, just for him. Not the money. Just goes to show you can’t always judge a book (or a person) by their circumstances. That’s something that turns up in various books I’ve read by Bevis Winter…a moral within a story.

Meanwhile, on that very day of Rick departing the prostitute’s pad, Siegal has Lola bound and gagged in his place. He’s developing a soft spot for her sultry body and decides to rape her before Corelli arrives. In fact, he spouts his intentions to her quite clearly, explains that Corelli would never believe her over him anyway. That Rick has been disposed off on the wharf. You get the gist…and so he removes her gag, she begins calling him all manner of names and other foul things spew forth. Siegal begins to paw her, remove her garments, kiss her all over, which proves to be a fatal mistake. Lola sinks her teeth into his neck and removes a chunk of flesh and he, in a fit of rage, heaves her. Distracted by his less than affectionate amorous intentions, he vaguely hears a scraping sound… The window opens and Rick leaps in, a gun in hand.

Siegal is mortified, and has every right to be. He’s stuck in a room with a vengeful maniac and he himself has foolishly bolted the door from allowing his toughs to enter and save his life while he molested Lola!

Retrieving the jewels from Siegal’s jacket, Lola departs by means of the fire escape, and Rick levels the gun and puts two rounds into Siegal’s gut. Dropping down after Lola, they both make off to his secreted wheels, when another shot in the dark is fired, and two gunmen step out of the darkness. They are Corelli’s men. And Lola is captured. Rick knows he’s bested…

…and now we are formally introduced to Corelli as a fat, flabby, jowl-faced character, with broken English. Corelli and his thugs decide to take Rick out to the rural part of California, find a good canyon, and push Rick in his stolen jalopy off the cliff. Rick doesn’t like this idea one bit and puts up a struggle, only to be knocked over the head; Lola herself is physically shaken like a rag and slapped violently by Corelli a dozen times.

Rolling the clock backwards to Rick and Lola’s escape and immediate capture by Corelli’s hoods, Siegal’s guards break in the door and find their boss dead. Spotting the open window, they look out into the darkness and spot 3 male figures and a dame climbing into a luxury sedan. Certain that Corelli and his 2 hoods have pulled a double-cross (not realizing it is Rick, the girl, and 2 hoods) they gather their own wheels and heavy artillery. Siegal’s smartest guard, Murphy, is the one to utter the oath that whomever killed their boss will receive “the long sleep” treatment. Hence the title of this novel.

Knowing full well where Corelli usually hunkers down, Murphy and the boys locate the rental and decide to rig the rental for a whole different sort of trip. Retreating to their own wheels, Murphy is pumped to follow the rental and see what sort of mayhem ensues…

Tossing Rick into his own stolen wheels, Corelli climbs into the rental, and the pair of cars make for the mountains. Crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, the driver of Rick’s wheels looks back in the mirror and in horror watches as his boss’s rental is out of control. The steering, clutch, brakes, all are useless. The car careens out of control on the bridge, over the rails, and plummets over the side, taking Corelli, one guard, and Lola down to certain death. Rick’s driver pulls over and gets out, looking down. There’s no need to look for survivors. His both and partner are dead, the jewels also having gone down with them. Murphy and the boys are enjoying the deadly bedlam.

Cops are immediately on the scene. The driver makes a run for it, pulling his gun. Another cop opens the rear door of the car and finds Rick unconscious, stuffed inside. The guard doesn’t get far before he is shot dead. And so ends this novel…we can only figure that Rick goes to jail as the final loose end, an obvious conclusion as he is a wanted man.

If you are into gangster novels and movies, this one certainly picks up the pace in the last quarter of the novel with all manner of twists and turns in the plot, violence, sex, etc. What it lacks is Bevis Winter’s customary facetiousness. Literally, there is no sarcasm nor wit present, but plenty of subtle irony.

The Long Sleep by Al Bocca