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 and wit present, but plenty of subtle irony.

The Long Sleep by Al Bocca

“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)

“Detective Crime Stories” by Lee Dexter

Detective Crime Stories

Published 1949 by Curtis Warren Ltd., Detective Crime Stories collects 1 novella and 2 novelettes. The first is by Lee Dexter (real name, Denis T. Hughes) and, frustratingly enough, it has no working title. The remaining novelettes are supplied by Bevis Winter.

Independent reporter Lee Dexter is asked by an old friend (Danny) to look into the murder of his father; he mentored Lee many years earlier as a cub reporter. Arriving in town, Lee runs across unsavory characters in his quest to unearth the truth. He learns that the old man had been running articles in the paper slandering one of two men running for office. Oddly enough, he had been slandering a seemingly “clean” citizen.

To worsen matters, the murdered man’s son takes over the town newspaper and runs a column citing the other would-be politician (correctly) as the murderer. Said party sends a bunch of hooligans down to the paper and destroys all the apparatuses, and beats up Danny and the employees. Hospitalized, Lee looks in on Danny, and insists he remains there until steady.

While the son is bedridden, Lee has a bunch of parts flown in and gets the paper operational again. With proper adeptness, he adroitly runs off a proper paper, full of allusions and facts, and has enough papers printed to be given to every citizen … for free!!!

This naturally angers the gangster-politician; he kidnaps the rival’s daughter, to whom Danny is in love! Lee and Danny (now out of the hospital) join forces to hunt the missing girl and end up rescuing her in a shack, far away. Witness to her own abduction, she is able to point out the villains and have them arrested.

The story concludes with her father in office, and Danny getting hitched to the girl. This criminal affair cleared up, Lee Dexter returns to New York City.

The above is well-written, if not somewhat erratic, but pleasurable enough to retain the reader’s interest.

The next tale is a novelette by Bevis Winter, entitled The Ghoul. And it sure is an intriguing story. Private investigator Sebastian Riffkin is holed-up during a storm at home, when a short man enters and spiels his recent life problem. He needs Riffkin’s help. See, he got in deep at a gangster’s party, gambling to the tune of $600. Well, he doesn’t have anything close to that. Deciding to end his life by jumping off a skyscraper rather than let the gangster work him over, he is halted by a feminine voice. Turning, he is shocked to see a girl up there with him. She offers to pay off his debt, cash in hand. In return, she wants his soul. (Heh? What kind of a gangster story is this, you ask? Souls go hand-in-hand with the weird and uncanny genres, not crime thrillers, right? Right. I agree. Well, the author has other ideas.) He accepts the offer, pays off the debt. So, Riffkin asks, why is this guy in his place, and what is the new problem? The bloke states that the dame said to meet her and her boyfriend at midnight, at Riffkin’s place! Riffkin is not amused and asks for the name of the boyfriend. Turns out he is none other than “Muscle” Goole, aka, “The Ghoul.” He died a short while ago, and Riffkin is partly held to blame. The pair of ghosts ethereally put in their appearance, and demand the man’s soul, so that the Ghoul can shield himself behind a “cleaner” soul than his own and enter the pearly gates. (Note: Heaven and Hell, etc, are never directly mentioned. Nor is God, etc.) Riffkin tricks the pair out of obtaining the soul, stating that the man sold HIM a second mortgage on his soul. (Can you hear the canned laughter?) Instead, Riffkin sends out an invitation to the man that held the party in which the client is now in debt, because he in reality was directly responsible for The Ghoul’s death! He foolishly arrives at Riffkin’s place and the two ghost lovers appear before him and he is led to trip down a long flight of steps and dies. They collect the soul and go UP. It’s not long before they return to Riffkin’s apartment, lamenting those UP there rattled off a list of crimes against the dead man’s soul, making him unfit for The Ghoul to use. Riffkin finds this amusing, that those UP THERE know more about DOWN HERE than the police could ever prove! Realizing that THEY have a better accounting system on Earth life than live humans do, that rules out The Ghoul using the gangster’s soul. Since the pair want to stay together (ah, lovers!) Riffkin suggests the dame use the soul instead, to further tarnish her image, and they both will be then refused and sent packing, together, DOWN THERE. It backfires. The Ghoul is unloaded to go to DOWN THERE, and they are separated. She returns, spitting fire, and crushed, until Riffkin states that there is a swell guy UP THERE already looking for a swell gal, and so she departs to hook up with him! It works.

It’s a goofy, humorously written gangster-ghost story, but nicely handled and entertaining to the very last.

In Pickle Profit, Bevis Winter brings back Sebastian Riffkin to do some dirty work. A lawyer wants him to make sure a young man does not marry until he is 30 years of age, or he will be disinherited out of several millions of dollars. He takes on the task, befriends the young man, and finds the trouble worse than he thought. The young man is a romantic and attaches himself to babes constantly, who in turn try to latch onto the now-wealthy man. The catch in the clause also stipulates that the lawyer, on reading the Will, can not divulge to any party the sub-clause, regarding marriage, etc. Despite this, he divulged it secretly to Riffkin, knowing he could trust him with this assignment. He comes to fail when the man clearly is enamored with a girl and she, him! But, remarkably, she announces that she can’t, won’t, and shall not marry him! Fine for Riffkin, but he smells a rat. Turns out she is on the up-and-up. She was born into a cult that believes in avoiding marriage, due to broken vows, etc, and she is torn between her sect beliefs and her love for the young man. Riffkin to the rescue! I won’t ruin the absurdity of the plot twists, but, they end up married AND retain the millions, without divulging the sub-clause. The ending and coincidences are highly improbable, but hell, you ARE reading a FICTION story!!!

 

 

“Detective Crime Stories” by Lee Dexter

“Same Song, Next Verse” by Max Steeber and Richard Bernstein (1953)

PANTHER 91 Same Song, Next Verse
Same Song, Next Verse by Max Steeber and Richard Bernstein Panther Books 91, 1953

In 1953, UK publisher Hamilton & Co., via their mass market paperback line Panther Books, published two books within the same month, co-authored by Max Steeber and Richard Bernstein.

Those books:
Same Song, Next Verse – Panther # 91
One If by Night – Panther # 93

Both writers are Americans from the Hollywood film industry, and both books are likely rejected film scripts that they reformatted into novels, which only found an available print market in England.

Richard Bernstein was born August 8, 1922 in Rochester, New York and died October 29, 1983, in North Hollywood, California. During the late 1940s-1970s, he was a screenplay and film writer along with producer on various films.

Max Steeber is the alias of Maximilian Petrus Ribbers; he was born on January 10, 1919 and died on February 22, 2011 in Van Nuys, Los Angeles, California.

Jointly, the two also worked on the film The Gun Hawk.

The cover art to Same Song, Next Verse is by John Richards, and features an iconic dangerous blonde in yellow attire; in the background, a hulk-like brute. Reading the yellow strip at the top of the cover, you know immediately the brutish fellow with the Three Stooges-esque “Moe” haircut is a boxer.

The story opens with boxer Tony Alvarez mentally drifting back in time over the sequence of events that landed him in a car with two strange fellows: his promoter and a hanger-on, essentially.

Tony only knows how to fight. That’s his occupation, and he means to get to the top of the game and be rich. But he is always in hock to his promoter, throughout the novel. Snatches of his memories flit by quickly and without any real consistency or warning to leave any reader confused. We know in one moment Tony finds his father dying from a knife-wound, and learning the killer’s identity; he finds the slayer and despite knowing he’s up against a professional killer, wades into the knife-man; bloodied, Tony eventually disarms and kills him. The knife-man was already a wanted man for Tony’s father’s murder, and now Tony has added his own name to the role-call of wanted men by the local police. With his promoter’s aid, they flee the city. (Despite later in the novel returning to his hometown, no further mention of this murder is made, nor is he arrested.)

The rest of the novel is a succession of boxing fights, all wins, and his promoter taking a swing at a beloved New York boxer. Tony is supposed to lose, but instead, he wins and they rake in the moola. Naturally, the mob aren’t happy. We all know you don’t mess with the mob.

Through it all, Tony wants this night singer and stripper named Connie (the canary on the book’s front cover) to be his wife. He eventually strong-arms her into marrying him, crushing her hands until they bleed into his own meaty palms. Once the ceremony is complete, she hauls off and slaps him and disappears. He’s deeply angered but his promoter convinces him to ignore her (he can’t) and move along, that she will come back…only things take a turn…

The mob. They want their money. The promoter refuses to have Tony take the fall, because he can’t convince Tony to do any such thing. It’s not in his genetics. So, they beat the promoter viciously (no details given) and suddenly he placates them, that he will find a way.

So, he over-trains Tony, and keeps him drinking too much. Add fuel to the fire, he knows that Connie is sour over the marriage. Visiting her privately, he convinces her to join him in ruining Tony before the big fight. The mob stands to win BIG if Tony falls.

Enter Tony, going to Connie’s pad; she liquors him up and he discovers something wrong with the firewater. When the phone rings, he beats Connie to the phone and hears his promoter’s voice on the other end asking to know if the plan went through without a hitch. Realizing he’s been slipped a mickey, he departs without even dealing Connie any harm! Fast-forward, Tony is in the ring, his promoter missing, and getting out-boxed. He can’t seem to connect, deliver a solid blow, he’s too sluggish, and despite all this, refuses to throw in the towel. Eventually, he is K.O.’d

His fast fall from grace, his promoter fleeing town with his wife, and penniless, he attempts to abandon the squared ring and obtain a normal slob’s job. No go. Every job he takes, he destroys. He can’t even drive a simple route without destroying 3 trucks! Some years pass, he’s absolutely destitute, and makes one last try at the ring. He survives his bout, wins, but the cost is he loses vision in one eye.

Despite his eyesight loss, he determines to head West for another scheduled fight, but plays chicken with an approaching train, which he is certain he can beat. He is speeding recklessly across the terrain. He’s crossing the tracks at an angle in which he can finally turn his good eye along the rails and the bright head-beam of the locomotive obliterates Tony…

Naturally, the heavy-weight champion of the rails wins. It always does.

“Same Song, Next Verse” by Max Steeber and Richard Bernstein (1953)

“Danger at Midnight” by Frank Griffin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

“Danger at Midnight” by Frank Griffin

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

GNOME The Limping Death

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

Other known Gnome Publications:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Small is certain that the doctor is lying…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Murder Gets Around by Robert Sidney Bowen

Murder Gets Around is the sequel to Make Mine Murder, and once more features detective Gerry Barnes and (less prominently) his girlfriend, Paula Grant.

Murder Gets Around
Full Dust Jacket art

1947 – Crown Publishers (192-pages, 1st edition hardcover in jacket)
1955 – Lindqvist forlag (189-pages)
via the Meteor series, Number 27 (Sweden) as “Diamanter Till Bruden”
1956 – Horisont (142-pages)
via the Meteor series, Number 15 (Denmark) as “Diamanter der dræbte”
1957 – Kotkan kustannus (184-pages)
via the Tiikeri series, Number 14 (Finland) as “Timanttisormus morsiamelle”

The novel never saw a mass market English-language edition, in America, England, or Australia, to my knowledge. However, it was heavily syndicated in American small-town newspapers in late 1948 through 1949.

The murder centers around a love quadrangle. Gerry and Paula are dining and Paula is jealous of Gerry’s flirtations with a blonde while Gerry is angry due to a Frenchman’s interests in Paula. There’s only one way to eliminate the situation.

Murder!

Assuming you read my blog entry on Make Mine Murder, you’ll recollect the dead man in that novel was found on Paula’s bed. Here, we flip the scenario, and place the deceased client literally in Gerry’s office. In his office chair, to be precise. Gerry walks into his office, late, slated to keep an appointment with a Frenchman that served with the Underground resistance against the Nazis during WW2. He met the man at a party, and the man got into fight with another Frenchman.

Having arranged to meet that morning, he is chagrined to find the man at his desk, dead, a knife in his back. On the desk is a check to retain his services.

To make the situation more awkward, the police inspector from the first novel unexpectedly walks in, which perhaps is the worst coincidence in the world, but, truth is, shit happens. Gerry now has a murdered man in his office, and an inspector that isn’t generally pleased to have a new private dick working in his city. And a dead man presenting itself as material evidence to possibly lock Gerry away, to boot. Thankfully, the inspector realizes that Gerry couldn’t possibly have committed the crime (why not?) and logically, certainly wouldn’t have done it in his own office (again, why not?).

Unlike the prior novel, which heavily featured his snappy girlfriend, this one gives her the backseat treatment and Bowen permits his green detective more space to flex his wings. And get beat-up more often.

Gerry stumbles through life and meets various members of The Underground movement, and slowly unravels the plot, but not before being captured, blindfolded, severely beaten to near-death, and dumped unconscious into the river. Remarkably, his body floats to shore and he is rescued. Kind of. He wakes up in a shelter for drunks. They found him battered but reeking of alcohol, and lacking any form of personal identification. Realizing that he ought to be dead and can’t be released, he tells the caretaker to contact the police inspector. This he does, not believing the drunkard to be who he claims.

Naturally, he is nonplussed to have a real police inspector show up, and extract Gerry from his care. Gerry is forced to confess all he knows to the inspector; later, he is  brought home to get cleaned up and get real food into his system. A plan of attack of constructed, and Gerry plays his cards to the hilt, placing himself once again in harm’s way.

In the end, murders in the novel was committed to obtain an illegal trade in stolen diamonds. I won’t ruin the climax of this pulp political thriller by unveiling the identity of the villains, etc. Hence why I have strictly avoided dropping names, other than that of Gerry and his girlfriend. Personally, I enjoyed this novel seismically more than the first, as Bowen digs deeper into a tougher, grittier position than his first effort.

Obtaining a copy of this scarce novel might be a tougher proposition. Currently, there is only one copy on ABE for $45 (plus shipping).

Murder Gets Around by Robert Sidney Bowen

Spider Pete by Claude Stewart

STEWART Spider Pete

Sometime in 1946, Mitre Press published a 32-page (plus wraps) single-stapled booklet containing a selection of short stories by author Claude Stewart. I genuinely doubt that they are original to this publication. Most (if not all) of the Mitre collections of reprinted stories from a variety of sources: magazines, newspapers, journals, pulps, etc.

The cover features a young lady at her dressing table, putting on her facial makeup and screaming in absolute terror as a huge, hairy-legged spider tangles from the ceiling, about to pounce on her, while a creepy fellow lurks in the background.

Intrigued? Well, it was enough to hook me. I wanted to know.

Spider Pete leads off the collection, beginning on page 1 and ending on page 8. The story opens with Charlie Collins, Chief of Police to Wallington City, bored of his occupation and thankful that his contract was for only five years. Sadly, he was on the wrong side of completing those years. Nothing ever happened in Wallington City, nothing spectacularly out of the normal crimes, that is. Then a mysterious death is laid upon him to solve. A woman is found dead, and seems to show all the symptoms of dying from gas, however, her flat has no gas. He discovers an odd yellowish powdery substance near her, and suspects the powder to be the source of the problem. However, their scientific chemicals department hasn’t a clue what the item is. Yet another death occurs, this time a man. The newspapers carry the usual fanfare, that the police are stumped, murders go unsolved, etc. Collins is later in the week invited to a black tie affair, and while present, is shocked to see an old schoolmate, vastly different in appearance, but realizes it is he, for his mannerisms haven’t changed a bit, etc. This fellow is James P. Mullins, and after the party, they hook up. Drink, talk, the usual. He’s obviously the killer or the next to die, right? Ah, he’s the killer. While leaving the Chief alone in the room, Collins, unable to keep his natural instincts from investigating a covered bird-cage, discovers large spiders inside and…that yellowish powder, too. Mullins re-enters, discovers the game-is-up, explains he discovered these poisonous spiders while in Brazil, and brought them home. He trained them to follow orders and they released their poisonous yellow powders on cue, the gas given off kills the person. Mullins then releases one spider to attack the Chief, when, inexplicably, it turns and goes after Mullins…

Lend-Lease Murder spans pages 9 through three-quarters of page 18. Another typical story about irony. Young man rivals his brother, who is better at everything in life. Goes to war, while he himself is denied as inadequate. Brother obtains everything life can offer, while our fellow is dirt poor and can’t get his shit together. But, that aside, he loves and covets the finer things in life, appreciates them, something his brother does not. Fine art, clothing, drinks, lifestyle, etc., but, he can’t have them! So, we find our unlucky fellow working in a stylish nightclub, surrounded by the elite, when in walks a handful of American airmen. They party hard, get all the hot girls, become drunk…the place eventually closes for the night, and he and another worker are cleaning up the joint when he discovers one of airmen left his leather flight-jacket behind by accident. He keeps the jacket for his own. The two begin talking and he learns the other leads an unscrupulous life, working the black market trade. He wants in, so he can have money. The other agrees, they meet the big boss, and are instructed to hit a warehouse… Fast forward, the visit the warehouse, the night watchman stumbles upon our fellow and he bashes him over the head. They discover the warehouse 100% empty and figure they were played for patsies, and depart. Next day, our boy learns the watchman was found clubbed over the head and had died. Now he is freaking out, and nearly penniless. He figures he can’t return to his job, having practically quit, then spots an ad in the paper. A reward for the return of an American’s flight-jacket! He hates to part with it, but the money is too good to be true, so he brings it in, hands it over, receives the reward, goes to leave, and the cuffs are slapped on his wrists! What? Turns out that the jacket, had he gone through the pockets, contained various special papers, and when he knocked the fellow dead, those papers fell out, leaving the incriminating evidence behind. All the police now needed was for him to confess to the crime.

Overall, the best story in this feature is a scientific-crime thriller entitled Pay or Vanish, spanning the bottom quarter of page 18 through half of page 22. Now while I say “best,” I don’t mind any stretch mean that is a good tale. It has holes in the plot so big a semi-truck could roll through without scraping the edges. Our hero is an English secret agent and while checking in at a pay-phone he sees someone has written a message on the wall: “Rixley 3450.” Believing it to be a secret communication, he dials RIX 3450 and a woman answers. Keeping his voice low, he replies and she believes it is her lover. They meet and he shocks her by not being her lover (of course) but explains he understands she is in a predicament and wants to assist her. Uncannily, instead of thinking he a nutter, but fearful for her life, and needing to trust someone, she explains that they worked for a scientist in a secret laboratory. A special science was discovered, by which means the madman intends to blackmail the world for riches. Her boyfriend was supposed to the scientist and destroy everything, but has never returned. So, these two enter the premises, and our agent thinks the whole thing is a joke but discovers otherwise. The scientist is there, and before his eyes, he destroys the girl. Poof. She vanishes. Nothing left but her silver change and jewelry made of silver, which for some reason does not vanish. Another pile on the floor has more silver coins, and we learn that that is all remains of her boyfriend. The agent fires five bullets into him, but, the scientist hurls the substance out a window into the river. To his horror, people continue to disappear. How? Why? Has the madman already sold the secret to various parties? Or did they drink from the river?

Fatty Gives Evidence begins on lower quarter of page 22 and finishes on mid-28. I always despise the British “fatty” stories. They often turn up in young boys periodicals, making fun of fat kids, etc. Where will this one lead me? Fatty is an ex-model who turned to fat. When she was young and beautiful, she was scooped up by a rich millionaire and she got lazy and ate and ate and he told her she looked great until one day he said otherwise and it was too late to turn back. She was large and couldn’t be a model any longer. She assists a younger, lovely model with her wardrobe and makeup (for a living) now and insists the girl cease dating a particular wealthy man or he’ll steer her wrong. Return the gifts, etc or she might end up in a bad spot. She does. Fatty departs and is offered a ride home by another worker, when he stops, and claims he forgot something. Fatty knows that he is infatuated with the model, but says nothing. He comes running back, and begs her to forget that he ever went back in. She agrees. Next day, she discovers the girl was slain in her dressing room. The evidence points to the fellow, but, she turns the evidence to the suitor instead. The police investigate and learn that he did in fact murder the girl! Later, the innocent man asks why Fatty did this. She explains her past history, and that the suitor was actually HER original suitor. When she is finished, he never calls her Fatty again.

The final tale is The House with the Monkey Puzzle Tree, spanning the bottom quarter page 28 and ending on page 33 (inside rear cover). With such a title, I was hoping for a weird tale, but no luck there. It’s a crime story, of sorts. A woman and her child are roomers in a remote house far from town, and they are sneaking away in the night. The woman seems to have lost her marbles, and the child too young and useless, when they finally make it to town and look for help. A woman listens, then believing something is amiss, gets the police involved, but disregard it as the woman comes across as a mental lunatic. The woman still feels something is wrong and gets another cop to accompany her. The only bit of evidence that came through clearly was the near-whereabouts in which she may have roomed and a peculiar tree. They finally locate it at night, break in, find the place empty. The woman and cop split up, the cop disbelieving he is involved in this investigation, until the lady discovers a corpse. She faints and the story unveils that the place was used by black marketeers to move stolen goods, etc. and if the police had acted her the crazy woman’s ramblings earlier in the day, they would have caught all of them in the act. The irony? The first person the crazy lady came across at an intersection was the cop on traffic detail. She had tried to tell him the story but he dismissed her. Now, he realizes the error he made…

Spider Pete by Claude Stewart

The Finger of Death by Henry Keyworth

Henry Keyworth’s The Finger of Death was published by Kangaroo Books, owned and operated by David Lynn (aka: David McClelland, formerly of New Zealand) around 1944. The story text begins on page 3 and ends on 72.

The rear cover advertises Frippery Tip, an English satire by Stephen Ellison. The library at the Oxford University received that title in 1944.

kangaroo the finger of death

Henry Keyworth is also responsible for at least four other titles.

Black Market Murders
Death in Gelley Wood
Killer by Night
Murder at the Grange

The featured cover is not held by any major British library, whereas the other four are held. My copy clearly has a cover defect. While it may appear that the left margin (nearly a full inch) was exposed to light and faded as a result, this is not the case. One may clearly see that the bold-faced words running into those discolored areas are NOT affected. An unusual printer’s defect.

The Finger of Death is dedicated to “J.Y.C.” for “successfully combining domestic and literary art.”

The story involves a room full of business investors discussing the ill-fated venture of Atlett’s Investment Company, Ltd., and the fact that most of the locals that they represent will be financially in ruin while they, themselves, are rich and have their millions in numerous business investments, so their portfolios are perfectly sound (save for one investor, who has to face the music as he also invested his family money and lost all of it).

Shortly thereafter, Sir Allan Vale receives an ominous note:

“Dear Sir Allan, The Moving Finger Writes—writes your name off the list of the living. You are a thief, unpunishable by any law but my own. Prepare to die!”

Later that night, he awoke to a noise in his bedroom, and found a man leaping towards him with a gleaming blade rushing down upon him…

That morning, Superintendent Cleveland, of Scotland Yard, is assigned to the murder and visits the business Sir Allan worked at. He learns that their investment company is bankrupt, and discovers that another person has received the same notice. Worried about the safety of each investor, he requests the personal addresses of each directorate with the intention of removing them from the city to a remote location. There, he can keep an eye on each person until the case is solved.

Sadly, good intentions and well-thought-out plans move too slowly in this novel. Another directorate is murdered in his bedroom while a policeman is on the premises acting as guard! We learn the killer leapt the outside garden wall, climbed in the window and assaulted his second victim.

And so the onslaught of murders go, one by one eliminating each directorate, until it is not the Cleveland the solves the case, but one local Detective Sergeant Rogers. With three murders already attained, and a fourth now in the isolated safe-house, Rogers quickly flees the scene, leaving many to speculate that he either is in hot pursuit of the killer, he himself is the killer, or, the killer murdered Rogers and removed his body.

Not so fast! Pages are rapidly running out and Rogers, removed from the scene, in fact has reported back to Scotland Yard and the police with the intention of requesting aid to arrest the least likely murderer of all…Superintendent Cleveland, of Scotland Yard…???

Realizing time is short, Cleveland adroitly manipulates the placement of his guards in the house and the directors and one by one quickly slays two more in mere minutes! He then quickly moves in to kill the last director, knowing full-well that Rogers must have departed to request the arrest of Cleveland. Somewhere along the line, he must have slipped-up and revealed his hand!

The police are too late to save the life of the final director, however, his overly-protective mother isn’t. Not trusting the police to protect her son, after watching and learning of each director’s death, she situates herself to watch over her son. Spotting Cleveland stealthily moving into her son’ room, she creeps behind and discovers Cleveland with an upraised blade, bloodied, preparing to kill her son. She shoots Cleveland dead.

This was a fun British pulpish pot-boiler of a thriller, with the identity of the killer adequately veiled until nearly the concluding pages.

The Finger of Death by Henry Keyworth

Death Stills the Brush by F. W. Gumley

GUMLEY Death Stills The Brush

I won’t lie. The crudely-executed cover art drew me in… I’ve read many short stories and novels that deal with artist and murder, so expected not too much from this one.

Death Stills the Brush was written by F. W. Gumley (better known for his children’s / juvenile stories) and published by the Mitre Press, 1946. It is a small side-stapled 32-page pamphlet, typical of the war and early postwar years. Mitre Press’s fiction division flourished during the war years, but didn’t last long.

The story is fairly simple. A young lady is modeling for an artist, whom is working on a sculpture. While he is using one lady for her body, he desires the other girl for her head and face. The former is jealous and we are led to believe that she later destroys the piece while it as yet not unveiled at a museum. The guard shits a brick when he sees the defacement, realizing his career is over.

The girl’s father discovers her daughter is modeling for the artist. Turns out he despises the man, for some “past” reason. Angered, he orders the girl to desist. He personally visits the artist and threatens the man’s life.

In typical fiction-fashion, the man is found dead, murdered. Witnesses heard the threat and of course, her father is investigated.

However, there is more wrongdoing occurring behind the scenes, as a man of mystery surfaces early, claiming to an once-popular artist whom was railroaded into prison. Having lost the ability to work with his hands, he wishes to exact his own vengeance.

So, who killed the artist? The jealous girl? The other girl’s father? The imprisoned artist? Or, someone else???

Lucky for you, if you remotely care, I own a spare copy of this title….

Death Stills the Brush by F. W. Gumley