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

pendulum-killers-progress

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You Can Run So Far! by Michael Barnes

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

SCION You Can Run So Far

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

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

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

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

He does.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You Can Run So Far! by Michael Barnes

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

PANTHER One If By Night

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brief Interlude by John Eagle (1947)

GRANT HUGHES Brief Interlude
Brief Interlude (1947)

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

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

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

Who?

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

The following stories appear in magazines:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brief Interlude by John Eagle (1947)

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

“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