“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

The Lone Ranger by John Theydon (1948)

CURTIS WARREN The Lone Ranger
It’s been a long while since I read a western by English writer John Theydon. Given that I have fallen behind on tackling the stack of digest-paperback westerns, I picked this one off the top.

THE LONE RANGER was published 1948 by Curtis Warren Ltd., sports a cover illustration by Kingsley Sutton, and the text begins on page 3 and concludes on 64. Priced at 9d, this quick-read kept me plunging headlong throughout. Why did I ever abandon Theydon?

The novel concerns Dave Logan, lawman, assigned to secretly protect a train loaded with gold bullion. The banker is riding West with his gold to deliver to the banks and Dave’s boss wants this shipment seen through. The area is rife with bandits, and while his boss wants that shipment safe, Dave’s real assignment is to track down the bandits, and capture or kill them.

The banker, coming outside for a smoke, finds Dave Logan on the train’s platform, enjoying the air. The banker thinks he is just another cowhand, not aware of the deception. Striking up a conversation, this is cut short when the train comes to an inexplicable stop. Worried that the train is being robbed, Dave drops off to investigate. Yet, there are no shots fired. He is returning to his car when shots are fired and he receives the world crashing in atop his skull….

Waking up much later, he finds the security personnel slaughtered, the safe blown open, and he and his horse the sole survivors. Spotting hoof-prints in the sand, Dave tracks them into the distant mountains, only to be shot at. This he considers a reward, meaning he has partly located the villains. Only one person is holding him down at rifle-point, so he circles the area, and believing to have caught the sniper unawares, is nonplussed to find the shooter’s location abandoned!

He’s suddenly shot at from another direction, and realizing that the shooter knew of his movements, shoots it out in the dark recesses of a cave. The man dies from multiple gunshot wounds. Searching the man’s clothes, he finds a letter from the fellow’s brother, another hoodlum, known to be in lock-up in Santa Fe.

Assuming that person’s identity, he rides into the nearby disreputable town, leaving the dead man to be found, later, by his comrades. Once in town, he nabs a hotel room and on entering the bar, finds a woman has held-up a bunch of unscrupulous-looking scoundrels at a card-table. She’s gorgeous (aren’t they always?) and mean and sure as hell capable of holding her own with a gun. Demanding they fork over misappropriated funds from her father’s late gambling run at a crooked table, Dave watches as one of the gunhands triggers a hideaway into action. Dave draws and blows the gun away. Retrieving the funds, the girl makes her exit while Dave lingers.

Once she’s gone, he explains who he is (in his new guise) and explains away his defending the girl he doesn’t know, but just couldn’t stand aside and watch a girl get hers. Ergo, feigning as a tough who is a sucker for dames. Elaborating that he is looking for his brother, the bartender informs him that he just shot the leader of the local gang who was with his brother.

Realizing he’s in a gritty position, Dave brazenly strikes out, heads to their rooming quarters, and enters. They are stupefied by his entrance. Explaining who he is, they finally cautiously accept him, but to prove his worth, he must steal the funds he just assisted the girl in retrieving. Agreeing to those terms, he departs…

…and returns to his hotel room. The girl has a room there, and enlisting the aid of the clearly honest hotel-keeper, he actually divulges 100% to them who he really is, the crook’s plans, etc. Dave has a plan to infiltrate the band, learn the identity of the real leader, and catch all of them.

The pair agree to get six other honest men, and pooling their funds, match the amount the girl has on hand. Sending one honest messenger to the next nearest town with a bank to pay off her father’s ranch-mortgage (the crook’s, in typical cliche fiction fashion, wanted the mortgage note to expire and the land has oil on it, unbeknownst to the owners…of course). This transpires while Dave returns to the rooms of the crooks. He tosses them the money, they blindfold him, and ride out, far away, to their secret headquarters in the mountains.

Part of the plan involves one of the honest six to trail him, and then they are to ride back and enlist the next town’s sheriff and posse…

Meanwhile, he and the party he rides with finally arrive, hours later, at their destination. Blindfold removed, he sleeps for a while on a bunk until the boss arrives. Brought away sometime later, he is led to another room where the boss is. The door opening, he overhears one of the gang explain who he is, only to hear the boss exclaim that THAT PERSON is in jail in Santa Fe!!! His bluff is exposed! What’s more, he recognizes the voice as the banker from the heisted train! He’s stealing his own gold! No shit, right?

A blazing gun battle ensues and Dave must shoot his way out or be hemmed inside the building and either smoked-out or shot to death. He’s shot once and stumbling about, aware of certain death, when all of a sudden a rifle begins cracking, repeatedly, eliminating his competition. Tossing his body behind cover, he’s shocked to find the shooter is none other than the girl! Unlike other works of fiction, John Theydon has his lovely lady as a resourceful tough girl, and not merely a piece to be admired. Handy with a gun, she continues to reload to punch holes in the competition, and refuses to relinquish her rifle to the wounded Dave, who feels his manly pride in jeopardy. They are soon to be outflanked when the posse arrives.

Surviving members of the gang turn and run, hop on horses, and take off. Bloodied and weak, Dave manages somehow to climb his horse, and in once-more cliche fashion, he has the fastest horse. Determined to get the banker, he ignores other members as they split away. They are peons. Insignificant. One has balls and attempts to stop Dave, but Dave merely shoots at him and rides on by.

The banker is frightened to learn that Dave has eyes only for him, and smartly, riding out of sight, he waits until Dave comes around a corner and pushes a boulder (because in Hollywood, they are all really just styrofoam in reality, right?) from above down at him. His horse shies away and Dave falls from his saddle. Spying the banker escaping once more, Dave commits himself to the one thing he despises: shooting down a horse. Taking sight, he murders the banker’s horse, which collapses and pins the man’s legs. Injured, but not dead, Dave takes him in…

Arriving in town with his man in cuffs, he finally faints from blood loss, wakes up later in bed, and finds the girl in another bunk, bandaged about the head from a gunshot wound grazing her forehead, making eyes at him. Well, we all know how this will end.

Last thoughts: The title of the book should be changed to “Lucky Logan,” given that Dave Logan makes much of family lore and the luck of the Logans, throughout.

The Lone Ranger by John Theydon (1948)

“Easy Curves” by Nick Baroni

Easy Curves by Nick Baroni was published circa 1950 by Curtis Warren Ltd.; it begins on page 3 and concludes on 128. The front cover illustration is by H. W. Perl, appearing to be one of his customary painted (colorized) photos of a model or actress. Sadly, my copy is in complete ruin: the front cover is severely ripped and torn. A chunk of the lower cover along the spine is missing. However, these are incredibly difficult to obtain, so I won’t complain.

CURTIS WARREN Easy Curves

The novel was one of many penned by Albert Edward Garrett (born 1917) since the 1940s, a career that spanned a few decades.

He frequently under the alias “Edgar Garrett,” this appearing first on “Headline Holiday” (John Crowther, 1944) and later resuscitated for his Western novels of the 1950s and 1960s.

For the mushroom publishers, he wrote under a slew of identified books, and no doubt, many more yet to be confirmed. Below are two examples of his crime titles:

Bart Banarto – The Big Panic – Edwin Self, circa 1953
Johnny Cello – Corruption’s Tutor – Scion, 1953

It’s not the focus of this article, however, to delve into this author’s literary career, for which there are many other sites already admirably suited, so let’s return to Easy Curves for a moment. This novel embraces all that is hard-boiled and sleaze. Loads of violence, bloodshed, tons of unscrupulous sex and rapes, etc.

Gangster boss Joey Grindle and his boys are in a tight spot straight into the novel. A rival gang has moved in and are blissfully mowing down their competition. Joey is a survivor, and while convincing a couple of his boys to give up and head out front, he blasts his way out the back and escapes. Joey captures a rival gangster and beats the hell out of him to learn who squealed. When he learns that his younger brother’s “steady” spilled the beans, he busts in his brother and the girl. Relating the misadventures and the extinction of the Grindle gang, his brother is nonplussed and quickly angered to find that his girl sold them out. Trying to worm her way out of death, she attempts to seduce Joey, during an act of misinterpreting him. He catapults her into another world with a single shot through the heart.

Brothers Joey and Eddie take it on the lam and lay low for several weeks. Instructing Eddie to avoid female attachments in future, they hook up with one-night-stands to sate their urges. Joey, however, becomes infatuated with a girl that gives him the works and dumps him the next day. He doesn’t mind doing that to any girl, but no girl is gonna give him the one-night treatment. Possessed, he stalks her, but lands one of her friends, instead. They hook up and while on a drive to a cottage, they are intercepted by her aged wealthy husband and his hired hoodlums. They beat the living tar out of Joey and leave him for dead on a tombstone with a cement angel looking down on him, wings spread.

Something in him has cracked, severely. Mentally unstable, he is tended by a mob doctor and nursed back to health. But he doesn’t wait long to drag Eddie and some fresh cohorts into an assignment to kill everyone at the mansion that beat him to death. The doll-baby is happy that they are all dead and she is free. Convincing her to stay away from him until the news dies down, she plays her part admirably to the newshounds and law.

Time passes, they hook up, take a drive, and another group of hoods pull them over. Beaten severely and captured, he awakens to find his girlfriend on a bed and raped by a man he let take the rap for him years earlier. He had escaped prison and was hunting Joey the entire time. Having located Joey earlier in the novel, he followed him to the mansion and realized there was the opportunity for a monetary rake-off, a la bribery. He convinces an apish ogre to join his ranks, and others. After raping the girl, the ape is given his turn. Rapidly unhinging, Joey struggles free, grabs a gun, and shoots her dead. The ape dims is lights quickly.

He reawakens in a basement, bound and chained to a wall, battered and beaten to death. His brother and help break him out, but it’s clear to all present that his mental stability is rapidly waning. He’s dangerously close to losing touch with reality.

Fearing that everyone is out to get him, Joey begins a one-man war against his own gang, thinking that they are taking over the gang. He kills everyone, often mistaking his guards as long-dead rival gang members. In the final scene, he has it out with his brother Eddie, and top lieutenant, whom he is certain intends to take over the gang. Eddie, realizing that Joey is indeed too far gone, pulls his gun. The lieutenant pulls his and shoots the gun out of Eddie’s hand (he’s still loyal after all) and Joey shoots him.

Joey, not wounded, last man standing, gloats, and while Eddie is slowly bleeding out to death, the lieutenant, shot himself a couple fatal times, shoot Joey dead, realizing many innocent parties will continue to die if he doesn’t. He is the last to eventually die in that office, with the final thought that none of this should ever have happened….

 

“Easy Curves” by Nick Baroni

“The Seeing Knife” by Crawley Fenton

CW The Seeing Knife

Bearing a copyright notice of November 1954 is “The Seeing Knife” by Crawley Fenton. This book has the distinction of being the last scientific novel published by Curtis Warren Ltd., and is given to be the sequel to Miles Casson’s “The Time Drug,” issued months earlier. It is unclear whether both books were written by the same author or not, as the identity of each novel’s authorship has never been solidified.

The Seeing Knife” is a medical soap-opera that unrolls the fragile re-entry of Dr. Alan Heritage, after his time-traveling exploits in the prior novel. He is mentally wrought with regret after having left two others in the medical profession on the wrong side of Time. He vows with himself to continue researching the drug he created and find a way to return the Russian doctor Credij and Marilyn to his timeline.

However, that is all background material, which remotely reminds readers that this book is a sequel, and perhaps in a clever way, indicating that if you have not done so, perhaps you ought to contact your local book dealer and purchase a copy of “The Time Drug,” too.

Here, we have Dr. Michael Armoury have succeeded in constructing an electronic device that permits him to–with the use of knobs and various visual controls–electronically execute surgery from a remote position via non-physical human interaction. This machine may even be the “cure” to cancer! As it turns out, his medical marvel is accidentally released to the Press and the newspapers globally go mad with the exciting details. Newsmen hound him at the hospital. However, there is one hiccup.

He refuses to use the device.

Remarkably, refusing to succumb to greed, Michael Armoury maintains a good level head, desiring to research the full ramifications before using the machine for the good of humanity. However, when a fellow practitioner brings news that his father has terminal cancer, he finds himself in a deep quandary.

In the end, his father asks to be his first patient (which, in fact, makes him literally the “guinea pig” trial that Michael requires after working on a dog in the opening novel’s pages). Further, in the closing final page of the novel, Dr. Alan Heritage has succeeded in narrowing down the scope of his time-travel serum and we are briefly re-introduced to the lost-in-time Dr. Credij and Marilyn.

The novel has many more social relationships of a soap opera nature in the background, too. However, there is one noteworthy item to the author’s credit: the author assaults social stereotypes regarding foreigners.

Many postwar novels feature a foreigner, the central figure to intrigue, deceit, and the focal point for our hatred. Our author introduces us to the sultry Spaniard lady doctor-in-training Margherita Maravilla, and uses her as a platform for debunking all these postwar preconceived notions.

When Margherita is introduced to another nurse, she instantly dislikes the woman. As readers, we know (or believe) that something sinister is afoot. What guise shall this villain assume? She appears to be a spy of sorts, perhaps, trying to seductively insert herself into the lives of various single doctors, learn secrets, etc. However, more than three-quarters into the novel, the author rationalizes her aloof interactions: a brutal earlier life experience has led her into the medical field.  It ends with Margherita falling in love with another embittered doctor that is equally misunderstood, and their union frees their innermost tensions.

In all, this excursion relays the message that not all foreigners are evil, that they may simply not be understood in our own life-sphere, and that science, if properly handled, while it may be do harm, can also be used for the good of humanity.

It is a noble sentiment.

“The Seeing Knife” by Crawley Fenton

Betrayed by David Essex (Curtis Warren Ltd., 1948)

CURTIS WARREN Betrayed by David Essex

Betrayed” by David Essex was published in 1948 by Curtis Warren Ltd., and sports a mediocre illustration by H. W. Perl.

I don’t know a damn thing about David Essex, save that he wrote one novel a year later,  “Retribution,” also for Curtis Warren Ltd. Additionally, he crops up at least twice in 1948, appearing with snippets in Stag Magazine (edited by Bevis Winter).

We are introduced to detective Al Rankin (a name I am sure I have read elsewhere prior but can’t place). He’s a scruffy fellow that has little room for nonsense. He gives orders and expects them to be followed. He is currently employed by a large business magnate, paid to keep his employer out of trouble. The trouble? A competitor, whom he fears will stop at nothing to derail his future business designs.

So when Rankin is rudely barged in upon by his employer, one Mr. King, he’s hardly in the mood to be nice. King isn’t in any position to be polite either; there’s a dead beauty at his flat, and he claims to be innocent.

Taking King’s wheels out to the flat, they enter and are nonplussed to find…nothing! No body! Just a blood stain where a body should be. And the police are also now on the scene, expecting a body. They give King and Rankin a hard time, but without a body, they can’t detain either one (apparently). The pair depart and Rankin suggests a quieter location, perhaps another home that King might own. King acknowledges he has another. They arrive and King discovers the corpse in the back of the car.

Rankin now has his first look at the dame, and boy, she’s simply gorgeous. Or, was. Whatever. Thinking quickly on his feet, Rankin devises both a plan to rid themselves of the body while also delivering the body into the hands of the police.

Hiring a crony, they trick the chief investigating officer to pursue the crony out into the middle of nowhere. Then he runs on foot into the woods. While the officers chase him, Rankin drives down to the abandoned police cruiser, dumps the stiffened corpse into their backseat, takes off down the road, picks up his crony, and they speed off.

Unloading his helper, he informs King that the body is unloaded. That stiff off their minds, Rankin settles down to trying to unravel the case. He soon discovers the identity of the corpse.

He soon learns that King secretly has a dame holed up in a suite (King is married). He pays her a visit. Doesn’t like her one bit. Gives her the low-down. Turns out the recently deceased is this floozie’s younger sister. He departs, and waits around the block.

He waits a long time, but, is finally rewarded. The sister takes a cab and he follows them far and away. Rankin watches as she enters a building, and notes the other two vehicles that are present. Not only is King’s rival present, but so is King’s own operations manager! Sneaking in through the cliché “open-window,” he listens in and learns most of the case.

Leaving the way he entered, he waits again in his car. The woman’s cab is long gone. The girl exits and walks away. He waits until she approaches, nabs and convinces her to get in. Rankin bounces all the evidence off her and she comes undone.

The plot dissolves in the usual manner: Rankin takes care of the creeps, the girl gets a free pass, King ceases to play naughty with his innocent wife, and Rankin takes his pay and decides to see a gal out of town.

The literature is cheap, disgusting and not worthy of reading. It’s only worth the effort of collecting for those that are interested in post-war gangster fiction or good girl art.

You have been warned!

Betrayed by David Essex (Curtis Warren Ltd., 1948)

“Make Mine Murder” by Bevis Winter

CW Make Mine Murder

Published 1949 by Curtis Warren Ltd., Make Mine Murder was written by Bevis Winter, and is 192-pages.

The artwork has nothing to do with the plot of the story.

The author was born Bevis Winter on 27 August 1918 in Birmingham, England, and died 1985 at Haywards Heath, Sussex, England.

And now, onto the novel…

Released from the English army, ex-Corporal Philip Denton is disheartened. He’s returning home to his cottage, where he was hoping to start a new life with his wife. However, while at war, he receives a letter stating that she is leaving him and hooking up with an American soldier. On arrival, he finds the key under the mat, lets himself in, and is soon greeted by a young lady from a neighboring farm, taking pity on him. She helps to set the cottage right and, in going down to the cellar for supplies, suddenly screams. Philip darts down and beholds the emaciated, very decomposed body of his wife. She’d been likely down there for many, many months.

The local small-town police are useless. Philip hires the services of one of his ex-army mates, whom he recalls was returning back to civilization as a private investigator.

Enter: Major Martin Myers, and his secretarial sidekick, Olivia.

They take the case but he sees little in it. Especially via financial means. Philip isn’t worth much. But, while in the army, he had jokingly noted that if anyone needed his help as a P.I., he’d lend a hand. Now, he’s in it.

Meanwhile, back in London, another murder occurs, shortly after the grisly discovery of Philip’s wife. The two do not seem to coincide. It happens like this:

Author and playwright — Hackle — is holding one of his usual festive parties, when he gets into an argument over a murder scene. Wanting to prove his case, he has a gun loaded with blanks from an unopened case of blank cartridges, and has his party-goers enact the scene. Dismayed by the results, he swaps places with the guying playing the murderer, and takes the gun himself, and directs the scene. He fires and a fellow drops dead.

The police think the man that originally loaded the gun (not Hackle) was responsible, and had slipped a real “live” cartridge in. However, the department discovers that while he admitted to loading the gun, the blanks in the gun sport no fingerprints! They are entirely clean. Ergo, this can NOT be the same gun. Someone switched guns.

Now the police are secretly investigating Hackle, as he is the only other person known to have handled the gun. Clearly, there is a duplicate gun, somewhere. However, when they raid his house, with an arrest warrant, they find Hackle shot dead, lying across his desk.

Meanwhile, back at the cottage town, investigator Myers has learned that Hackle many years earlier had been a teacher in this community, and left shortly after a 9-year old girl had been found slain and brutally, sexually assaulted. It later comes about the recluse gynecologist has an imbecile son, and Myers is certain that he raped the child.

Confronting the doctor, he admits the truth, and that Hackle had been blackmailing him for years. As to the young man shot at the house party, turns out he was a newspaperman in London, but years earlier, had been a cub-reporter in the cottage town, and he, in turn, had begun to blackmail Hackle, thinking HE was the one responsible for the child’s demise, because, in one of his bestselling sensational novels, he describes the murder scene of the child and a bonnet she had on. That bonnet never made it into the local circulars, and he had known about via interviewing the parents. Naturally, only the murderer would know about it. Or, so he wrongly surmised. He never realized that the doctor had also been on the scene.

In learning all this, the detective and the police investigator team up to arrest the imbecile and take him into medical custody, only to learn that the brute has coincidentally escaped his “cage” and is running loose through the countryside. Drawing guns, they run in pursuit and finally locate him, in the ravenous act of raping Olivia (how convenient).

The whole plot wraps up nicely with Myers hooking up with Olivia, but, on the whole, while I enjoyed reading this early novel effort by Bevis Winter, it is ruined by the tasteless “imbecile” plot. For its few faults, Make Mine Murder is a damn fine read, overall, and I highly recommend it to anyone.

I should like to read more of Bevis Winter’s later efforts (again), as his quality of writing developed admirably over the ensuing years, after some years practice working on hardboiled gangster novels.

“Make Mine Murder” by Bevis Winter

“The Black Phoenix” by Martin Lester (Curtis Warren Ltd., 1954)

“The Black Phoenix,” by Martin Lester, is in fact a spy thriller (a la James Bond-esque) written by Edmund Cooper. It was published by Curtis Warren Ltd. (February 1954) and represents Cooper’s second printed title.

British special agent Peter Mars, after infiltrating and demolishing a nefarious Russian plot early in the novel with the aid of an American special agent (actually, Peter lapses into amnesia throughout the entire episode after being bopped over the head) returns home to England for rest and relaxation.

However, in the espionage business, there is no such thing as snatching a little R & R, eh?

Peter Mars is immediately drafted to replace the recently deceased English counterfeiter Hildebrand, whom was knocked dead by a lorry. (On his deathbed, Hildebrand had mumbled incoherently some future arrangements). Thus assuming the role, Mars travels to Iceland and is immediately met with unpredictable complications: a driver that picks him up but presumably doesn’t speak English, and a young lady at the hotel accosts him under the guise of being Hildebrand’s wife!

Clearly the girl can blow his cover, but, incredibly, she doesn’t. She is there to locate her father, a Nazi officer, that she has not seen since the Second World War, and coerces Mars to bring her along with him.

With a note slipped under his hotel room door at night, he reads and readies himself for his ordeal. The pair are driven far away from civilization, then take a helicopter out to a remote island, seemingly uninhabitable, when a platform rises out of the surface. They land and the platform drops beneath the island to an underground facility, like something right out of an Ian Fleming thriller. (Mind you, Mr. Fleming’s first Bond book was “Casino Royale,” in 1953, so I’m not entirely certain what Cooper modeled his concepts after).

Having arrived, he is greeted as Hildebrand, since the girl does not betray his trust. Further, we learn she is the daughter one of the top brass Nazis. Point of fact, the entire underground base is a secret Nazi regime waiting to bring the world to its knees! And their deepest guarded secret: a young teen-aged boy that reportedly is . . . the son of Adolph Hitler!

Without revealing further details, I will say that I thoroughly enjoyed the well-thought-out initial Peter Mars tale of espionage and intrigue against the Russians, but, Edmund Cooper truly shines in this complicated tale of Nazism surviving years beyond the war, secretly plotting to undermine the world economic system. The entire “son of Adolph Hitler” could have been eradicated from the novel, as it lent absolutely nothing to the plot.  The fight scenes are intrinsic and elaborate, drawing the reader deeper into the chaos that ultimately ensues.

Cooper, sir … you’ve done a damn fine job entertaining me this week with your first two (of three) novel achievements.

“The Black Phoenix” by Martin Lester (Curtis Warren Ltd., 1954)

“They Shall Not Die” by Broderick Quain (Curtis Warren Ltd., 1954)

Nearly a decade has passed since I first acquired They Shall Not Die, a crime thriller written by Edmund Cooper, under the pseudonym of Broderick Quain. It was published by Curtis Warren Ltd. (March 1954) and represented Cooper’s third printed title.CW They Shall Not Die

Richard Sinclair, a psychiatrist, is visited by a 20-year-old lovely lady by the name of Maxime Barry. She confides that she has [in the past] murdered a man and he continues to haunt her. Nobody sees him; nobody believes her. Assured of her insanity, she seeks out Sinclair’s aid to prove her sanity or, lock her up in a padded cell.

Confident that Maxime Barry is in fact sane, Sinclair advises her to stay calm, etc. No sooner does she depart than Antoinette Barry enters. She is essentially her step-mother. She insists that Sinclair abort his sessions with Maxime; that she is in fact insane; and his intervention may prove to be quite dangerous. She then attempts to bribe him.

As soon as he removes her from his offices, he ‘phones his old mate, Dennis Byrd, an Inspector with the Cambridge C.I.D., to set up a joint venture into the countryside for a week of rest and relaxation. Whilst driving to East Cotton, Sinclair asks Byrd if he’s had any peculiar, unaccounted for deaths. Byrd realizes something is afoot, for Sinclair never shows such an interest in Byrd’s morbid work. He obtains from Sinclair, off-the-record, a report on his psychiatric activities.

Arriving in East Cotton and taking up residence, go for a walk, and, after hearing a gun discharge, the pair stumble across Maxime Barry! [While the author makes poor use of an impossible coincidence, Cooper adroitly handles the mysterious conspiracy that follows].

Sinclair and Byrd are confident that Maxime is purposefully being driven insane before she becomes heir to a small fortune upon her 21st birthday, and further, that the villains in the case are using an Occult Research Society as a front for the distribution of drugs.

Unable to prove their theories, they are forced to solve the “crime” themselves, or, die trying.

Now, I had initially put off reading They Shall Not Die for ten years because Cooper reportedly had less than savory words for women. I was afraid that his own viewpoints might make themselves quite evidently present within his earlier novels. Finally, taking this into account, I charged forward, realizing these elements might be present, but accepted them. While Cooper does in fact make some slight off-remarks, on the whole, I felt the novel to be adventurously a pleasing read; while the villains themselves were obvious from the start, their motives were somewhat opaque. And while Maxime Barry begins as a weak feminine entry, she turns out to be all the stronger by the end of the novel, a complete 180 in her status, clearly indicating that Cooper was firmly aware to avoid the conventional play-up-the-weaker-sex angle that most authors tended to adhere to in their stories. I applaud Mr. Cooper for the unconventional.

“They Shall Not Die” by Broderick Quain (Curtis Warren Ltd., 1954)