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

GNOME The Limping Death

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

Other known Gnome Publications:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Small is certain that the doctor is lying…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Murder Gets Around by Robert Sidney Bowen

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

Murder Gets Around
Full Dust Jacket art

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

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

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

Murder!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Murder Gets Around by Robert Sidney Bowen

The Finger of Death by Henry Keyworth

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

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

kangaroo the finger of death

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

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

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

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

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

Shortly thereafter, Sir Allan Vale receives an ominous note:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Finger of Death by Henry Keyworth