“Death Takes a Hand” by Frank Griffin

BEAR HUDSON Death Takes A HandPublished 1945 by Bear, Hudson, Ltd., “Death Takes a Hand” by Frank Griffin represents the publisher’s 25th printed title, and is printed on some form of flimsy cardboard stock paper. The 40-page pamphlet features a mediocre cover illustrated by H. W. Perl (which recycles a Hollywood film cut-out in the background). This is “reportedly” the author’s first fiction novel.

Born 15 October 1911, Charles Frank Griffin married Kathleen Cawood and sired many children. He served during the war for a number of years. Released from service, Griffin began to churn out gangster novels, and a few Westerns, from 1945 through 1951. And then, inexplicably, he vanished. Why precisely he abandoned the lucrative writing market when his fiction writing prowess had developed admirably, is beyond my ken.

However, if I had began by first reading “Death Takes a Hand,” I probably should never have read another Griffin book again. I’m not saying that it is horrible, mind you, but, well, it is not up to the higher level of quality that Griffin later came to represent. I’m not entirely sure this is Griffin’s fault or if the publishers excised a ton of text to make it run faster. The blurb runs: “…the tough, exciting, and streamlined story…” It’s certainly tough in places. Exciting is a stretch. Streamlined? Hardly.

If you have come this far, perhaps you are beginning to wonder what the plot of this novelette is? Okay.

Mart is running an illegal petrol / coupon business (along with other illegal activities) during the war. While discussing business with a fat man, he brings in a piece of fluff. She’s terrified of Mart and the fat man notices that she has been brutally beaten, perhaps by whippings. He threatens Mart and departs. Under normal circumstances, such a person is immediately murdered. Mart simply laughs, indicating confidence and perhaps, that he is slightly, mentally unstable.

After an illegal mission, Mart sends one of his henchmen to hire a replacement driver. They pick on recently discharged Dick Moxton, and pushing him into a drunken stupor, he meets two unsavory molls, Flo and Chinky. Here, the novel pushes into pure racism. Flo is short for Florence, and while drunk, Moxton is baffled why her hands her black while his are white. Chinky is Chinese. The girls are more than just fluff; they are tough, mean characters.

While on a driving assignment, Moxton spots a young lady trying to hitch a ride. He stops, and inadvertently rescues the young lady that Mart had terrorized and whipped. She somehow has escaped from captivity. We are given to understand she somehow escaped via the ineptitude of Mart’s servant, and that is all. Moxton inexplicably falls in love with the girl, whom is a refugee, puts her up somewhere safe and we never hear from her again except as a closing side-note at the conclusion.

That aside, Inspector Kemp is soon on the case when Moxton is brought to a hospital with his head bloodied. Seems that, while at Mart’s home, where a party was held at night, he walked out and heard a fight. Mart was assaulted by an unknown assailant, and robbed. Seeing the skirmish, Moxton, quite tipsy, attempted to intervene, but was bludgeoned. Bizarrely, Mart had Moxton brought to the hospital, and thus enters Kemp, after Doctor Raven pays him a visit, explaining the odd circumstances of his admittance and the wound. Kemp interviews Moxton, whom feigns memory loss, but Kemp isn’t falling.

Smelling trouble, he investigates Mart, learns of the illegal petrol dealings. Flo goes missing, is brutally beaten to death by Mart, and then buried with the help of another villain. Flo’s bloodied rags go missing from the room, Mart panics that someone is aware of the murder; he is later blackmailed for 10,000 pounds, and the person arriving to claim the funds is the original fat man from the beginning. We also learn that he was the man that assaulted and robbed Mart. Failing to secure the funds from Mart, the two tussle, the fat man tries to escape but ends up running upstairs into an inescapable room and Mart beats in his face…literally beats it in. Blood is everywhere by the time the servant finally arrives on the scene.

Seemingly the next day, Moxton enters, demands his back-pay, and Mart demands to know the location of the refugee. Moxton decks him, robs him, takes his safe key, and finds his own wallet (which was missing after HE was hospitalized) in the safe, and, he ruthlessly stomps his foot into Mart’s face and teeth.

Mart’s world continues to crumble when a house of ill-repute ten miles away inexplicably burns to the ground, taking all his henchmen with it (no reason is given for the fire) and Kemp and crew locate the buried remains of Flo in the garden. With a warrant, he approaches Mart’s home, alone, and the pair get into it.

Mart flees the scene, runs to his semi-secret air raid shelter, and enters a secret room. Failing to seal it, Kemp comes down the stairs to confront him. Foolishly, Mart fires and plugs Kemp twice, whom keeps coming for his man. A third shot nails a petrol container (apparently) and the whole place explodes. Kemp is propelled up the stairs, alive, and functional. While the air raid shelter consumes itself in flames, Kemp escapes. They later extract the charred body of Mart, and, the fat man of the inverted face.

Time passes, Kemp is in his office, dismayed by how the incident finalized. It closes with Kemp lamenting that he was cheated “once more” out of a big case. Again? Did Griffin write another tale with Inspector Kemp that we are unaware of…?

There are too many bizarre holes in this story to be taken at face value. Clearly much of the text was cut. And Moxton in the end has secured Mart’s “slave” again and marries her, in what is yes, a traditional happy ending, but an eye-rolling one.

If you have the desire to read Frank Griffin’s literature, you may wish to skip this one entirely, however, if you are like me, go ahead and read it, simply to see just how much his abilities improved with each publication.

“Death Takes a Hand” by Frank Griffin

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 clich√© “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)

“Dames Out of the Ring” by Hamilton Enterkin

Dames Out Of The Ring
Dames Out of the Ring (by Hamilton Enterkin)

Published by The Kaner Publishing Co., “Dames Out of the Ring” is told by fictional boxing trainer Aloysius to author Hamilton Enterkin. British Library shows that they received this undated booklet in 1948. Was the author a real person or the alias of the publisher? There was one Hamilton Enterkin born during The Great War and died 1996 in Plymouth, England.

This was essentially a vanity press, in that he (Hyman Kaner) published his own stories. He eventually released publications with various other authors.

The cover art, while unsigned, would appear to be the work of H. W. Perl.

This 64-page stapled booklet contains 9 short boxing stories:

03 – No Fury
10 – More Deadly Than the Male
17 – Mother’s Boy
24 – Golden Girl
31 – Witchcraft
38 – The Trimmer
45 – Error of Judgment
53 – The Greatest Charity
60 – The Ghost of Conway Hall

I wish that at least one of these stories was decent enough to report upon, but the fact is, and despite the ‘weird’ sounding titles to a couple, which certainly had my hopes up in the ‘weird’ genre direction, they are all truly general fiction tales.

No Fury” involves a boxer spurning the attentions of a girl whom is dead-set on marrying him. She brings in a man whom bested him in college and he clubs him through all the rounds purposely without knocking him, delivering a severe beating. Finally, she gives the OK to knock him off his heels. They end up marrying.

More Deadly than the Male” could easily have been the prior story (in title only). In this, a Parisian young lady makes like she is in love with the champion. They hook up; then, a man finally puts in an appearance and demands hush money or a fight to the death. Our champion is given time to learn the art of fencing, and, shockingly, he is quite adept at the art. He takes down his challenger, and they vacate Paris.

Mother’s Boy” is unique. It appears to be yet another ‘shake-down’ tale like the one above. A fictitious mother is created for the young boxer whom grew up in an orphanage, so that the trainers can keep the girls off him. At the end of each match or interview, he peels himself away, stating he has to get home to mother. Disembarking a ship from some foreign bouts, he walks ashore to the flashbulbs of the press and a woman rushes up claiming to be his mother! And it’s no real shake-down; she literally just wants to be taken in. Feeling the pressure, and realizing she can call the bluff, they let her tend house and she turns out to be just as good as her word! Her world comes crashing down when a villain from her past comes to blackmail the champion and recognizes her. Overnight, she packs all evidences of her living with the champion, and murders the villain! They go to set her free from jail but she claims to never have seen them before. In my opinion, this heartfelt story was the best in the booklet, and is worthy of being collected elsewhere, one day.

Golden Girl” involves a female moving up in the world to Hollywood and suddenly will have nothing to do with a lowly boxer. After some failed Hollywood romances, she tries to reinstate herself with the boxer, but he’s onto her and gives her the goodbye. Irate, she sets him against a tough, but the boxer knocks him down. Years pass, and the offended “tough” learns how to box and moves up in the world. Our boy has retired, and, Aloysius, our narrator, is confronted by the offended party from years’ past. He has a chronic condition, looks weak, and asks for a bout with the ex-champ, so he can get some money. They finally agree, and the deceit is learned, that the man is faking. He’s in excellent shape, while the ex-champ hasn’t trained in years! However, all the training in the world doesn’t prepare him for the fact that the champ is still a contender….

Witchcraft” involves a champion whom is, well, unbeatable. However, he meets his match in a contender whom should stand no chance in beating him. He becomes worried, informing Aloysius that the guy is weird and keeps staring at him. It comes about that he is a hypnotist, and while the champ is under, he is cleanly knocked out.

The Trimmer” involves a rail of a man entering the boxing world. His reps are taking in most of the proceeds, leaving him with barely 10%. He trims them by setting up dozens of fictitious names and playing the gambling odds under these assorted names. In the end, he cleans up to the tune of several tens of thousands of pounds. He ‘clipped the bookies!’

Error of Judgment” has a preacher placing a young man into Aloysius’ hands. He believes he can be freed from liquor, drugs, and the gangster rackets, by removing him from the city and putting him onto an honest career in boxing. It works for a time; he marries a very decent girl, but, he ends up firing his crew and Aloysius returns to the church and lies about the kid’s condition. Eventually, the wife approaches them with a black eye and the pair go to the rescue, only to learn that the kid is beyond redemption.

The Greatest is Charity” involves a champ going the rounds and due to lose, but his wife spikes the contenders sponge with chloroform, and our hero knocks him out. A simple, boring tale.

The Ghost of Conway Hall” is merely two jerks playing a practical joke on a boxer, digging up the ancient family curse of a haunted portion of the building. Unable to avoid the call of being called a ‘chicken,’ he gamely accepts the challenge to stay the night in the haunted room, in which a death reportedly in the past, has occurred….

“Dames Out of the Ring” by Hamilton Enterkin

2015 August 21: “They Don’t Always Hang Murderers” by Benson Herbert

After reading a Nazi thriller, I decided to “blitz” through this next book.

Benson Herbert’s “They Don’t Always Hang Murderers” was published by Lloyd Cole, originally released in boards, in February 1943. Copies sold out and it was re-issued April 1943. These, too, apparently sold out, for the publishers finally issued a “Cheap Edition” soft cover, the one featured below, a their Third Impression, on October 1943.

LLOYD COLE They Don't Always Hang Murderers

It features a lovely cover illustration by H. W. Perl, and is a 144-page digest paperback.
It’s unclear who the Golden Amazon (thank you, John Russell Fearn) lass featured is supposed to be within the novel, but, I suspect she is the secretary; but, I digress….(nice legs, though)….

The story involves Henry Wilcox’s addiction toward uncovering the mysterious whereabouts of a man whom he was best friends before the First World War. They both served together along with Henry’s brother, Clive. The friend, one Tracey Gooth (what a name!) is wounded in the leg and forever more, vanishes without a trace. Henry, likewise, is injured.

Returning from the war, Henry finds that his wife is missing. Try as he might, he can not locate her. Likewise, Gooth is missing, and his sweetheart, Joan, ends up marrying Henry, since they have something in common. There is no real love between them. She has money of her own (by which means is never honestly divulged, so, it must be inherited family funds) and she stakes Henry to business and pushes him to be successful, for which, he largely is.

Flash forward a couple decades. No clear year is given, but, let us assume that 25 years has passed since 1918, landing us upon the year this book is released. Sound good? Great.

Henry’s son, Arthur, has been having an affair and she sneaks out to his country estate to blackmail the family. Arthur, finally convinces her [Clara] to depart the estate for fear of upsetting the family. She leaves, but it is clear that she will return and continue the blackmail. She eventually is found dead, later in the novel, and it is presumed by Clara’s mother, that Arthur murdered her and that leads to another blackmail attempt, this time, on Henry and his business.

Enter Henry and his wife, Joan. He is easy-going while she appears to be the family “matriarch” in the iron-fist sense. She controls Henry and Arthur through fear. Henry submits to her wishes because he is ill and requires a medication to control it while Arthur is weak-minded and is simply afraid of her. Not to mention, Arthur works for his father.

The tale mostly revolves around the disappearance and sudden re-appearance of Tracey Gooth into their lives, and Henry’s brother, Clive, trying to substantiate the fact that Tracey, once a decent sort, has fallen on hard times since his debilitating wartime injury left him with a permanent limp, is now there purely to blackmail the family.

I’ll ruin part of the plot by announcing that facts arise that Tracey was not simply engaged to Joan prior to the war. They had in fact, secretly married, and, to top that off, Arthur is their son!!! Right as this information is ultimately divulged [at the end of the novel] in walks Clive, to proclaim that Henry is dead and that Tracey murdered him by supplying the carefully locked-up meds, which led to an overdose.

Do they believe him? Or, is there another person present that ultimately committed the crime? Sadly, what begins in earnest as an interesting novel of crime, attempted murder, a slanderous affair or two, etc., essentially collapses in the end with the most ridiculous soap opera endings. I recommend the book to anyone, but, ask only that they stop short of discovering the identity of the killer and the ultimate fate of that person in a quasi-“Fall of the House of Usher” like moment.

2015 August 21: “They Don’t Always Hang Murderers” by Benson Herbert