The April 1955 issue of Manhunt Detective Story Monthly digest pulp magazine is a humdinger of fascinating fiction.
Quite personally, I am not an avid fan of Hal Ellson, and his short tale “Blood Brothers” does nothing to dispel that opinion. The story is typical of his juvenile delinquent writings. Bunch of outcasts in a neighborhood are ruled by the iron-fist cruelty of the local bully. When one of the nicer boys is beaten to a pulp by one of the bully’s buddies and his girl molested on a rooftop, his crippled friend comes to the rescue, offering up a solution. See, he has a cousin and he is simply crazy about wanting retribution against the bully, whom apparently owes him money. The three go down and butt heads with the bully, and the crazy cousin gives him the rough riot act and threatens more of the same unless he coughs up the dough. He gives him a deadline. Deadline comes up, they go for the loot, and the bully isn’t able to scrape it all together. Shit goes sideways, the crazy cousin ices the bully, the other two scatter to the four winds in fright. They later hook up. The cousin has been captured, sent to jail, but, he won’t talk. They get a bigger gang together of outcasts and reclaim their neighborhood, bit by bit. They even give the ex-girlfriend the treatment, whatever it may be, by the hands of the cripple. Rape? Who knows. Everything is coyly inferred. It’s annoying. By story’s end, the new gang is going to take on a rival neighboring gang that has flexed their might too far across the line….
Next story is the gruesome reality that you can do a lot of damage while drunk. In Bryce Walton’s “The Movers,” Susie’s husband awakens from a drunken stupor to find that his wife has finally left him, the bills are unpaid, and movers are coming to take away the possessions, barrels and trunks, and packed and ready to go. However, during a drunken rage, he apparently murdered his wife and stuffed her into a barrel, and the movers find her. All the while, he rages on and on that they can’t take their possessions, that his wife is coming back, clearly unaware that he was butchered his own wife….
“The Day it Began Again” by Fletcher Flora proves that Flora doesn’t ONLY have to write cliche murder stories with someone drinking a cocktail or being rich, although, well, partially, in this case. Carlos is in prison as a serial killer and his best friend is trying to convince the lawyer to set him free, etc., that he didn’t commit the killings. Thing is, he did murder all those girls and, his friend knows this. See, he hid the evidence himself, and, as the lawyer noted, all the serial killings ceased once Carlos was put away. His friend realizes that they only way to add “doubt” to the court proceedings is for the murders to take up where they left off, in the exact same manner. So he digs out those hidden shoe laces….
“The Meek Monster” by Edward D. Radin reads more like a true crime story than fiction. Oh, right, that’s because it is. Rather than my writing it up, read the Wiki stub instead, on serial killer John Reginald Halliday Christie.
Alphabet Hicks returns in yet another Rex Stout short, “His Own Hand.” Hicks is dead-tired, headed home, when he is met by an officer whom interrogates him as to his whereabouts with certain bodies potentially involved in a murder case. The officer asks him to elaborate and leave nothing out, even odd conversation bits, etc. In the process of rehashing the events, he begins to have a theory as to who the killer is, but does not inform the officer. Rather, later, he is phoned by the parties involved, to come over, and discuss matters. He comes, still sleepy, and proclaims that he can actually put the entire case to rest. He knows the murderer. They all scoff but it soon becomes no laughing matter once he latches onto one person in particular and forces a confession. Not a very interesting Hicks story, and certainly not Stout at his best, but, that’s a matter of opinion, right?
For my monetary investment, George Bagby’s “Mug Shot” was well-worth the spend. Once again following the adventures of Inspector Schmidt, author George Bagby tags along for the entire investigation. Schmidt, while pacing down a street waiting for Bagby, is mugged. His assailant escapes. Bagby snatches the license plate. Thus begins a wild and woolly crime adventure, lots of dick work, dead bodies cropping up, drugs, a love affair of sorts, a false front of money, and deceit. The 40+ page novelette is a scintillating reminder that not everything is as it seems.
Sam S. Taylor supplies “The General Slept Here.” No real brilliance to the story. Private Detective Neal Cotten is asked to investigate the disappearance of a young lady’s aunt. Only thing is, she’s a fraud. The niece, that is. The aunt has vanished, but tracking her down doesn’t prove too arduous a task. In the process, he receives the long-sleep treatment via a love-tap to the skull and awakens to find the man he was to meet, stone-cold-dead with an ice-pick in his spine. Unimaginative and overused murder devices aside, it’s obvious that the dear old lady’s bed has a false bottom and stolen loot is piled into this. A snoozer’s only redeemable value could have been enhanced if Cotten pushed the faux-niece down an open elevator shaft. Oh well….
The next-to-last tale is “Sylvia” by Ira Levin. Lewis Melton has cared and protected his irresponsibly naive daughter all his life, and broken up a divorce in which the young man was stealing her funds. However, unbeknownst to him, she’s still madly in love with this crook. He learns that she has planned a great escape, convincing her dad to go on a trip, and while gone, she sends the help away, and has wired her lover to meet her at the airport. He learns all this while digging through her drawer and also find a gun, loaded. He thinks the gun is to kill her ex-lover, but, in truth, she murders her father. Why? Insanity.
One more tale. “The Impostors” by Jonathan Craig is one of those creepier tales. Husband and wife, he’s an artist, and wakes up one day to realize his gorgeous wife has been replaced by an older woman and ugly. He can’t bare to look at her. He kills off this woman so that his young wife will return to him and then sees the same thing in the mirror. His younger self is gone and replaced by an older thing. They arrest him before he can kill this self, but he plans, while in prison, to kill that person and meet with his hot wife again. Clear case of insanity, again.