“Fat Men Laugh at Murder” by Marc Stephens (1949)

MUIR WATSON Fat Men Laugh At Murder
Fat Men Laugh at Murder

Fat Men Laugh at Murder” by Marc Stephens was published in Glasgow, Scotland by Muir-Watson Books, in 1949. This British digest-paperback novel runs 128-pages.

The strikingly bold and colourful cover illustration was created by Reina M. Bull (Reina Mary Sington was her birth name).
Her illustrated works are quite collectible, including covers for New Worlds, Science-Fantasy, various crime covers, and spicy covers for Utopian Press under her alias, “Janine.” (Side note: I would personally LOVE to own an original by Mrs. Bull.)

Who is (or was) Marc Stephens? The British Library and COPAC show zero holdings for this person. The identity of the writer is unknown. Searching the Internet turns up zilch. Does the name belong to a real person, short for “Marcus” Stephens?

This didn’t turn up anything useful, though I found a clergyman (Marcus James Treacher Stephens) that fit the bill nicely, but, during the years in question, he was stationed in Lebanon. Still, one never knows….

It was then suggested that I look to Hugh M. Stephens as a possibility.

I did.

FictionMags Index site shows Hugh M. Stephens contributed at least three known short stories, from 1943-1945, and one further in the Bonny album in 1949/1950. Ironically, I submitted those Laughitoff issues to the index site a couple years ago, myself! It’s possible that Stephens turns up in other issues. Bear in mind, the novel was released in 1949. This would seem to fit perfectly.

  • This Pantomime Business (ss) Laughitoff # 3 (1943)
  • Swing Date (vi) Laughitoff # 8 (1945)
  • Grammar as She is Spoke (vi) Laughitoff # 9 (1945)
  • Build for Tomorrow (ar) Personality (Feb 1948)
  • (story title unknown) (ss) Bonny Annual 1950

So, who is Hugh M. Stephens?

The only Hugh M. Stephens I could find was born 1920 in the Brentford district. Identity of Hugh’s “M” initial never disclosed on any of the genealogy sites I searched.
Parents were Hugh O. T. G. Stephens and Ragnhild Gaaserud.
One known sibling, Kari B., married 1947 to Thaddeus H. Gebert in the Bedford District. Further research reveals this is Kari Bridget Gebert, born 1916, but died 28 January 2010.

Did he serve during WW2? Could be. I found two Hugh Stephens that might fit. The first has an entirely different middle name. Nix! The second, fits, but, DIED IN 1945!!! Could it be that the Laughitoff contributor died in 1945, and is NOT the same person that contributed to Personality three years later? One may never know. I am direly hoping that a relative might one day write and clear up this matter.

Without further ado, let’s hit the novel itself.

A socialite returning home to England after some years away is holding a large party on an ocean-going vessel. Private detective and Englishman Hugo Van Reine and his new associate, ex-soldier and man-of-action American (Johnny Vernon) are invited to attend. Johnny immediately falls in lust with the extremely beautiful Adele Manners. Hugo watches all the party-attendees, and notes two figures detach from their positions to chase down the gorgeous vixen. Here Hugo is in his element. What does the one young man want with Adele? What interest does the sinister, greasy-looking Italian have with Adele? (and why are Italians always described as greasy?)

Landing in England, they all part ways, but, Adele, for some odd reason, retains Hugo to visit her at her apartments. On arriving, he finds her in a harried state and unable to let him in. Please come back in 20 minutes. Irked, he departs, returns, finds the door open, and Adele, shot dead! A noise at the front door, and Hugo, not wishing to be caught with a corpse, steals down the fire escape.

Entering by the front door is Hugo’s young associate, Johnny. He is looking to re-acquaint himself with this lovely lady, but dismayed to find her equally dead. It is an inopportune moment for a recently-hired detective-in-training to be caught in such a precarious position, too.

And there begins our wonderful world of intrigue.

Who murdered Adele? It is immediately known that she was to inherit a worldly sum. Her murder means that many in her family stand to benefit.

Was is it her mother, whom seems more inclined to fret over the social-standing of the family than the death of her daughter?

Her sensible brother?

Her flirty and bitchy sister?

The brother’s wife?

Maybe the two fellows on the boat?

Or is there a deeper mystery at the root of this heinous crime?

Hugo, using his grey-cells, thinks his way through various situations while setting Johnny to work on the less delicate matters of handling the crooked underworld elements. Johnny is constantly battered and poked and prodded by guns and fists alike in his endeavor to uncloak the mastermind behind Adele’s murder.

But, when a clue appears, Hugo departs for New York City, to chase down the whereabouts of the Italian. Following various leads, he finally opens the door of that man’s home to find a body, tethered to a bed, in a drug-induced state….

Meanwhile, back in England, Johnny is cracking the other side of this racket. A night club owner and his moll (Adele’s brother’s wife!) have plans of their own, and rubbing out Johnny might just be one of them….

The whole matter is wrapped up days later when the police, with Johnny’s aid, arrest all local parties and Hugo, with the finishing touches, enters the offices with…Adele Manners! Turns out the first Adele was a fraud, established purely to obtain the inheritance for the Italian party and his confederates. However, his mission went awry when she was shot and killed by accident. The bullet was meant for her brother, whom was on the scene before anyone else. He didn’t want the brother talking to his faux-sister, since he would eventually learn of the deceit. So, he took a shot at the brother and accidentally murdered the false lady. The real Adele had been hooked up by him on drugs and there (in America) the switch was effected.

Now with the real Adele free, though not clean yet of her daily drug-induced cocktails, she will be able to seek proper claim to her inheritance.

In the closing scenes, Johnny asks, why did the faux-Adele request Hugo’s attentions? Hugo laughs this off, as he simply doesn’t have the answer to everything, and there the novel concludes, leaving us with that one last question….

 

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“Fat Men Laugh at Murder” by Marc Stephens (1949)

“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

“Dark Curtain” by Lee Dale

Here we have Lee Dale’s “Dark Curtain,” published by Paget Publications, circa late 1949. The cover art is by Oliver Brabbins, signing far left as “Brab.” It is a 96-page thriller.

PAGET Dark CurtainI recently picked up this rarity and was thrilled to have the opportunity to read it. The actual identity of the writer is unclear to me.

“Dark Curtain” is a simple crime tale involving detective Rex Brant taking holiday. He is headed south to Florida aboard a train when he spots a gorgeous young blonde reading a reference book on psychology. It seems heavy reading for a young lady of her type (he thinks).

Despite his vacation status, he watches her, picks up on the fact that she seems ill-at-ease, prefers the company of passengers, and does not interact with a single soul aboard.

Unable to avoid his hunch, Brant finally attempts to strike up a conversation with the girl, whom does her damnedest to get him to bugger off. Rex assures her that he is not a “wolf,” a term she clearly does not understand. He elaborates and she realizes he means something along the lines of a “masher.” He’s nonplussed, shocked that she seems oblivious of “wolf” and other modern slang among her generation, but using archaic terms instead. He later discovers she has never seen a movie nor familiar with modern music.

While once more trying to steer the conversation around to her problems, the girl clams up and obstinately informs Rex to leave her be or just keep her company. He finally cracks up himself, unable to control his impulses and kisses the girl. She struggles at first and then returns the kiss, before breaking it and flustered, informs him that she ought not have done that, and horrible things might happen as a result.

She latter confesses that she suffers from a family mental illness, and might kill at any time. She fears for other’s safety, as her dangerous acts are all enacted while she is asleep. She is tortured by her dreams.

So, why was she in New York City, for two weeks, if she suffers from insane thoughts of murder and mayhem? She wanted to break from the family farmstead, where she has been detained all her life, after having seen some magazines. Two weeks into the adventure, she had troubles sleeping and became more and more in fear of a tragedy. Afraid for others, she boarded the train back to Georgia.

Afraid for the girl’s safety, and naturally, interested in her himself, he asks her to not disembark without informing him. She consents, but, when the train stops, he discovers that she has attempted to give him the slip. Unbeknownst to her, he read her luggage case and memorized the home address. Giving her a head start, he lugs off his own case full of clothes and a general stock of detective paraphernalia, and asks a porter to point him to a hotel. Registering for the week, the sultry desk clerk attempts to give him a good time, but he gives her offer the cold-shoulder treatment.

While in town, he purchases a pair of ladies gloves, and has them worn out in no time. The purpose? As a ruse.

Taking  a cab out to the farm at night, he walks up to the dilapidated farm. Sneaking up, he spies upon the people and hears enough to suspect that something is afoot. Rex even overhears the girl’s own brother being a prick, tormenting her, suggesting openly to her that she might have murdered someone in the Big City while sleepwalking! Annoyed by this, Rex finds himself fortunate to deliver a knock-out blow to the man, whom comes out onto the porch. Rex plants his fist squarely upon the man’s nose, busting it and knocking him down….

Come morning, he returns to the farm. Knocking, he is eventually met by an elder woman, the girl’s aunt. She informs Rex that he may most emphatically NOT see the girl, she is asleep and if he understood any of the information provided about the girl, that he would never return, as that is best for the girl. Rex refuses to leave until he has delivered the faux-gloves, to which the aunt admits that the gloves do indeed belong to the girl. She takes the gloves and goes upstairs and eventually returns, stating the girl now has the gloves but does not wish to see him.

Rex then confesses that the gloves are a fraud and that the aunt, as thus, a liar. She then has her nephew, the drunken louse, try to throw Rex out. He re-introduces him to a busted nose (and performs this brutal treatment throughout the novel).

Remarkably, the sleeping beauty awakens after hearing the scuffle and arguments below. She spots Rex and greets him cordially enough and extends an invitation to lunch. The aunt bawls that he may not come, that the serving staff are limited as are food rations.  Despite this, Rex twists the words around and invites himself in to lunch, to the aunt’s dismay and outrage.

We eventually meet the aunt’s husband, the uncle’s own aged and decrepit mother, and a pair of doctors, whom have diagnosed the girl as insane. Rex later stays the night at the house, after insisting the girl can be cured and the uncle relents, giving Rex the opportunity to prove them and the family doctor wrong.

Everyone goes to bed and later, they hear a fracas at night, and find the girl sleepwalking, having entered her brother’s room, and is poised above him, about to strike with a large kitchen knife! Rex snaps into play and retrieves the knife, and tells the sleeping girl to go to bed.

The next morning, he overhears the brother inform the girl that her dreams came true and that he in fact did awaken to the fact that she intended to murder him. Distraught, she runs from the room and the boy is once more introduced to Rex’s wrath.

Suspecting that the family are not actually working toward improving the girl’s health, he sets up some listening apparatus, stringing it from the device in his room, under the carpeted areas and rugs, into the aunt and uncle’s bedroom, and at night, overhears part of a conversation, inferring that Brant is to be murdered tonight!

Ready for the worst to come, he stays up all night in bed, pretending to be asleep. Fearing for their safety, she is often locked in her room and they all lock their own doors. Her brother’s near-assault was written off to the fact that he was too drunk to remember to lock his own door. But, how did she get out, then? Her own door is always locked, too. Rex Brant’s door is locked, and despite this, he sees the girl now in his room, raising the glittering knife, ready to kill him. Then we have a thunderous pounding at his door by the uncle, pretending to save his life, trying to awaken him before she commits murder.

Rex calmly gets up, takes the knife from the girl, opens the door and steers her back to her room. He then proclaims that they are all a bunch of frauds, and the entire scene was set-up to scare him. How did she get in? Turns out she climbed the ledge in her sleep and came in through the window. He announces he will have her seen by his own psychologist, brought in from New York. They threaten to simply have her processed to the local asylum, and how will he thwart that?

I’ll marry her!

Realizing the full threat to their situation, they try to mollify him by agreeing to his terms, extend his stay, and that they won’t try again to sway his judgment. But, when he learns that the family doctor never practiced nor has a degree, he and the girl confront him. Realizing that the game is busted, the fraudulent doctor pulls a gat. Rex is to die, and the girl will be returned and eventually processed. However, unbeknownst to him, Rex had dropped one of the girl’s pills in his julep, and it is fast taking him down and putting him into a suggestive sleeplike state! Drooping and snoring, Rex takes the gun and then tells the doctor to confess all.

This he does, and the girl hears the whole mad plot, which is the typical game. She was to inherit all from her father, home and fortune, when she came of age. The aunt and uncle were to care for her and the evil brother, whom was to receive an allowance and nothing more, as the father did not trust nor like the boy. However, if the family illness ever surfaced in the girl, she was to be admitted to State care and the house sold off to care for her, etc.

Well, the estate today is bust, after the uncle spent the entire fortune on gambling, etc., but there is still enough remaining to keep up pretenses.

Returning to the farm, the uncle pulls a gun of his own. He intends to kill Rex and get away not only with murder, but keeping the game going. What about the doctor, then? The uncle asserts that Rex and the doctor will be found dead, both with guns planted in their hands, having shot it out at the doc’s home. Remarkably, to his surprise, Rex watches the withered remains of the uncle’s ancient mother pull herself out of the rocking chair, whom moments earlier seemed asleep, extract a very long sewing needle, and fighting to a standing position, rams it home into her son’s back!!! Granny has been an innocent spectator and planning her own revenge, all these years, upon all parties, herself! Prepared for her rear attack, Rex leaps into action, trying to wrest the gun from the uncle, and he himself is assaulted from behind, when the aunt leaps upon him and attempts to strangle him. The whole thing ends when the girl picks up a gun and threatens to shoot….

Flash-forward, the New York doctor has arrived and spends several hours isolated with the girl, performing tests. In end, she is given a clean bill of mental health and proclaimed normal. Rex and the girl end the book by landing in each other’s arms and kissing.

The book is cleanly written, although a little bit jumbled at times. The unknown author works hard toward providing a solid plot and loads of character development throughout. However, the backdrop is flimsily handled and could take place anywhere, not just Georgia, although the writer does what they perceive to be their best to insert racial remarks such as calling the maid “Aunt Jemima” and other absurdities, but, it is in keeping with the South’s treatment of the “blacks” in the 1940s, so while we may find the dialogue at times distasteful, we must continue to realize that blacks in America were still being ill-treated and poorly portrayed to the British audience through American movies as inferior, ignorant, and without a shred of intelligence. Other than the crudeness at times, the book has a decent flow that keeps the reader coming back for more.

“Dark Curtain” by Lee Dale

“Murder’s a Must” by John Russell Fearn


A wealthy miserable bitch of a woman is hunted and ruthlessly murdered, her back (just below her shoulder blades) revealing a tattoo. Too many people had reasons to murder the woman, and their alibis are weak. When another woman dies with a tattoo on her back, in the same location, the two murders become a real mystery.

MUIR WATSON Murders A Must

Murder’s a Must” by John Russell Fearn was published by Muir-Watson Ltd., Glasgow (1949). It is a 128-page digest-paperback with excellent cover art. The illustration is rendered by Reina Bull (nee Sington).

In this splendidly-written crime thriller, Scotland Yard’s Inspector Handcock (yes, you read that accurately) arrogantly accepts an unsolvable murder from a Divisional Inspector, whom is at his wit’s end. Handcock soon confesses to his partner Sergeant Grimshaw that he may have accepted a tough assignment. He’s right.

The case begins with the murder of Vera Bradmore. Her assailant lithely had climbed a wall, inserted their self through a window, then smothered Vera to death with a pillow. Prior to the murder, the killer extracts the whereabouts of two other persons. Adding insult to injury, the murderer exposes her back and reveals a tattooed name: MARY.

Handcock has his hands full (no pun intended) when another murder occurs. Far to the north, one Elsie Jackson is smothered to death, found face down in the sands of a lonely beach. Her husband discovers her corpse. The news reaches the ears of our desperate Inspector. The girl would otherwise remain unmentioned, save for the fact that her back is equally tattooed with a name: IAN.

The third person murdered wraps up the entire plot, as we learn the trio are sisters, triplicates, in fact. Their father decades ago was part of a famous jewel heist. His mask failing to protect his identity, he escaped and secreted the diamonds and then tattooed clues onto the backs of his young daughters (a painful memento; gee, thanks dad!). The police catch up to him and while hopping over rooftops, he plummets to his death.

Or was escape impossible and the splat a suicide?

Who cares.

The children were left in the care of another family, whom had a daughter one year their senior. This family-man was believed to be the triplicate’s father’s accomplice during the heist. It was never spoken of, even to his own family. Years pass, and, when the trio reach 16 years of age, they inexplicably vanish. They sealed a pact among themselves to part ways, never contact one another, change their identities and disappear, for better or for worse.

Meanwhile, the caretakers also move, departing England. Our highly resourceful inspector learns that they sailed for South Africa. Contacting authorities, he learns that the entire family died in a fire. Or, did they? He suspects the daughter in fact did not die. Furthermore, he speculates the father at some point did disclose the jewel heist to his family.

During the ensuing investigation, a figure from his past returns; an old friend (Cavendish) wishes to renew their friendship. Baffled by this sudden jack-in-the-box surfacing during a murder investigation, Handcock juggles the idea that Cavendish might be somehow tied up with the murders. When he is inexplicably invited to Cavendish’s home to meet his wife, an American that was born in London, his guts churn with a new conviction.

We eventually learn that it is Mr. Cavendish’s wife that is the murderer, whom was the daughter of the other jewel heist man! She did not die in the fire; a friend of the family died instead, and was mistakenly identified. She is captured after having killed the final sister.

With all three clues at her disposal, at night, she investigates the combined clues (I won’t reveal the final 3-word name) down a dark street. The police pounce, apprehend, and bring her to Inspector Handcock. Here, she finally confesses the entire plot and catches Handcock and Grimshaw off-guard by sucking on a seemingly innocent lozenge which in fact contains half a grain of atropine, a deadly poison. She dies and Inspector Handcock is left the grisly task of informing Mr. Cavendish that not only has his loving wife died, but, she is also the murderer, three-times over. Good luck, bub!

If this book sounds right up your alley, guess what!!!
You may readily find it reprinted as “The Tattoo Murders.”

 

“Murder’s a Must” by John Russell Fearn

Corpse from the Sky by J. Murray Crouch

GULLIVER BOOKS Corpse From The Sky
“Corpse from the Sky” by Joseph Murray Crouch (Gulliver Books, 1950)

Corpse from the Sky” was written by J. Murray Crouch and published by Gulliver Books, in 1950.
The book is a 128-page digest-paperback that features artwork that is both not credited and has zero to do with the content(s) of the novel.

This is part of their short-lived Skyscraper Books series, which featured only one other known novel, “The Dead Are So Dumb,” by Leslie Cargill; he churned out over a dozen thrillers during a 15-year span.

Other books noted (on the rear cover) include the following series:

  • Starlight Westerns
  • Kismet Romances
  • It Really Happened!

Our author appears to be Joseph Murray Crouch, born possibly in 1912, Newport and died 1997 in Croydon, Surrey. (Perhaps one day a family-member will read this blog and contribute something further). Come 1940, I found online that he was in the Royal Artillery, and by 1943, he was married on the Isle of Man. At some point, Mr. Crouch was involved with the Intelligence Corps. To my knowledge, this is his only literary contribution. I would surmise that he attempted to translate some of his life experiences into writing this murder – mystery novel.

Here, a man is dumped out of an airplane. The large body slams into the buildings before slithering to the ground, nearly at the feet of a detective. The coincidences and poor ability of the author to create any sense of suspense is further shattered when a lovely young lady enters his office. She is Denise, daughter and heir to Arthur Vanrietz’s fortunes. Inexplicably, we learn that her father, Arthur, had suggested to her to seek out this particular detective, in the event that he is dead. No connection is even given to explain why Arthur should want this particular detective.

So, now we have an unidentified corpse (landing literally at the feet of the detective) and a young lovely lady hiring him to look for her murdered father. She is certain that he is dead, after all. A silly assumption. Our detective, Mr. Bartle, sends her to the local police and while there, she learns of the dropped body, identifies it as her father, returns to Bartle, and tells all. He’s immediately on the case.

Traveling out to the family castle, he meets all sorts of villainous residents. There is no need to travel down the well-worn path to explain that the butler is always given the evil slant (in fact, he served time once) and that the rest are equally unscrupulous.

In the end, Bartle, whom hasn’t a damned clue who the murderer really is, but secretly speculates, has everyone in the lounge and exposes everything he knows, then, absurdly, states that the (secret) half-brother had the best motive for murder and is indeed the crafty butcher whom has murdered every other person throughout the novel.

Seriously? 

Without any basis or proof, the half-brother whips out a gun and tries to effect his escape. Why? There was no proof! he could have sat there all day and laughed.

The novel ends practically on that note. No romantic conclusion. The girl, we are given to understand, is romantically involved with the only other person in the castle that appears to have a relatively clean slate. The half-brother is tackled, cuffed, and arrested, and Bartle turns away in disgust, because he can’t stand the sight of persons placed under arrest.

Huh?

Honestly, the novel had me utterly flummoxed, as I hoping that the otherwise juvenile construction and plot would suddenly explode ingeniously into a ripe thriller. Imagine my disappointment….

 

Corpse from the Sky by J. Murray Crouch

Detective Thriller Library # 2 (Gerald G Swan)

Having finished reading the first in this limited series, I plunged into the second Detective Thriller Library publication by Gerald G. Swan, printed circa 1960-1961, which collects leftover manuscripts purchased during the 1940s by Swan. This 64-page, stapled digest-paperback, measures approximately 5 x 7 inches. Cover art lacks any identifying signature, and seems to illustration the lead story.

Detective Thriller 2

All Brides Must Die,” written by Patricia Westley, is a murder thriller. An unknown assailant known as “The Choker” is strangling beautiful young ladies to death, before they take the final plunge into matrimony. Malcolm Peters is invited to a party held by the gorgeous newlywed Mrs. Carter. While at home again, he receives a frantic distress call from her, that someone is in her house, etc. On investigating, he finds the typical souvenir left behind by The Choker. Further, the house has burned to the ground. Mrs. Carter’s faithful dog has escaped the infernal, unscathed. Peters takes in the dog, and reports all to the police. Mrs. Carter’s husband is missing. Did Harold murder her? Is he the “choker?” Questions abound. But when Peters discerns that Mrs. Carter is not actually dead, he begins to put the pieces to this puzzle together…

One can rely on Leslie Bussey to supply a decent, hard-hitting short thriller. With a title like “The Dead Sometimes Talk,” we really expect something of that sort. Bussey provides us with a bizarre tale, in which a poor woman is rifling through trash on a dead-end street, when she happens across a large manikin-doll. While rescuing the item, she is approached by a younger gentleman, whom talks sincerely to her. Offers her a job, to-be-paid at the end of her couple weeks, and she is to maintain his home for him while he is out, etc. Above all else, she is to ask no questions. She (Jenny) takes the job immediately, as housekeeper. Too, she needs money, and employment in England is tough to obtain, especially for someone down on their luck like herself. Cleaned up and dressed in better clothes, all at his expense, she takes to the job. She blunders into becoming too aware of her surroundings and suspicions begin to form that he is the mysterious murderer that the police want. The tale is inherently weak, but stimulating enough to forge through. Locked in his home, she has no escape, and finally, hangs the manikin outside the window, hoping somebody will see the manner in which it is hung. The device works. For, just as he is throttling the life out of her, the police burst in and save her life.

Next up is Dorothy Bronson’s “Blackmail Racket.” June Elder is murdered shortly after having visiting Barry Logan, private investigator. He reports the murder to Inspector Bland. Seems there is a lot of love affairs going on, and June was caught by her husband, whom creates a fake blackmail racket and plans to stick it to her secret suitor, whom has a tainted background. But when Logan discovers the woeful husband is amorous with the local dance-hall hussy, he begins to put the various clues of misdirection together in a proper sequence. Not a bad tale, altogether. It did keep me guessing.

In “Death Came Flying,” Chris Blake supplies the typical circus murder. A man is found dead, splattered, having been thrown from a fast-flying ride. Turns out he is (was) one of the circus owners. All eyes are on the co-owners, the ride operator, and the woman involved, but the detective discovers the extra clue due to mud on his clothes, which leads us to the doctor, whom was on the scene at the time of the murder. Ironically, we learn via post mortem that the victim was already dead. The murderer wanted to speed up the process by providing his own post mortem, but, the police stuck to protocols, and this thwarted him. He never had the time to remove the bullet. Secondly, a newly dead body splattering should have been drenched in blood. He was already dead, and did not splatter….

Seems odd for me to see Patrick S. Selby’s name in a crime thriller, since I’m more familiar with his appearance in New Worlds magazine, but, here we have “Pint Pots and Papers.” Terry Kestry is an insurance-man. He wishes to marry the bosses girl, but, so far, believes he will be fired shortly, because every case he has handled, the insurance company  has found no fault and had to pay out. His career as an insurance detective seems to be rapidly dwindling, when he is called to check out a claim. A book collector has had his safe blown, and a rare book stolen. The case blows wide-open when Terry realizes the book could NOT have been inside a safe that couldn’t hold a book of such disproportionate dimensions, which means the person that sold the book to the collector also is in on the fraud, for having claimed he saw the book placed in the safe!

In “The Resurrection of Reen,” H. Main tells a crooks’ tale. A henchman is sent to steal a mummy from a professor. The mummy had been sold at auction, but, the henchman failed to be the high bidder. His boss isn’t happy. The mummy has a false bottom, having been stuffed with “five thousand quid’s worth” of cocaine. Having slipped through customs, it was to be auctioned off. Anyway, our crook, Snaky, realizes he can’t blow the job twice, or his life is quits. He sneaks into the professor’s home, and waits forever for the professor to leave the room. Only, he doesn’t. The professor is too engrossed in deciphering the hieroglyphics and learns of a curse. He flees to the window, when he hears a rapping. It is a raven, as mentioned in the curse, and bizarrely, it drops stone dead (never explained). While away, staring at the deceased bird, Snaky sneaks in, nabs the mummy, but only gets to the curtain in time before the professor returns. The professor is in stark fear. The mummy has arisen! and he flees the scene. Meanwhile, Snaky learns it is the wrong mummy. No false bottom. Despite fearing his life, he replaces the mummy back into its case, and reports back to his boss, whom gathers the gang, intent on raiding the house and securing the mummy, for he is certain that Snaky is an idiot. The professor has returned with a colleague, whom thinks he his batty, especially after regurgitating the mummy’s curse. On arriving, they find the mummy has returned. What’s more, they now find themselves surrounded by masked thieves. The whole scene goes colorfully weird when police burst in and the mummy inexplicably comes to life, its wrappings falling from its face to reveal a raven-haired corpse. It informs the bad guys to kneel before the presence of Reen, High Priest of Ra. Remarkably, they do just that, except the boss, whom faints. Turns out the mummy did NOT pass customs. They caught the cocaine, and switched the mummy, too, in order to bust the gang.

Last up is Garry Elliott’s “Cheque for Murder.” Darrell, a one-time crook, has been in the hire of old man Cowan now for quite some time. Having forgiven the crook’s past transgressions, he gave the man a chance at redemption and Darrell, as accounts bookkeeper, and has performed admirably. However, he is sweating bullets. He signed and cashed a false check, and is afraid the bank caught this. When an envelope arrives with his name on it and check noted, Darrell is sure he has been caught. He decides to murder Cowan; and murder him, he does. The irony occurs when the police discover the check in an envelope on the desk, and Darrell blurts out that they can’t have found it…he has it on him! Really? Turns out Cowan had written a bonus check, and was to award Darrell a promotion! He had never been suspected by Cowan and, he recovered the wrong check.

Cheque-mate !!!

Detective Thriller Library # 2 (Gerald G Swan)

Detective Thriller Library (no. 1) Gerald G. Swan

By now, everyone knows the history of publisher Gerald G. Swan. His savvy decision to purchase and hoard warehouses full of paper leading into World War Two is almost legendary. And when one of the warehouses was destroyed, it didn’t slow Swan down in the least.

Someone within the Swan organization in the late 1950s discovered files filled with unpublished manuscripts dating back to the 1940s. Who precisely unearthed the trove, is unknown (to me) but, the publishers immediately compiled the assorted miscellaneous shorts, and issued the following publications, circa 1960-1961:

Detective Thriller 1

  • Weird and Occult Library (3 issues)
    complete short stories and articles
  • Science Fiction Library (3 issues)
    complete short stories and articles
  • Detective Thriller Library (2 issues)
    complete short stories
  • Schoolgirls Library (not seen by me)
  • Schoolboys Library (2 issues)
    one novelette and one short story
  • Romances (not seen by me)

Initially, I collected the W&O and the SF series.
Then, I began to chase the third series on the list.
The Detective Thriller Library series eluded me for nearly twenty years, until finally, I got lucky. Naturally, one must read these 64-page booklets.

Murder in Jail by C. G. Wimhurst (see the cover) is the lead novelette. George Stephens is found dead suspended high up in the air, on a hook, on the prison wall. While the reader is keenly aware who precisely murdered Stephens, Wimhurst adroitly offers us various alternate opportunities, going so far as to suggest another prison guard, whom was having an affair with Stephens’ wife–Stephens’ much-much-much younger wife. In the end, the detective realizes that the prisoner held above the suspended dead man was a rope expert. Have lassoed Stephens, he wrenched him up and strangled the man to death. Having successfully murdered the man, he went to drop the body to earth. However, he was not aware of the oddly placed hook below his window (which the author fails to explain the presence of).

Water-Hyacinth by Keats Hill is a short story of greed and murder and cunning. When Durgham’s partner becomes entangled and drowns, he returns to the dead man’s hut to find a strangely alluring, beautiful young man already ahead of him, with a manservant. She claims to be the dead man’s wife. Durgham never knew of a wife, and she declares calmly that they were newly wed. Suspicious of her, he explains the circumstances for her husband’s death, and that he is there looking for business plans. She adroitly convinces him to drag her along, so that she can locate, too, the missing plans. She is actually not wed to the lately deceased, but a hired thug sent to retrieve those plans for another party.

Brown Dust by Frederick Purves involves a man trudging along and entering a pub, only to find a man there, dead, blood all about. Kneeling to inspect the body, a young lady enters the pub and naturally assumes he to be the murderer. He defends his position, and they agree that neither of them are the killer. They vacate quickly, in fear that the killer is still nearby or may return. Ironically, they return to the scene of the crime, and he enters without her. Shockingly, he finds body  gone, all traces of blood removed, and the bar open for business! He plays it cool and tricks the cold-blooded killer into revealing himself and it turns out the pub owner found the corpse first and hid the body, too, in the hopes of discerning who murdered the man.

Strange Things Happen by John Theydon introduces us to Mr. Herbert Josser, special agent to the Foreign Office. Sent on a mission of extreme importance, and at all costs not to reveal his own identity, he is nonplussed to find himself the pivotal focus of a murder aboard a train. Can Josser solve the mystery before finding himself imprisoned and failing in finishing his assignment? Despite being written during the 1940s, it very much has the feel of several 1910s pre-Great War tales of espionage that I have read….

The Missing Key by Iris Weigh is tiresomely painful to read, after all the disappointing tales before it. A murder is committed and the door is locked. The detectives learn that a second key exists, and, furthermore, that the murdered lady actually committed suicide and tossed the spare key out the window into the bushes, in the hopes of her suicide being labeled a murder and sending a man to his own death. An overly recycled plot device.

Murder in Mayfair by G. M. Byrne features Jackson Laramee, investigating and safeguarding the priceless pearl necklace of Mrs. Woodchurch. Her husband believes that the famous thief Four Fingered Harry is present to woo her, and then snatch the pearls. Laramee has brought in some friends to watch everyone, but his plans go awry, when she is found murdered, after Harry walked in, but never walked out. Who murdered Mrs. Woodchurch? Where is Harry? And what happened to the pearl necklace? Perhaps the best-written tale in this neat volume, for offering the reader multiple plot complications, and just enough of an edge to keep you guessing.

Music Lesson by Douglas Haig introduces us to Inspector Seal, whom is musically inclined to know that the murdered man, in dying, played notes on the piano to indicate his killer’s identity and location.

Detective Thriller Library (no. 1) Gerald G. Swan