“Some Rise by Sin” by Alan Whicker

STANLEY BAKER Some Rise By Sin
Some Rise by Sin (Alan Whicker) Stanley Baker Publications (1949)

With much honor and respect to the late BBC man, Alan Whicker, whom died on 12 July 2013, exactly five years ago, I am posting this blog entry on his rare postwar crime novel. For those interested in reading about Mr. Whicker and his career, click on his name, above. For further information, check out the BBC Obituary and video.

Some Rise by Sin” was published in 1951 by Stanley Baker Publications Ltd. (16 The Green, Richmond, Surrey). The novel runs 90 pages, and the publishers priced the novel at  1/9 (in the year 2000, this converts to 5.1 Pounds). Most paper-bound novels of this era were traditionally asking 1/- to 1/6, especially for a book of this page length. How did they get away with asking a higher rate when other mushroom publishers were asking less?

For those out there avidly collecting “drug” novels, this one ought to be a dream.

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After his good friend, Basil Moore (a top newspaperman) is found dead, floating down the river Tiber, Alan Whicker, of the News-Dispatch, is assigned to the international hush-hush assignment of uncovering the filthy £10,000,000 drug racket that has taken hold of Europe. He must discover and infiltrate the distributors and unveil the identity of the ruthlessly sinister leader, known as Nummer Eins (Number One).

While on assignment, Whicker ends up falling in love with socialite Margo, a dancer and singer at the Golden Monkey nightclub. Sadly, he learns that she has rooming with her another man (Martyn) and they end up getting into a physical altercation. Whicker takes his lumps and ends up badly battered and bloody, but, victor in this embittered battle. He departs the nightclub, and despite Margo chasing and swooning over him, he shoves her affections aside. He has little interest in playing middle man to her love affair.

Wandering the streets and drinking at an all-night eatery, he returns to his quarters to find his bed occupied. He decides to let whomever it is sleep it off, but, realizes something is amiss. Going over to check his health status, he discovers the man isn’t breathing. Furthermore, it is Martyn, shot dead! Realizing that he has been framed for murder, Whicker heaves the body upon his shoulders and removes the corpse from the premises. He drives all over the city and out to the river to dispose of the cadaverous Martyn. Whicker (as author) introduces his fictional self to a humorous episode while trying to ditch the body. He’s pulled over by an International Patrol, which comprises of one British M.P., an American, a Frenchman, and a Russian. He quickly douses Martyn with liquor (in typical cliché form) and the police think he is just another drunkard.

Escaping their clutches, Whicker finally disposes of Martyn. Before doing so, he searches Martyn’s pockets. He finds a secreted document, in German, that reads: “Whicker einrifft Montag abend. Liquidierre ihn. Nummer Eins.” The note also supplies a phone number and the name of a boat. He returns to the late-night eatery to establish an alibi for his whereabouts, and returns later to his room. It isn’t long before local police arrive on the scene to investigate an anonymous tip. Unveiling no hidden dead bodies on the premises, they depart.

The next day, he dials the mysterious number only to discover it belongs to Margo! Is this loving vivacious girl the sinister Nummer Eins? It hardly makes sense. (Nor does it make sense to frame Whicker for murder and leave a note from the secret villain on his person; intentional? or a goof on the part of the author?)

Whicker confesses the all-night episode to his close compatriot, Gerry, whom is a locally stationed high-ranking officer. Together, the two infiltrate a drug den. Realizing they can’t depart without raising some eyebrows, they succumb to drugs. Whicker, unable to control his anxiety, relinquishes control of the situation to Gerry. The story shifts mostly to Gerry’s viewpoint on drugs. Unable to escape, they are offered a choice of “hashish, opium, heroin, a little morphine….” Gerry opts for peyote, much to the proprietor’s surprise. Forking over a thousand shillings for ten grains each, the pair are left in an isolated room, and the attendant injects both men. At the final moment, Whicker panics and begs not to be under the influence. Too late….

While initially loopy, Gerry explains the drug mescaline to Whicker, and its properties. After regaining a semblance of control over their mental and physical properties, the duo sneak out of the room and investigate other rooms. They are startled to see raving lunatics gone-too-far under the influence of cocaine, opium, etc. One room offers maniacs bouncing about from hallucinations. The effects of the peyote begins to finally really take effect, and they stumble back to their room.

Whicker elaborates on the effects of the drug, what he sees, feels, etc, for a few pages. One almost wonders if our BBC man actually has any first-hand experiences with drugs or if he cooperated with contacts that could supply information.

Eventually escaping the drug den from hell, Gerry and Whicker part ways. Whicker intends to make for Vienna, to follow-up another lead. While en route, he is pulled over and beaten nearly unconscious by two assailants. While delirious, he hears that they are ordered to murder him, but the other person present stays his hand from murder. Whicker later learns that his jeep was used as a means to pass something concealed, across the border. He was used as an unwitting accomplice, and Nummer Eins was at the back of this plot!

Whicker plods on, and chasing the mysterious boat that is preparing soon to leave (the one mentioned on Martyn’s note) he boards the vessel. He meets the captain, and knocks the man out. While out cold, Whicker sifts through the captain’s papers and finds the “case” that had been secreted on his jeep! It is filled with loose gems (diamonds, gold, pearls, rubies, emeralds, sapphires) and jewelry. He shows his newfound worldly goods to Gerry, and the pair return to the Golden Monkey, the club where Margo sings. They are certain the proprietor might recognize some of the jewelry and know who they belonged to originally. Why their interest in this angle? Well, the jewelry would have been relinquished in order to pay for the illegal drugs! So, whomever did so, is on drugs, and should know their point-of-contact. At least, that’s Whicker’s line of thought.

The proprietor, Tibor, recognizes only one piece, as belonging to…Margo! Whicker is stunned and disheartened. He later dines with Margo, and then drops the jewelry before her eyes, upon the table. He confronts her, but she only breaks down and cries. We are left to wonder if she truly is Nummer Eins or only a blubbering wreck because she ultimately knows this person’s true identity, and is afraid to tell the truth.

Dull and beside himself with serious depression, Whicker returns to the Golden Monkey to get drunk. While there, a British soldier walks in and salutes him in passing, while walking to the back, toward Tibor’s offices. Whicker is baffled as to why this man saluted him! True, he himself is in military attire, but, only a new recruit or recent transfer into the Zone would salute him, and, he knows neither are due to this area. Intrigued, he walks in on Tibor and this false soldier, only to find Tibor equally dressed as a soldier!

Tibor draws a handgun on Whicker, and explains the situation. The drug gang are removing themselves from Europe, with all their millions earned, and fleeing before the local governments discover and converge upon them. Irked that Whicker has survived all their murderous attempts, Tibor informs him that he won’t survive this one. The situation becomes stickier when Margo inexplicably walks in. She is oblivious that Tibor intends to murder Whicker. Margo again proclaims her love for Whicker, whom tries to convince her to flee the scene, lest Tibor kills her too.

His whole world ultimately crumbles when she confesses that she is Nummer Eins! However, she never ordered the kills. Tibor did all this behind her back. She was in charge purely for the money. After the war left her husbandless and destitute, she used her charms and allure to establish a foundation for illicit drug-trafficking throughout Europe. Margo never believed she would fall in love again until she met Whicker. Then, she didn’t care about her Nummer Eins identity any longer, or the money. Willing to abandon the whole lot to Tibor and his mad crew, she attempts to save Whicker’s life but is gut-shot for her efforts.

Tibor and the gang flee, but all of Europe are put on high alert. They are found, eventually. Tibor is gunned down and the rest arrested, along with many corrupt political figures, etc.

Margo dies on the floor from the gunshot wound, in Whicker’s arms, whom forgives her for her illegal transgressions. He buries under in her native Austrian lands, under a tall elm tree. Grim and despondent, he leaves her and the churchyard, to return back to England….

Alan Whicker writes a very serious exposé of the world’s ultra secret underworld and drug trafficking problems following the conclusion of the second world war, supplying raw data on various countries, a variety of drugs and their concerns, etc. As the hero of our tale, Whicker must face unscrupulous military men, bed down a variety of foreign ladies, succumb to drugs himself (twice) to maintain his secret assignment (even though everyone seems to already know his assignment), dodge assassination attempts, survive brutal beatings, and get liquored-up repetitively. Initially I was disgusted with the novel and its blasé attitude toward various ethnic groups and countries, but, we must understand that Whicker was writing, on one level, a formula novel, and on another level, a novel rich and colored by the natural biases of the reading public. It is an outstanding literary endeavor and well-worth my time spent reading it.

Inside, on the title page, it says he is also the author of the following:

  • International City
  • Threat of the Future
  • Hell Ship
  • Korea Man (in Men Only, March 1951)

I have found that Whicker was a regular contributor to Men Only, appearing in at least 20 issues, perhaps more. It is in all likelihood that all the above entries appeared in that publication. He also supplied at least one short crime tale to Courier (April 1950). I think it would be interesting to read all of his early literary output and perhaps have them collected (with the estates permission).

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“Some Rise by Sin” by Alan Whicker

The Black Wraith by Raymond Buxton and Ben Bennison

STANLEY BAKER The Black Wraith

Raymond Buxton (author) and Ben Bennison (sports journalist) team up for “The Black Wraith: A Story of the Dog Tracks” (aka: See How They Run) published by Stanley Baker Publications Ltd., in 1952. (Click on STANLEY BAKER in the “tags” section for another book I read October 2017)

The precise identity of Raymond Buxton is currently unclear, and from online research, I see that this topic has already been tackled, so I will move along to the novel itself.

The cover art features a stylish blonde paying a creepy-looking man a ton of money. No such scene ever transpires within the novel.

At its heart, “The Black Wraith” is a dog racing novel. We are introduced to Bart Bentley, an unscrupulous soul whom learns from another underworld denizen that up in Ireland, he might find the fastest dog that has never been raced. Bentley departs the train and eventually meets the O’Dare clan, which consists purely of father Patrick and his daughter, the lovely Sheila. They are poor and in dire straits. The father is a mechanic owes the local government(s) taxes and like.

Bentley takes advantage of their situation, playing up the London gentleman, whom got away from the big city for rest and relaxation. In fact, he wants to slowly claim control of the dogs and Sheila, the supreme prize. After attaining her confidence, he suggests that they train her two greyhound dogs (Sweep and Sooty). Afraid to go with him to London, he then suggests a chaperone. She obtains a relative, Kay Mulvaney, a spirited-fiery young lady that ultimately (privately) informs Bentley that she is onto his plans, but, has no intention of crossing his path. She’s in it for two things: the money and escaping to the city.

Agreed, the trio embark to London, and Bentley in no time begins to have the dogs trained at a derelict track, quietly, so that nobody becomes suspiciously awakened to the fact that Sheila has in fact two dogs in training. The world soon is introduced to the unknown Sweep, whom does just that. Sweep blows past the competition and repetitively begins to win races. No fool Bentley, he informs each of the local rackets about the dog, to ensure that they are equally satisfied, since they are aware of his darker reputation.

Bentley’s greed grows. He begins to toss Sooty into the mix, to purposely lose some races. On the sly, he bets on the sure dog, while placing public bets on Sooty (listed as Sweep). Sooty is fast, but seconds slower that Sweep, and, not as intelligent.

His funds growing by leaps and bounds, he has forgotten to include one other ally in his winnings. The person that first informed him about the dogs! That man slowly becomes enraged to the point that he goes to one of the big-noises, whom just lost thousands of pounds at a recent race “fixed” by Bentley.

To make matters worse, the floozie that Bentley normally shacks up with over the years is actually deeply in love with the louse. She learns that Bentley has been not only evading her (believing him to be busy on the tracks) but, also having sex with Kay Mulvaney. She and Sheila had been staying at a large home the during much of the novel. Kay wanted to escape, badly, as early mentioned, and with her share of Sweep’s winnings, finally sets herself up in some nicely furnished rooms.

Not satisfied with the winnings that Bentley bestows upon her, she flirts with Max Glicka, the man whom was just noted to have lost thousands of pounds on Sweep (er, Sooty). As anyone knows, that multi-faceted love triangle is bound to collapse.

Bentley’s floozie, Bessie, introduces herself to Sheila, and, while under alcoholic influences, reveals the truth to her, going so far as to state that if Sheila goes to Kay’s flat at “x”-hour, she will find Kay and Bart together.

However, Bessie arrives at that flat first, and forcing her way in, past the trim and scantily clad form of Kay, she finds Bentley in bed, inappropriately dressed. Next arrives Sheila, and she is aghast. Developments spiral out of control when Max Glicka, Kay’s other lover, also appears on the scene, to learn the truth of the fixed dog races.

Enraged beyond any sense of self-control, and realizing her wealth-building whorish empire is crumbling, Kay lifts a chair to clobber Bessie, but is shot dead by her erstwhile exposure! Bessie had found a revolver in Bentley’s clothes (at her apartments, where he sometimes stayed) and she brought it along for protection. Having never wielded a fire-arm in her life, she is shocked to find that she has shot and killed Kay! The gun drops to the ground, the police and called and Max makes sure nobody leaves the scene of the crime.

The next chapter switches to Bessie, imprisoned, awaiting trial. All the witnesses are present and are questioned. Each are honest save for Bentley, and Bessie’s lawyer, however, is one of the best in the country. He wrings enough of the truth out of Bentley to satisfy his case. The jury comes back: “manslaughter!” She collapses and is carried away, to serve her one-year sentence.

Time passes again. Sheila is rich, back home in Ireland, with her pa. She has saved the homestead and converted the back into a kennel. She receives a letter postmarked from Canada, and learns that Bentley, whom vanished after the trial, fled across The Great Pond and settled in Canada, and further, Bessie has joined him!  She, a goodhearted young lady, decides to “gift” the pair with one of her newest pups…and so the novel ends.

Personally, I care little for any sort of sport story, however, Raymond Buxton delivers decent dialogue and a stupendous backdrop of color and an okay-enough plot to keep you plodding along. I heartily recommend this novel to anyone looking for a fresh escape.

 

The Black Wraith by Raymond Buxton and Ben Bennison

“Quinton Clyde: Private Investigator” by Trent McCoy

STANLEY BAKER Quinton Clyde PI

Published 1952 by Stanley Baker Publications Ltd., “Quinton Clyde, Private Investigator” was written by Trent McCoy, alias of David Boyce.

The novel, as indicated, is a humorous detective thriller, and they aren’t joking.

The protagonist (not depicted on the cover) is a copper-headed, out-of-town, nosey ‘dick’ investigating the murder of one gangster, formerly answering to the name of ‘Muscles.’

Certain that a local lower-tier gangster (O’Brane) was behind the assassination, Clyde is up against the following henchmen:
1. Sammy Stetson (a cowboy turned gunman)
2. Larry the Louse (a petty crook with a penchant for drunkenness and being nearly blind)
3. Brent Brewer (a behind-the-scenes whom we never officially meet)

Throw in a strip-tease dame operating under the name Jade Kavan (a name more at home in a Tarzan novel, no less), a seemingly useless police captain as Simon J. Stride (whom takes everything according to his surname and is more fond of never leaving his seat and listening to flute music), and the captain’s young, capable lieutenant, Champion (seriously), and you truly have an unusual crime story (or, at the least, an unusual mix of characters).

The crimes taking place in the isolated city of Gorryville are home to a multitude of underworld denizens, waiting to whack the competitor. The police are either corrupt or don’t seem to give a damn. Clyde is fed-up with the local police department and the inadequate attention to the murderous situation. And what’s with the moll that seems drawn to both gangsters? Throw in a bank robbery, a pharmaceutical theft of cocaine and other assorted drugs, a lunatic asylum, and you enter your own realms of insanity, wondering what possessed me to read this book, let alone, asking yourself, why are YOU still reading the plot synopsis?

Clyde eventually manhandles the cowboy, provides liquid courage to Larry the Louse, is delivered a final death sentence by O’Brane, Brewer is jacked up with enough poison by the lunatics in his asylum to eventually kill him but he escapes and Larry sets Brewer’s own starving hounds loose and they rip him to pieces. Larry also rescues Clyde, fatally wounding O’Brane once in the spine and gut, despite being now 100% blind.

The cops finally prove that they are not bystanders, but covertly working on a secret operation. Jade Kovan turns out to be in cahoots with the police force but in the end retires to pursue an acting career in Hollywood. And Clyde doesn’t get the girl? Don’t be too sure. He insinuates that he’ll relocate to Los Angeles, and pursue his career there….

The name “Trent McCoy” is home to numerous mushroom jungle-era publications.

1951 – Wake Not the Sleeping Wolf (Hamilton & Co.)
1952 – Order a Coffin, Now! (Hamilton & Co.)
1952 – I’ll Come Quietly (Cooper Books)
1953 – Lady, What Now! (Cooper Books)
1952 – Quinton Clyde, Private Investigator (Stanley Baker)
1953 – Treasure of the Yukon (Stanley Baker)
1955 – Railroad Renegade (Fiction House)
1955 – Justice of the Canyon (Fiction House)
1956 – Outlaws of the Range (Fiction House)
1958 – Stagecoach to Santa Fe (Fiction House)
???? – Dynamite Trail (Fiction House)

“Quinton Clyde: Private Investigator” by Trent McCoy

“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….

 

“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