You Can Run So Far! by Michael Barnes

After an aborted attempt at reading a British gangster novel published by Curtis Warren Ltd., which I adamantly refuse to name (both because it was among the worst example of its short-lived era and I simply do not wish to acknowledge and create an absurd following among collectors of utterly ripe and smelly shit) I found myself choosing between a gangster novel or a tough detective novel. Then I thought, why not run with both options?

SCION You Can Run So Far

Published in 1952 by Scion Ltd., Michael Barnes writes You Can Run So Far! in the semi-traditional faux-American gangster-esque style with some slight plausibility.

Marc Bellini (a name best attached to an alcoholic mixed cocktail) is fleeing from New York police, when he happens upon a drunkard in a bar bound for England. Murdering him comes easy; he dons the dead man’s clothes, boards a boat under the assumed name of Luigi Oliveri, and escapes. However, Luigi, was no more innocent than our protagonist!

Waiting for Luigi is drug-peddler Charlie Sweet. He is nonplussed to find that the boat has arrived, but Luigi has failed to appear! He’s not the only one. The police had learned of the body-switch, but Inspector Jerry Carlton, alias “Commando,” arrives too late. However, he learns from a constable that Charlie Sweet had also been present. Interviewing Sweet within a club, he soon learns that Sweet is clearly a dishonest, underworld citizen, who simply has skated through life without being caught. Handing Sweet his business card, Sweet casually chucks it.

The Commando didn’t like that. Laying his hand upon the man’s arm, he exerts his sinewy strength upon Sweet’s arm and, striking perfectly a pressure point, places Sweet into extreme agony, and orders Sweet to pick up the discarded card, and retain it.

He does.

Departing, Commando tells his underling “Badger” to place a man on Sweet, watch him daily.

Eventually, events transpire that lead Marc to hook up with an old pal in a dive, and his old friend brings him unwittingly directly to Charlie’s lair, who becomes enraged, knowing full well that the police might be watching, and  Marc walks right into his place of business! He decides to get Marc out of the way by eliminating the man that killed Luigi. He sends him on an assignment that is rigged to fail. Either he dies, or, he is caught by the police.

The whole plot comes unhinged when Marc’s friend decides not to go through with that plan and save Marc’s hide. They escape and decide to set up their own organization, bring American real crime and violence to London, where the cops don’t carry guns! Their first stop: create bedlam at Charlie Sweet’s joint.

This accomplished, they continue to wreak havoc until Marc is forced into hiding. He busts into a girl’s flat. She is in love with Sweet, but has been systematically replaced by another, more attractive girl. Desperate to regain his love, she coerces Marc to kill the girl.

This goes awry when the younger girl’s older sister gets to Charlie Sweet first and plugs him. Badger takes the older sibling away. Then Marc makes his appearance. Taking them both hostage at gunpoint, he forces Commando Jerry to get him to the airport and board an international flight for South America, where he intends to disappear. These closing pages make for some great action-packed reading as Commando physically takes charge of the situation, tens of thousands of feet in the air, and dukes it out with the equally well-built Marc Bellini.

Pages 108-110 turn into pure a la “Passenger 57” movie chaos as the door blows open and Jerry forces Marc out of the plane, nearly dragging himself along for the ride. But when passengers grab his ankles, feet, legs, and begin dragging him back into the plane, Marc refuses to let go of Jerry as his own body is battered and buffeted, outside. Eventually, he loses his grip and screams away and down to his eventual splattering death…a modern thriller would have had him sucked into a plane’s turbines.

Not a strong novel throughout, the pace was adequate and the plot hung on just enough to keep me from tossing the book into the trash bin. The concluding action scenes redeemed the novel enough for me to recommend it to anyone that may be interested.

You Can Run So Far! by Michael Barnes

Crooks’ Honeymoon by Paul Swift (Brown Watson, 1949)

BROWN WATSON Crooks Honeymoon
Crooks’ Honeymoon Brown Watson, 1949

Paul Swift’s Crooks’ Honeymoon was published in 1949 by Brown Watson Ltd., with unsigned artwork depicting a seemingly enraged maniac about to strangle a cute blonde bombshell with his necktie. The artist looks familiar, but I can’t pin the person down. The British Library holds a copy, and claims that the cover title reads “Trust No Man.” Those words certainly aren’t on my copy.

The rear cover advertises two books as “now available” in this series. The first is Ladies Beware (by Paul Swift, per Oxford University library and Trinity College Dublin library). This book is not held by the British Library.

One further title is advertised: “Dramatic Detective.” Now THAT sounds like a series, and NOT an actual title. No author is provided, however, Oxford and Trinity hold copies, recording the novel as by Winston Parker (who?) and each provide that the title is Women Kill As Well.

The author’s identity is unknown. It must surely be an alias. At least two further novels exist by Paul Swift, those being Sinners at Sea and Studio Love. Despite the romantic titles, both are crime tales.

All four Swift novels are registered 1949, and each run 126 to 128 pages.

But enough on the bibliographic data. Let’s tackle the novel….

Chester Vynes, a man who dreams of becoming the modern-day (post WW2) Raffles, receives an anonymous phone call that his business associate has been murdered. The reader is introduced to Chester as a spineless thief, imagining the horrors that may soon transpire, when yet another phone call occurs. This one has a man instructing Chester to be outside, in ten minutes, if he wants to live.

This, he does.

Getting into a car with a couple of apparent hoodlums, his anxiety gets the best of him and Chester begins flailing and screaming. They knock him out. When he recovers, it is in a basement. A woman’s voice proclaims “About time…” He opens his eyes to espy the most lovely girl ever imagined. And she is part of this gang? He soon learns that they murdered his partner, because he was holding out on them. Further, they are not the master thieves. They too are part of a larger organization, based out of Paris. Basically, they perform the thievery, and the goods are sent to a fence, broken apart, and shipped abroad, rather than attempting to sell the goods locally in any part of England.

After beating Chester into submission and having him confess that his late partner was not sharing proceeds from their last heist, they arrange for he and the girl to partner up and hit a high-society function. Turns out the lady is formerly a part of society, but has maintained the charade since the death of her cheating spouse. Arranging to have the pair masquerade as husband and wife, they dance together to get used to one another.

Immediately Chester realizes he is in love with her and he feels that she is romantically interested in him. Turns out she is aroused by him.

The pair attend the function, perform the thefts, toss the goods to another member that departs in a vehicle, then create holy hell at the mansion, and everyone awakens to discover that they have been robbed.

A detective soon discovers rope fibers on the couple’s window sill, and realizing they are to be caught, they murder the man, and dump his body in shrubs far down the road. Shocked that they have committed a first-hand murder, they keep the crime secret from the syndicate. However, the body is eventually discovered and plastered across the newspapers.

The Paris syndicate learns of the grisly death, and it doesn’t take a genius to figure that Chester and the girl killed the detective. They are each brought across to Paris, separately, to perform yet another robbery, this time, not working together. Chester performs admirably, but the getaway car is spotted and the scene becomes a hectic mess as his muscled assistant murders another man. Blood sprays everywhere and onto Chester’s shirt.

Escaping with their lives, Chester is treated brutally by the head of the syndicate, who Chester fears is lusting after his girlfriend thief. He’s right. He’s soon beaten and battered to a pulp and, tied up, left to rot while she arrives from England. The leader awaits her arrival, they hook up, and he takes her out to dine.

Chester escapes with the dimwitted assistance of the muscled help, on the basis that the ogre obeys commands. Originally paired and assigned to the heist, the leader had instructed the mindless-one to obey Chester’s every command. Learning that that command was still embedded in his skull, he convinces the ape to untie him and assist in his escape. Uncovering some fresh clothes, he soon dresses in proper gentleman’s attire and hastens to the opulent hotel to confront the leader and expose the fraud to his girlfriend.

Chester becomes violently insane and inadvertently murders the leader. Taking it on the proverbial lam, the girl takes his cues (oddly enough, she was a much stronger central character in the first half of the book, and becomes a limp biscuit the remainder) and Chester returns to a building he resided in long ago, when he first learned in Paris how to steal. Re-assuming his old Parisian identity, he informs the landlady that he is engaged, and that they wish for a room. Chester keeps the girl hidden away the whole time because Paris police are looking for an English couple.

Instructing her to change her hair style and color, he brings her a change of clothes and adopts a clothing style he wore originally years ago. He must also obtain fake passports. While in the process, another cretin reading the newspapers discovers that he must be one of the English murderers and commences to extort funds from him. Chester drugs the man, and pushes him into the river to drown. He obliges.

Returning to the hotel, Chester is frightened to discover the police are doing a room-by-room search of his boarding house. He slips the girl a knock-out drug to put her to sleep, then shoots her in the chest, then twice more to ensure her death. Then he turns the gun around and swallows the next bullet.

Ironically, down below, the police had just finished looking at their passports, in the hands of the landlady, and decided the couple were NOT the ones they were hunting!

Crooks’ Honeymoon by Paul Swift (Brown Watson, 1949)

The Long Sleep by Al Bocca

The Long Sleep was published in 1950 by Scion Ltd. and represents the 4th book written by Bevis Winter under the Al Bocca pseudonym. The cover art is signed Ferrari; this is the alias of Philip Mendoza, who also signed as: Garcia, Zero, Gomez, etc.

The novel opens with Rick Morrison walking down the ‘hood, having recently been released from prison for a small-time crime. He’s looking to hook up with his girlfriend (Lola Madigan) only to discover that she has been two-timing him with an Italian “wop” by the name of Matt Corelli.

Disclaimer: Keep in mind that this is a 1950s novel, and we are still fairly fresh from exiting World War Two against the Germans and Italians. Slurs such as “wop” were commonplace terms in “gangster” novels. Any racism in these novels are not necessarily any reflection on the author’s actual personal beliefs.

Disgusted that Lola has been lip-smacking Corelli, Rick decides he will snatch her back from Corelli… But first, he needs money.

Picking up where he left off (criminally) he hooks up with another ex-jail-mate by the name of Lee Ackerman, who has the schematics to a rich old man’s home. He also knows that he and a butler are the only pair in residence, their movements, sleeping patterns, etc. Breaking in proves to be easy, but the whole scene goes haywire when the old man atop the staircase points a firearm down at them.

Rick refuses to shoot the old man. What’s worse, Lee Ackerman finds himself in a tussle on the ground with the butler. Tossing his handgun down to Lee in the darkness, Rick moves to leave when the gun goes off. The butler is done for, and the old man falls down the staircase to his death. Departing the house with the stolen goods, they hook up with their driver (a young female named Sonia) and speed away.

The goods are cached along the way and the trio split up. Rick phones his partner the next day only to discover a voiceless person has answered the phone. Repeating the call again nets the same result. A lifted receiver, but no speaker! Fearing the worst, Rick discovers via the newspaper that the police have arrested Ackerman and Sonia. The former has been charged with murder. Blood and dirt and scrapings are found on his body and clothes. Sonia, being quite young and inexperienced with the law, apparently has coughed up the fact that a third party (Rick) was involved.

Realizing the police are hunting him, Rick enlists the aid of Lola to obtain a fast car, then he races to where he believes the money and jewels are cached, finally discovers the location and the pair make their getaway. Lola isn’t too keen on bugging out on Corelli, as he has long reaches. The man practically owns her, having gifted her with jewels, furs, etc.

Ditching their wheels, the pair stereo-typically hop a railway car and sleep off their fright inside and permit the train to assist in their nocturnal escape. With the train coming to a sudden stop, Rick and Lola jump out before their “car” can be searched. Lola’s having no fun over the expense of having ditched a cozy situation with a repulsive-looking man in the city versus being on the lam with a loser with a pretty face.

They eventually obtain another set of wheels and make their way to San Francisco, and into the joint run by Siegal. Explaining that he is a wanted man out East, and having pulled off a botched jewelry heist, Siegal agrees to help but unwilling to match Rick’s cash demands for the jewels. Figuring the jewels to be too hot, he offers a much lower rate and travel out of the country. But the deal sours when Seigal learns that Rick has a girlfriend along for the ride. Demanding that Rick brings the jewels and the girl along for inspection, Rick finally relents and agrees to the terms.

Arriving at the agreed meeting place proves to be Rick’s undoing. Turns out that back East, Corelli has put out the word that a hood has made off with his girl and wants the girl back…and the man held. Rick is beat and knocked out and left in a houseboat. Waking up sore and bloodied, Rick scours the houseboat for a means of escape. All means are firmly secured. But, discovering he still has matches, he sets door frame ablaze and rapidly begins to suffocate from the flames and smoke. The door frame begins to weaken as he continues to throw his body against it then finally parts.

Making his escape, Rick drops into the water as people ashore notice the boat is on fire. Swimming far from the scene, he drags his body from the water. His suit is a mess, his twisted and battered, but he makes his way into a shady part of town and is met by a prostitute, who takes him up to her apartment to get cleaned up…after he promises to pay her.

While in her pad, we learn her sob story. Her old man died at San Quentin in the gas chamber after a botched job, leaving her a widow, and working her body for cash. Rick and her end up on the bed making out. Next day, he phones a cab and makes to leave, promising to mail her the money. Shockingly, she states she doesn’t want the money, that he can keep it. She’s more interested in skipping town with him, just for him. Not the money. Just goes to show you can’t always judge a book (or a person) by their circumstances. That’s something that turns up in various books I’ve read by Bevis Winter…a moral within a story.

Meanwhile, on that very day of Rick departing the prostitute’s pad, Siegal has Lola bound and gagged in his place. He’s developing a soft spot for her sultry body and decides to rape her before Corelli arrives. In fact, he spouts his intentions to her quite clearly, explains that Corelli would never believe her over him anyway. That Rick has been disposed off on the wharf. You get the gist…and so he removes her gag, she begins calling him all manner of names and other foul things spew forth. Siegal begins to paw her, remove her garments, kiss her all over, which proves to be a fatal mistake. Lola sinks her teeth into his neck and removes a chunk of flesh and he, in a fit of rage, heaves her. Distracted by his less than affectionate amorous intentions, he vaguely hears a scraping sound… The window opens and Rick leaps in, a gun in hand.

Siegal is mortified, and has every right to be. He’s stuck in a room with a vengeful maniac and he himself has foolishly bolted the door from allowing his toughs to enter and save his life while he molested Lola!

Retrieving the jewels from Siegal’s jacket, Lola departs by means of the fire escape, and Rick levels the gun and puts two rounds into Siegal’s gut. Dropping down after Lola, they both make off to his secreted wheels, when another shot in the dark is fired, and two gunmen step out of the darkness. They are Corelli’s men. And Lola is captured. Rick knows he’s bested…

…and now we are formally introduced to Corelli as a fat, flabby, jowl-faced character, with broken English. Corelli and his thugs decide to take Rick out to the rural part of California, find a good canyon, and push Rick in his stolen jalopy off the cliff. Rick doesn’t like this idea one bit and puts up a struggle, only to be knocked over the head; Lola herself is physically shaken like a rag and slapped violently by Corelli a dozen times.

Rolling the clock backwards to Rick and Lola’s escape and immediate capture by Corelli’s hoods, Siegal’s guards break in the door and find their boss dead. Spotting the open window, they look out into the darkness and spot 3 male figures and a dame climbing into a luxury sedan. Certain that Corelli and his 2 hoods have pulled a double-cross (not realizing it is Rick, the girl, and 2 hoods) they gather their own wheels and heavy artillery. Siegal’s smartest guard, Murphy, is the one to utter the oath that whomever killed their boss will receive “the long sleep” treatment. Hence the title of this novel.

Knowing full well where Corelli usually hunkers down, Murphy and the boys locate the rental and decide to rig the rental for a whole different sort of trip. Retreating to their own wheels, Murphy is pumped to follow the rental and see what sort of mayhem ensues…

Tossing Rick into his own stolen wheels, Corelli climbs into the rental, and the pair of cars make for the mountains. Crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, the driver of Rick’s wheels looks back in the mirror and in horror watches as his boss’s rental is out of control. The steering, clutch, brakes, all are useless. The car careens out of control on the bridge, over the rails, and plummets over the side, taking Corelli, one guard, and Lola down to certain death. Rick’s driver pulls over and gets out, looking down. There’s no need to look for survivors. His both and partner are dead, the jewels also having gone down with them. Murphy and the boys are enjoying the deadly bedlam.

Cops are immediately on the scene. The driver makes a run for it, pulling his gun. Another cop opens the rear door of the car and finds Rick unconscious, stuffed inside. The guard doesn’t get far before he is shot dead. And so ends this novel…we can only figure that Rick goes to jail as the final loose end, an obvious conclusion as he is a wanted man.

If you are into gangster novels and movies, this one certainly picks up the pace in the last quarter of the novel with all manner of twists and turns in the plot, violence, sex, etc. What it lacks is Bevis Winter’s customary facetiousness. Literally, there is no sarcasm nor wit present, but plenty of subtle irony.

The Long Sleep by Al Bocca

“Oh! Miss Green” by Harry Lex (UK: Curtis Warren, 1954)

Oh! Miss Green was published January 1954 by Curtis Warren Ltd., and given on the cover to be by “Harry Lex,” clearly a pseudonym. Sadly, the identity of the author is currently unknown. At least one other novel appeared under this name: Main Drag.

The cover artist is not known, and proclaims at the bottom “Private Eye and Public Dolls.” The rear cover lists a handful of other titles recently released as available in Curtis Warren’s hardcover “Lion Library” series. The Lex title here is given to be a “detective” novel.

It isn’t.

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Oh! Miss Green may well have a detective, but he certainly isn’t solving any crimes. The novel involves American gangsters pursuing Julia Green (the dame on the cover should actually have blonde hair and green eyes), and per the author, a “figure that made Jane Russell look like she’d been on a six months’ slimming course.”

Per the blurb:

Mike Reilly, Private Investigator, was waiting for his first case when in walked the eye-shattering Julia Green — and, brother, was this girl hot! Because she had seen him murder Jerry Saunders in Chicago, Cal Johnson, big-time racketeer, had flown to London in pursuit of Julia and was out to remove her and her evidence to a place where she would no longer be a threat to his own life. To protect Julia, Mike calls in Pete Redowski and his boys; an through the streets of Soho, Chicago hoodlums and Pete’s boys chase each other. To trap Johnson, the D.D.I. Reynolds asks Julia to return to the Diamond Club for a farewell performance. The trap is sprung but Johnson outwits Reynolds and Mike, and Julia is trapped. How they turn the tables on the Chicago racketeer is the highlight of this fast-moving and most exciting first novel by Harry Lex.

The blurb actually reads more like a plot synopsis than anything else, which adequately saves me all the time in the world from having to regurgitate the plot-vomit. Naturally, Reilly is captured and beaten up, and later saves the girl from Cal Johnson, and, also from Morelli, an ape of a “hood” brought over from America who specializes in murdering with his bare hands or a rope. All the typical fanfare of British gangster novels are present in this charming novel, and the stereotypes of American gangland literature naturally made their way in.

Despite the standard fare of gangster-esque literature, this novel held my attention long enough to warrant jumping off a very high cliff. The fact is that the majority of the British gangster novels are complete rubbish. That aside, it is a competently written novel and damnably rare. Given that this was published January 1954, and that Edmund Cooper churned out 3 original novels for Curtis Warren Ltd. during this period, naturally I wonder whose real name lies behind Harry Lex.

“Oh! Miss Green” by Harry Lex (UK: Curtis Warren, 1954)

“Detective Crime Stories” by Lee Dexter

Detective Crime Stories

Published 1949 by Curtis Warren Ltd., Detective Crime Stories collects 1 novella and 2 novelettes. The first is by Lee Dexter (real name, Denis T. Hughes) and, frustratingly enough, it has no working title. The remaining novelettes are supplied by Bevis Winter.

Independent reporter Lee Dexter is asked by an old friend (Danny) to look into the murder of his father; he mentored Lee many years earlier as a cub reporter. Arriving in town, Lee runs across unsavory characters in his quest to unearth the truth. He learns that the old man had been running articles in the paper slandering one of two men running for office. Oddly enough, he had been slandering a seemingly “clean” citizen.

To worsen matters, the murdered man’s son takes over the town newspaper and runs a column citing the other would-be politician (correctly) as the murderer. Said party sends a bunch of hooligans down to the paper and destroys all the apparatuses, and beats up Danny and the employees. Hospitalized, Lee looks in on Danny, and insists he remains there until steady.

While the son is bedridden, Lee has a bunch of parts flown in and gets the paper operational again. With proper adeptness, he adroitly runs off a proper paper, full of allusions and facts, and has enough papers printed to be given to every citizen … for free!!!

This naturally angers the gangster-politician; he kidnaps the rival’s daughter, to whom Danny is in love! Lee and Danny (now out of the hospital) join forces to hunt the missing girl and end up rescuing her in a shack, far away. Witness to her own abduction, she is able to point out the villains and have them arrested.

The story concludes with her father in office, and Danny getting hitched to the girl. This criminal affair cleared up, Lee Dexter returns to New York City.

The above is well-written, if not somewhat erratic, but pleasurable enough to retain the reader’s interest.

The next tale is a novelette by Bevis Winter, entitled The Ghoul. And it sure is an intriguing story. Private investigator Sebastian Riffkin is holed-up during a storm at home, when a short man enters and spiels his recent life problem. He needs Riffkin’s help. See, he got in deep at a gangster’s party, gambling to the tune of $600. Well, he doesn’t have anything close to that. Deciding to end his life by jumping off a skyscraper rather than let the gangster work him over, he is halted by a feminine voice. Turning, he is shocked to see a girl up there with him. She offers to pay off his debt, cash in hand. In return, she wants his soul. (Heh? What kind of a gangster story is this, you ask? Souls go hand-in-hand with the weird and uncanny genres, not crime thrillers, right? Right. I agree. Well, the author has other ideas.) He accepts the offer, pays off the debt. So, Riffkin asks, why is this guy in his place, and what is the new problem? The bloke states that the dame said to meet her and her boyfriend at midnight, at Riffkin’s place! Riffkin is not amused and asks for the name of the boyfriend. Turns out he is none other than “Muscle” Goole, aka, “The Ghoul.” He died a short while ago, and Riffkin is partly held to blame. The pair of ghosts ethereally put in their appearance, and demand the man’s soul, so that the Ghoul can shield himself behind a “cleaner” soul than his own and enter the pearly gates. (Note: Heaven and Hell, etc, are never directly mentioned. Nor is God, etc.) Riffkin tricks the pair out of obtaining the soul, stating that the man sold HIM a second mortgage on his soul. (Can you hear the canned laughter?) Instead, Riffkin sends out an invitation to the man that held the party in which the client is now in debt, because he in reality was directly responsible for The Ghoul’s death! He foolishly arrives at Riffkin’s place and the two ghost lovers appear before him and he is led to trip down a long flight of steps and dies. They collect the soul and go UP. It’s not long before they return to Riffkin’s apartment, lamenting those UP there rattled off a list of crimes against the dead man’s soul, making him unfit for The Ghoul to use. Riffkin finds this amusing, that those UP THERE know more about DOWN HERE than the police could ever prove! Realizing that THEY have a better accounting system on Earth life than live humans do, that rules out The Ghoul using the gangster’s soul. Since the pair want to stay together (ah, lovers!) Riffkin suggests the dame use the soul instead, to further tarnish her image, and they both will be then refused and sent packing, together, DOWN THERE. It backfires. The Ghoul is unloaded to go to DOWN THERE, and they are separated. She returns, spitting fire, and crushed, until Riffkin states that there is a swell guy UP THERE already looking for a swell gal, and so she departs to hook up with him! It works.

It’s a goofy, humorously written gangster-ghost story, but nicely handled and entertaining to the very last.

In Pickle Profit, Bevis Winter brings back Sebastian Riffkin to do some dirty work. A lawyer wants him to make sure a young man does not marry until he is 30 years of age, or he will be disinherited out of several millions of dollars. He takes on the task, befriends the young man, and finds the trouble worse than he thought. The young man is a romantic and attaches himself to babes constantly, who in turn try to latch onto the now-wealthy man. The catch in the clause also stipulates that the lawyer, on reading the Will, can not divulge to any party the sub-clause, regarding marriage, etc. Despite this, he divulged it secretly to Riffkin, knowing he could trust him with this assignment. He comes to fail when the man clearly is enamored with a girl and she, him! But, remarkably, she announces that she can’t, won’t, and shall not marry him! Fine for Riffkin, but he smells a rat. Turns out she is on the up-and-up. She was born into a cult that believes in avoiding marriage, due to broken vows, etc, and she is torn between her sect beliefs and her love for the young man. Riffkin to the rescue! I won’t ruin the absurdity of the plot twists, but, they end up married AND retain the millions, without divulging the sub-clause. The ending and coincidences are highly improbable, but hell, you ARE reading a FICTION story!!!

 

 

“Detective Crime Stories” by Lee Dexter

“Danger at Midnight” by Frank Griffin

I’ve been chasing Danger at Midnight for perhaps over a decade, without success. So when Zardoz Books turned up a pricey reading copy (a couple years ago now) I wasn’t picky. In fact, regarding books I read, I’m never picky.

The author was born Charles Frank Griffin on 15 Oct 1911 and despite disappearing in the 1950s, he wasn’t dead! He simply retired from writing. He actually lived a nice long life, passing away 5 Feb 1984 in Cornwall. He sired at least 13 children (from 1934-1956, that I’m aware of) and served during the second World War.

His first known crime novelette is Death Takes a Hand (Bear Hudson, 1945). I posted a blog on this novel May 2017.
NOTE: click on author’s tagged name in sidebar to revisit that post.
Griffin wrote at least 14 further crime/gangster novels (both in paperback or hardcover formats) and at least two known westerns. Remarkably, he even cranked out one children’s novelette, via a new alias: Charles Atkin “Black Rock Island.”

Griffin had also written “Women’s Legal Problems,” slated to be released 1942, however, it was completely and utterly destroyed during one of the Nazi’s numerous air raids. Additionally, he reportedly contributed to British propaganda magazine published in Russia. Unless the articles carried his byline, it is impossible to trace and confirm. Griffin also freelanced for numerous British periodicals and newspapers. Again, sans a byline, I’ve been unable to trace any those varied contributions. A further nonfiction effort, My Queen is Dead, has never been traced, was slated to be released by Hutchinson in 1952.

[cough cough] Oh. Right. Let’s return to the book itself….

mellifont-danger-at-midnight
Danger at Midnight” by Frank Griffin (Mellifont) Dublin, Ireland

Danger at Midnight opens with Martin Blake, broke and jobless, walking late one night to a distant town, to attend to a job interview, when he hears a distant scream. Having served in the army, he’s no slouch, and immediately launches into action-mode. Picking is way around the dark recesses of the night-roadway, he finds two cars on the side. Both are abandoned. Further sounds of a tussle, far out in the night. Pushing his way silently through the dense overgrowth, he espies two male figures depositing a young woman into a hole. Rushing among the pair and takes the duo on, fists flying and tackling the cretins. One applies a pressure-point technique to him and then they escape.

Martin unbinds the girl and suggests a call to the police. Bizarrely enough, she feigns ignorance as to the identity of the men and, furthermore, wishes to avoid police involvement.

The story develops that she is the head of a major smuggling syndicate with hundreds of contacts, and a rival start-up gang has decided to move into her territory. Unfortunately, while they have obtained her “book,” they are unable to crack her codes. The novella explores the far-reaches of the vast underworld, greed, lust, and an innocent man’s battle with his love for a desperate villain whom is both sinister and gorgeous and his own personal battle (right vs wrong).

In the end, the story falls apart, relying on the plot cliche that the woman has a younger, equally beautiful sister, who is innocently unaware of her sister’s occupation. She is captured by the rival gang and inadvertently rescued (briefly) by Martin Blake. In that brief encounter, he falls in love with her and realizes that what he felt for the older sister wasn’t love, necessarily.

While on a solo rescue mission, Martin steals the codes and offers them to the rival gang, in exchange for the young girl. Clearly he has made a foolish mistake; remarkably, his ex-lover and gang has located the rival base and raids it. During the ensuing dazzlingly frightful gun-battle, most are slain. She and the rival gang boss die shooting one another, and on her death bed, she begs Martin to take care of her sister…

Honestly, all-around, an excellently written, fast-paced crime novel. If you have the opportunity to locate a copy, and love this sort of genre, I wholeheartedly recommend Frank Griffin’s gangster-esque novella.

 

“Danger at Midnight” by Frank Griffin

“Murder Mayhem” by Ray Stahl (aka: Bart Carson)

HAMILTON Murder Mayhem

Ray Stahl briefly appeared in the Crime Doesn’t Pay Series in 1953, after backlash from the English government against gangster novels. Prior to 1953, the name that appeared on the front of this particular run was “Bart Carson.” Yeah, that Bart Carson. The newspaper reporter that ditched a career attached to a paying job to run solo as a tough investigative, smart-mouthed reporter.

Both bylines are the work of author William Maconachie, a highly competent writer of American-style gangster novels filled with colorful wit and sarcasm, vicious criminals, and cold-as-ice dames that even give our heroically former reporter, Bart Carson, the frigid treatment.

Married in 1948 to Nellie Betts (born 6 October 1911; died 1980 in Wallasey, Cheshire, England). For Nellie, William was her second husband. She married young in 1933, first to Vivian Osmond Weights (whom she divorced; he died 1978).

Her second husband, our author, was born William John A. Maconachie (20 May 1917) and his death was registered January 1988 in Birkenhead, Cheshire, England.

But, let’s skid off the history lesson and return to the novel…

Bart is fresh off a case in “Murder Mayhem,” having gotten away with some hood’s goods (like that, eh?) and also snatches a pile of maps. Why? Well, back before we had digital bullshit up-our-ass to tell us where to go (and yuh KNOW what I mean! pun intended) you had to KNOW how to read a damn map to get from Point A to Point B. Once upon a time, the United States also did not have an international highway system, either, but that’s another story….

Likes I says, bub, Bart’s got some maps, and he’s fresh from a case. He’s doin’ good, ya know. The big crime boss is outs, but the rackets ain’t stayin’ quiet long. There is a shake-up happening in New York, and someone is moving the chess pieces, ’cause only the winner can take all, see?

Bart’s up to his eyes in bullshit when hoods move in to retrieve one of the maps he unwittingly obtained, which is marked with a series of “X”s and”Y”s. The former denotes businesses purchased by the new proposed crime boss. The latter, future propositions. And when the latter are all gone, there won’t be but “X”s remaining, and they ain’t there to denote romantic kisses.

Bart is beaten, tortured, and taken for a drive to be murdered, but comes out aces every time. How this character never made it to the big old silver screen is beyond me, given that he was the only UK gangster writer to entertain a success in England and appear numerous times in print across The Great Pond in America. Likewise, “Bart Carson” enjoyed translations in foreign countries, too. He should have made a brief Hollywood commodity, to say the least.

But he didn’t, and his English originals remain to this day highly collectible and damnably rare to obtain.

Naturally, Bart solves the riddle behind who the mastermind “Brain” is, when a dying criminal cops to it. Hardly any brilliant deduction there, when he doesn’t have much to do but lean down and catch a dying hood’s last gasp. Remarkably, even saving the life of the chief of police’s daughter doesn’t avail him a hug or kiss from the central dame in the novel, contrary to the workings of most gangster novels of the period.

Give Bart Carson (or Ray Stahl) a try. You won’t be disappointed.

 

“Murder Mayhem” by Ray Stahl (aka: Bart Carson)

“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).

“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