Could you not smoke? Geez, you're inconsiderate to the very end, aren't you?
We featured an Australian cover for James O. Causey's Killer Take All about five years ago, but have only gotten around to actually reading the book now. The 1957 Graphic edition you see above has Roy Lance cover art, and we like it. We liked the story too. The protagonist was not a cop or criminal, but a golf pro, a guy who tried to make it on the PGA tour but failed. Now he works at a country club, and one day the woman who left him without a word while he was trying to make the big time turns up hitting balls on the range. She's married to another man, and since her husband isn't a nice person that's all the heartbroken hero needs to get neck deep in trouble. His difficulties start with losing fistfights to his rival, progress to a murder rap, and quickly to another, then to a web of deceit involving contraband art, and finally to a full-on Wide Eyes Shut circle of sexual thrillseekers. All in all, the novel is a pretty good journey. And importantly, it features a hero you can root for. He's a bit hapless, but never quite helpless. We'll keep an eye out for more Causey. He hit a lot of good notes with Killer Take All.
You're always digging in that purse of yours. Until the day I die I'll never understand what women keep in those things.
We were just talking about the classic detective novel set-up in which a woman walks into the dick's office, and here's another example—This Kill Is Mine from Graphic Books in 1956—using that time honored technique. It was originally published as No Slightest Whisper in 1955. Before we get into the book, though, let's note the awesome illustration from Oliver Brabbins, an artist we don't see as much as we'd like. He covers it all here—femme fatale, gun, noir blinds, etc. We especially like how he gets all Manet with the bottle and glasses. It's lovely work. Let's also note the cool interior graphic by an unknown designer (see below) featuring a beautiful stylized silhouette. We liked the book before we read a word.
Those words were written by Dean Evans, and as we said he goes classic with his opening when a woman walks through Reno detective Arnold Weir's office door. Evans tweaks the formula a bit by having the woman be a millionaire's secretary and having the actual millionaire call first and announce that his secretary is on the way, but basically it's the old standard: door opens and trouble commences. Weir is soon embroiled in murder, blackmail, cop trouble, false identity, missing jewels, and the romantic attentions of the secretary. The narrative is filled with hard-boiled lines such as:
He needs protecting like the Painted Desert needs a second coat.
Little grafting souls. Little, filthy, cheap, unimaginative, grafting souls.
I felt as sour as a quince in a bucket of lemons.
Hard-boiled dialogue is a double edged sword. Generally, all but the best authors come up with clunkers, such as Evans' insistence on saying this or that person “curled his lips” at someone else. Once, okay. Twice, maybe. Instance six or seven was a reminder that a standard “smile” or “sneer” will get the job done. Curled his lips sounds like something from a horror novel. Then there was this dud: Her skin was soft and clean looking, like the skin of a fifteen-year-old waking after a night's sleep. Hmph. But generally Evans does well with the repartee. You have to give him credit for that much.
Weir the detective wanders around on a standard clue hunt before finally uncovering the solution—which is related to revenge and secrets that go back twenty years—and finally settling matters in a wild shootout. Overall the book isn't bad, but there are an awful lot of not-bads in genre fiction. Evans knows the formula for writing a mystery, but doesn't make the ingredients come together into something memorable aside from his many clever turns of phrase. We gather he was mainly a sci-fi and fantasy writer, and This Kill Is Mine was his only detective novel. If he'd kept with it he might have done well, but this effort doesn't quite get there.
Gunman goes to club to murder mob boss but changes mind and shoots terrible singer instead.
Sometimes you win with these obscure old novels, and sometimes you lose. Since there's so little info on many of them, for us the most important reason whether to buy one is its price. We often pay more for ones we really want, but if it's cheap and the cover art is interesting, we pull the trigger. Hal Braham's 1957's mystery Call Me Deadly was eight dollars, which is a nice bracket, and as a bonus it has an excellent cover by Walter Popp. His dramatic nightclub tableau doesn't correspond to any scene in the story, but purely as an illustration we love it.
What we don't love is that, literarily, there's nothing special here. Ex-cop and recent widow Jim Dillon has been off the L.A. beat for two years and is now an insurance investigator with American Reporting Service. He's ordered to look into the death of a man named John Jasnich who had a large double-indemnity policy with a company—National Casualty—that doubts their client really went over the rail of a ferry into the Pacific Ocean to drown. His corpse hasn't turned up, and as you'll start to suspect early on in the proceedings, it never will.
Close calls with vicious thugs, interludes with three women of very different types, and hard-boiled repartee with various police ex-colleagues and current insurance industry competitors bring Dillon, long and windingly, to a twist ending that pushes into similar territory Chinatown would use seventeen years later. Despite that, the appropriate word for Braham's work here is, we think, perfunctory. There's plenty of mystery, but far less plot impetus than we'd have liked. He published seven other books under his name and the pseudonym Mel Colton, but Call Me Deadly had nothing to encourage us to buy again. Unless it's eight dollars or less.
Whoops. I guess the safety wasn't on after all.
Above, a fun cover for Al Fray's And Kill Once More, published in 1955, about a lifeguard turned bodyguard who gets involved in murder. The cover art on this is by Saul Levine, who you can see more of here and here.
I guess we've answered the question of whether your so-called practical learning is as good as my master's degree, haven't we?
What's the quote about people believing resistance to facts is just as valid as acceptance of facts? Fact is, the cowpoke who just got shot dead on the cover of Ford Pendleton's western adventure Gunmaster serves as an example that expertise is good. We slay people like this all the time—with words, heh. Speaking of which, “dier” is indeed a word. It's in Merriam-Webster. Use it in Scrabble. Gunmaster is from Graphic Books, 1956, with cover art by Roy Lance. If you want to see him in a more contemplative mode, check here.
I told you to always stand on a hard 17, and never double down when they deal out death, but you don't listen.
Dealing Out Death is another paperback given to us by a friend. He bought it randomly years ago and passed it along to us when he visited from the States a while back. Of the books he gave us we'd have read this one first if we knew, one, that it had to do with the movie industry (where we once worked), and two, that it was so good. It was written by W.T. Ballard, published by Graphic Books in 1948, and deals with bigtime studio VP Bill Lennox, who tries to figure out who murdered star actress Renée Wilson's husband. Wilson is in Las Vegas to deal with a personal matter—her screw-up brother's desperate plea for money to get out from under a mob boss—but soon discovers that her brother's troubles and her husband's murder are connected to an impending turf war, one initiated by mobsters from the east who want to move in on the legitimate hotel owners. Lennox flies out from Hollywood to find the killer, save his star actress from both danger and bad publicity, and navigate the seething cauldron of Vegas without losing his cool or his life.
In mid-century crime fiction you find tough guys in unlikely places. The various authors, casting about for signature characters, made ass kickers out of insurance adjusters, chemists, charter fishermen, and more. Having known a few movie producers we can tell you they run the gamut. Being a producer generally means you merely have access to money or the ability to raise it, or you have access to a script or treatment and the mandate to shop it. You can get into such a position by working your way up the ladder, but if you come to the party with money already in pocket that buys your entrance. Thus producers in both the old days and today might be former organized crime guys, former drug dealers, and such. Think Chili Palmer in Get Shorty. So the fact that the studio exec hero in Dealing Out Death is so tough is unusual but not unrealistic. Ballard uses the character of Lennox to construct an engrossing plot, imbue it with a strong sense of place, and populate it with numerous competing personalities. He's a very confident writer and he gets the job done in Dealing Out Death briskly and skillfully. The ending is not perfect, but they rarely are. Recommended stuff.
So I told the creep off and slammed the door in his face. He won't be back.
In Comes Death is the seventh and last entry in Paul Whelton's series starring newspaperman Garry Dean of fictional Belle City. Dean is convinced to try and save a wrongly convicted man from prison. You know the drill. Nobody believes him—not his editor, not the cops, etc. The art on this, which depicts an actual scene in the narrative involving murder and a silk stocking, is uncredited, circa 1951.
She tried rational discussion when she was younger but it never got her anywhere.
Above, the front and rear covers for I Prefer Murder by Browning Norton (aka Frank Rowland) and Charles A. Landolf, 1956, for Graphic Books. We compared this to other examples and the yellows on this one seem to have faded considerably, but it's still a nice piece, for which you can thank artist Saul Levine. You can see more of his work here.
I'd shoot you in the head or chest, but you're already brainless and heartless. So I think I'll make you dickless too.
It isn't just us, right? The perspective of Olivier Brabbins' art for Stuart Brock's, aka Louis Trimble's Killer's Choice makes it seem as though the woman is aiming dangerously low. At best, her male target will soon be missing his appendix; at worst, he can kiss the royal scepter goodbye. What did he do to deserve this? Well, the novel is a basic parlor murder mystery about the patriarch of a dysfunctional family who believes one of his progeny is trying to kill him. He has a pile of money, but is very stingy with it, giving nearly everyone a motive for murder. A killing eventually occurs, a body disappears, subterfuges take place, and the police are of course not to be involved. Luckily there's a detective on the premises. Everyone in the family thinks he's a secretary, but only because the patriarch hired him to play this role while trying to figure out who's planning to off daddy. Now with an actual murder on the premises, the detective has an even more urgent mystery to solve. And hopefully he can do it without being shot in the gonads. 1956 on this one, from Graphic Publishing Co.
There's only one sure way to get rid of a headache. Murder him.
Hangover House was originally conceived as a stage play and was written by Sax Rohmer, aka Arthur Henry Sarsfield Ward, and his wife, Elizabeth Sax Rohmer, who obviously borrowed his pseudonym. We haven't read the play, but the novel is one of those fun British murder mysteries where everyone is stuck in a mansion as cops try to solve the crime. But the police are secondary. The main guy here is private investigator Storm Kennedy, also stranded in Hangover House after being hired to keep an eye on one of the guests, the young and beautiful Lady Hilary Bruton. In his efforts to protect Lady Hilary, Kennedy becomes the prime murder suspect. By 1949, when this was originally written, guys like Cain and Hammett had taken crime fiction to violent, depraved places, so Hangover House may seem to some readers both overly genteel and too romantic—“Oh, Storm, will you save me from myself!”—but we liked it anyway. The surprise ending actually did surprise us. This Graphic Books paperback appeared in 1954, and the cover artist is uncredited.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1914—RMS Empress Sinks
Canadian Pacific Steamships' 570 foot ocean liner Empress of Ireland is struck amidships by a Norwegian coal freighter and sinks in the Gulf of St. Lawrence with the loss of 1,024 lives. Submerged in 130 feet of water, the ship is so easily accessible to treasure hunters who removed valuables and bodies from the wreck that the Canadian government finally passes a law in 1998 restricting access.
1937—Chamberlain Becomes Prime Minister
Arthur Neville Chamberlain, who is known today mainly for his signing of the Munich Agreement in 1938 which conceded the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia to Nazi Germany and was supposed to appease Adolf Hitler's imperial ambitions, becomes prime minister of Great Britain. At the time Chamberlain is the second oldest man, at age sixty-eight, to ascend to the office. Three years later he would give way to Winston Churchill.
1930—Chrysler Building Opens
In New York City, after a mere eighteen months of construction, the Chrysler Building opens to the public. At 1,046 feet, 319 meters, it is the tallest building in the world at the time, but more significantly, William Van Alen's design is a landmark in art deco that is celebrated to this day as an example of skyscraper architecture at its most elegant.
1969—Jeffrey Hunter Dies
American actor Jeffrey Hunter dies of a cerebral hemorrhage after falling down a flight of stairs and sustaining a skull fracture, a mishap precipitated by his suffering a stroke seconds earlier. Hunter played many roles, including Jesus in the 1961 film King of Kings, but is perhaps best known for portraying Captain Christopher Pike in the original Star Trek pilot episode "The Cage".
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