First the numbers:
Some of the guilty parties: Charles Williams, Donald E. Westlake (and Richard Stark), Ed McBain (and all his aliases), Gil Brewer, Craig Rice, Jonathon Craig, John D. MacDonald, Mickey Spillane, Richard Prather, Leslie Charteris, David Goodis, Robert Bloch, Harlan Ellison, Harry Whittington.
What strikes you when you read Manhunt is the fact that there are so many good stories by so many writers that aren’t household names (well, at least hardboiled households). Norman Struber, whose “Badge of Dishonor” shows us an early example of the anti-hero; Stuart Friedman, author of the powderkeg “The Secret,” wherein an innocent man is murdered for a crime he didn’t commit. Then there’s Frank Kane, author of several stories featuring hardboiled PI Johnny Liddell. Kane is often overlooked when great authors of the 1950s are discussed, perhaps because so many of the Liddells seemed jokey. Kane’s “Key Witness,” a rare non-Liddell novella, is anything but comic. An innocent bystander turned good samaritan is terrorized by the punks he witnessed commit murder. His transformation from good citizen to victim is starkly portrayed. In “Seven Lousy Bucks” by C. L. Sweeney, Jr., Joe’s got it made: no job, drinks his life away and prostitutes his wife, Clare, for booze money. When his wife fails to bring home more than ten bucks after serving a john, Joe blows his top. Violent, harrowing look at two bottom-of-the-barrel individuals. These four stories appeared over the space of three issues! If I had the time and space, I’d extoll the virtues of “Deadly Beloved,” a Joe Puma novella by William Campbell Gault, or “Hunch” by Helen Nielsen, wherein a grizzled, pessimistic cop discovers that the chief suspect in a series of brutal murders is his own son, or dozens more well-written celebrations of con jobs, robbery, murder, and adultery.
My own personal Manhunt collecting odyssey began in 1993 after a conversation with author Ed Gorman. Ed was writing a piece on Gold Medal paperbacks for a magazine I was editing at the time (you can say it Pete — The Scream Factory! -JS), and Manhunt kept popping up in the conversation. Ed let on that Manhunt had been an important part of his formative years. That sparked an interest in me and when, while browsing through a vintage paperback catalog, I came across a cheap copy of the January 1956 issue (“Seven Brutal Shockers!”), I took the plunge. Seven years later, I had the high bid on the September 1955 issue (one of the pricier digests because of its Charles Williams novel) which completed my set. I’d estimate a total price at about $1200.00.
|One of the scarcest: Bedsheet-sized Giant Manhunt|
After returning to digest size, Manhunt just wasn’t the same again. Though the classic authors would make an appearance now and then, most of the authors were new, untested writers. Writers not heard of before and, in several instances, never heard of again after Manhunt’s demise. Evan Hunter and Charles Williams gave way to Robert Page Jones and J. Simmons Scheb. Not exactly esteemed names in a crime aficionado’s book. The general look of the magazine began to suffer as well. The magazine’s frequency was dropped first to bi-monthly and eventually quarterly. Reprints (of both covers and the fiction inside) became a fact of life. The beautiful hardboiled paintings adorning the covers gave way to out of focus shots of women cringing against brick walls. If you’re looking for the quality, stick to the first six years.