Volume 1 Number 1 January 1953
Joe Boyle stumbles into bigtime trouble when he delivers a message to mobster Mark Renzo from fellow mob man Vetter. After using his face and most of his body to stop the fists of Renzo’s goons, Boyle finds himself in the helpful, loving arms of a tomato known as Helen Troy (or as her late night patrons call her, Helen OF Troy). Together the two fall in love and other dangerous situations.
In the 1950s, no one sold more gritty, hardboiled fiction than Mickey Spillane (1918-2006). I, THE JURY (1947), MY GUN IS QUICK (1950), THE LONG WAIT (1951), THE BIG KILL (1951), VENGEANCE IS MINE (1951), ONE LONELY NIGHT (1951), and KISS ME, DEADLY (1952) all sold millions of copies while pushing the boundaries of violence and sex in mainstream fiction. The American Booksellers Association reported that only the Bible outsold Spillane in 1952. His character Mike Hammer (“hero” of all the aforementioned novels except THE LONG WAIT) bedded women and broke teeth like no other popular creation before him. Hammer’s translation to the big screen was equally popular (Robert Aldrich’s version of KISS ME, DEADLY with Ralph Meeker, is regarded by many as the greatest noir film of all time), with new movie and TV adaptations popping up every couple years.
Without Spillane’s massive popularity, it’s unlikely that publishers like Gold Medal and Lion would have taken a chance on such hardboiled writers as Gil Brewer, Vin Packer, Jim Thompson, and David Goodis and even more unlikely that Flying Eagle would have launched Manhunt. It’s appropriate that Spillane should lead off the premiere issue.
Despite his popularity, Spillane had many detractors (most of them literary critics (1)) who decried “the Mick”’s blend of blood and bosoms. Spillane is definitely an acquired taste, one that either hooks you immediately or turns you off. Whatever it was he had, it appealed to an enormous amount of readers, as Spillane quickly became the biggest selling hardboiled author of the first half of the 20th Century.
Die Hard by Evan Hunter
Matt Cordell, ex-PI, current drunk, is asked by Peter D’Allessio to save his son Jerry, whose life has become a nightmare of heroin addiction. Cordell initially turns down the request but reconsiders when the elder D’Allesio is gunned down in front of him. Cordell finds that there’s a hell even worse than the one he occupies.
Cordell is an ex-private investigator who lost his license after beating his wife’s boyfriend and now finds his solace on a barstool. All seven of the Matt Cordell stories have basically the same framework: Cordell is either drunk or in the process of becoming so when someone approaches him to take on a case. He first refuses, then relents, usually after a drink. He makes love to, or assaults, every woman that crosses his path, depending on their intentions. He gets shot a few times. He has a few more drinks. He solves the case. He heads for the next bar.
Though written under the Evan Hunter byline, Ed McBain’s style and trademarks show through in his Cordell stories. The graphic sense of violence (particularly in “Dead Men Don’t Dream,” where the reader discovers Cordell’s fondness for breaking bones), the “you are there” feel to his descriptions of the city, and the staccato dialogue all could have been lifted from any one of the novels set in McBain’s justifiably famous 87th Precinct. Because the set-ups are so similar, it is probably a good idea for the reader to space these stories out rather than reading them in one sitting. Perhaps this is why McBain abandoned the Cordell character after just a handful of short stories and one novel (I’M CANNON - FOR HIRE, published by Gold Medal in 1958, wherein Cordell, renamed Cannon, is hired to protect a man from a killer). Cordell’s descent into a bottle full of Hell is not pretty and probably wasn’t a lot of fun to write about . (2)
In 1995, Kiefer Sutherland directed and starred in an adaptation of an Evan Hunter story called “Love and Blood” wherein he played a “punch-drunk boxer” named Matt Cordell framed for the murder of his wife. Not having seen the episode (it was part of a short-lived Showtime noir series called Fallen Angels, which also adapted Manhunt stories by David Goodis and Jonathon Craig), I’m not sure if it’s a bastardization of one of the Cordell stories or if the writers simply borrowed the name.
I’ll Make the Arrest by Charles Beckman, Jr.
Well-known actress Pat Taylor is strangled, and the cop investigating the murder happens to be the corpse’s old beau. This cop is determined not to take prisoners. Charles Beckman wrote 7 stories for Manhunt in the first two years of the magazine’s existence, as well as stories for Pursuit (“A Hot Lick for Doc”), Double-Action Detective, Trapped, Mystery Tales (“Nymph in the Keyhole”), and Popular’s pulp Detective Tales (with wonderful titles such as “Die-Die Baby” and “Doll, Drop Dead!”). He also wrote the novel HONKY TONK GIRL, which would probably be forgotten if it wasn’t published by the notoriously collectible Falcon Books in 1953. Falcon published digest sized paperbacks and HONKY TONK GIRL would prove to be their last. (3)
The Hunted by William Irish
A woman is falsely accused of murder in a geisha house and is aided by a sailor on shore leave.
William Irish was a psuedonymn of Cornell Woolrich, the highly-regarded mystery writer who found major success in the 1940s in print and on radio. Woolrich’s dramas became a mainstay of such radio shows as Escape and Suspense. “The Hunted” is not a very good story. It’s rife with dull, cliched dialogue and inexplicable plot twists and deux ex machinas. The entire story reads almost like a radio drama: the events occur only long enough to get to the end of an hour. It’s also (in these PC times) insanely racist:
Character to his Chinese landlord: “How do you find an address in a hurry?”Landlord: “You ask inflammation lady at telephone exchange.”
The Best Motive by Richard S. Prather
One of our favorite PIs, Shell Scott, tackles the case of the stalker and the stalkee. Luscious newlywed Ellen appeals to Scott’s good samaritan side (and his libido as well) when it appears she’s being stalked by a crazed ex-boyfriend. A couple of really good highlights in “The Best Motive” illustrate why Shell Scott was such a popular PI in the PI-infested 1950s: After Shell is forced to abandon his car as it’s ripping through a guardrail over a cliff and into the sea, he remembers locking an unfortunate thug in the trunk; and the bar that Scott frequents, “The Haunt,” is populated by waiters dressed as skeletons.
Shell Scott not only starred in 35 novels, but several short stories (collected in the Gold Medal paperbacks, THREE’S A SHROUD, HAVE GAT-WILL TRAVEL, THE SHELL SCOTT SAMPLER, and SHELL SCOTT’S SEVEN SLAUGHTERS) and achieved what only a few other PIs can brag about: their own magazine. Shell Scott's Mystery Magazine presented (albeit briefly, issuing only nine issues from February through November 1966) such Manhunt authors as Jonathon Craig, Hal Ellson, John D. MacDonald, and Henry Kane, as well as spotlighting a Shell Scott “short novel” each issue. When SSMM went bellyup (due to poor sales), creator Richard Prather (1921-2007) was not even informed that the magazine had been discontinued and was not paid for quite a bit of the fiction that he had written for the digest. A tenth issue was prepared but never released. (6)
Shock Treatment by Kenneth Millar
Evelyn, the wealthy heiress and Tom, her newlywed husband (the requisite gigolo) enjoy a weekend in the woods until Evelyn goes into diabetic shock. Will Tom show his true colors or true love? Told entirely in dialogue, an interesting experiment, with Evelyn coming off as a shrewish Lucille Ball.
Kenneth Millar (1915-1983) later went on to acclaim as John Ross MacDonald (7) , creator of Lew Archer, the PI of THE MOVING TARGET and THE DROWNING POOL (both of which were made into movies starring Paul Newman). His wife was the successful mystery writer, Margaret Millar. Author Bill Pronzini writes that MacDonald’s LEW ARCHER, PRIVATE INVESTIGATOR “ranks with Hammett’s Continental Op collections and Chandler’s SIMPLE ART OF MURDER as the finest volumes of so-called hard-boiled crime stories.” (8)
The Frozen Grin by Frank Kane
Private eye Johnny Liddell helps the DA investigate the murder of a prostitute. Really nothing special, “The Frozen Grin” is a typical tale with dumb heavies, broads with big breasts, and henchmen who can’t shoot (or stab) straight. That said, I have a special fondness for Liddell, due mostly to his Dell paperback series of the 1960s. With titles like A REAL GONE GUY, TRIGGER MORTIS, BARE TRAP, and atmospheric covers (by artists such as Bill George, Victor Kalin, Harry Bennett, Robert Stanley, and king of the noir, Robert McGinnis), these books are a collector’s treasure.
Frank Kane (1912-1968) had a freewheeling style of writing. It seemed to be all over the place at the same time. He could write dark:
There was a dull, crunching sound as the man’s nose broke. Liddell chopped down at the exposed back of the other man’s neck in a vicious rabbit punch. Sammy hit the floor, face first. Didn’t move.
She slid out of his arms, shrugged her shoulders free of the gown. It slid down past her knees, and she stepped out of it. Her breasts were full, pink tipped; her waist trim and narrow. Her legs were long, tapering pillars; her stomach flat and firm.
Her eyes dropped down to her nakedness, rolled up to his face.
“I’ll do my best to make sure you’re not bored, Johnny.”
Kane cut his literary teeth in the pulps and on radio, where he wrote over 40 scripts for The Shadow from 1945-1950 (with wonderfully pulpish titles such as “Etched With Acid,” “Unburied Dead,” and “Scent of Death”). The author also created, wrote, and produced the TV show Claims Agent, based on his own character, Jim Rogers.
Backfire by Floyd Mahannah
Pete Mavrey meets a beautiful but troubled woman named Bernice Falkner. Bernice has been harrassed by an ex-boyfriend and, attempting to escape him forever, fakes her own death. She then contacts Pete and drags him down into her web of deceit, murder, blackmail, and other general nasty stuff. “Backfire” has an interesting premise well-executed during its first three quarters, but then suffers from way too much expository and a ludicrous wrap-up. Mavrey’s one of those likeable charcters that always seems to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Floyd Mahannah (1911-1976) wrote five crime novels: THE YELLOW HEARSE (1950), THE GOLDEN GOOSE (1951), STOPOVER FOR MURDER (1953), THE GOLDEN WIDOW (1956), and THE BROKEN ANGEL (1957). (9) His first published short story appeared in the June, 1949 issue of Ellery Queen (“Ask Maria”).
The Set-Up by Sam Cobb
Short-short about a crime beat reporter and his financial woes. Answering a strangulation murder, he discovers a way out of his monetary mess. This was Cobb’s first and only appearance in Manhunt, and other than a second story that appeared in Private Eye the same year, I can find no evidence that Cobb continued his writing career (at least in the mystery genre that is) . (10)
This issue also featured MUGGED AND PRINTED. A page of short bios of some of the authors featured in this issue. This time around we get Mickey Spillane ("largest-selling writer in the world today."), Kenneth Millar ("a mild man who holds an honorary Ph.D."), William Irish ("has a standing order with the switchboard at his hotel. He is not to be disturbed before twelve noon..."), Frank Kane ("and his private eye, Johnny Liddell, have been inseperable for a long time now."), Richard S. Prather ("is now in Mexico."), and Evan Hunter ("is really a whole lot happier than his disillusioned private eye, Matt Cordell").
1 In his biography of John D. MacDonald, Hugh Merrill writes that “John D. MacDonald returned hard-boiled writing to the realm of literature and pulled it from the sewer of sadism where (Mickey) Spillane had dragged it.” (THE RED HOT TYPEWRITER. Thomas Dunne Books, 2000. pp. 2)
2 An interesting aside is that when Gold Medal collected six of the eight Cordell stories (the only two excluded are “Return” and “The Beatings”) in I LIKE ‘EM TOUGH (Gold Medal, 1958) and the subsequent novel, Evan Hunter’s fifth psuedonym, Curt Cannon, was created (sixth psuedonym actually, since Hunter/McBain was born Salvatore Lombino). I assume this change was made because Hunter, at the time, was publishing novels of a more literary slant such as THE BLACKBOARD JUNGLE and MOTHERS AND DAUGHTERS. Hunter would use the psuedonyms Ezra Hannon (DOORS, 1975) and Stanley Abbott (SCIMITAR, 1993) later in his career. When Warner reprinted their paperback of DOORS in the 1980s, they changed the cover to read “Ed McBain” rather than “Ezra Hannon” to cash in on the success of the 87th Precinct, but forgot to change the author’s name on the title page! The entire ouevre of Lombino/McBain/Hunter/ Marsden/Collins/Cannon/Hannon/Abbott is a long and winding maze and a complete bibliography would be a welcome addition to my shelf.
3 The most collectible Falcon digest is THE EVIL SLEEP! by Evan Hunter. Though it’s been reprinted (as SO NUDE, SO DEAD by Richard Marsten), it still fetches several hundred dollars from collectors when it can be found.
4 Nevins, Frances M. FIRST YOU DREAM, THEN YOU DIE (Mysterious Press, 1988). Page 180.
5 Ibid. Page 382.
6 The info about SSMM was provided to this writer by Richard Prather while I was preparing a “Shell Scott” issue of my defunct magazine, bare*bones. More info can be found in bb Vol. 1, Number 2 (Spring 1998).
7 According to William L. DeAndrea in ENCYCLOPEDIA MYSTERIOSA, the reason Millar chose to use a psuedonym (first John MacDonald, but then changed to John Ross MacDonald and later shortened to Ross MacDonald to avoid confusion with John D. MacDonald) was because, ironically, he feared readers would confuse the Kenneth Millar byline with his wife, bestselling mystery writer Margaret Millar. Before gaining massive success as MacDonald however, he published four novels as Kenneth Millar: THE DARK TUNNEL (1944), TROUBLE FOLLOWS ME (1946), BLUE CITY (1947), and THE THREE ROADS (1948).
8 Pronzini, Bill 1001 MIDNIGHTS (Arbor House, 1986). Pages 525-526. For my money, 1001 MIDNIGHTS is the best mystery reference book on my shelf. Comprised of lengthy reviews of over 1000 important crime books, 1001 is indispensable to beginners and veterans of the hardboiled collecting genre.
9 THE BROKEN ANGEL was condensed in 1958 and published in the mystery genre’s answer to Readers' Digest, Mercury Mystery-Book Magazine, a fascinating digest zine that was, in its first several years, simply another digest published by Mercury Publications that condensed mystery novels, beginning with James M. Cain’s THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE, and continuing with such notables as Hammett’s NIGHTMARE TOWN, Woolrich’s DEAD MAN’S BLUES, and Curt Siodmak’s DONOVAN’S BRAIN. With its’ 210th issue (September 1955), the digest became, essentially, a magazine, featuring a lead (condensed) novel and a handful of short stories. MMBM lasted 23 issues in this format, featuring such collectable hardboiled authors as Frank Gruber, Gil Brewer, Craig Rice, ed Lacy, William Campbell Gault, and Jim Thompson. This is a magazine that bears a second, more detailed look. On a side note, a second Mahannah novel was condensed in the April 1956 issue of MMBM, titled HANG FOR HER. I can find no such titled novel in any references that cite Mahannah’s work and his only novel to be published after 1956 (besides THE BROKEN ANGEL) is THE GOLDEN WIDOW. Is HANG FOR HER a retitling of WIDOW? Perhaps someone in our audience who has a copy of WIDOW could clear this up for us.
10 Steve Mitchell on the mysteryfile.com website theorizes that Cobb may, in fact, be yet another pseudonym used by Ed McBain.
Check back next Friday for the next installment of The Complete Guide to Manhunt!