Friday, October 29, 2010

The Complete Guide to Manhunt Part 6

by Peter Enfantino

Continuing an issue by issue examination of the greatest crime digest of all time.

Vol. 1 No. 5 May 1953

The Guilty Ones by John Ross MacDonald
(8000 words) **
Lew Archer is hired by Reginald Harlan to find his sister, who has run away with an artist. Seems there’s quite a bit of money in the family, and Reginald wants to keep it that way. Not much in the way of excitement here, and the tell-all climax is rushed.

John Ross MacDonald (1915-1983; no relation to fellow mystery writer John D. MacDonald ) (1) found huge success with Lew Archer, headlining the PI in The Moving Target (1949), The Drowning Pool (1950), The Way Some People Die (1951), The Ivory Grin (1952), Find a Victim (1954), The Barbarous Coast (1956) The Doomsters (1958), The Galton Case (1959), The Ferguson Affair (1960), The Wycherley Woman (1961), The Zebra-Striped Hearse (1962), The Chill (1964), The Far Side of the Dollar (1965), Black Money (1966), The Instant Enemy (1968), The Goodbye Look (1969), The Underground Man (1971), Sleeping Beauty (1973), and The Blue Hammer (1976). The entire short story career of Archer was collected in Lew Archer, Private Investigator (The Mysterious Press, 1977). Paul Newman portrayed Archer (renamed Harper) in two successful films, Harper (based on The Moving Target, 1966) and The Drowning Pool (1975). Archer was also the star of his own short-lived TV show, this time fleshed out by Brian Keith.

Services Rendered by Jonathon Craig
(3500 words) ****
Bad cop Henry Callan is using Carol Hobart as his private whore. She’s desperate to have her husband released from prison and cleared of murder charges and Callan has promised her his cooperation in exchange for hers. Henry Callan is not just a bad cop, he’s evil, a character trait that Craig seemed to adore and excelled at in his writing.

Stakeout by Robert Patrick Wilmot
(4000 words) *
Denham is hired to be a bodyguard by Audrey Ganns and her blind husband Wade. Unbeknownst to the couple (or is it?), Denham is in cahoots with a couple of bad guys who plan to steal the blind man of the jewels stashed in his safe. Lifeless story is devoid of thrills, good characters, and a middle act. It’s also stocked with a dopey, cliched climax right out of a bad EC Comics story. Robert Patrick Wilmot’s minor claim to fame is the series of novels published in the early fifties (BLOOD IN YOUR EYE, MURDER ON MONDAY, and DEATH RIDES A PAINTED HORSE), all starring Steve Considine, “ace private eye and crack trouble-shooter” for Confidential Investigation Services, Inc .

Graveyard Shift by Steve Frazee
(4500 words) **
A gang of thieves attempts to knock off a gambling joint while one of their female members holds a gun on a police dispatcher. She attempts to manipulate the flow of police traffic to divert the patrol cars away from the gang’s target. A little too detailed, the action gets lost in the technical dispatcher jargon.

Steve Frazee (1909-1992) wrote a handful of crime stories in addition to “Graveyard Shift” (“My Brother Down There,” which Frazee later expanded into the novel Running Target, won First Prize in the Ellery Queen Story Contest in April 1953), but was known primarily for his superior action and western tales found in such diverse publications as The Saturday Evening Post, Adventure, and .44 Western. Many of his western novels were actually crime dramas with western curtains and trim (He Rode Alone, simply one of the best westerns I've ever read, was actually a revenge yarn with desert settings and new spins on the old western character cliches). About Frazee, writer Bill Pronzini said “During the 1950’s, no one wrote better popular western novels and stories.” As a Frazee completist, I can’t disagree.

Now Die In It by Evan Hunter
(9500 words) ***
Matt Cordell is hired to find the killer of a pregnant teenager. He’s drawn to a world of juke joints and pool halls. McBain peppers the story with more 87th Precinct-type passages such as “The streets were crowded with people seduced by Spring. They breathed deeply of her fragrance, flirted back at her, treated her like the mistress she was, the wanton who would grow old with Summer’s heart and die with Autumn’s first chilly blast.” The plotline of “Now Die In It” was later used for the third 87th Precinct novel, The Mugger.

Cigarette Girl by James M. Cain
(3500 words) **
The working girl in the title is in a lot of trouble, but tough guy Cameron comes to the rescue.

James M. Cain (1892-1977) wrote two blockbuster crime novels, Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice, the latter of which, author Max Allan Collins says, “ set the standard for tough, lean writing.” Both were made into classic noir films in the 1940s. Black Lizard (certainly the preeminent noir publisher in the 1980s), published three of Cain’s lesser-known novels, The Root of His Evil, Sinful Woman, and Jealous Woman (the latter two were originally published together in one volume in 1948 by Avon) in 1989. Several of Cain’s short stories were collected in The Baby in the Icebox (1981).

Nice Bunch of Guys by Michael Fessier
(2000 words) **
Slow-witted Marty just likes to sell his newspapers and keep to himself, but that’s not good enough for the neighborhood toughs, who have other ideas for Marty.

Old Willie by William P. McGivern
(2000 words) ***
Who is the old man known only as Old Willie? He’s protective of a Danish girl named Inger Anderson and a local mobster named Cardina better watch his step around her. Good surprise at the climax when we find out the true identity of Old Willie.

William P. McGivern (1918-1982) wrote several crime novels but is best known for his big three: The Big Heat (1953), Rogue Cop (1954), and Odds Against Tomorrow (1957), all of which became classic film noir. All three of those are very good but other, lesser-known McGivern novels should not be forgotten: The Darkest Hour (1955) aka Waterfront Cop, about New York City waterfront crime in the 1950s; a fast-paced kidnap thriller, The #7 File (1956); and McGivern's take on political corruption, Night Extra (1957).

Build Another Coffin by Harold Q. Masur
(4500 words) *
Lawyer Scott Jordan is hired by a beautiful young woman who stands to inherit a boatload of dough from an institutionalized aunt who suddenly stops answering the girl’s letters. Jordan throws the usual quota of punches and spends the average three to four pages on an expository (half of which is action he couldn’t possibly have insight on) that draws yawns from not only the reader but perhaps the supporting characters as well. This story definitely needed an editor’s pencil, as witnessed by this awkward paragraph:
Denney went up in the air and flew backward, crashing against the wall. I scrambled to my feet and reached him in a single jump. His eyes were glazed and I picked one up from the basement and threw it at him with all the strength I had.
This would have to be the first instance I’ve come across where an assailant is dispatched with one of his own eyeballs.

Don’t Go Near... by Craig Rice
(8000 words) *
Craig Rice’s John J. Malone is hired to find out who’s killing the lions at a small carnival. Some readers may take “Don’t Go Near” as a parody of tough guy stories. Parodies only work if they’re funny or interesting. This story is neither.

Assault by Grant Colby
(1000 words) *
A woman’s fears about her husband become real. Nothing more than a fragment, it’s hard to judge stories like “Assault” that have no real beginning or end, but the fragment here is neither startling or interesting.

This issue's "Mugged and Printed" features bios of James M. Cain, Craig Rice, Steve Frazee, and William P. McGivern.

Also this issue: the first in a series of essays on criminals, "Portrait of a Killer: Warren Lincoln" by Dan Sontup. Lincoln was a criminal lawyer who murdered his wife and brother-in-law. Sontup was an excellent fiction writer as well and he would see two stories published in Manhunt in the years to come. The "Portrait" feature lasted 24 installments through the July 1955 issue.

Another column to debut this issue is "Crime Cavalcade," a potpourri of a half dozen or so true crime stores, no more than a paragraph or two, written by Vincent H. Gaddis. Like Sontup, Gaddis was also a fictionist, though none of his work appeared in Manhunt.


(1) John Ross MacDonald was born Kenneth Millar, but when his wife Margaret Millar became a successful mystery writer, he morphed the name of his father, John MacDonald Millar into JRM. When John D. MacDonald found out about the new MacDonald in town, he hit the roof. Ross’ agent was contacted and, after some years, Ross agreed to drop the John from his published name. This whole incident is detailed in The Red Hot Typewriter by Hugh Merrill. Actually, after reading the passage, I thought John D. came off as a spoiled child, at one point commenting that he could use legal means to keep Millar from using the John MacDonald name.


Walker Martin said...

Another excellent post about MANHUNT. If possible, I'd also like to read your comments about the artists that worked for the magazine. Some of the covers are quite well done.

Jeff Marks said...

A lot of Craig Rice's works from 1953-1954 were ghostwritten as she attempted to sober up. So it likely wasn't hers.