Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A Tangled Web: The Annotated Index to Web Detective Stories Part 1

by Peter Enfantino

(Originally published in Bare Bones #3/4, Spring 1999)

            Of all the crime digests I've collected, the one title that gave me the most trouble was Web Detective (WD). It's not just that WD suffered from lousy distribution and rack placement (as did most of the lesser crime digests of the early 60s), but it also has the distinction of being one of the most confusing digests of all time.
            WD was born Saturn, The Magazine of Science Fiction (Candar Publishing) in March 1957. The editor was the respected Donald A. Wollheim, editor of Ace Books (later to found DAW Books), and the contents varied from non-fiction to reprints to fiction by such genre mainstays as Harlan Ellison and Robert Silverberg. Not able to distinguish itself from the dozens of other sf digests of the late 1950s, Saturn soon found itself facing extinction. For some unknown reason, the publisher chose to simply change its title to Saturn Web Detective Stories after only five issues, rather than kill Saturn SF and start up a crime digest (I'm assuming that the publisher, in his infinite wisdom, decided that the crime waters weren't as crowded as the SF sea). This contributes to some of the mass confusion surrounding WD. If it weren't for scholars and historians like Bill Pronzini and Mike Ashley, youngsters such as myself would still be searching the internet for those illusive first five issues of Web Detective. Add to the confusion the fact that there are actually two issues labeled Volume Two/Number Three, and that some issues are dated differently on their covers and contents page (presenting the dealer with a dilemma: which date do I list in my catalog?), and you understand why this run is such a collecting nightmare.
            So what constitutes WD, and is it worth plunking down from 20 to 30 bucks an issue? I think so, but then I'm a crazed crime digest collector. Obviously not many others side with my opinion since I've yet to see a WD story anthologized even though there are at least two dozen (out of 148 stories) that are worthy of a second look.
            Much of the time, the titles of the Web Detective stories made little, if any, sense and related to the story even less. For instance, "A Skeleton For Her Bed" from Volume 3/#1 not only omits the skeleton, but also the bed. The story could have and should have been titled "Woman in Chains." The formula for a WD title might just have been something resembling a "Mad Lib," a substitute word game -
"The (place noun here) Was a (place noun here) for the Mob!" or
"She (place adjective) Me For My (place noun here)!"
Try it, it'll work.
            After 14 issues, Candar decided that maybe the money wasn't in crime stories, so they folded WD and jumped into the (supposedly) profitable waters of bondage horror stories.

Vol. 1/#6            August 1958

Night of Discovery! by Art Serra ** (4100 wds)
            Two juvenile delinquents break into the house of fiftyish Hugh Davy and his (much) younger wife Nan and threaten the woman with assault. Much to the husband's surprise, Nan seems up to the occasion. In fact, she welcomes becoming the object of molten desire after "being the good little wife for eight months." Seething with rage, Hugh manages to get the two youths stone drunk, offs his adulterating bitch of a wife, and successfully pins the murder on the two boys.

Blood Bath For the General! by Bill Ryder **1/2 (4600 wds)
            The narrator owns a cover bar (lots of illegal activities flourish in the back rooms) frequented by "the general," a big bruiser who's usually bombed and spouting stories about women he bedded during WW II. Enter Cora, an enterprising young dame who decides to cut herself in on the bar's action through blackmail. This doesn't sit well with our storyteller, so he rapes and murders Cora and attempts to frame the General. After murdering the General, he strips the body in anticipation of the arrival of the police. Our amazed, but not amused, protagonist then discovers why the General never bragged about his conquests after  World War II!

Too Hot to Handle! by Art Crockett *1/2 (3800 wds)
            Barry does some dumb gambling and ends up owing a bundle to big-time shark Matteo Fink. Fink gives Barry two days to cough up the dough, but on the way to pay, Barry gets rolled by luscious Leslie. The beautiful redhead, however, cops a tude, insisting she had nothing to do with the rip-off. Enraged, Barry brings Leslie to Fink (aka "The Mad Dog Lover") as "collateral" until the green shows up. After the mad Dog begins pawing Leslie's ripe vitals, Barry develops a sudden fondness for Leslie and stomps the big man. He flees with the nubile nymph and begins life of love (albeit on the run).

Jealous Husband! by Leslie G. Sabo * (2100 wds)
            Matt and Lila don't have what you'd call an ideal marriage: he drinks and she's an adulteress. When Matt swears to kill all of Lila's lovers, Lila pulls a fast one and cons her dopey husband into killing his own brother in a fit of jealous rage. She plans to hold this over Matt's head: she'll go the cops if he won't let her play the field. Matt agrees, but as the phone rings once again for his wife the lush, we see the thought balloon rise over Matt's head, warning us he'll kill again.

Rumble Bait by Jimmy L. Carroll *** (2950 wds)
            Cal Johnson's life has never been the same since he turned squealer on his partner. Now he's opened himself for beatings from everyone on the street, including our man of the moment, Slim. Our story opens with Slim doing the squealer stomp on poor Cal on his way to meet up with partner-in-crime, Fats (not to be confused with Abbott and Costello). The two are caught by a shotgun-toting farmer while lifting watermelons. Fats gets away but Slim goes right to jail without passing GO. To avoid severe beatings from the sheriff and his sadistic deputy, Slim gives up Fats on the condition that no one on the street is to find out exactly who gave up Fats. But the sheriff isn't known for his honesty and Slim becomes "open game" on the streets just like his old friend Cal. Not Harlan Ellison, but still an enjoyable j.d. tale.

Terror Has Many Faces! by Don Unatin ** (3350 wds)
            Aggie decides to turn in her vicious mob boss Big Mike after she witnesses the brutal murder of her friend, Jerry. The DA promises protection for Aggie if she'll testify against the Big Man, and she's whisked away to a remote cabin. There to greet her is Big Mike, who we learn has bought the services of the DA.

Daughters of Hell! by Jim Allen * (4000 wds)
            PI Calvin Dugan has been hired by Mrs. Lloyd Harrison to keep watch over her daughter Carol, who's joined a female gang dubbed the Brazen Beauties. Having dabbled in the horrors of cigarettes, alcohol, and dope, the BBs turn their attention to hot sex. Carol is to be initiated, by losing her virginity, when Dugan breaks up the gang and saves the day. Turns out that Carol is the mastermind behind the gang and had plotted to blackmail her socialite mother to keep the details quiet.

Alley of the Damned! by Tony Phillips * (2750 wds)
            Francine, a teasing alley cat, is found murdered and the suspect list includes many former lovers.

Murder a Dead Man! by Al James *** (2500 wds)
            Pete Brennan is conned by a lush into killing her rich old man, a stock investor. Every night the old man goes for a walk across San Francisco's Bay Bridge, so Pete plans the attack on the span. After shooting the man and watching the body hit the water far below, Pete is confronted by the police, who patrol the bridge for potential suicides. While fleeing, Brennan is shot and hangs from bridge, awaiting death. He overhears the cops discuss how ironic the case is after they find a suicide note in the old man's coat pocket. He had just lost his fortune on the stock market and, rather than face his wife with the failure, decided to cash in his chips.

Come Die With Me! by Les Samlie ** (1900 wds)
            Nasty short-short about a bank robber who kidnaps and rapes a passing motorist. The girl is so humiliated and shamed she ends up offing both of them by wrecking her car. "Come Die With Me" is one of the best illustrations of just how violent, dark, and downright vile some of these late 1950s crime stories could be.

Scream Bloody Murder! by Jim Barnett *1/2 (2750 wds)
            The musings of a sexually-driven serial killer. Below average chiller does have a neat twist ending to elevate it above total sludge.

Journey to Murder! by Jim Allway * (6500 wds)
            Harvey Muller exits the slammer with only two objectives: find his remarried ex-wife and get back the fifty thousand in stolen loot she's got stashed for him. His plans quickly fall apart when he's followed by cops right up to the ex's doorstep. "Journey's climax is proof that even nasty WEB villains can have a "happily ever after."

Vol. 2/#1            October 1958

The Lady Was No Angel! by Al James * (3400 wds)
            Ex-con Mike Brent loses his job and wife and is contemplating re-entering the safe cracking business when he has an afternoon fling with Mrs. Kessler, a neighbor down the hall. Mrs. Kessler confides in Brent that Mr. Kessler hasn't exactly been raising the pole lately. That same night, Brent returns to his apartment to find the police. Mr. Kesler has been murdered and the Mrs. is claiming Mike raped her and offed her hubby.

Life is Worth Dying! by Marvin Gray *1/2 (3400 wds)
            Steve McGann rescues Marcy from drowning, an attempted suicide. In a bizarre twist, McGann had come to murder the girl to avenge the death of his brother, who had fallen in love with Marcy and turned to crime to maintain a rich lifestyle. McGann nurses Marcy back to health (she has TB) and happiness, only to reveal that his intention is to carry out her murder once she attained that happiness.

For Sale - Death! by Pete McCann *1/2 (4600 wds)
            A drug pusher named Fang enjoys the immense power he holds over his customers. After a bad beating from a cokehead, Fang decides to restrict his clientele to women. At the same time, he decides that money isn't everything and puts the moves on a new druggie named Sylvia. Fang gets his just desserts in the end when it turns out that Sylvia is actually the wife of a former customer who was killed in a liquor store holdup, trying to get bucks for his drugs.

Murder's Icy Finger! by Bill Ryder * (4250 wds)
            Dan and Sylvia plot to steal an old woman's jewels by torturing her, but the cops show up in the middle of their fun. Cynthia escapes with the jewels and Dan is thrown in the big house for seven long years. When he's released, you guessed it, he tracks Cynthia down and threatens to kill her if she doesn't fork over the jewels. But Cynthia has a contingency plan all worked out for the thug and, before long, Dan is no longer a problem.

Lust Without Pity! by Art Crockett *** (3600 wds)
            Johnny Santos is hired by adulteress Grace Brandon to off a blackmailer. Santos does the hit and then finds he's been suckered into murdering Mr. Brandon. Grace stands to inherit a mountain of green, and makes the mistake of attempting a stiff on Johnny. Not a wise move.

The Lady Was Furious! by Hal Crosby ** (3000 wds)
            Flash Floran and his assistant Mona take dirty pictures of married men and then sell them to the wives to use in divorce cases. Flash becomes infatuated with one of his wealthy clients and reels her in. Mona, in a jealous rage, uses some of Flash's own tricks on him to bring him back to earth.

Bloody Holiday! by G. G. Revelle *** (5300 wds)
            Tracey, attending a real estate convention, decides to hire some female companionship and gets the voluptuous Marcia. Fearing that one of the other agents might tip-off his wife, Tracey suggests that he and Marcia should head off to a different spot. Marcia steers him towards a park bench, where the two are accosted by thugs who snap photos of Tracey in unpuritan poses with Marcia. The crooks threaten to send the photos home to the little lady. The joke's on the crooks though, as Tracey reveals that it they who have been set up. Seems one of his buddies fell prey in the past to Marcia and her camera-boys and committed suicide. Now Tracey and a batch of buddies, who soon arrive on the scene, exact a nasty revenge.

A Touch of Evil! by Jim Allen *** (3350 wds)
            Card shark Johnny Morgan rolls into town and joins in a game with the respectable, and quite wealthy, Lou Shero. Morgan takes Shero for every penny he's worth, which doesn't sit well with the big man. Morgan is set up as fall guy for a rape charge by one of Shero's "girls" and is hauled away. Last line is a hoot.

Short Cut to Hell! by John Thorn * (3200 wds)
            Unintentionally (I assume) hilarious story of Larry Fenton, whose only goal in life, it would seem, is to continually top his worst crime. In the course of this story, he smokes marijuana, drinks to excess, beats the whores he pimps for, and, oh yes, kills women and fondles the stockings he removes from their corpses. Fenton leads the good life until he picks up a hooker who turns out to be a serial killer as well.

You're Already Dead! by James Albert *1/2 (2100 wds)
            Pete Strand is the only man on a jury panel who votes to  hang a transient accused of murdering a well-known local named Quincy in Strand's barn. The other men are curious about Pete's behavior since it's widely known that Quincy had an affair with Strand's wife. Wouldn't Strand be happy to let loose the man who killed his wife's lover? Pete makes a convincing argument that, revenge be damned, there is just too much physical evidence to let the guy go (Quincy's body was never found but the barn was splattered with his blood). Strand finally gets his way and a guilty verdict is handed down. He drives home and takes a badly wounded Quincy out of a closet and puts a bullet in him, musing that a jury couldn't convict him of the murder now because Quincy has been ruled dead. A very average story that raises a couple amusing red flags. How could Strand serve on a jury at a trial that so obviously affects him and his judgment? Most importantly, how the heck did Strand manage to keep the mortally wounded Quincy alive all during the judicial process?

A Long, Violent Night! by Tony Phillips * (5500 wds)
            Undercover cop Don Cassidy's new hush-hush assignment is to roust prostitutes. This isn't sitting well with Don's conscience nor, it turns out, with his wife. Seems Don is so ashamed of busting call girls that he avoids notifying his wife, who, noticing the lipstick on Don's collars, follows him to one of his busts. She spills his guts before he can. "A Long, Violent Night" is a wildly bad story, one of those "so bad it's good" tales that usually populates the Mike Avallone universe. With priceless prose like:
"Somebody put another slug in the jukebox and the scratchy record came to life again. A girl's plaintive, whining voice told of wax heartbreak. Cassidy hated the song. He hated the cheap bar. He detested being there in the first place. But most of all he bathed (sic) himself tonight."
"He saw the weazened man's yellow teeth glaring nakedly and obscenely from behind the leering smirk which creased the death's head skull."

Vol. 2/#2             February 1959 (inside cover indicates V.2/#1)

Scream the Night Through! by Don Unatin ** (3050 wds)
            MaryLou is savagely raped in an alleyway but doesn't report it to the police because her husband wouldn't emotionally be able to handle the violation. What author Unatin lets us in on towards the climax is that hubby Charlie is "too much of a gentleman" and MaryLou could no longer "deny her instincts schooled through the ages-of wanting to be over-powered and mastered." Something that Charlie could never give her. Misogynist, yes, but a curio that tells a lot about the climate in the 1950s. MaryLou dresses up sexily and gets what she deserves, but judging from the last line, it's also what she wants.

Hell's Deadly Lover! by Al James * (4200 wds)
            Steve Donovan, sadistic cop from hell, plays every angle he can to make extra dough, including muscling business owners. He happens onto a woman in a bar, goes to her place, beds hers, and then finds out she's a bank robber by stumbling onto her money sacks. "Hell's Deadly Lover" is a dopey read, filled to the brim with wild and unbelievable coincidences. This kind of story (bad cop on the take) was done to death in the 1950s by writers much more esteemed than Al James.

Terror Has No Face! by Jim Arthur *** (3200 wds)
            The Daggers are sick and tired of patrolman Dan Vinton busting up their action, so they take their complaint to his wife. They string her up, torture her, and warn her that, if hubby don't lay off, next time's fer keeps! The cop disappears and the Daggers are convinced that their troubles are over until their members start showing up dead, until the Dagger become the Dagger. Vinton and the Mrs. have returned.

You'll Die Laughing! by Arnold Sherry * (2100 wds)
            Marvin, a decorated war hero, and his wife Donna are closing up the diner they own for the night when two thugs enter. The men beat  Marvin and rape Donna repeatedly, all in the name of chuckles. A pointless, nasty exercise in torture and degradation. Brian De Palma would probably want to take out an option on this one.

Stakeout of the Damned! by Doug Flanders ** (4250 wds)
            A typically no-brains bad-luck WEB crook flees from a botched supermarket heist and kidnaps a woman and her child. Well, the dimwit assumes  it's the woman's kid until he's captured and the police inform him that they were actually after the woman, who had kidnapped the kid!

Twist the Knife Slowly! by Jay Folb * (3150 wds)
            After a bad real estate deal, Al Draper owes Tony Tibbett five big ones, and Tony, understandably, wants his money right now. Al doesn't have the moola but it turns out that Dot Draper, Al's vixen wife, has found a way to pay in full. No WEB mystery or detective in this one, just plain boring adultery.

I'll Blast You Yet! by Pete McCann *** (4250 wds)
            The horrors perpetrated by the killer known only as Doug are seen through the eyes of our narrator, who is forced to participate in Doug's reign of terror. Doug robs and murders women with obvious glee and our tour guide describes each and every painful detail. A fairly routine WEBber, but the obvious question (who is the narrator?), is averted by our storyteller, who avoids any personal details until the all-important last paragraph. Hey, McCann fooled me.

Cross Me and Die! by Art Crockett *1/2 (2950 wds)
            Jack Hogan makes a jailbreak and heads right for Terry Martin, a beautiful dame (with a nice set of headlights, of course!) who's been hiding Jack's stolen booty of 50gs in her fireplace for him. Little does Hogan know that Terry has married a cop while he's been in the big house and now the cop wants to keep Terry and the green, but erase Hogan from the picture.

Lust Sets the Scene! by Luke Hogan ** (3350 wds)
            Successful Broadway producer Matt Landers knows he owes 100% of his good luck to his secretary (and play reader) Ann Small. Landers can have any of the young chippies who try out for his productions, but still he lusts for the older, yet still vivacious, Ann, who, until recently, has spurned all of Landers' advances. Together the two mine gold on Broadway and they hope to continue that streak by producing a play by a young eccentric unknown playwright/dwarf hunchback named Oswald Upham. What is the startling secret from Ann's past that ties her to the misshapen Oswald? Why is the dwarf hunchback having such a hard time completing Act 3 of the smashing play? Will Matt finally get to lay his hands on Ann's hooters? These questions and more are answered in the story's startling climax. A wildly goofy story, "Lust" harkens back to the Spicy pulp days and is an indicator of the direction that WEB would follow soon. A guilty pleasure.

Death Bait! by Leslie G. Sabo * (2150 wds)
            Brad Sterne strikes up a deal with Lydia Winthrop: he'll steal her skinflint hubby's millions in diamonds from their wall safe, off the old dude, and split the loot with Lydia. All she has to do is revel in the pleasures of the flesh with Brad. But alas, like most of the WEB Black Widows, Lydia doesn't like to share in the end.

Don't Run From Evil! by Hal Pierce * (3250 wds)
            It's David and Goliath time as mousy alcoholic Marc Taylor takes on his new garbage collector, the sadistic youth known only as "Chin" (but better known to Marc's wife as "Big Chin"). Marc stumbles onto an attempted rape by the big man on one of Marc's lovely, nubile neighbors (who gets stripped down to her pink panties) and does the Thunderbird Two-Step on Chin's cranium, becoming a hero in the process.

Sure Bet on Death! by Buck Grimes *** (6100 wds)
            Boxing manager Sandy Michaels spots the surest thing he's ever laid eyes on: Mugsy Thomas. With no money, Michaels has to go to bone-breaking loan shark Whitie Malone for the bucks to train Mugsy. In the meantime, the big lug falls for Greta, a (hold the phones) busty, curvy knockout. The bimbo lures the fighter away from Sandy with promises of lust-filled nights and diamond-studded dog collars. All the walls seem to be coming down on Sandy Michaels at the same time and the nice guy is definitely finishing last. A really good sports/mob thriller that's about as close to a short Gold Medal novel as you're going to get in WEB. It's no secret that Sylvester Stallone devoured every issue of WEB when he was a little pug, and the influence of "Sure Bet on Death!" (in particular, in his screenplay for Rocky V) is evident in his fine body of work.

Vol. 2/#3             April 1959

Look Death in the Eye! by Lawrence Block * (2700 wds)
            A beautiful nameless woman frequents bars, picks up "hungry" mean, and murders them. A very early story from the author who would later go on to author the highly-acclaimed "Matt Scudder" novels. The only worthwhile passage is its' final paragraph (reprinted elsewhere in this article).

I'd Die For Her! by Art Crockett **1/2 (3450 wds)
            Pete is being held in the rape/murder of his girlfriend, Angela. He asks the sheriff if he can attend her funeral, where things get out of hand and Pete's strung up with a noose. He's saved at the last minute though when he averts the crowd's attention to Angela's boyfriend, whom Pete claims is the real murderer. The frenzied mob strings up the ex, while Pete (the actual killer, by the way) looks on in amusement. The prose equivalent of one of those great EC Comics ShockSuspenstories (the rapist is really the sheriff, the murdering bigot learns that he's half-Jewish, etc.).

Lady From Hell! by Don Unatin *1/2 (4625 wds)
            The wife of a prominent attorney (who longs to be on the school board!) is being blackmailed by a scummy little man known as "Old Gardiner." Seems the lady used to be a dominatrix at the local cathouse before becoming a wealthy socialite. Joke's on Gardiner though, when he finds out that not only does the attorney know about his wife's vixenish past, he helps her keep in practice.

The Lonely Doom! by Al James ** (2950 wds)
            A mafia hitman wipes out a former gofer who ran off with a hundred grand, then beds the dead man's wife. After he kills her, he finds out she was a leper and now he's infected. Seriously sick, goofy little fable. Here's one you can read out loud at a dinner party.

Murder Wins the Jackpot! by Zack Steele *1/2 (4625 wds)
            Taxi driver Charlie has the worst luck in the world until he wins an English cruise and meets a beautiful French babe onboard. As usual though, the odds are against him when Charlie finds out that the woman is a smuggler and has been using him. Outrageous climax has Charlie narrating his own death ala those creaky old horror stories wherein the writer ends his journal with "...it's breaking down the door...it's strangling me...aaaaahhhh...!"

Just Kill Him, Darling! by Jay Richards *1/2 (5450 wds)
            Danny Russo, "rehabilitated jd", comes into the employ of kindly Mr. Milner. But, of course, as with most WEB jd stories, there's the bad dame just itching to off her wealthy old husband. Danny falls for beautiful Stella Milner and helps Mr. Milner descend his basement steps at an accelerated rate. All kinds of sexual innuendo only leads to a one-plus-one-equals-three finish.

Mark Him For Me! by Jim Barnett *** (4200 wds)
            A violent gang with the moniker of The Pythons moves into town and immediately starts to shake everything up and everyone down. A rival gang, newly crowned The Mongooses, decides to do something about it. Decent JD tale with a nice surprise climax.

Death Muscles In! by Luke Hogan ** (4200 wds)
            Big mean casino owner Steve Peck has a way with the ladies, including his secretary, Kate. For reasons known only to the writers and editors, beautiful Kate falls madly in love with the big lardass despite the fact that he continuously uses her as a punching bag. Convinced that she's actually a plant fro the D.A., he murders her and eventually offs himself in a spectacular gore-soaked finale.

The Lusting Ones! by Jim Arthur * (3050 wds)
            "Gunther had that fearful ache. The girl could ease it. It all added up to murder."
            Goofball Gunther stalks tantalizing Toni, all the while musing about all the violence he'll do to her when he gets her alone. Could Gunther be the Tyler City Strangler? Will Toni be the next victim? Well, no. In an unconvincing and (hopefully intentionally) hilarious twist finale, it's revealed that, surprise, Toni is actually an escaped mental patient aka The Tyler City Strangler. So who is Gunther? Don't ask me.

Fright Prowls the Night! by Gil Grayson * (7350 wds)
            God's gift to the serial killer novelist, the abused child, grows up to be an abusing psychopath who stalks a lovers' lane, torturing couples for kicks. Bottom of the barrel, this could possibly be the worst story to appear in Web Detective.

Coming Soon: Part Two


Jack Seabrook said...

I just read this article in the print magazine a couple of weeks ago. It really adds a lot to be able to see the color covers!

Peter Enfantino said...

I do love our print zines but you're right, Jack, the color knocks it out of the park. Thanks again to Galactic Central for scans.