Friday, October 8, 2010

The Complete Guide to Manhunt Part 3

by Peter Enfantino

Continuing an issue-by-issue examination of the greatest crime digest ever published.

The editorial in this issue states that "there was no way of gauging what the print order for the first edition should have been. We took a stab at 600,000. Now we know that a million would have been a better guess."

Volume 1 Number 2 February 1953

The Imaginary Blonde by John Ross MacDonald
(10,000 words) **
Famous PI Lew Archer stumbles across his latest case when he stops for some shut eye at a motel in California. Archer awakes to the screams of a hysterical woman covered in blood outside his room. Later, after Archer checks out, he finds the owner of the blood parked in his car along a beach highway, very dead. When the motel manager hires Archer to find the murderer, the trail leads him to Palm Springs and a web of double identities and bone-crushing thugs.

Sex Murder in Cameron by Michael Fessier
(3000 words) **
The town of Cameron buzzes when wealthy, handsome bachelor Cass Buford marries homely Linda. They buzz even more when Linda buries a hatchet in Cass’ head. Michael Fessier (1907-1988) was a San Francisco reporter when he began writing short stories in the 1930s. His novel, FULLY DRESSED AND IN HIS RIGHT MIND, was published by Knopf in 1935, but his claim to fame was the several movies he wrote and/or produced, including THE MERRY MONAHANS (1944) and RED GARTERS (1954).

Dirge for a Nude by Jonathon Craig
(5000 words) *1/2
Swingin’ piano player Marty Bishop is harrassed by his ex-girlfriend, the beautiful and bountiful singer Gloria Gayle. The harrassment stops when her vivacious nude body is found by Marty in the front of his Caddy. It’s up to Marty to piece together the puzzle of “who killed the babe” before the cops come calling. Ding-Dong-Daddy-O dialog has never done anything for me and Craig’s hip dialog sounds phoney even for its time.

Stabbing in the Streets by Eleazor Lipsky
(5000 words) ***
District Attorney David Wiley investigates the stabbing of a young seaman by a Spanish-speaking man, claiming self-defense. A good cast of supporting characters builds this into a well-done crime drama. Provides no real answers to the puzzle, but I think that makes it even more satisfying. Eleazor Lipsky is best known for writing the novel THE KISS OF DEATH (1947). The movie version made a star out of Richard Widmark who, in a memorable scene, tosses a wheelchair-bound woman down a flight of stairs. KISS was remade in 1995 by director Barbet Schroeder and starred Nicolas Cage and David Caruso. The remake was unjustly savaged by critics and largely ignored by the public but the original (which also starred Victor Mature and Brian Donlevy) remains a high point in noir cinema. “Stabbing in the Streets” was Eleazor Lipsky’s only story for Manhunt.

Carrera’s Woman by Richard Marsten (Ed McBain)
(4500 words) *1/2
Jeff McCauley has his hard-earned ten grand ripped off by an obese Mexican bandit named Carrera, but Jeff holds an ace card of his own. Carrera’s beautiful, but equally dangerous wife. Harlequin Romance done Manhunt-style. Comes off like one of those Grade-Z 1940s mystery flick quickies.

Attack by Hunt Collins (Ed McBain)
(1500 words) **1/2
A cop on his honeymoon comes back to his cabana to find his wife beaten to death and the perp making tracks in the sand. About as noir and violent as the 1950s got. Too bad the story’s rushed and the characters thin (we never even learn the name of our hero) but the literal bang at the climax saves the day. Under the Hunt Collins name, McBain (and yes, I know he was also named Evan Hunter but I'll refer to him as McBain rather than McBain/Hunter/Lombino/Collins/Marsten/et al constantly) wrote a rare science fiction novel, Tomorrow's World (Avalon, 1956), reprinted in paperback by Pyramid as Tomorrow and Tomorrow (1965) and the crime novel, Cut Me In (Abelard-Shulman, 1954), reprinted as The Proposition (Pyramid, 1955).

Everybody’s Watching Me by Mickey Spillane
(Part 2 of 4) (see Volume 1 Number 1 for details)

So Dark for April by John Evans
(7500 words) **
A dead body with no socks in his office in the dark part of April gives PI Paul Pine a big headache. Convincing the cops he had nothing to do with the murder, Pine begins his own investigation to find just who did in the nattily dressed corpse. Stolen collectible stamps and greedy in-laws provide the whys and whos. Not a lot to get excited about, and I just hate two-page expositories detailing scenarios our narrator couldn’t possibly know.
Paul Pine starred in four highly-regarded novels, HALO IN BLOOD (1946), HALO FOR SATAN (1947), HALO IN BRASS (1949) and THE TASTE OF ASHES (1957). A fifth novel, unfinished because Browne had become bored with detecive fiction, was later published, still unfinished, as THE PAPER GUN (1985).
The pulp Mammoth Detective was a favorite stomping grounds to John Evans, who also wrote under his own name, Howard Browne, and the psuedonym William Brengle. In addition to the Pine stories, Browne also created a real estate troubleshooter named Lafayette Muldoon and the department store detective Wilbur Peddie. Max Allan Collins has said that “among the post-Chandler private eye novels of the 1950s, there is no finer example than Howard Browne’s THE TASTE OF ASHES.”
Howard Browne had a fascinating life and career. He was editor of the science fiction digests Amazing (1950-1956), Fantastic (1952-1956), and Fantastic Adventures (1950-1953), and later went on to a successful television career, writing for such shows as Maverick (the classic episode “Duel at Sundown” co-starring a very young Clint Eastwood), The Virginian, Ben Casey, Mission: Impossible, Mannix, and The Fugitive.

The Lesser Evil by Richard Deming
(7000 words) **
Three wise guys want Manville Moon to take over as faux-Godfather to scare off a big syndicate that’s muscling in on their territory. Moon agrees for a price but then regrets it when guns start blazing. One-armed detective Manville Moon shot his way through many short adventures and three novels, THE GALLOWS IN MY GARDEN (1952), TWEAK THE DEVIL’S NOSE (1953), and WHISTLE PAST THE GRAVEYARD (1954). Richard Deming (1915-1983) also ghost-wrote at least ten novels as Ellery Queen and his name can also be found on several MOD SQUAD and DRAGNET TV tie-ins. He wrote competent, enjoyable mysteries but today is pretty much unknown, even to vintage mystery fans. You won’t find much ink on Deming in contemporary studies such as William L. DeAndrea’s ENCYCLOPEDIA MYSTERIOSA (MacMillan, 1994). (1)

As I Lie Dead by Fletcher Flora
(5000 words) ****
Cousins Cindy and Tony muse on their grandfather’s artificial beach how nice Acupulco would look if only they had the old man’s money. Being a take-charge kind of guy, Tony sees to it that Grandfather meets a watery demise. Unfortunately for the kissin’ cousins, their crime is witnessed by a rich neighbor. Being wealthy means this blackmailer wants something a little more warm: Cindy. Excellent cross-double cross story with a literal big bang climax.
Fletcher Flora (1914-1969) wrote dozens of short stories for such high class digests as Alfred Hitchcock, Ellery Queen, Mike Shayne, and Hunted. Flora’s novels include the superb THE HOTSHOT (1956), which explores the seedy world of high school basketball betting, and SKULLDUGGERY (1967), a novel that, much like “As I Lie Dead”, involves money-hungry relatives.

This issue also featured MUGGED AND PRINTED featuring author bios of Mickey Spillane, Michael Fessier, John Evans, John Ross MacDonald, Richard Deming, and Eleazar Lipsky.

1 The exclusion of Deming from the DeAndrea book should come as no surprise. This somewhat snobbish “comprehensive guide to the art of detection in print, film, radio, and television” is anything BUT comprehensive. Other authors snubbed by DeAndrea include Jonathon Craig, Vin Packer, and Gil Brewer. Enough space is afforded though to such tripe as Robert Conrad’s made-for-TV movie ONE POLICE PLAZA.

Check back next Friday for the next installment of The Complete Guide to Manhunt!


Walker Martin said...

I agree with you about ENCYCLOPEDIA MYSTERIOSA and I'm puzzled as to how this book won an Edgar award. Another thing about DeAndrea that annoyed me is the time he commented in THE ARMCHAIR DETECTIVE that he did not really like Raymond Chandler's work. I never forgot that statement.

I wish I was rich because I'd pay the costs involved in publishing your MANHUNT book.

Anonymous said...

Terrific series on a great magazine. I do hope at some point that you may be able to lift back the curtain for the story behind the stories; i.e., my impression has long been that this was a Scott Meredith Literary Agency operation, a closed market for free lancers, open solely to Meredith clients & that the "editor" was a pseudonym for Scott himself...

--Stephen Mertz

Peter Enfantino said...

Very kind words. It's not the money that's holding back the project but the time. If the project was anywhere near completion, you'd be getting three or four issues a week rather than one! With the Thriller blog, work and, ulp!, life taking up most of the time, there doesn't seem to be much space for Manhunt these days. I shall persevere.

Peter Enfantino said...

Thanks for your kind words as well, Stephen. I hope to "Lift back the curtain" some day as well but I keep finding brick walls when contacting people who would have been involved in Manhunt. Let's face it, most of the contributors are gone. Mike Ashley did a fabulous web piece on Manhunt some years ago and if I dig it up, I'll refer to it.