Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Complete Guide to Manhunt Part 8

by Peter Enfantino

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

Vol. 1 No. 8 August 1953

The Collector Comes After Payday by Fletcher Flora
(5500 words) ****
Brutalized his entire life by a sadistic drunkard father, Frankie is resigned to a life of bad luck, until one night, pushed too far, Frankie murders his father and begins a life filled with good luck. Money and women suddenly become easy as wishing for it, but Frankie soon tires of it and wants more. Flora tells the story of Frankie with dirt and grime, illustrating just what a heel this guy becomes. We, as the witness to the transformation, see Frankie go from sympathetic victim to the brutalizer his father was, climaxing with Frankie getting just what his father got.

Still Life by Evan Hunter
(4000 words) **
Homicide detectives Hannigan and Knowles investigate the rape-murder of a beautiful sixteen year-old who, by the account of those who knew her, was a saint and a virgin. As the cops dig deeper, they discover that the girl was neither. With its clipped dialogue and straightforward narrative, this would have been a perfect script for Jack Webb’s Dragnet show. One of Hunter’s lesser crime stories.

The Little Lamb by Fredric Brown
(3500 words) *
Hans is missing his wife Lamb, who’s gone down into the village. He’s afraid she’s seeing a rival artist on the side, so he grabs his gun, visits the rival painter, and zzzzzzzzzz...

Certainly one of the most acclaimed fantasists of the twentieth century, Fredric Brown was also very adept at mystery and crime stories and novels. Among his most famous crime novels are The Fabulous Clipjoint (1947); Night of the Jabberwock (1950); The Lenient Beast (1956); and my personal favorite, The Screaming Mimi (1949), a classic obsession tale that was made into a decent noir flick in 1958 (directed by Gerd Oswald and starring Anita Ekberg and Gypsy Rose Lee). In the 1980s, publisher Dennis McMillan began an impressive series of reprint volumes titled "Fredric Brown in the Detective Pulps", collecting hordes of long-forgotten Brown crime stories from the crumbling pages of New Detective, Phantom Detective, Dime Mystery, and dozens more. Unfortunately, these were done in low print runs, went out of print, and are now very collectible. A little more accessible may be Mostly Murder (Pennant PB 1954), 18 stories that, according to Bill Pronzini, make the argument that “Brown was a better short-story writer than a novelist.”

Slay Belle by Frank Kane
(4000 words) * illo: Tom O'Sullivan
One of Johnny Liddell’s men is murdered and the trail leads to the woman he was protecting. Sub-par Liddell feels like a small piece of a larger story. Of course, the reader’s lucky it’s a short snore and not a long snoozer.

The Crime of My Wife by Robert Turner
(3000 words) **
Earl breaks it to his new bride, Norma, that he’s a confidence man and his new angle is to pimp her out to rich married men. Earl will take incriminating pictures and blackmail the men and all Norma has to do is look pretty and spread her legs. Norma tries it and decides that she doesn’t need Earl anymore.

The End of Fear by Craig Rice
(7000 words) ** illo: Rus Anderson
John J. Malone helps an heiress accused of murder. Rice’s long, slow story might have fit better in the pages of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine.

Less Perfect by Frances Carfi Matranga
(1000 words) **
As a woman poses nude for artists, her crippled husband sits and simmers until he can’t take it anymore.

Two O’Clock Blonde by James M. Cain
(2500 words) * illo: Tom O'Sullivan
Serious bachelor Jack Hull attempts to get a date with the voluptuous Mademoiselle Zita and inadvertently hooks up with her maid Maria instead. Turns out Maria is running a scam with her hubby Bill and Jack is their latest mark. A little manhandling of Maria by Jack, but other than that this could very well be James M. Cain’s version of Three's Company, but not as funny.

The Ripper by Richard Ellington
(4000 words) *
PI Steve Drake investigates the mutilation murder of a young showgirl. While interviewing one of the girl’s colleagues, he stumbles into the path of what Drake believes is the original Jack the Ripper, or maybe not, or yes, maybe. But then, who knows? “The Ripper” could very well be the worst of the two dozen plus Jack the Ripper stories I’ve read (and I’ve read some bad ones), with an ending so absurd and contrived, it cries out for an Ed Wood adaptation to screen. If you’ve just got to have a “Jack” fix, look past this “Ripper” and seek out the collections Ripper (edited by Gardner Dozois and Susan Casper, published by Tor pbs in 1988) and The Harlot Killer (edited by Allan Barnard, published by Dell in 1953), which together feature 32 “Jack” tales, with only one story overlapping (that being the classic Robert Bloch, “Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper”) or the full-length novel, Terror Over London (Gold Medal, 1957), by Gardner F. Fox.

Kayo by Roy Carroll
(1000 words) ***
A good little bit about a punchy ex-boxer who kills a man who’d been taunting him. A fragment, but a well-written fragment.

Rhapsody in Blood by Harold Q. Masur
(9000 words) ** illo: Tom O'Sullivan
The most boring PI/ lawyer in crime literature, Scott Jordan (or maybe the second most boring next to Craig Rice’s John J. Malone) is hired by Phil Elliott to handle his impending divorce. Elliott’s wife is loaded but she’ll be giving him trouble rather than a handout. Things turn dicey when Elliott’s accused of passing phony money. “Rhapsody” actually holds the reader’s interest (itself a miracle considering how I’ve felt about Masur’s Jordan stories) until the obligatory expository. This one lasts four pages and the revelations Jordan declares could only have been cooked up by a screenwriter.

Throwback by Donald Hamilton
(3000 words) ****
Thirty years before The Day After, Donald Hamilton tells the tale of survivors of the final war. After bombs drop on their idyllic life, George and Ellen Hardin must fight to survive among a band of roamers. A unique non-genre story (there is murder and fighting in the story, but they are incidental to “the big picture”), “Throwback” is not just a good science fiction cautionary, but also a well-written story of a married couple trying to beat the odds and continue what life they have left despite heartbreaking loss (their children were in town when the bombs fell, she’s pregnant with a third). Donald Hamilton is best known as the creator of Matt Helm, possibly the most popular American literary assassin of all time, star of over two dozen novels with titles such as The Revengers, The Detonators, The Ambushers and Death of a Citizen. The latter is Hamilton at his peak and perhaps one of the finest crime novels of the 1960s. Matt Helm was “glamorized” in a series of Dean Martin movies, each entry worse than the previous. It's extremely odd that the editor of Manhunt would purchase this story as it seems more of a fit in Amazing, Imagination, F&SF or one of the other top science fiction digests of the day.

The Innocent One by Richard Marsten
(1500 words) ***
Miguel stands, tending to his field, as men from the village pass, commenting on Miguel’s hot-blooded wife, Maria. A sharp first line becomes a grinning last line.

This issue's "Mugged and Printed" features James M. Cain, Fredric Brown, Richard Ellington, and Harold Q. Masur.

Also in this issue, Vincent H. Gaddis' "Crime Cavalcade" and "Portrait of a Killer" by Dan Sontup. This installment features a look at Robert W. Buchanan, M.D.

Vol. 1 No. 9 September 1953

The Death of Me by Evan Hunter
(9500 words) ** illo: Tom O'Sullivan
Matt Cordell is surprised when he picks up the morning paper (which is stuffed inside his shoes) and finds out he’s been murdered. In between trips to his favorite dive for a few belts, he attempts to discover who’s behind the obvious mix-up. By the fifth entry in the Cordell series, you can tell that Hunter is pretty much dried up (even though his protagonist very definitely is not). Ho-hum plotlines and padded descriptions mar these later entries.

Fair Game by Fletcher Flora
(3500 words) ***
Ray Butler, strongarm for mayor Dixie Cannon, is burning bridges all around him. He’s roughing up anyone who stands in the corrupt mayor’s path to wealth and power while at the same time keeping the Cannon’s wife company when her husband’s off running the town. When Cannon finally puts two and two together, Ray finds he’s out on his own.

What Am I Doing? by William Vance
(4500 words) **1/2
Detective Dick Sanders is a cop facing what might these days be considered a mid-life crisis: his wife is irritable and pregnant, which leads him into the arms of wealthy and lonely babe Kit Cord. Deciding he has to have his new playtoy at any cost, Sanders plots to set up Kit’s husband, a successful MD, by planting drugs in the doctor’s car. After his son is born however, he sees the light and reconsiders. A rare happy ending in the Manhunt universe. William Vance was a mainstay in 1950s western pulps, writing dozens of oaters for such titles as Dime Western, 10-Story Western,and .44 Western. He also wrote a few crime stories for Pursuit, Terror Detective, and The Saint. Vance wrote just two stories for Manhunt.

Accident Report by Richard Marsten
(4000 words) **
When a street cop is run down, two detectives attempt to find a needle in a haystack and apprehend the killer.

Bonus Cop by Richard Deming
(9000 words) **
For most of his career, Homicide Captain Michael Train has been a cop on the take. Taking bribes, ignoring the prostitutes, and looking the other way when it comes to syndicate murder. Then one of his own cops is gunned down, a young man Train had thought of as his son, and the Captain goes on a rampage.

The Motive by Erskine Caldwell
(2500 words) ** illo: Tom O'Sullivan
Every few months, Kathy meets up with Van for a weekend of wild lust. Van’s married and Kathy’s biological clock is ticking. She’s decided to marry another man but Van won’t have any of that. The author of God's Little Acre and Tobacco Road fills seven pages with “I’m getting married” and “No, you’re not.”

Chase by Night by Jack M. Bagby
(2500 words) **
Steve’s wife Nancy is attacked by three punks in a hot rod. Steve decides that jail’s not good enough for these punks and doles out his own brand of justice.

The Millionth Murder by Ray Bradbury
(6500 words) ** illo: Don Rico
An American couple, vacationing in South America, discover the United States and Europe have been destroyed and they could very well be the last white people left on earth. This leaves them in a precarious position since the locals, after years of bad treatment by tourists, are uprising and would like nothing more than to see the couple gutted and hoisted.

Ray Bradbury, who has found success in just about any genre he’s written in, be it science fiction, horror, fantasy or mystery, dips his toes into the political fiction arena and leaves this reader wanting less rather than more. “The Millionth Murder” doesn’t just remind us that we are “the Ugly Americans,” it smears it in our faces.

Bradbury wrote a screenplay based on “The Millionth Murder” in the late 1950s, retitled “And the Rock Cried Out,” that remains unproduced. Oliver Stone should give Bradbury’s agent a call. Highly recommended is A Memory of Murder (Dell, 1984), a paperback collecting 15 of Bradury's crime pulp stories. At a very young age I read "The Trunk Lady," from the September 1944 issue of Detective Tales and had nightmares for weeks.

The Molested by Hunt Collins
(1000 words) * illo: Don Rico
A woman is molested on a subway train. A note-joke that’s not very funny. Not a good issue for Collins/Marsten/Hunter.

Life Can be Horrible by Craig Rice
(6000 words) *
Chicago lawyer John J. Malone has his work cut out for him. Two dimwits come to his office and tell him a sob story: they’d been hired by an estranged wife to break into her house and steal her $10,000 from the husband who’s hidden it from her. When they enter the house, they find no money and a very dead husband. Since the men are the sons of a good friend, Malone takes their case. He’s amazed when, only a short time later, he’s approached by the wife to accompany her to her home. When they get there, they find the $10,000 and no corpse.

It’s a wonder, since Malone has all the trappings of a PI, that Rice chose to make her character a lawyer. No lawyer would do the foolish things Malone does and certainly no lawyer would ever give the deadly dull expository that ends this yawner.

The Scrapbook by Jonathon Craig
(3000 wds) ***
Charlie Stevens is known to his co-workers as the slightly creepy, but pretty much harmless old maintenance man. Behind the fa├žade, Charlie is a serial killer. The psycho elements will be old hat to today’s reader, but Craig throws in a curve you have to admire: Charlie murders then rapes his victims. That’s a twist not seen much in 1953.

This issue's "Mugged and Printed" features Erskine Caldwell, Ray Bradbury,Evan Hunter, and Richard Deming.

Also in this issue, Vincent H. Gaddis' "Crime Cavalcade" and Dan Sontup's "Portrait of a Killer: Chester Jordan.


Jack Seabrook said...

Peter, while I disagree with your assessment of "The Little Lamb" (see my comments in the Fred Brown book), I too love The Screaming Mimi. I am working on an article about it and "The Deadly Weekend," the condensed version published in Mystery Book Magazine. If you click on my name above this comment, you'll see a photo of me lying on an actual bench in Bughouse Square in Chicago--just like good old Bill Sweeney in the novel!

Peter Enfantino said...


I got your book, thanks! I'm going to try to read it, slotted in among the dozens of Manhunts I have to get to and the other reading Scoleri is foisting on me for this blog! The Screaming Mimi! What a fabulous read. I just may have to re-visit that little nightmare when I have time.

Jack Seabrook said...

Peter, I started a new blog called Fredric Brown Rarities. I hope you'll check it out!

Peter Enfantino said...

Did a search but couldn't find it. Can you post a link or a cut and paste link?

Jack Seabrook said...

Try clicking on my name.

Peter Enfantino said...

Great stuff, Jack!

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks! After posting it I did some research on copyright laws and freaked out. My old belief that 56 years was it is no longer true--now it's 95 years. So, I deleted the scans. I'm not sure I should keep going with this blog--do you think there's any interest?

Peter Enfantino said...

That's a good and relevent question. I tell you, when I'm spending over 50 hours researching a piece (which I'm doing right now--50+ and counting) that may only be seen by 40 or 50 people, it makes me pause. Then I remember I'm doing it for myself and everyone else is gravy.

That's what I'd think about, Jack.

Jack Seabrook said...

I have to ask this--based on the volume of your posts--is this your full time job or a hobby?

Peter Enfantino said...

There's no way I could make a living doing this. Love to, but it won't happen. I just happen to have a lot of time on my hands at the present time and a heck of a lot of books I'd love to read. This blog kinda pushes me in that direction.Ideally, some other writers might want to submit material to the bare bones blog (hint, hint).