Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Complete Guide to Manhunt Part 11

by Peter Enfantino

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

Vol. 2 No. 1 January 1954
160 pages, 35 cents

Guilt-Edged Blonde by John Ross MacDonald
(4500 words) **
Lew Archer is hired by Nick Nemo to be his bodyguard but Nick is gunned down before Lew can guard his body. Not one to turn a blind eye to a paying customer (even if that customer is a corpse), Lew sticks around to see if he can smoke out Nemo’s killer.

The Six-Bit Fee by Richard Deming
(4000 words) *
Manville Moon investigates the murder of a crime writer.

Finish the Job by Frank Kane
(6000 words) ** illo: Tom O'Sullivan
Johnny Liddell muscles and guns his way to the man who killed Barney Shields. Not nearly as riveting as its prequel, “The Icepick Artists” (Dec 1953), “Finish the Job” is redeemed by a refreshingly nasty climax. When Liddell decides the police won’t bring Barney justice, Johnny runs over the bad guys in his rented Buick.

Over My Dead Body by Harold Q. Masur
(4500 words) **
Lawyer Scott Jordan comes home from a fishing trip to find out one of his girlfriends, Delia Harley, has been murdered. It turns out the girl had recently found out she was adopted at a very young age and her biological parents, now both dead, had been very wealthy. One of the surviving relatives wanted to make sure no one discovered that Delia would be next in line for the inheritance,

The Wrong Touch by Henry Kane
(13,000 words) **
PI Peter Chambers is hired by an underworld figure to prove the murdered man in his study is not his handiwork. Overlong, but a nice double twist at the climax.

...And Be Merry by Craig Rice
(500 words) *
Billed as “a John J. Malone story,” this is nothing more than a fragment. Malone is called to the apartment of a woman who’s been posioned with cyanide but the cops can’t find a trace around the apartment. Eventually, the path leads to the woman’s psychiatrist who spills the beans: the woman loved to lick her wallpaper. Yep.

Pattern for Panic by Richard S. Prather
(27,500 words) **** illo: Tom O'Sullivan
Shell Scott’s in Mexico helping the wife of an army general. Seems the beautiful senora has inadvertently made a blue movie and her co-star is back to blackmail her. But is blackmail the real story here? Meanwhile, Shell is mixed up in a subplot involving an eccentric scientist who has invented a deadly nerve gas and has been kidnapped by men who would use that nerve gas to further their political futures. A delirious cocktail of snakes, mad scientists, torture, two-timing babes and a rollicking action-filled climax that sees Shell Scott doing his best Count Dracula impersonation. Author Prather’s hatred of communism is driven home time and again throughout the story.

Shortly after PATTERN appeared in MANHUNT, it was submitted to Gold Medal, who turned it down. Not wishing to miss out on a sale, Prather changed Scott’s name to Cliff Morgan and sold it to Berkeley, who published it in 1955. It was later reissued in 1961 (with the Scott name re-inserted) by Gold Medal.

There was no Mugged and Printed this issue. Dan Sontup's Portrait of a Killer was also a no-show. There was a Crime Cavalcade by Vincent H. Gaddis. There were 16 extra pages in this issue, ostensibly to fit in the Prather novel.

Vol. 2 No. 2 February 1954
144 pages, 35 cents

Runaway by Richard Marsten
(9500 words) ** illo: Tom O'Sullivan
Johnny Trachetti is the suspect in the murder of gang member Angelo (The Wop) Brancusi. Johnny didn’t do it but he knows the cops will pin it on him so they can close the case early. So he runs…and runs…and runs from mishap to mishap. If it seems like a condensed version of a longer story, especially in its rushed climax, that’s because it is. A few months after “Runaway” appeared in Manhunt, Gold Medal released an expanded version, retitled Runaway Black.

The Rope Game by Bryce Walton
(5000 words) ***
Larry used to have a way with the gals but now spends his time at the bottom of a bottle. Ten thousand dollars gets him to clean up his act for at least enough time to run a con on a beautiful woman. He needs to get her in compromising positions for some photos her husband can use against her in divorce court. Great character study. Larry seems to be on the brink of redeeming himself but can a guy this far in the gutter really change his ways?

Deadlier than the Mail by Evan Hunter
(5000 words) *1/2
By his sixth outing, the “solve crime and hit the bottle” routine is growing weary not only for Matt Cordell and Manhunt readers but also, I think, for Evan Hunter himself. “Deadlier Than the Mail” is a lazy tale about the theft of welfare checks during Christmas. There’s not a lot to it and the “snappy patter” between characters is forced and embarrassing:

“How old are you, Fran? Sixteen?” 
“Nineteen, if you’re worried about Quentin Quail. Hey, boy, what is it with you? You still got eyes for that bitchy wife of yours?”
“Can it, honey.” 
“Sure, so carry the torch. Let me help you burn it brighter, boy. I need the dough.”
“Because your old man’s checks have been lifted?” 
“Sure, but that don’t cut my ice, boy. The old man never gave me a cent anyway. The holidays are coming and I use what I’ve got to get what I want.”
She cupped her breasts suddenly, reaching forward toward me. “Come on, boy, it’s good stuff.” 
“I’m on the wagon.” I paused. “Besides, I’m broke.” 
“Mmm. Well, I ain’t Santa Claus.”

That kind of awful dialog (so awful that, if I didn’t know better, I’d suspect that Hunter was farming out work to beginning writers) and a ludicrous expository damn this entry to the bottom of the Matt Cordell bottle.

The Disaster by Emmanuel Winters
(1500 words) ** illo: Dick Francis
Steve Obel tries to cope with the fact that his cowardice led to the death of 28 men in a mining accident.

I’m a Stranger Here Myself by Craig Rice
(9000 words) *
Charlie Bekker wakes from a night of drinking and whoring (or so he thinks from the evidence) and finds himself in the company of a dead model. Running from the scene, he happens into the bar frequented by one John J. Malone. The lawyer is a bit upset since he’s just found out the star witness in one of his big cases has been found dead in a motel room. Yep, that’s right. In the small, coincidental world of JJ Malone, everything ties together and the news gets out fast (though Rice notes that Bekker stumbles into the bar just a few hours after he finds the dead girl, Malone is already reading about in the paper!). Once Charlie confesses his innocence to Malone, the lawyer does what any lawyer would do: he puts the man up in a hotel, gets him a job, and tells him to lay low, all on pro bono. John J then devises a plan of coincidences and ludicrous twists and turns. Surely this story could have been told in half the space.

Heels are for Hating by Fletcher Flora
(6000 words)**
Jackie Brand just wants a little dough so that he can retire from boxing and he and his wife can start their own business. When Jackie is offered ten grand to take a fall in his next fight, he greedily accepts but then finds himself trapped in a war between underworld goons. As Flora states towards the end of the story: “…he’s learned of my double-cross. Or is it a triple-cross? It’s getting too damn complex to follow.” Indeed. Flora again enters the world of sports betting that he excelled at in his novel, The Hot Shot, but this time the results are a bit too talky.

The Onlooker by Robert Turner
(1000 words) *
Blake’s world comes apart when he witnesses his woman making love to a soldier. No surprise ending here.

Comeback by R. Van Taylor
(3000 words) ****
Six years after being involved in a hit-and-run that left him an amnesiac, Fred Stevens is living the good life with his wife Marge and son Billy until he notices a strange man following him, appearing wherever he goes. Finally the man presents his case: he claims Fred was actually a vicious gangster named Johnny until he lost his memory. Now the man wants his half of the cut of $150,000 they stole on their last job. Fred pleads with the man that he knows nothing about the money but the goon’s not taking “no” for an answer. A tense little short story that reminded me a bit of David Cronenberg’s excellent film A History of Violence. "Comeback" and History share an equally brutal climax.

Mr. Chesley by Robert Zacks
(1000 words) **
Mr. Chesley’s about to pay dearly for his heroin trafficking.

Shadow Boxer by Richard Ellington
(5500 words) *1/2 illo: Tom O'Sullivan
PI Steve Drake is hired by ex-con Jack Cordello to find his sweetheart, missing since he went into the stir three years before. Drake discovers the girl is alive and very well off. Ellington manages to avoid most of the usual PI trappings that I’ve moaned about before but he just can’t help himself when it comes to the big finale expository. An expository I’m still trying to figure out.

The Man who Found the Money by James E. Cronin
(2600 words) **** illo: Tom O'Sullivan
William Benson finds a money clip containing 92 thousand-dollar bills and, after thinking it over a couple times, does what any good sam would do: he goes to the police. He soon finds he should have done what 98% of the planet would have done. Well-done, with a nasty bite in its climax. Faithfully adapted in 1960 for Alfred Hitchcock Presents, starring Arthur Hill as the hapless Benson. Amazingly, this is Cronin's only Manhunt story. In fact, I can't find any further stories by the author.

Also in this issue: Mugged and Printed features bios on Craig Rice, Richard Marsten, Evan Hunter, and Richard Ellington; Dan Sontup's Portrait of a Killer #8 focuses on Richard Coffey; H.H. Holmes' Murder Market reviews several new books; Crime Cavalcade by Vincent H. Gaddis; and Leonard S. Gray's "Holdup Man" is a very short story that ends with a quiz for the reader.

Foreign Editions:

Various Australian editions of Manhunt began appearing in October 1953. The first, running monthly for 13 issues through October 1954 retained the Manhunt title but further incarnations were retitled. Verdict Detective Story Monthly appeared for 9 issues, beginning in March 1955. A third, Phantom Suspense-Mystery Magazine appeared sometime in the 1950s (the issues are undated but most of the contents listed on the cover appeared in Manhunts from 1954. The later two magazines also reprinted stories from rival digest magazines of the period. The first issue of Verdict includes "All at Once, No Alice" by Cornell Woolrich (originally from the March 2, 1940 Argosy and reprinted in the November 1951 Ellery Queen) while Phantom reprinted "Sudden Death" by Max Franklin/Richard Deming (from Pursuit, November 1955).

The British got into the act as well in August 1953. 13 issues appeared through September 1954.

Since I don't own any of these foreign editions, I can't compare contents. In fact, all my info for these came from Galactic Central.

We'll cover Bloodhound (the later British Manhunt reprinting from the 1960s) at a later date.


Walker Martin said...

I'll have to read PATTERN FOR PANIC by Prather. For you to give a PI story 4 stars means that it is something special.

Peter Enfantino said...

Believe me, Walker, I was just as startled as you!

Todd Mason said...

And there was an American VERDICT, as well, a shortlived sibling to MANHUNT also published by Flying Eagle...rather as how VENTURE SCIENCE FICTION had a longer life as a British than US title, so, too, the Australian VERDICT over the US original, albeit not Too much longer.

Peter Enfantino said...

There were actually two American "Verdicts." The first, edited by John McCloud and published by Flying Eagle,lasted 4 monthly issues from July through September 1953 as far as I can tell (those are the 4 I've got and I've never heard of a fifth--Todd? Walker?). It was a reprint digest featuring several of the authors regularly featured in Manhunt (Craig Rice,Frank Kane, Evan Hunter, etc.). A serializing of Nero Wolfe's "Fer-de-Lance" ran in each issue but was not completed.

Then in 1956, "Secret Life Publications," with the same home office as Manhunt and Michael St. John listed as publisher, put out two issues of Verdict in August and November.

Along the way, various mixings of "Secret Life," "Flying Eagle" and "St John" also published two issues of Mantrap July and Oct 1956); two issues of Menace (November 1954 and January 1955); and three issues of Murder!(Sept 1956, Dec 1956 and March 1957). At some point (during or following the completion of the Guide to Manhunt) I'll cover all these zines -- If I live long enough, that is!