Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Complete Guide to Manhunt Part 13

by Peter Enfantino

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

Vol. 2 No. 5 July 1954
144 pages, 35 cents

Chinese Puzzle by Richard Marsten
(5000 words) ** illo: Tom O’Sullivan
A young Chinese girl goes into convulsions while doing her job as a phone solicitor and dies in front of her co-workers. Detectives Parker and Katz know strychnine poisoning when they see it. With the staccato dialogue and detailed procedural descriptions, it must have been fairly easy for those paying attention back in 1954 that Richard Marsten was a pseudonym for Ed McBain.

My Game, My Rules by Jack Ritchie
(2000 words) **1/2
Johnny takes a job from three desperate men. Since Johnny is an assassin, someone’s going to die, but the hit man’s mind may not be entirely on the target, but rather the target’s moll.

Association Test by Hunt Collins
(1000 words) * illo: Bill Ashman
Silly short-short about a psychiatrist and the word association test he conducts with his disturbed patient.

Two Grand by Charles Beckman, Jr.
(3500 words) *1/2
Doug Wallace flees L.A. after landing big debts with the mob. He heads for the hills where his brother, Jim, and wife, Sadie, live. Doug soon finds there’s quite a bit of sexual tension in the air. In an amusing conversation with his brother, Doug finds out why:
“The war was rough on a lot of guys,” (Jim) mumbled. “I guess I got no call to bitch. But why couldn’t I have gotten it some other way? I wouldn’t have minded losing an arm or a leg, Doug. You can still be a man with an arm or leg missin’. But not with – “ It gradually dawned on Doug what the hell his brother was talking about. His eyes opened wide. So – now he understood it. He remembered vaguely that Jim had gotten the Purple Heart for being shot in Korea. But now he knew where Jim had been shot.
“Two Grand” reads like the outline for one of those countless “Hill Tramp” backwoods novels that permeated the stands in the late 1950s. It’s rushed and ultimately unsatisfying.

The Judo Punch by V. E. Theissen
(1000 words) * illo: Tom O’Sullivan
A bent cop’s wife suspects a man is following her and asks her husband to instruct her in the deadly art of judo. Nonsensical climax asks the reader to fill in all the blanks.

Sanctuary by W. W. Hatfield
(1500 words) ** illo: Houlihan
Joe Varden has killed a prison guard and fled into the swamps to hide out with his cousin Pete and Pete’s wife, Ginny. After Joe falls for Ginny, he devises a plan so he can have his freedom and the beauty as well. This and “Two Grand” make two very similar and very similarly lackluster tales.

Return by Evan Hunter
(5000 words) ***
Matt Cordell is giving blood so he can raise booze money when he runs into old friend Sailor Simmons, who tells Matt some news: Matt’s ex-wife Trina is back in town. He would have found this news out sooner or later because soon after he returns to his homeless shelter, Trina shows up, begging Matt to take her back. After a three paragraph hesitation, Cordell takes her back only to find that there’s something up the ex’s sleeve.

A good, solid entry, the penultimate in the Matt Cordell series. The “return” of the title could refer to the return of Trina, the return of Matt’s self-respect (albeit briefly), or the return of his sobriety since, as we take leave of him, he’s still dry. But there is one more story to tell…

I Want a French Girl by James T. Farrell
(4000 words) *1/2
Lawrence has come from America to Paris because he wants a French girl. He finds them, fat ones, skinny ones, dull ones, but not the one he’s looking for. He’s convinced that French girls are better lovers but he’s finding it hard to get proof. But for one throwaway final paragraph, this has no business being in a “detective story monthly.” The “In This Issue” blurb on the back cover touts this “the story of a man with a single ambition, and of the way he was forced to fulfill it.”

The Innocent by Muriel Berns
(1000 words) * illo: Houlihan
Richard Leaman is brought up before a judge for rape and assault but Richard’s mother refuses to believe her son is anything but an angel.

Confession by John M. Sitan
(3000 words) ****
John Egan is a murderer. Not just any murderer. He takes his business seriously, with lots of preparation. His only motivation is “to insure the inclusion of my name in man’s history and memory.” Brutal serial sniper story is innovative long before the film Targets covered such ground. Sitan holds back no punches, here describing our first look at Egan’s handiwork:
John Egan adjusted the rifle’s telescopic sight again. It was quite easy to pick out the circle of light from the single lamp over the theatrical announcement plaque. The spot was a good target point. It was ten minutes after eleven and no one was about on the apartment house roof. He had counted eight persons crossing the circle of light. They had all been men. The ninth person was a woman. The white shoes and dress under a dark coat indicated she was a nurse. There was a young couple walking behind her. A policeman turned the corner. When the nurse reached the circle of light her head flew apart.
Or this bit where Sitan pulls us, whether we want to be pulled or not, down even farther into Egan’s twisted world:
He sighted on the junction again when he saw a woman and a little girl coming along. The girl was about five years old and wore a pink frilly dress. She was skipping a little ahead of the woman when she reached the junction. At that moment John Egan squeezed the trigger of his rifle. He watched the convulsive sideways jerk as the bullet thudded home. At his distance it appeared as if the child had stumbled. John did not look back until he had broken the sniper rifle down and put it in the trumpet case. When he did look back the woman was on her knees and screaming.
I must admit while I was reading that passage, I fully expected that action would be halted in some way or that he would take out the mother. I never expected Sitan to go the distance. Obviously, with snipers a part of our everyday world, “Confession” is even more relevant now than when it was written nearly sixty years ago. But further, the story examines the popularity of murder and the celebrity of evil.

Find a Victim by John Ross MacDonald
(20,500 words) *** illo: Tom O’Sullivan
Fifth and final appearance of Lew Archer in Manhunt. This time, Lew’s on his way to deliver a report on drug trafficking to legislation in Sacramento when he happens upon a bleeding man on the side of a deserted highway. The man dies soon after Archer delivers him to a hospital. Before long, the PI discovers that the town has quite a few skeletons in its familial closet. The plot feels second-hand (or even third-hand) but the writing crackles and keeps those pages turning, making even the obligatory conk on the head dazzling:
His fist came out from under the windbreaker,wearing something bright, and smashed at the side of my head. My legs forgot about me. I sat on the asphalt against the wall and looked at his armed right fist, a shining steel hub on which the night revolved. His face leaned over me, stark and glazed with hatred: “Bow down, God damn you… Bow down and kiss my feet”
another passage, after Lew takes a nasty tumble:
It was a long fall straight down through the darkness of my head. I was a middle-aging space cadet lost between galaxies and out of gas. With infinite skill and cunning I put a grain of salt on the tail of a comet and rode it back to the solar system. My back and shoulder were burned raw from the sliding fall. But it was nice to be home.
I still have problems with those cliched PI expositories (“Suddenly I knew everything that had happened so I gathered everyone in one room and told them how it went down”), but this one has enough dazzle to make me overlook the trappings. That same year, Knopf released an expanded version of "Find a Victim" in novel form.

Helping Hand by Arnold Marmor
(1000 words) **1/2
The DA can’t get to mob boss Gomez unless O’Hara sings but O’Hara says he’d rather fry in the electric chair than rat out Gomez. Nice twist elevates this above most short-shorts.

Mugged and Printed features bios on James T. Farrell, Evan Hunter, John Ross MacDonald, and Charles Beckman, Jr.
Also in this issue are Vincent H. Gaddis’ Crime Cavalcade, Dan Sontup’s Portrait of a Killer #11: Vernon Booher, and “Burglaries” by Fred L. Anderson (another non-fiction expose on crime).

Vol. 2 No. 6 August 1954
144 pages, 35 cents

Identity Unknown by Jonathan Craig
(4500 words) ** illo: Houlihan
The identity of a dead woman is traced through her fancy shoes. Very much like an 87th Precinct story.

Necktie Party by Robert Turner
(2500 words) * ½ illo: Francis
So a drunk walks into a bar and can’t get served… A wildly gory horror story about a disgruntled customer with a straight razor and plenty of flesh around him. Not a bad set-up when done right. This isn’t done right.

The Old Man’s Statue by R. Van Taylor
(3000 words) * ½ illo: Houlihan
What is the secret behind the young man who, day in and day out, wipes the profane graffiti away from a statue in the town square? The new owner of the town paper is determined to get to the bottom of the mystery. Peyton Place pathos in a small Mississippi town with a climax right out of Friday the 13th. Two gory horror stories in one issue, in this case, is two too many.

Effective Medicine by B. Traven
(4000 words) *
An American doctor practicing in Mexico has a problem on his hands. A local villager wants the doctor to find his adulterous wife or the doctor will feel the sharp edge of the man’s machete.

Accident by John M. Sitan
(2000 words) ***
James Merrill has a strained relationship with his girlfriend, Gladys. They fight a lot. After one such argument, Gladys rushes out of the coffee shop they’re both in and into traffic. Merrill spends the rest of the story making life a hell for the unfortunate woman who ran down Gladys.

After hitting a home run last issue with “Confession,” I doubted author Sitan could come up with another but it’s a solid thought-provoker with a wallop of a climax. It gets the job done but I’d have liked to see it a bit longer. That may be because I enjoy the author’s prose. This is the last of the three stories Sitan wrote for Manhunt. Other than a few stories in some of the harder men’s magazines of the 1970s and 80s (Gem, The Swinger, and BUF (Big Up Front) Swinger), I can’t find a trace of his writing. Any detectives out there?

I Don’t Fool Around by Charles Jackson
(3000 words) **
George Burton is in love with the “new girl in town,” Lynette McCaffrey, a lovely little tart who thinks nothing of revving up George’s engine and then shutting it off at a moment’s notice, with a smile. Much like “I Want a French Girl,” this has no place in Manhunt. There’s only a threat of violence hinted at in the final paragraph. Nothing else makes this a crime story. I suspect it’s simply because Jackson was a “name author” at the time (as author of The Lost Weekend) and John McCloud would have taken anything from him. This wouldn’t be a very good story if it were in Saturday Evening Post.

Frame by Frank Kane
(9000 words) ***
Johnny Liddell finds himself in a bit of a pickle once again. This time, an aging starlet his PI company has been bodyguarding has been found murdered and all clues point to Liddell. Johnny had been helping the woman to cash in several thousands of dollars worth of diamonds and the jewels are MIA. The private dick has his work cut out for him as all his business associates in the case are looking out for No. 1 and denying any knowledge of the diamonds. Non-stop action, snappy dialogue, good hardboiled:
“This is for the kid, Murph.” He slammed his fist against the big man’s mouth. There was the sound of crunching teeth. The big man went staggering backward and fell across a table. “You won’t be needing teeth where you’re going.”
And Share Alike by Charles Williams
(21,000 words) **** illo: Tom O’Sullivan
Our narrator is hired by Diana James to steal a large amount of money from a woman named Madelon Butler. Mrs. Butler is married to a bank president who has mysteriously disappeared after embezzling $120,000. Diana is convinced she can dig up the money before Madelon. First rule of noir: never trust a woman. Both females have so many double-crosses up their sleeves they need larger gowns. Williams ends it on a beautifully downbeat ending as the guy gets nothing but a jail cell. We find ourselves rooting for this guy even though the majority of his actions are immoral. He just happens to be a little less immoral than either of the female cast members.

Perhaps best known for the sea thriller Dead Calm (1963), Charles Williams was, according to Ed Gorman, “line for line, the best of all the Gold Medal writers...quiet and possessed of a melancholy that imbued each of his tales with a kind of glum decorum.” Writer John D. MacDonald said that Williams was “one of the two or three best storytellers on the planet.”

Here are a few lines from Williams himself, taken from “And Share Alike”:
I stood there on the corner under a street light just holding the paper while the pieces fell all around me. It was too much. You could only get part of it at a time.
And when I tried to tell them that I couldn’t be suffering from any sense of guilt for killing Madelon Butler because I hadn’t killed her, and not only that but if I had killed her I still wouldn’t feel guilty about it because if I could only get my hands on her I’d gladly strangle her slowly to death right there before a whole courtroom full of people, including standing-room, and even pass out free refreshments if I had the money, it didn’t help any.
“And Share Alike” was expanded to novel form and released by Gold Medal later that year as A Touch of Death (and reprinted in 2006 by Hard Case Crime).
After his brief stint with Manhunt (3 short novels), Williams went on to write several more suspense novels (among them, Man on the Run (1958) and Aground (1960)). Like many of the classic Gold Medal crime novelists, the acclaim and notice didn’t come until decades later when reprints and movie adaptations awakened a new generation to these “hidden treasures.” Williams took his own life in 1975.

The film version of Dead Calm, skillfully directed by Philip Noyce (Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger, Salt) is a nail-biting, claustrophobic thriller set almost entirely on a boat in the middle of the ocean. Dead Calm made Nicole Kidman a star.

Yard Bull by Frank Selig
(1000 words) ** illo: Houlihan
Security guard for the railroad recounts his early days as a train-hopper.

Also in this issue are Crime Cavalcade by Vincent H. Gaddis, Dan Sontup’s Portrait of a Killer #12: Jesse Walker and a new feature, What’s Your Verdict? By Sam Ross. A short mystery set-up and the reader is asked to decide what the outcome should be (an answer to the problem is provided).


Anonymous said...

Do you remember which issue of The Scream Factory you published the interview with Bruce Jones? I can't find it on the web anywhere, but I know you published one back in the 90s I think.

Walker Martin said...

Excellent comments as usual. For more on Charles Williams check out which also has a link to a nice article on Williams by Bill Crider.

Peter Enfantino said...

The Bruce Jones interview appeared in the last issue, #19, The Comics issue, still available from us for $10 postpaid. Incidentally, most of our back issues of TSF and bare bones are still available from us. Please inquire if you're looking for a particular issue.

Anonymous said...

It amazes me that there was a time in America when you couldn't say "shit" in movies or "pregnant" on TV but the July issue of Manhunt could have a cover like that.

Dan Luft

Peter Enfantino said...

What I love about that cover is...most every Manhunt cover is generic, a guy with a gun, a babe driving a car, a babe with a bullet in her, etc. You can usually find a scene or strrreeettttccchh to find a scene to go with the cover. Not that one. There are definitely no stories with a naked woman being threatened by another woman!

Jack Seabrook said...

Some pretty good writers here! It looks like they published minor stories by "big" names like Farrell and Traven, but the best work was being done by the mystery guys.