Friday, February 4, 2011

The Complete Guide to Manhunt Part 19

by Peter Enfantino

Vol. 3 No. 1            January 1955

The Killer by John D. MacDonald
(5000 words) ***   illo: Houlihan

A fishing club called The Deep Six becomes witness to a nasty bit of violence when macho man John Lash won’t leave Croy Danton’s wife alone. A discussion of how John D. MacDonald changed and popularized the crime story during the late 1950s through to his death in 1986 would take up more room than this blog has apportioned to it. I’m also the wrong guy to write that essay. I’ve only read four JDM novels (The Executioners, Slam the Big Door, April Evil, and One Monday We Killed Them All) but I considered each all of them to be top-notch and one is firmly ensconced in my  Top 10 Favorite Crime Novel of All Time list (that would be April Evil). I’ve read dozens of JDM’s short stories and was equally floored by the variety and uniqueness of them. Several of his “slick” stories (those found in Saturday Evening Post, Collier’s, etc.) could have been expanded into novels. Of course, MacDonald is probably best known for the creation of Travis McGee, a character MacDonald fashioned 21 novels around. John D. MacDonald appeared 4 times in Manhunt.

You Can’t Trust a Man by Helen Nielsen
(4000 words) ***
            Years after taking part in a robbery, Crystal Coe has changed her name and married into money. Her real husband, meanwhile, has been rotting in jail for seven years, having taken the fall for Crystal. But, as he tells his wife after he tracks her down, his hands have not been idle in the pen. The story’s not new (though it might have been in 1954) but the writing’s just dandy:

            They were a couple of very special jobs – the convertible and the woman. Blonde, streamlined, and plenty of fire power under the hood. The convertible was a later model, at least twenty five years later, but it didn’t have any more pick-up and not nearly as much maneuverability in traffic.
            She came across the parking lot like a stripper , prancing out on the runaway, a healthy, old-fashioned girl who believed that whatsoever the Lord hath cleaved asunder no Parisian designer should join together.

            Helen Nielsen wrote dozens of short stories for Ellery Queen, The Saint, Mike Shayne, and Alfred Hitchcock Magazines (among the 22 stories she wrote for AHMM is “Never Trust a Woman,” proving that Helen couldn’t trust anyone) as well as novels such as Detour, Obit Delayed, Sing Me a Murder, and Borrow the Night.  Several of her stories were adapted for television, including “You Can’t Trust a Man” for Alfred Hitchcock Presents, starring Polly Bergen as Crystal. The show aired May 9, 1961.

May I Come In? by Fletcher Flora
(2000 words) ***   illo: Dick Francis
            A man is pushed to the brink by a personal tragedy. Another mini-near-masterpiece by Fletcher Flora, this has a stunning kick in its climax.

The Blood Oath by Richard Deming
(4000 words) ***   illo: Coughlin
            Manville Moon must protect his beautiful girlfriend Fausta from the mafia when they target her for not paying her monthly “tribute.” Manville Moon continues to be a solid and fun character.

Panic by Grant Colby
(1500 words) ***   illo: James Sentz
            A woman riding a streetcar is terrorized by a man with a sickle. Viciously nasty ending. I loved it!

The Floater by Jonathan Craig
(6000 words) ***   illo: James Sentz
            Lucille Taylor is found dead, floating in the Hudson. Detectives Paul Brader and Jim Coren piece together what and who put her there. Though there’s really not much difference in style between this Craig police procedural and his last (or the one before that), there’s a good enough story to carry the reader past the “Yes, ma’am”s and “We’re just doing our job, sir”s that these stories come equipped with.

Green Eyes by Hal Ellson
(3500 words) ** illo: Houlihan
            Jim Withers and his wife Kathy are vacationing at an Acapulco resort. Jim begins to suspect that Kathy is stepping out on him with a servant named Juan. This could have been a decent read at half the length but all this story does is recycle the same image of a “white shirted image jumping from the balcony of the Withers room and running into the forest.” There’s no mystery to what’s going on.

Morning Movie by Muriel Berns
(1000 words) * ½   illo: Lee
            Carol hears several juvies talking about a candy store heist while she’s waiting for her matinee to begin.

Epitaph by Erskine Caldwell
(2000 words) *   illo: “GHP”
            Amelie has been carrying on an affair with Walter while married to Ray. Now she’s pregnant and she’s unsure who the father is. Peyton Place drivel totally out of place in Manhunt.

The Drifter by Robert S. Swenson
(1500 words) ***   illo: Dick Francis
            Joe and Pete are waiting for their ride when a fellow drifter named Manny comes walking up, holding a toad. Manny is a simpleton ala Lenny from Of Mice and Men. Pete sadistically stomps on the toad and then tries to get Manny to off himself. Instead, in a scene that would have made Richard Laymon proud, Manny disembowels Pete:
... he stared down at the wound watching the blood flow like a river through his fingers.
He began sagging to the ground almost at once and his white shirt and pants were already red with blood. When he had sagged almost to the ground, he dropped suddenly into a sitting position, it was only a foot or so, but he dropped with enough force so that his intestines spilled out into his shirt, and he sat holding his insides and staring at his hands. He was like a man stealing sausage.
            1950s splatter. The mind boggles!

One of Evan Hunter's soft-core titles
The Death-Ray Gun by Evan Hunter
(15,000 words) ***   illo: Houlihan
            TV producer Cynthia Finch is found burnt to a crisp and the weapon suspected id the Death-Ray Gun used in her hit science fiction show, The Rocketeers. But how could a harmless prop be turned into a killing machine? Rocketeers head writer Jonathan Crane turns amateur sleuth to get to the bottom of the mystery. Whimsical (albeit violent) change of pace for the usually very straight and sober Ed McBain is thoroughly enjoyable fluff.

Kiss Me, Dudley by Hunt Collins
(1500 words) ***   illo: Richards
            Ed McBain’s parody of Mickey Spillane has quite a few laughs in its brief word count. McBain was obviously having a good time at the expense of another writer:
            The pulse in her throat began beating wildly. There was a hungry animal look in her eyes. She sucked in a deep breath and ran her hands over her hips, smoothing the apron. I went to her and cupped her chin in the palm of my left hand.
            “Baby,” I said.
            Then I drew back my right fist and hit her on the mouth. She fell back against the sink, and I followed with a quick chop to the gut, and a fast uppercut to the jaw. She went down on the floor and she rolled around in the fish scales, and I thought of my sea captain father, and my mother who was a nice little lass from New England. And then I didn’t think of anything but the blonde in my arms, and the .45 in my fist, and the twenty-six men outside, and the four shares of Consolidated I’d bought that afternoon, and the bet I’d made on the fight with One-Lamp Louie, and the defective brake lining on my Olds, and the bottle of rye in the bottom drawer of my file cabinet back at Dudley Sledge, Investigations.
            I enjoyed it.

Mugged and Printed this issue spotlights John D. MacDonald, Erskine Caldwell, Helen Nielsen, and Evan Hunter.

Also appearing are Vincent H. Gaddis' Crime Cavalcade, You Detective #2: The Green Beard by Wilson Harman, What's Your Verdict #7: The Loving Wife by Sam Ross, and Portrait of a Killer #18: Evan Thomas by Dan Sontup.


Walker Martin said...

This has to be the best issue that you have reviewed. Eight stories get 3 stars. I see you have yet to read one of JDM's Travis McGee novels. You do know that Travis has the answer to every sexual hangup of the female?

Peter Enfantino said...

Agreed, Walker, one of the best issues yet. I tried the first Travis years ago but couldn't get into it. My answer to every female sexual hang-up is ignorance. Easier that way.