Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A Tangled Web: The Annotated Guide to Web Detective Stories Part 2

by Peter Enfantino

(originally appeared in Bare Bones #3/4, Spring 1999)

Vol. 2/#3            June 1959
(this was the second issue to be labeled Vol.2/#3)
Satan Thumbs a Ride! by Al James **1/2 (2800 wds)
            Dopey thief steals a car, kills its owner. On the run, he picks up a babe, who turns out to be on the run as well. She steals the car and is later picked up by the cops, who suspect her of killing the car's original owner. Nice ironic twist.

Murder's Lovely Stand-in! by Art Crockett ** (2700 wds)
            While enduring a third degree from some tough bulls, Harry Ross dishes all the dirt he knows on his boss Raymond, and now the mobster is understandably peeved. Being the scum bag that he is, Harry heads to his girlfriend's pad and uses her as a decoy to ensure his escape.

Tide of Evil! by Richard Hardwick ** (4700 wds)
            After serving a few years in the stir, Gus Leach runs into his old partner Marta one day and discovers she's in the middle of a big con. Marta's about to become Mrs. Walter Telfair and Gus wants a piece of the action or he'll let ol' Walter know what his fiancé was up to before he gave her a ring.

One Foot in Hell! by Bill Ryder ** (3400 wds)
            Roger Townshend intends to take the big dive off a 22nd story ledge unless his estranged girlfriend is brought to him. The woman turns out to be the wife of the cop who's trying to talk Roger down. Ryder (showing unusual restraint in his writing here) cheats all the way from the beginning of the story to mask the identity of the woman until the big 'surprise' climax. This has been done before, and better.

Crash Out to Doom! by Micky Fairbanks *1/2 (4200 wds)
            Burger and Jim bust out of prison by kidnapping the warden's wife and stealing her car. They head off into the swamps where they run into some nasty swamp critters, but all's well that ends well for the captive woman because it turns out that the real reason Jim broke out was to get away from the bullying Burger. Once Burger is dispatched, Jim gives himself up and goes back to peace in the prison.

Hate Goes Courting! by Lawrence Block **** (3200 wds)
            Very short and very stark, "Hate Goes Courting" (yet another stupid title) tells the story of two brothers, John and Brad, and John's fiancé Margie, a girl with a questionable past. Brad knows about that past and continually taunts his brother until the man finally bursts out in rage:
            When you're up close a shotgun makes a big messy hole, big as a man's fist, but when I squeezed that trigger the shell went through him like a sword through a piece of silk, like the wind blowing outside. He let out a moan and sat down slowly. His eyes were staring like he couldn't believe it happened.

            Much more indicative of Block's future work than the previous issue's "Look Death in the Eye!"

The Hunger of Death! by Buck Grimes **1/2 (4200 wds)
            Sandy's a starving artist and now he's hooked on junk. Once he runs out of daddy's dough he turns to a life of crime to get his daily fix. Not a bad story, but a bit uninspiring in its delivery.

Terror's Sultry Sister! by Sam Holt * (3400 wds)
            Try to follow me closely: Don is keeping time with Lila, whose brother Archie is a j.d. thug. When Archie plays like Lila's pimp and demands bucks for her time, Don puts the kid on the ground. Later, driving home from work, Don thinks he hits a man in the street. Turns out Archie has just pulled a robbery and been shot. He's the man Don has run over! Archie dies naming Don as his accomplice and Don heads for a nice cell. The king of Ripley's Believe It Or Nots. If I gave out zeroes, Sultry Sister would earn one. Under his "Samuel Holt" pseudonym, Donald E. Westlake wrote four novels: One Of Us Is Wrong (1986), I Know A Trick Worth Two Of That (1986), What I tell You Three Times Is False (1987), and The Fourth Dimension Is Death (1989). All four feature the retired cop turned actor character of Sam Holt and all four were recently reprinted by Felony & Mayhem Press.

Company for a Corpse! by Bruce White *1/2 (2000 wds)
            Monk Donzeg is mad as hell after being a fall guy and goes after the cop who framed him.

Hot Slug - Cold Dame! by Jim Allen * (3200 wds)
            Frank, not at all pleased about spending ten years in the pen for a job he did with Claude Sanders (who got away), goes looking for the fifty grand that was to be his cut. When he finally finds Claude, his former partner has been given a third eye by his wife, who quickly frames Frank. Entry two in this issue's Ripley's sweepstakes.

Lust's Lone Witness! by Don Unatin * (5900 wds)
            Mousy Henry Wiggins blurts out to the police that he witnessed the murder of his lovely neighbor, the latest victim of a serial lust killer, and gives a false description of the fiend. Problem is, Harry saw nothing because he was busy cowering in his apartment at the time of the murder. Obsessed with his new found fame and morose over the soon-fleeting aforementioned fame, Wiggins decides the best way to stay on top is to become a lust killer himself. Of course, the woman he stalks turns out to be the latest target of the real killer and Ripley see three strikes and he's out.

Vol. 2/#4             September 1959

Murders Flashes Dark Eye! by Grover Brinkman ***1/2 (4600 wds)
            (Note: Title given is the one on the actual title page. The contents page reads: "Murder Flashes Dark Eyes," which makes a little more sense.) Ollie and Clint pull off a bank heist but it gets messy and two end up dead. They hightail it over the river into Mexico, only to find themselves wanted by scavengers more deadly than the police. Excellent tale ends dark when Ollie's back is to the wall and there's only one way out.
Love Nest in Hell! by Flip Lyons * (3950 wds)
            Escaped con takes honeymooners hostage in snowbound cabin. A complete and total snoozer, right up to its' laughable expository climax.

Her Knife Carved "Love"! by Jay Folb * (5200 wds)
            Dreamboat Ernie Scorr decides that Shirley Diamond must die. To accomplish this he enlists Maria, who's madly in love with him and will do anything he says. Or so he thinks.

Slaughter Will Find You! by Luke Hogan *** (3900 wds)
            With that title, you're probably expecting something like one of those 70s blaxploitation flicks, but what you get is a real good gripper. Syl Myers has been dreading the inevitable day when his brother Pete would come calling, after spending fifteen years in prison. Pete wants Syl to be the driver in another stickup, but Syl just wants to be left alone to his good life and home. Unfortunately, Pete is well-versed in the art of coercion.

No Guts to Die! by Jim Arthur * (3350 wds)
            Ex-stripper Tina Bondi hasn't gotten over being dumped by mobman Lennie Rogers and spends her waking hours in the bottom of a glass of booze. She's decided that before she drinks herself to death, she'll tell the world all about the dirty life of Lennie Rogers.

Fear Finds a Mate! by Pete McCann * (3950 wds)
            Because of Carol's strict upbringing, sex has always been something evil to her. No man ever gets to second base with Carol until the serial-rapist "The Cat" comes knocking on her door and Carol finds out what it's like to be a fulfilled woman. Another in the WEB sub-genre of stories where the female protagonist "had it coming to her and when she finally got it...she liked it!"

A Slob Can Hate! by Robert Silverberg *** (3950 wds)
            Poor Theodore Reese is tortured by the other boys in his cabin at summer camp. They make up derogatory nicknames, dump buckets of water on his head, pants him, and generally make life for him a living hell. Then comes the night of the dance, when one of the most beautiful girls in camp asks Theodore to accompany her. The unwitting boy doesn't know it's a set-up, and when he finds out, he explodes in a fit of violence. An above-average revenge saga. I'd make a joke about Stephen King reading WEB in his early days, but he has a lot of lawyers.

Beautiful Bait for Benny! by Al James ** (2950 wds)
            Pickpocket Benny runs into fellow hoodlum Angie at the track one day. Benny's just served ten years for a job he pulled with Angie. Now Angie's got a great pickpocket scheme all worked out and, in the end, suspicion will fall on Benny. The joke's on Angie though when, after the cops converge on the two men, it's learned that Benny couldn't be the culprit because his hands have become gnarled from arthritis.

The Added Mourner! by Donald Honig *1/2 (3800 wds)
            Joe Barton might be the world's stupidest murderer. Barton and his wife Janet despise each other but, for some reason, stay together. Joe's spineless ways irk Janet, and he just can't stand her nagging. Joe finally decides to off her but can't come up with a plan 'til one day in a bar when an old man stumbles in, claiming he watched his family drown in a ferry accident. The light bulb goes on over Joe's head. He races home, offs the ol' ball and chain, and dumps her body in the bay. Only later does he find out that the old man had lost his family years before.

Reserve My Hot Seat! by James Allen *** (3250 wds)
            Nick Norris believes he's committed the perfect crime while he sits on death row, hours away from execution. He kills his boss, robs him of half a million bucks, and pays another crook to use Nick's gun in a similar crime while he's rotting in a cell. This way, Norris is convinced the cops will listen to his pleas of innocence. The hired crook gets ideas of his own though in a neat twist.

I.O.U. - Lust! by Bill Ryder *1/2 (4300 wds)
            Racy S&M/bondage fairy tale about Hilda Queen, little girl lost, who must turn to the kinkier side of prostitution to pay off gambling debts, only to find out that the ringleader of the bondage gang (and her prospective lover) is none other than her dear old dad, a wealthy, influential man of the community. Real sleazy stuff, bordering on softcore porn (though very tame compared to today's stuff).

Vol. 2/#5            December 1959

Come Home to Hell! by Al James * (3900 wds)
            Prison life is rough on Phil, but parole finally comes and his loving wife Mira (celibate for five years, Phil thinks in awe) is there to help him to pick up the pieces. One of those pieces is the box of embezzled loot Phil has hidden on their property. Problem is, Mira hasn't been as faithful as Phil had hoped. Out of left field wrap up expository doesn't help at all.

Dumb Blondes are Murder! by Don Unatin **1/2 (5200 wds)
            Tony and his number-one hooker, Nikki, have been running con games on married business executives. Tony plays the murderous husband who walks in on his wife in the act of adultery and, hopefully, the John pays in spades. Unfortunately for the goofy couple, this particular John doesn't act as he should and ends up with a big black smoking hole in his head compliments of Tony's rifle. Things get real wild when the two fugitives make their escape into the woods. After beating the hell out of Nikki, Tony manages to get himself caught in a bear trap and then eaten by the trap's intended victim! A gruesome (but nevertheless funny) climax makes up for a ho-hum build-up. Probably the best short story in history with "Dumb Blondes" in the title.

My Love is Death! by G. G. Revelle * (4800 wds)
            Author tires of the couple upstairs exchanging blows. When he falls in love with the unfortunate female, he realizes the only out is... boredom.

Fear Casts a Long Shadow! by Hal Ellson * (1900 wds)
            Tod is a mugger who keeps several women company throughout the city. A weak tale devoid of anything resembling suspense or logic.

Terror Town! by Art Crockett *** (3200 wds)
            After a steamy rendezvous, Rod Baxter learns to his chagrin that the town vixen is actually an "innocent teen." To add to his troubles, the townsfolk don't cotton to their innocents being deflowered by total strangers, and drag Rod out to the woods to string him up. Good twist at the conclusion as we learn that the town might just suspect the truth after all.

Evil's Executioner! by Jim Barnett ** (4000 wds)
            William Leighton seems to be a bit of a split personality: by day, dapper, well-to-do war hero; by night, rapist and murderer. So-so story builds to a peak of nastiness and gore, wildly so. Entertaining, but the first-person narrative loses any of its surprise by the second page. You'll know who's really telling Leighton's story.

Gang Girl's Revenge! by Hal Crosby **1/2 (3400 wds)
            Detective Ben Sommers has a security problem since bringing down mob boss Maxie Grant. Every shadow could be an armed mobster. Every move could be his last. When he's approached by Grant's moll, Carrie Powell, he naturally suspects the worst of her. Turns out though that Powell has been running a double cross on her beau and wants nothing more than to see him burn. As with most of the really effective WEB stories, "Gang Girl's Revenge" has a nice twist ending.

Lust Tells Big Lies! by Richard Hardwick * (3300 wds)
            Yearning for the good life that his prosperous brother leads, Howie Potter borrows his brother's caddy and drives down to Florida for a little vaca. Along the way, he picks up a dame, stacked to the nines, who falls for Howie's line that he's an oil magnate. Of course, the woman has set up Howie for a shakedown (in a scene that screams "quite illogical") and finds himself regretting his new fantasy life.

Woo Her With Slugs! by Flip Lyons * (2700 wds)
            Myra Nolan loves living high on the hog, thanks to her husband the hit man, but she just hates to hear him brag about his job.

Passion Must Die! by Leslie G. Sabo * (2000 wds)
            Ray Miller plans to off his mistress before his rich wife finds out about his adulterous ways and cuts him out of her fortune.

A Skeleton for Her Bed! by Bill Ryder * (5700 wds)
            Connie Sorrel thinks she's finally found happiness after years spent in a woman's prison manned by sadistic guards. Her happiness comes in the form of her parole officer, who she falls in love with. In a twist that comes as a surprise only to the dim-witted Connie, her new found love also happens to be involved in the same S&M racket as the guards. "Women in Chains" done WEB-style. Misogynistic and vile, with not a trace of the goofball charm found in the "Women Prisoner" movies of the 1970s.

Vol. 2/#6            March 1960

The Framing Frail! by Al James *1/2 (4300 wds)
            Cynthia thinks she's found the perfect dweeb in Albert Franklin to pin her husband's murder on. Little does she know that Franklin is the notorious Albert Franklin, the sex killer who's just murdered his wife. Coincidence? You be the judge.

Gang Job! by Zack Steele **** (3050 wds)
            No, that's not a typo--4 stars! A beat cop has to bring in a retarded boy who has been tricked into murdering his own brother by a street gang. Not the usual j.d. story, "Gang Job" focuses on the damage the gang leaves in its wake rather than the sensationalistic aspects inherent in a j.d. story. In fact, the gang itself is never actually featured in the story. Powerful, almost too powerful for WEB, "Gang Job" brings to mind the best 1950s youth crime fiction of Ed McBain.

Terror Springs the Trap! by Bill Ryder *** (4050 wds)
            Another dumb title for a fairly good story, the narrative of Dirk, aka Mr. Death, a gallows hangman, whose latest execution is a bit different than those in the past: two vicious teens accused of sexually molestation and murder. You can tell there's a twist in the offing all the way from the beginning of the story, but when the payload is delivered, it's pretty effective and quite original.

Don't Cheat on Passion! by Art Crockett ** (5050 wds)
            Officer Paul Harkness walks in on his wife while she's playing hide-the-salami with her side dish. Harkness plugs her with lead (in a delightfully graphic description of bullets-meet-arteries damage) and quickly turns himself in. The twist here, which is pretty farfetched even for a WEB story, is that the escaped lover turns out to be the D.A. who'll prosecute Harkness.

Show Her His Blood! by Leslie G. Sabo * (1800 wds)
            Meek Andy helps young thug Bart drag nubile Rita Kemper into the woods and rape her. After Andy gets a case of the guilts, he lets Rita talk him into murdering Bart.

Hot Dames Spell Trouble! by Jack Kavanaugh **1/2 (3700 wds)
            There's a new kid in Sammy's organization and everyone loves him. Everyone, that is, except Sammy's right hand man Butchie. Seems "the kid" is seeing Butchie's moll on the side and Butchie's bound and determined to put the youngster six feet under. Decent mob story with a good twist.

Bodies Won't Sink! by Grover Brinkman **1/2 (4450 wds)
            Sheriff Milt Brady investigates the disappearance of one of his deputies, Pete Wiley. Seems Wiley was a nasty fella, beating on his girlfriend and generally raising hell with the local populace. Evidence leads the sheriff right to the patch of quicksand just outside town. Is Wiley down there or in the lake? "Bodies Won't Sink" is just the kind of story you'd find in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine in the 1950s, with a long expository at its climax just in case we can't connect the dots ourselves.

Mark Her for Murder! by Jay Richards *** (1600 wds)
            Johnny and Frankie, two likable hitmen (yeah, just like Travolta and Jackson) are given a tough assignment from the syndicate: rub out Anne Carpenter. Right off the bat, the reader knows that Carpenter is no stranger to these gentlemen and this won't be one of their usual hits, but the darkly humorous double whammy in the final line is still effective.

Tease Me and Die! by Jim Barnett ***1/2 (5000 wds)
            A psycho with delusions of grandeur and a mousy physique chronicles his stalking of a co-worker who has spurned him. Some genuinely creepy writing elevates what might have otherwise have been just another madman saga. For example:
            "No matter what I do to you tonight, you'll never feel the agony I've suffered at your hands. In a way it's poetic justice that I'll follow you into the freezing night. You've already killed my soul with your cruelty. All that is left is my body and my lust for vengeance. I will have that revenge. You can't deny it to me."

Take My Slug, Killer! by Hal Crosby * (2500 wds)
            And then you get dopey clichés like this: Author writes short story about a cop killer, but keeps cop's name secret all through narrative. Only problem is: only a dolt would be surprised when the identity is revealed.

Penny Cost Plenty! by Don Unatin ** (4500 wds)
            Arnie and Penny have a great racket going. Penny seduces middle-aged millionaires and Arnie gets it on film for blackmail money. Unfortunately for Arnie, Penny gets ambitious about her stage career and decides to do away with her cameraman.

Vol. 3/#1             May 1960

Sisters of Slaughter! by Edward D. Hoch *1/2 (5050 wds)
            Steve Bradburg has a way with the ladies. Most of them, that is. His way doesn't work with Myra Nolan and he delivers her a good beating. Naturally, when Myra's corpse pops up, Steve is the prime suspect.

The Devil is a Darling! by Hal Crosby ** (5350 wds)
            Mob priestess Tandy Morgan and her notorious prostitution ring have the town literally eating from her hand (and other parts of her body, I'm sure), until revenge-starved Cal Henderson attempts to bring her evil empire crashing down around her.

Madness Claims a Mate! by Bill Ryder *** (5575 wds)
            A maniac stalks the city and beautiful barfly bimbos are at risk of losing their lovely limbs. Turns out that goofball professor Roger Sylvester has a woody for torture devices and puts them to good use at any given opportunity. Another s&m wacko tale that would hint at the things to come for WEB, "Madness" is so bad, it's almost good. The three stars awarded are not for quality, obviously, but for entertainment value, and this one packs a lot of guffaws into its 5575 words. Searching for a standout proquote, I realized that none would do it justice. We'd have to reprint the whole damn thing! Well, okay, just one line: "A fiend stalked the streets and kissed Sherry. Was it a dream out of a horrible past? Hideous death did not claim its victims in this manner any longer!"

You Can't Escape! by Bob Shields * (2950 wds)
            PI is stuck with one very jealous girlfriend who ends up using the guy's own investigative tricks on him. The opening quote: "She stood over me stark naked with a gun in her hand..." must have eluded the artist, since his illo depicts the woman in a nightie.

The Glory Kids! by John Block *1/2 (1650 wds)
            There's nothing much to this short-short about teenaged cop killers who eventually get theirs in a nasty shootout.

Die Hard, Lovely Cheat! by Greg Burns * (4100 wds)
            James Harlan is arrested for the murder of one beautiful red-headed babe and grilled by Homicide detective Johnny Daniels. The detective himself is telling the story in first person, filling in details he couldn't possibly know, or so you think until, about half way through, the pieces start falling into place. The redhead was married to...surprise, surprise, surprise!

Passion Fears No Peril! by Frank Cannon **1/2 (5050 wds)
            When Jed Gage is labeled a stoolie, he must escape or die at the hands of a crooked warden.

Mask of Hate by Jay Richards ** (2625 wds)
            The cops need a little help when the local mobster ends up in the river minus his head and hands, so they question a shopkeeper whose specialty is shrunken heads.

Lust Steals the Scene! by Art Crockett * (4625 wds)
            Marcia Henry comes to the Big Apple to become a star. The parts just don't come up for her, but her disgustingly obese agent has a swell idea: Marcia puts out and her agent will work double-time for her career. The would-be Monroe doesn't cotton to his advances and puts a bullet in him, or does she? A loser from the word go, "Lust Steals" at least can lay claim to one of the just plain stupidest twist endings in crime story history.

You'll Die Laughing! by Jack Kavanagh *** (2625 wds)
            Artie has a falling out with his mob boss Christy over, what else, a dame, and becomes target practice for the mobster's gang. Wounded both mentally and physically, Artie decides to confront and mow down the big man before he himself becomes part of the sidewalk. Strictly average crime short until the closing paragraphs which find the crazed Artie at last face to face with the boss man.

Terror Trail! by Grover Brinkman * (2950 wds)
            John Daly's been messing with a tiff-miner's girl (please don't ask), a big no-no in the backwoods. When he forces himself on the girl, he lives in fear that a knife will find its way into his back.

Coming Soon: The Exciting Conclusion!


Jerry House said...

"Sam Holt"...was that Donald Westlake?

Peter Enfantino said...

I assume it is, Jerry, since Westlake published four novels under the Samuel Holt pseudo:
One Of Us Is Wrong (1986)
I Know A Trick Worth Two Of That (1986)
What I tell You Three Times Is False (1987)
The Fourth Dimension Is Death (1989)

Good catch and my bad. Funny, since I own and have read all four. I'll add that to the descrip. Thanks!