Frank Kane's private eye character Johnny Liddell began appearing in the detective pulps in the mid-Forties, but he became more well known as the star of a series of novels beginning with ABOUT FACE in 1947. A few of the Liddell novels were published in hardback, but most were paperback originals published by Dell, with fine covers by Robert McGinnis, Ron Lesser, and Victor Kalin. Kane has a reputation for being a generic writer who's a little too fond of punning titles and is also notorious for repeating descriptions, bits of business, and lines of dialogue from book to book. I'm not sure if this rises to the level of self-plagiarism (I'll address that issue later in this post), but I've read quite a few of Kane's books and found them pretty entertaining.
STACKED DECK is a collection of novelettes and short stories starring Johnny Liddell. There's no indication of where they originally appeared, but my guess is that they're from mystery digests such as MANHUNT, MIKE SHAYNE MYSTERY MAGAZINE, and THE SAINT MAGAZINE. I know Kane's work appeared in all of those places. Also, some of the stories appear to have been original to this collection.
"Dead Set", the opening story, finds Johnny far away from his usual stomping grounds in
He's in New York untangling a case
involving a beautiful starlet, a gossip columnist, some transplanted East Coast
mobsters, blackmail, and murder. In "Dead Drunk", Johnny is back in Hollywood working on an insurance fraud case in which a
rival private eye is mixed up. "Dead Reckoning" is about Johnny
protecting a sultry redheaded torch singer with a secret (a perfect part for
Christina Hendricks) from a vicious mobster. "Dead Run" opens with
Johnny looking down at a murder victim, a washed-up crooner and movie star
who's trying to make a comeback, only to run into a bullet. "Dead
Wrong", about a hit-and-run accident that may be murder, features Kane's
attempt to write "beatnik" dialogue. It's way out, daddio. In
"Dead End", motivated by the suicide of a beautiful blonde, Liddell
goes after a pornography ring. "The Killing" concerns Liddell's
efforts to prevent some gangsters from fixing a horse race. In "A Grave
Matter!", a beautiful redheaded cigarette girl has already been murdered
when the story opens, and Johnny has to find her killer. New
I thought all of these stories were a lot of fun. Not classics of the genre, by any means, but for somebody like me who grew up reading hardboiled private eye stories (and watching private eye shows on TV), they're very enjoyable.
As for the self-plagiarism charges, I think some of it stems from the fact that Kane had certain phrases and bits of business that he liked to use again and again. Most prolific writers do that, I think. I've written so many Westerns I've probably written some paragraphs that are almost identical, purely by accident.
Kane does carry it to extremes now and then, though. In this collection, "Dead Wrong" and "A Grave Matter!" despite having completely different plots, have scenes that are almost word-for-word the same. I never would have noticed that, of course, if they hadn't been in the same collection. Some editor at Dell must have been dozing a little at the switch back in 1961.
That said, I really enjoyed STACKED DECK. An e-book edition is available from Prologue Books, and if you like good old-fashioned, two-fisted private eye yarns, I highly recommend it.