Friday, March 02, 2018

Forgotten Books: Hazzard: The Complete Series - Frederick C. Davis

The more I read by Frederick C. Davis, the more he becomes one of my favorite pulp authors. He was the original author on the Operator 5 series (the forerunner of James Bond, the Man From U.N.C.L.E., and all the other secret agent adventurers of the Fifties and Sixties), and I first encountered his work in the Corinth paperback reprints of novels from that series close to 50 years ago. Of course, at the time I had no idea who “Curtis Steele” (the pseudonym that later became a house-name) really was, but I sure liked those stories.

In recent years I’ve read more by Davis, who went on to write a ton of pulp stories in various genres, then became a respected mystery novelist whose books appeared in hardback and paperback. His stories are always well-plotted and have plenty of action, and he writes in a clean, fast-paced style.

In 1935, Davis wrote six novellas featuring redheaded, two-fisted district attorney Mark Hazzard that ran as a back-up series in the pages of the pulp SECRET AGENT X. Hazzard has a tragic secret in his past that makes him more concerned with justice than with the niceties of the law. Most pulp characters with a similar background would don a disguise to fight lawlessness and be district attorney by day, masked avenger by night. But not Mark Hazzard. He does all his crime-busting, whether technically legal or not, as himself, with the help of his beautiful secretary (they love each other, of course, but can’t act on that love because of the dangers in which Hazzard is always putting himself) and an escaped convict who was framed for murder and is really a good guy.

The six stories are:

“Coffins for Two”, August 1935
“Juggernaut Justice”, September 1935
“Corpses’ Court”, October 1935
“The Murder Crypt”, November 1935
“Terror Tribunal”, December 1935
“The Death-Chair Challenge”, January 1936

I’m not going to summarize them, but each involves some sort of miscarriage of justice that Hazzard has to resolve as a tough-guy vigilante rather than an attorney, all while fending off the dangerous investigations of Inspector Trencher, a police detective who’s convinced that Hazzard is hiding some secret and is really a crook.

There’s not much in these stories that you haven’t seen in dozens of other pulp yarns (the police detective nemesis, for example, was a staple of the Secret Agent X series, the very magazine in which the Mark Hazzard stories appeared). One of the stories near the end has a surprising and intriguing twist that I wish Davis had made more of, but by the next story it seems to have been forgotten. Also, like most pulp series, the saga of Mark Hazzard just comes to an end and has no real conclusion.

But Davis tells the stories so well, with such skill in plotting, pacing, and action, that I had a great time reading them anyway. The entire series has been reprinted in one volume from Altus Press, and if you’re a pulp fan, I give it a high recommendation.


George said...

I'm a big fan of ALTUS PRESS. I'll be ordering HAZZARD. Wonderful review!

Spike said...

Great review. I have always liked Davis. Especially the Moon Man.

S. Craig Zahler said...

Agreed on Davis, though his Hazzard stories didn't stick with me when I read them. Moon Man is very, very fun, and his Operator #5 is the only pulp hero I treasure like Page's Spider. His Op5 tales are less maniacal and frantic and violent than Page's Spider, but the scope is often far more amazing (and catastrophic) and the intelligence of his bad guy plans exceeds that of almost all hero pulp villains. An added plus are the details given (in footnotes), which add an element of authenticity, even if the goings-on are bananas.

James Reasoner said...

I've heard so many good things about those Moon Man stories, I've got to get around to reading them.