Friday, September 11, 2009

Forgotten Books: The Golden Widow - Floyd Mahannah

I don’t know about you, but when I pick up a paperback from 1957 and it’s got a beautiful blonde on the cover and the hero’s name is Dex Nolan . . . well, I think, “This is my kind of book.” That reaction isn’t always right, of course. Just because a hardboiled crime novel was published in the Fifties doesn’t make it good. But the odds are that I’ll enjoy it, and in this case, my instincts were right on the money.

You really have to be a longtime fan of this stuff to recognize the name Floyd Mahannah. He wrote only a half-dozen or so novels, but he was a prolific author of hardboiled short stories and novelettes, many of them published in the iconic digest magazine MANHUNT.

THE GOLDEN WIDOW finds former cop Dex Nolan in a tough spot as the story opens. Having left the police force to operate a gold mine in Arizona, he’s just lost the property in a lawsuit over unpaid taxes. So he’s broke and at loose ends, and when a former girlfriend shows up asking him to help her because she’s being blackmailed, you know Dex is going to say yes. You also know that his decision is going to wind up landing him in a lot of trouble, and of course you’d be right. It seems that the former girlfriend’s husband has been murdered, and while she has an alibi for that killing, she’s up to her neck in other assorted troubles. Dex, acting like a private eye even though he’s not one officially, locates the blackmailer, and sure enough, that guy winds up dead in short order, too. That’s just the start of it, though. You get gangsters, drug smuggling, a suitcase full of loot, the cops chasing Dex for murders he didn’t commit, shootouts in the desert, and more double- and triple-crosses than you can keep up with. Dex takes a lot of punishment in this book, both physical and emotional, before the final twist comes barreling down on him and the reader.

Ultimately, you may spot the killer in this one – I did – but the fun in reading it is in Mahannah’s tough-minded prose and the classic Fifties setting. THE GOLDEN WIDOW is kind of a generic novel, but I mean that in a good way, in that it’s a prime example of the sort of book that I grew up reading and enjoying. I’ll probably get around to reading the rest of Mahannah’s novels. I have another one on hand and hope to get to it soon.


Juri said...

I often get THE GOLDEN WIDOW and THE GOLDEN GOOSE mixed together, but I thought both are anything but generic. I thought they were both wildly original in their handling of the private eye character.

George said...

I love the cover! Great pick!

pattinase (abbott) said...

I never mind spotting the bad guy if the other elements are in place. Love that cover.

Anonymous said...

Whets my appetite. Thanks for the review and heads up, James.

Ed Lynskey

Anonymous said...

He was a vastly underrated author.

Also, all of his books had exceptional covers some by Robert Maguire.


Rittster said...

This is just the kind of review, and just the kind of relatively obscure book and author I've been coming across in my research on vintage paperback authors; so when I get a good review of an author like Floyd, previously unknown to me, I feel fairly secure in buying a book like this as a "test book" to see if I want to buy more.

Here are some other authors whose names I've run across, where information is slim-to-none. Can anyone chime in and tell me if any of these guys are any good and if any of their books are worth buying?

Ovid Demaris, Octavus Roy Cohen, Richard Ellington, H. Vernor Dixon, Jada Davis, Theodore Pratt, Richard Himmel, Frank Castle, A.S. Fleischman, Gordon Davis, Paul Connolly, Nick Quarry.

Thanks in advance to anyone who can comment about any of these guys' and their writing and their books. FYI, I like the kind of
1950's hardboiled stuff James writes about in his review; and if any of their books are funny, whether intentionally or not (even, or I should say especially, if their writing verges on parody of the hardboiled style and characters), that's icing on the cake. I don't care so much about the plot or "whodunit" as I do about the prose style and characters.

Anonymous said...

Rittster, out of all the authors you mentioned, my favourites are the Nick Quarry series of six books. His real name was Marvin Albert and also wrote the great Tony Rome series of 3 books.

A.S. Fleishman's Venetian Blonde is great as well as One For Hell by Jada M. Davis. Both are/going to be printed by Stark House.


James Reasoner said...


Gordon Davis was really E. Howard Hunt of Watergate fame, who wrote under his own name as well as the pseudonyms Robert Dietrich and David St. John. I've read HOUSE DICK under the Davis name and really liked it. I think Hard Case Crime reprinted it recently. I've also read several of the Robert Dietrich books, one of the few mystery series about a hardboiled, two-fisted certified public accountant. Haven't read any of the David St. John book, which I think are all espionage novels. I didn't like a few of the last novels Hunt wrote under his own name, but all the early stuff was good.

It seems like I've read books by Richard Ellington and Frank Castle as well and liked them, but I'm not sure about that.

Anonymous said...

For Rittster: The Nick Quarrys are Spillane pastiche by Marvin H. Albert, highly regarded by some. Frank Castle is, I think, Steve Thurman. Ellington wrote a hardboiled series in the 50s. Sorry, I've never read any of these guys. I need to get out more. But I CAN wholeheartedly recommend Ovid Demaris, whose Gold Medals are personal favorites and I never understood why he's never mentioned with the other guys from that stable. His specialty was tight little nasty, gritty mobster novels. CANDYLEG is a good place to start.

--Stephen Mertz

Juri said...


Ovid Demaris, Octavus Roy Cohen, Richard Ellington, H. Vernor Dixon, Jada Davis, Theodore Pratt, Richard Himmel, Frank Castle, A.S. Fleischman, Gordon Davis, Paul Connolly, Nick Quarry.

Demaris, Fleischmann, Gordon Davis and Nick Quarry came already recommended. I've read one or two books by Himmel and thought they were at least okay. Pratt was more a writer of erotica and melodrama than crime, but I haven't really read him. Dixon I know by name, like Richard Ellington.

Frank Castle is a personal favourite. One of his westerns, GUNS TO SONORA (Berkley 1962) is a very good equivalent of any GM or Lion hardboiled crime novel, full of tough violence and twists and turns and criss-crosses. I haven't read his crime novels, but a reader whose taste I trust says he likes a book called DEAD - AND KICKING.

I think Bill Crider has written about Jada Davis in his blog.

But I should say that Octavus Roy Cohen might a bit dated.