I have a facsimile reprint of the first issue of ACE MYSTERY
MAGAZINE from May 1936 and read it recently. (I don't own the original magazine.) It’s primarily a Weird Menace pulp
but it has strong overtones of the mystery and detective pulps as well, and
even some supernatural yarns.
It gets off to a strong start with the novella "The Singing Scourge"
by Frederick C. Davis. This one involves a beautiful young heiress (is there
any other kind?) who’s driven into a killing frenzy by a strange, high-pitched
song that comes out of nowhere and that only she can hear. Her fiancé takes on
the role of two-fisted detective to find out what’s going on. Most of the
action takes place in an isolated mansion and there are a number of sinister
characters lurking around, so you’d expect the goings-on to be suitably creepy,
and they are. Davis was an excellent writer no matter what the genre. He tells
a pretty standard story here but does it very well.
Laurence Hammond’s story concerns an heiress as well. "Death's
Heiress", in fact, as the title tells us. She’s a beautiful redhead from
Boston who inherits a fortune from her crazy old uncle in New Orleans. But when
she arrives she winds up being trapped in an old plantation house with her
uncle’s lawyer, Edmond LaRue. (And if you think a lawyer named Edmond LaRue is
going to turn out to be bad news...well, you’ve read a pulp story or two in
your time, haven’t you?) Despite having a pretty good idea what’s going to
happen, Hammond’s writing is atmospheric enough that I enjoyed this story. I
haven’t encountered Hammond’s work before, but I’d read more by him.
I don't know anything about Ben George, either, but his story
"Cat-Man" is more like something you'd find in WEIRD TALES, rather
than a Weird Menace pulp. It's about an artist who has become rich and famous
by painting portraits of cats that belong to wealthy members of high society.
But when he crosses a Crazy Old Cat Lady (to borrow a term from THE SIMPSONS),
he finds himself cursed and believes he's turning into a cat. This is an okay
story for the most part, but it's cursed, too—with a really lame ending.
Maitland Scott is better remembered as R.T.M. Scott, the author of the first
two novels about The Spider, which were packaged together and reprinted by
Berkley Books in the Sixties. I remember buying those and reading them nearly
fifty years ago. I recall that I liked them, but that’s about it.
Unfortunately, Scott’s novelette in this issue, “Priestess of Pain”, isn’t very
good. The protagonist is a would-be writer whose childhood sweetheart marries a
friend of his, then apparently dies in a car wreck, then comes back to life as
one of the minions of an evil occultist who practically twirls his mustache.
The writing is too florid even for a Weird Menace pulp (and that’s saying a
lot), and there are some continuity glitches that make me think this might have
been rewritten from an earlier, unsold manuscript.
Steve Fisher is the author of some well-regarded hardboiled crime novels, one
of which, NO HOUSE LIMIT, was reprinted by Hard Case Crime. His story "Satan's
Faceless Henchmen" in this issue is also a crime yarn, although a much
more lurid one. It's the tale of a resurrection racket in which a gang of evil
monks steals freshly dead corpses and brings them back to life in return for a
payment of a quarter of a million dollars. The explanation behind all this is
less than convincing, but the pace is fast and the action scenes are good.
"Wolf Vengeance" by Rex Grahame is a backwoods tale about the rivalry
between two half-brothers over the beautiful girl they both love. One of the
brothers was practically raised by wolves and has a strange affinity with them,
and when he disappears it sets a chain of violent events in motion. The twists
in this yarn are pretty obvious, but it's well-written, with a nice sense of its
John H. Knox was one of the leading authors of Weird Menace stories, but his
contribution to this issue, "The Corpse Queen's Lovers", is a
supernatural yarn more like what you'd find in WEIRD TALES. It concerns an
archeological expedition in search of artifacts from an ancient religion in the
New Mexico hills, and that Southwestern setting gives this story a nice
distinction. Naturally enough, what the expedition finds is dangerously evil,
and Knox tells the story in smooth, well-written prose.
Paul Ernst is best remembered as the author of the pulp novels featuring The
Avenger, but he also wrote a lot of weird fiction and straight mystery tales.
"Nightmare House" mixes the two genres effectively. It has some Weird
Menace trappings—an eccentric scientist and a gorilla—but it's basically a
detective yarn with a beat cop (who would have been played by Ward Bond if this
had ever been filmed) serving as the protagonist. A minor but entertaining
Hugh B. Cave was one of the pulps' best and most prolific writers, turning out
top-notch work in numerous genres for many different magazines. His novelette
in this issue, "The Horde of Silent Men", concerns a group of
businessmen who are meeting mysterious deaths one by one, until only the son
and daughter of two of the men (who had died earlier of natural causes) are
left and are threatened by the same doom that claimed the others. Though it's
plenty creepy in places, this is really more of a mystery yarn, and the
solution is fairly interesting. It's not in the top rank of Cave's work, but
it's certainly enjoyable.
As is this entire issue. There are a couple of weak stories, but the ones by
Davis and Knox are excellent and the others are well-written. Plus it has a
good cover by Howard Sherman. For a hybrid of Weird Menace and mystery
pulp, ACE MYSTERY is pretty darned good, based on this issue, and I wouldn't
hesitate to read another.