Sunday, July 08, 2018

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Private Detective Stories, February 1946

This is a pulp I own and read recently. The upper image is a scan of my copy, front cover damage and all, the lower a better image from the Fictionmags Index. PRIVATE DETECTIVE STORIES was published by Trojan Publishing Corporation, the publishers of the notorious Spicy line of pulps that eventually became the slightly toned-down Speed line. PRIVATE DETECTIVE STORIES ran from June 1937 to December 1950. Most issues featured at least one story by Robert Leslie Bellem and often more than one under his various pseudonyms. Other regulars from the Spicy/Speed stable showed up frequently, too, such as E. Hoffmann Price, Victor Rousseau (as Lew Merrill), Hugh B. Cave (as Justin Case), and Edwin Truett Long (as Cary Moran).

The author of the lead story in this issue, the novelette “Killer Wanted—First Class”, sold several stories to various Trojan pulps but wasn’t exactly a regular. Geoffrey North wrote many stories for the gang pulps, starting in the early Thirties, and also appeared in a number of other detective pulps from various publishers before his career petered out in the mid-Fifties. That’s all I know about him. His story is a mostly good yarn about a Louisville, Kentucky private detective named Lackland who travels to a small town in Ohio to take on a case involving the murder of the local sheriff. There’s a bizarre will and a big inheritance involved, along with a live dog, a rumored ghost dog, and several instances where Lackland gets hit on the head and knocked out. The terse third-person prose is very good, but the plot winds up being kind of a mess, with things being explained pretty poorly or not at all and an ending that’s not very satisfying. If North had been able to follow through from the good beginning, this would have been a fine story. As is, it reads like he kind of confused himself in the telling of it, along with the reader. Still, there’s enough good stuff in it that I’d be interested to read more by him.

The second story, “No Blood is Bad Blood” by Henry Norton, isn’t a private detective story at all, despite the magazine’s name. The protagonist is a twelve-year-old girl whose father comes home from the war and is immediately arrested for murder. The girl is convinced he couldn’t possibly be guilty and has to find a way to expose the real killer and clear his name. It’s a little on the mild side but well-written and entertaining. Henry Norton wrote a lot for the detective pulps starting in the early Forties, with occasional ventures into science fiction, before selling a few stories to the slicks late in his career.

Talmage Powell’s name is misspelled as Talmadge Powell on both the table of contents and the first page of his story “Tab Me for the Kill”. It’s set in the Ybor City area of Tampa, as much of Powell’s later work would be, and a returning war vet plays a major part in this one, too. In fact, Les Brennan is the narrator. He was a cop in Tampa before the war and often clashed with nightclub owner and crooked gambler Dolph Amick. Now, Amick has married the girl Brennan intended to marry, and Brennan has come back to square accounts. Instead he finds himself framed for murder and has to scramble to uncover the truth. It’s a good yarn, well-written with quite a bit of plot packed into it. I nearly always enjoy Powell’s work.

There’s no private detective in Lew Merrill’s “Nailed”, either. It’s a small town domestic drama set in Vermont with a murder thrown in, and it’s up to the local sheriff to solve it. Merrill was really long-time pulpster Victor Rousseau, and I usually enjoy his stories. This one’s pretty bland, though.

“Lethal Lady” by Walton Grey continues the no private eye streak. Instead, the protagonists in this one are lawyer Timothy Keene and his beautiful blond wife Violet. This reads very much like a series entry, with numerous references to other cases solved by the Keenes, but I don’t know if it is. Nor do I know who wrote it, since Walton Grey is a house-name. Keene’s current case involves a bizarre will (much like the first story in this issue, “Killer Wanted—First Class”) and of course there’s a murder, but Keene and Vi don’t do much actual detective work. However, they’re pretty good characters, with a bit of a Mr. and Mrs. North feel to them, and I enjoyed the story even though there’s not much to it.

David Carver was a pseudonym for an author named David Redstone, who wrote for the pulps under both those names as well as the pseudonym Paul Sherwood from the Twenties through the Forties. I don’t know that I’ve ever encountered his work before. His story in this issue, “The Man in the Crowd”, features insurance investigator Tom Cooper, and insurance investigators are close enough to private detectives that we can consider Cooper one. He’s also a returning vet, which seems to be something of a theme in detective pulps from this era. In this yarn, Cooper is on the trail of an arsonist, and while the plot is really predictable, the story has a nice rhythm and flow to it, and I wound up liking it anyway.

The issue wraps up with “The Hot Rock” by Robert Leslie Bellem. This isn’t a Dan Turner story; in fact, it’s Bellem in a whole different mode. The protagonist is a private eye named Ben Medwick who answers a call for help from his ne’er-do-well brother and winds up on a bloody quest for vengeance almost worthy of Mike Hammer. There’s a death by gruesome torture, a beautiful blonde babe, a blind man, a fortune in missing diamonds, and some really tough action that reminded me of Mickey Spillane. Bellem really packs a lot into this one despite its relatively short length. Easily the best story in this issue.

So only three stories out of the seven actually feature private detectives, but one of them is a novelette and the other two are fairly long, so I guess the wordage is about equal between PI and non-PI stories. None of the stories are particularly outstanding except the one by Bellem, but I didn’t skip any of them and found them reasonably entertaining. That makes this issue of PRIVATE DETECTIVE STORIES about average, I suppose.


Walker Martin said...

I've always considered PRIVATE DETECTIVE to be the best magazine that the Trojan Publishing Corp published. The Spicy line of titles(Spicy Detective, Spicy Mystery, Spicy Western, Spicy Adventure) often ruined the stories by inserting sexy or risque scenes every few pages. PRIVATE DETECTIVE usually concentrated on the story without as many risque distractions. Roger Torrey may have been the best writer that they published but he died an early death due to alcoholism in the mid-forties.

James Reasoner said...

Walker, I like Torrey's work, too. Black Dog Books has published two collections of his hardboiled stories, mostly drawn from Trojan pulps. The alcoholism made him pretty inconsistent, but when he was on his game he was great. I also like most of the Laurence Donovan stories I've read from Trojan pulps.

Erwin-K said...

The returning G.I. became someone the media seemed to jump on every time he got in any kind of trouble. I'm sure lots of writers either followed the trend, or wanted their characters to mirror their own experiences.

Somewhere around this time Bill Mauldin spikes this with a cartoon featuring one of his former soldier characters having breakfast with his wife. The huge headline on the paper reads "Veteran Kicks Aunt!" In the caption the wife tells her husband, "There's a triple ax murder on page eight. No Veterans involved…"