Friday, September 11, 2020

Forgotten Books: Frisco Flat - Stuart James

See, I thought this book was about an apartment in San Francisco. Nope, not at all. It’s set in California, but that’s about the only thing I got right. Frisco Flat is actually the name of the small town where Frankie Cargo grew up. (And isn’t Frankie Cargo a great name for a protagonist? I wonder if he’s related to Clutch.)

At any rate, Frisco Flat is on the coast, with farms to the east and the Pacific to the west, so it’s both an agricultural town and a fishing town. Frankie grew up there, the son of a fisherman, then went off to the Korean War, and when it was over, he knocked around various places for six years before finally returning to his home when he gets the news that his father has died.

We’ve all read enough of these books to have a pretty good idea what’s going to happen. Frankie quickly runs afoul of the local law and discovers that sinister things are going on in Frisco Flat. For one thing, his father was murdered. The local big shot tries to buy the fishing boat Frankie inherits, and when Frankie refuses to sell, the boat is vandalized. The beautiful brunette who’s moved into his house is a hostess in the local honkytonk and also the mistress of the corrupt sheriff. There’s a beautiful rich blonde who wants to help Frankie, but can she really be trusted? His best friend from childhood and the other fishermen in the area are counting on him to break the hold of the bad guys who have moved in and taken over, so he can’t just cut his losses and leave.

Unlike most of the authors who wrote for Monarch Books, Stuart James seems to have used his real name on this and the eight other novels he wrote in his career: three movie novelizations from the Sixties, three hardboiled sleaze novels (this one and two for Midwood), also in the Sixties, and three thrillers in the Eighties from Bantam. This information is from my friend David Spencer, who has read and collected them all. Why the long gap in the middle of his career and why he didn’t write more, I have no idea. It’s a shame, because based on FRISCO FLAT, he was pretty darned good. The plot in this one is fairly standard, but as I’ve said many times, the appeal of a book with a traditional plot lies in how well the writer handles those elements. James does a good job. This book is a little better written, a little more literary in places, if you will, than many of the hardboiled novels from that era.

On the other hand, while FRISCO FLAT moves along well, it doesn’t have quite the same sort of propulsive storytelling you find in books by Harry Whittington and Gil Brewer, for example, nor does James have his plot as tightly under control as, say, Day Keene usually does. Unless I missed something, he never completely resolves one of the main plot points. But hey, Raymond Chandler didn’t know who killed the chauffeur, either. I enjoyed this one enough that I won’t hesitate to read the other couple of books by Stuart James that I have on hand.

Now, a word about that cover. When I first looked at it, I thought that maybe Tom Miller had painted it, because it reminded me of covers by Miller on some of the other Monarch Books. However, this one isn’t on Lynn Munroe’s checklist of Miller’s covers, and I trust Lynn completely in such matters. Also, FRISCO FLAT was published a couple of years earlier than Miller did most of his work for Monarch. So I don’t know who painted this cover, but it’s a really good one anyway.


Daniel Boyd said...

Thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

The enemy general, by Dan Pepper, pseud. of Louis Morheim & Max Gareth, pseud. of Stuart James. Based on the original screenplay by Dan Pepper & Bert Pickard.
I've find this note in the "Catalogue of Copyright entries 1960".
Tiziano Agnelli