Friday, January 25, 2019

Pete Selby and The Sixth Precinct: A Paperback Warrior Primer

Pete Selby & The Sixth Precinct: A Paperback Warrior Primer

This year, we are launching a new feature we are calling “Paperback Warrior Primers” with a goal of giving you a mile-high overview of interesting series titles. Our hope is that you can use these Primers as a guide to decide if a series appeals to you while giving you enough knowledge to jump into the series mid-stream if you choose. We launch this feature with a primer on a noteworthy series from crime fiction author Jonathan Craig.

Under the pseudonym of Jonathan Craig, Frank E. Smith wrote ten related hardboiled police procedural novels in the 1950s and 1960s that were originally marketed as “The Detective Pete Selby” series. As Selby’s partner began to play a larger role in the novels, they were rebranded as the “Pete Selby - Stan Rayder Detective Series.”

The stories are hardboiled police procedural mysteries that, more often than not, begin with the discovery of a murdered (but always totally hot) naked lady (Recall that nudity was a novelty in the 1950s). NYPD Detective Selby is our narrator guiding us through the twists and turns leading to the successful capture of the perps in a readable first-person style.

The original publisher of this commercially-successful series was the great Fawcett Gold Medal imprint, and the paperbacks were packaged with beautiful painted covers consistent with the era. The author was a prolific contributor to the short story digest market and much of his work appeared in “Manhunt” and “Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine,” but I think it’s fair to say that the ten Pete Selby books really put Jonathan Craig on the map.

He also wrote a series of seven novellas and short stories published in “Manhunt” between February 1955 and January 1956 tagged as the “Police File” series. My theory is that the “Police File” stories served as a literary precursor to the Pete Selby police procedurals. They are considerably harder to find but also worth checking out.

In the 1970s, Belmont Tower reprinted the Pete Selby mysteries with covers attempting to appeal to a Men’s Action-Adventure audience. The low-end publisher rebranded the series as “The Sixth Precinct Thrillers.” This was likely an effort to capitalize on the popularity of Ed McBain’s “87th Precinct” series despite the fact that the Pete Selby books actually debuted first. In true Belmont Tower fashion, they screwed up the series order and numbered the books all wrong. The good news is that the series order doesn’t really matter, and the books seem to stand alone quite well.

Unfortunately, if you want to read the Pete Selby Sixth Precinct series, you’ll need to do some hunting for the rare Fawcett Gold Medal paperbacks or the slightly cheaper Belmont Tower reprints. As of this writing, the novels have not been digitized as commercially-available eBooks.

For the record, here is the actual series order:

  The Dead Darling (1955)

  Morgue for Venus (1956)

  Case of the Cold Coquette (1957)

  Case of the Beautiful Body (1957)

  Case of the Petticoat Murder (1958)

  Case of the Nervous Nude (1959)

  Case of the Village Tramp (1959)

  Case of the Laughing Virgin (1960)

  Case of the Silent Stranger (1964)

  Case of the Brazen Beauty (1966)

Stay tuned to Paperback Warrior in the upcoming months for reviews of selected installments from the Pete Selby Sixth Precinct series.

We discuss the author and series on the third episode of the Paperback Warrior Podcast.

You can buy a used copy of the third novel HERE

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