Running from 1952 to 1967, “Manhunt Magazine” was the premier American journal for hardboiled crime short fiction. The publication was originally conceived as a showcase for the literary aesthetic popularized by the work of Mickey Spillane and succeeded in finding a market for the finest crime fiction authors of the 20th century.
“The Best of Manhunt” is a 2019 anthology from Stark House Press containing 384 pages of stories from - and essays about - the legendary “Manhunt Magazine.” The non-fiction pieces were written by Lawrence Block, Jeff Vorzimmer, Scott & Sidney Meredith, and Barry Malzberg. More importantly, the anthology reprints 39 short stories from a who’s-who of mid-20th century crime fiction.
Reviewing 39 short-stories in one article wouldn’t be satisfying for the reader or reviewer, so allow me to provide some perspective on a sampling of the short works by authors we regularly cover here at Paperback Warrior.
“Mugger Murder” by Richard Deming
“Mugger Murder” is the first of two Richard Deming short stories included in “The Best of Manhunt” (the other is the fantastic “Hit and Run”). It originally appeared in the magazine’s April 1953 issue, and is narrated by police reporter named Sam. It’s a tidy little story about a coroner’s inquest surrounding a murder in an alley that may or may not have been committed in self-defense during a mugging. I think the story would’ve made a great first chapter to a novel, but it stands well enough on its own. Fans of Mack Bolan and vigilante fiction will really appreciate this one. Deming is an unsung master of crime fiction, and this story is a bite-size taste of his talent.
The Scrapbook by Jonathan Craig (Frank E. Smith
Jonathan Craig was a pseudonym used by Florida author Frank E. Smith. He wrote both noir and police procedural crime fiction with a sizable catalog of both short stories and full novels. “The Scrapbook” is from Manhunt’s September 1953 issue, and it’s the most dark and sinister story I’ve read by the author. Old Charlie has been working in a warehouse for years hauling boxes. He’s got his eye on Lois, a sweet young tease working at the same business. He thinks she’d be a nice addition to the scrapbook of women hidden in his home - all of whom are victims of sex killings coinciding with Charlie’s annual vacations. That’s all I’ll tell you here, but this is one of those stories that puts you smack dab into the mind of a real psycho, and it’s not a tale you won’t forget anytime soon.
Night of Crisis by Harry Whittington
While many of Harry Whittington’s novels remain in print, his short story output is awfully hard to find these days. For this reason, it’s a real treat to see this short story from October 1956 made the cut. “Night of Crisis” is about a guy named Jim who witnessed a tavern robbery that evolved into a homicide. The cops are grilling Jim rather hard for a guy who claims to be an innocent bystander to the crime. Upon arriving home, Jim’s wife and baby are missing. Could these things be related? This is one of the longer stories in the paperback, and it’s pretty suspenseful, not bad. However, it’s not one of the stronger stories in the anthology nor is it up to Whittington’s high standards.
Frozen Stiff by Lawrence Block
Lawrence Block wrote the Forward to the Stark House anthology reminiscing about his experiences with Manhunt when he was a young and struggling writer. The editors also included a clever short story from the future mystery Grandmaster called “Frozen Stiff” from June 1962. It’s a diabolical little story about a butcher who wishes to attempt suicide by locking himself in the walk-in freezer following his terminal cancer diagnosis. He wants his devoted wife to enjoy the life insurance proceeds without being crippled by medical bills. Of course, ending one’s life in that manner is easier said than done. As expected, this is a great little story and a perfect way to kill 15 minutes.
I’ve only dipped my toe into the water of this anthology, but I can already assess that this may be the greatest short story compilation I’ve ever owned. It’s certainly the one most in keeping with Paperback Warrior’s fiction obsession. The stories are brutal and filled with final-page twists - or in other words: essential reading. Highest recommendation.
Fun Fact Postscript:
Stark House’s “The Best of Manhunt” (2019) isn’t the first Manhunt anthology. In 1958, Permabooks released a paperback called “The Best From Manhunt” edited by Scott and Sidney Meredith. Don’t waste your money on the vintage paperback (like I did) because all 13 stories and the introduction are included in the new Stark House compilation - along with 26 additional tales. Another reason to buy the new one: So they’ll release a Volume Two...
This book was discussed on the fourth episode of the Paperback Warrior Podcast: Link
Buy a copy of this book HERE