Jonathan Craig was a pseudonym for Frank E. Smith, who wrote a ton of crime novels and short stories during the 1950s and 1960s. Much of his short fiction work was published in “Manhunt Magazine,” the finest outlet for that type of thing. “Dirge for a Nude” began its life as a story from the February 1953 issue of “Manhunt” and has been reprinted as a stand-alone eBook as part of the “Noir Masters” line. I’ve always enjoyed the author’s work, and I had an extra 99 cents burning a hole in my pocket, so I decided to splurge.
The story is narrated by a jazz piano player named Marty Bishop who entertains fellow hep cats in an after-hours Greenwich Village dive. During a break between sets, Marty’s ex-girlfriend Gloria appears and tells him that she’s got twelve-grand in her bra, and she wants Marty to run away to Mexico with her. She’s a torch singer with questionable ethics who also gets around, and Marty is done with her. Gloria gets super-pissed when Marty turns her down, and they decide to talk it out in Marty’s car after he finished his gig.
When Marty finally gets to his Caddy, Gloria is waiting for him inside the vehicle - naked and dead. Learning who stripped and killed the girl (and why) is the heart of the story, and it takes Marty on a torturous ride. Could it be the psychotic prizefighter Gloria has been banging recently? Maybe a skid row jazzbo she helped cheat out of his songwriting royalties?
“Dirge For a Nude” is 26-pages of unrepentant Manhunt-style hardboiled violent action. Marty spends the bulk of the story driving around with a naked, dead girl in his caddy trying to solve her murder - rough, unpleasant stuff, but also visceral and effective. It’s surprising that the author never chose to inflate the story into a full novel - a common practice at the time - because this one is just fantastic. It’s definitely the best short story I’ve read in quite some time.
Don’t be a cheapskate. Shell out the 99 cents for this damn story on your Kindle. You won’t regret it.
Buy a copy of this book HERE