Showing posts with label Jonathan Craig. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Jonathan Craig. Show all posts

Monday, February 13, 2023

Come Night, Come Evil

Jonathan Craig (Real Name: Frank E. Smith, 1919-1984) was a Florida resident who socialized with Harry Whittington and Gil Brewer as he was writing over 100 novels and 300 short stories during the paperback era. Come Night, Come Evil was a stand-alone crime noir novel from 1957 published by Fawcett Gold Medal.

The novel opens with Jeff Colby being released from prison into the hands of his loyal wife, Laurie. They have every intention of building a life together and putting Jeff’s legal problems behind them. Unfortunately, Jeff has been assigned a fat, slimy parole officer named Carl Munger, who corners the couple in the prison parking lot during the discharge and immediately begins making Jeff’s life miserable.

Munger is a loathsome bully who extorts a kickback from Jeff’s parolee job wages. Jeff is forced to comply with no backtalk because of Munger’s unilateral authority to revoke Jeff’s parole and send him back to prison to finish his sentence.

Why was Jeff in prison at all? Best to let the novel tell that story as it’s a pretty compelling flashback. Suffice to say, it was a bum rap, and Jeff would like to exonerate himself now that he’s out on the streets. And the only way he can stay out is to appease Munger and his inappropriate demands. Finding the people who set Jeff up and understanding their motivation is the central mystery of the paperback.

The problem is that there are a few other mysteries muddying up the plot in this 128-page paperback. The writing is solid, and some of the characters are written extremely well. Despite that, Come Night, Come Evil is a pretty mediocre affair. If you’re looking for top-shelf Jonathan Craig, proceed directly to So Young, So Wicked. Unless you’re trying to read them all, this one can be easily bypassed. 

Monday, November 28, 2022

Best of Manhunt: Volume 3

The good people at Stark House Press have blessed us with another compilation of hardboiled crime stories from the pages of Manhunt Magazine, the premier digest for crime noir fiction in the 1950s and 1960s.

The introduction by scholars Jeff Vorzimmer and David Rachels tackles the literary mystery of the identity behind the house name of Roy Carroll, a pseudonym employed by the Manhunt editors when an author had more than one story in a single issue. The thought was that magazine readers desired a great diversity of names in the Table of Contents and would somehow feel ripped off if the same author appeared twice.

Several of the Roy Carroll stories in Manhunt are now known to be written by Robert Turner - but not all. The editors performed some investigative legwork worthy of Paperback Warrior to firmly-establish that the Roy Carroll story appearing in the November 1956 issue under the title “Death Wears a Grey Sweater” was, in fact, written by fan-favorite Gil Brewer for which Brewer was paid a tidy sum of $260.

With that mystery about a mystery solved, it’s only fair that we begin our tour of this anthology with the story itself.

Death Wears a Sweater by Gil Brewer writing as Roy Carroll (November 1956)

The story opens with the horrific death of an 11 year-old girl in a broad daylight hit-and-run while her father watches helplessly nearby. After verifying that his little girl is, in fact, dead, her dad — his name is Irv Walsh — goes bananas, hops in his car, and begins pursuing the hit-and-run driver. The confrontation with the car occupants goes poorly for Walsh, and his quest for quick justice is thwarted while his desire for revenge burns hot.

As vendetta stories go, this one is pretty dark, gruesome and sadistic. Brewer’s strongest works were his short stories and this one is no exception. It’s a tough and tension-filled read that packs the appropriate emotional punch.

Services Rendered by Jonathan Craig (May 1953)

Henry Callan is a crooked, hard-drinking police lieutenant investigating the murder of a florist. A suspect named Tommy is in custody, but refuses to talk. The dirty cop visits Tommy’s wife and makes her an offer of regular sex with Henry in exchange for Tommy’s freedom and avoidance of the electric chair.

This is the kind of dark and twisted story that made Manhunt great. Jonathan Craig (real name: Frank Smith) is always a reliably great writer, and this story is consistent with his hardboiled output. Don’t skip this one.

Throwback by Donald Hamilton (August 1953)

Donald Hamilton was the author of the esteemed Matt Helm spy series, but this short story predates his groundbreaking Death of a Citizen by nearly seven years. “Throwback” is an unusual story for both Hamilton and Manhunt as it is a post-apocalyptic story set shortly after the atomic destruction of the USA.

George Hardin and his wife are among the shambling survivors wandering among the smoldering ruins of a freshly-destroyed America. Hamilton’s writing is characteristically beautiful and descriptive. Unfortunately, a coherent plot never comes together, making this story perfectly skippable.

The Red Herring by Richard Deming (December 1962)

Richard Deming appears twice in this Manhunt compilation, and “The Red Herring” won the coin toss for the prestigious Paperback Warrior review. The story stars a Private Detective named Matt Gannon, who is engaged by a corporate CEO.

The company manufactures a radiation detector similar to a Gieger counter but way more sensitive. The company bought the technology from the inventor for a song, and now the creator is apparently sending threatening notes. Gannon is hired to make the case. As expected, Deming does a fine job with a compelling, if rather standard, PI mystery.

The Verdict

The brain-trust behind these Stark House Manhunt anthologies has another winner on their hands. I hope these collections never stop, and they expand to the other hardboiled magazines that popped up in the wake of Manhunt’s success. These short crime stories are an important part of American literary history and need to be preserved for modern audiences and future generations. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Back Alley Jungle

Leo Margulies (1900-1975) is a familiar name in the world of pulps, MAMs and digests. Originally from New York, he started as a researcher for 20th Century Fox before becoming the editor of Ned Pines' Standard Magazines. Along with magazines like Mike Shayne, Popular Detective and Thrilling Detective, Margulies also compiled and edited a number of anthology collections including Back Alley Jungle. This 1960 collection of short stories was initially published by Fawcett Gold Medal under the Crest brand name. Here’s some highlights:

Ed McBain (written under the name of Richard Marsten) is the author of the 1952 story entitled “Carrera’s Woman”. In it, a man named Jeff has been working the oil fields in Mexico. After many hard years, Jeff amassed $10,000 in savings. Before returning to America to start a new life he was robbed by a co-worker named Carrera and his girlfriend Linda. When the story starts, Jeff takes Linda hostage behind big rocks. Carrera is across the dry gulch firing futilely into the rocks hoping to kill Jeff and reclaim Linda. During the night, the three parties are at each other's throats with both sides taking potshots across the gap. But the story changes fast as Linda starts to seduce Jeff. Is this an escape strategy or is she sincere in her sexual advances? This is the ultimate question McBain is asking, and it's such a tempting one. I really liked this story and it's a key part of the collection. 

In Steve Frazee's 1953 "Graveyard Shift" story, the close narration focuses on a busy police dispatcher on a late night shift. When a woman holding a gun enters the police station, this lone dispatcher is ordered to place all of the city's patrol cars in one section of the city. The woman's motive becomes clear when the dispatcher locates the pattern - she's purposefully maneuvering the police away from the local casino. Involved in this complex case, it is up to the dispatcher to use code words so that officers redirect efforts to the casino. This is a really unique story that presents a rare, but deserving hero - the police dispatcher.

The longest and most enjoyable story is Richard Deming's 1955 short "The War". This starts with a woman named Janice entering the Rotunda Club, a posh casino owned by Clancy Ross. After a talk and a call upstairs, Clancy greets Janice in his office. In short, Janice is the widow of Clancy's old Army buddy from the Korean War. She explains to Clancy that her husband witnessed a mob slaying and was later gunned down by killers working for a syndicate kingpin named Lawson. During the exchange, the Mob framed Janice so that she would appear as a frustrated wife who shot her husband during a heated argument. After the arrest, the Mob posted bail for her in an effort to then kill her in a way that would resemble suicide. With no friends or allies, Janice fled to Clancy hoping he will keep her safe. This violent and explosive story features Clancy at odds with Lawson over the woman's safety. But is there some secret about her? Deming was a great storyteller and “The War” is absolutely awesome. I can't say enough good things about it.

Other authors appearing in this compilation are Jonathan Craig (Frank E. Smith), Dan Sontup, Mann Rubin, Charles Boeckman, Robert Turner and Don Stanford. There's an additional Ed McBain story titled "Clean Break" that's listed under the pseudonym Hunt Collins.

At 150-pages and 10 solid short-stories, Back Alley Jungle is an absolute joy to read and a fairly affordable used paperback considering the era and publisher. Highly recommended.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, April 26, 2021

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 88

On Episode 88 of the Paperback Warrior podcast, Tom and Eric have a heart to heart conversation about the future of the podcast. We also re-visit the life and literary work of Frank E. Smith, the Gothic paperback craze of the 1960s & 1970s, new Stark House Press releases, and Tom's secret work life is finally revealed! Listen on any podcast app, stream below or download directly HERE

Listen to "Episode 88: The Secret Life of Frank E. Smith" on Spreaker.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Hot Summer Night and the Unmasking of Elston Barrett

There’s nothing about this 1980 paperback that’s appealing at first glance. The cover photo is embarrassingly bad. A mystifying font choice makes the title, Hot Summer Night, almost unreadable. And the author, Elston Barrett, isn’t a name anyone knows. Is this a horror novel? A carnival thriller? Why would anyone buy this low-budget book and read it?

Actually, I searched rather hard to find a copy of this paperback. I did this because I have a theory about the identity of the author that I wanted to put to the test. I review the book below but first I want to attempt to answer the question:

Who the Hell was Elston Barrett?

I believe that Elston Barrett was most likely a pseudonym. I could find no record of any other novels published under that name. Unfortunately, Leisure Books never bothered to register the book with the U.S. Copyright Office, so that’s no help.

My theory - and I could be wrong - is that Hot Summer Night was actually written by Frank E. Smith (1919-1984), better known to Paperback Warrior readers as Fawcett Gold Medal and Manhunt crime fiction author Jonathan Craig. Here’s my circumstantial case:

In the 1950s, Smith’s literary agent was a guy named Scott Meredith whose clients were the top crime fiction guys at the time (Lawrence Block, Richard Deming, Donald Westlake, etc.). Meredith’s stable of authors also served as the farm team who wrote hardboiled stories for Manhunt where Smith - as Jonathan Craig - contributed a ton of stories.

The success of Manhunt spawned a bunch of other hardboiled crime digest imitators, including Hunted and Pursuit. During the years 1954 through 1956, Smith sold six stories to Hunted and Pursuit that were published under the name Elston Barrett. These would have been logical stories for the Jonathan Craig pen-name, but Smith probably didn’t want to piss off Manhunt who was providing him with a nice living at the time.

During the 1970s, Smith was living in Florida and authoring Gothic novels under the name Jennifer Hale until his death in 1984. If I’m right and Smith was the real author of 1980’s Hot Summer Night, it would have been his last published novel.

Not convinced? Here’s some more data points:

The publisher of Hot Summer Night was Leisure Books, founded in 1957 by a guy named Harry Shorten who retired in 1982. Shorten also oversaw a sleaze paperback publishing house called Midwood Books that drew upon writers represented by Scott Meredith to write erotic novels in the 1950s and 1960s. As such, it stands to reason that Smith and Shorten would have known each other for decades before Shorten bought and published Smith’s final book in 1980.

There are other things in Hot Summer Night where Smith left his fingerprints behind. First, the book takes place in 1932 in Missouri - not a typical year for a 1980 thriller to take place. It was, however, a year Smith would have remembered from his own boyhood in Missouri where his family relocated during the Great Depression. It stands to reason that Smith was drawing from his memories of struggling carnivals limping through Missouri at the time. I think the Missouri 1932 setting strongly implicates Smith as the author.

I’ll double-down and further guess that Hot Summer Night was likely a Frank E. Smith trunk novel that he probably wrote, but didn’t sell, many years before it’s 1980 publication. He probably blew the dust off the old manuscript, did some re-editing, and sold it for a couple grand to his old friend at Leisure Books while both men were at the end of their careers. The low-end paperback house slapped a crummy cover on the novel, sold a couple thousand copies, and the world forgot the paperback ever existed. The book does not appear in any bibliography of Smith’s body of work.

Anyway, that’s my theory. I could be wrong, but it makes sense to me.


The year is 1932, and the Great Stratton Shows traveling carnival has fallen on hard times. General Manager Brady Stratton is fighting to keep his family business afloat amid competitive pressures and the economic downturn sparked by the Great Depression. The only hope of solvency is winning the contract to provide the attractions for the Cullis County Fair, and Brady has only ten days to raise $10,000 for the participation fee.

There are a lot of plot threads in Hot Summer Night, all of which are quite compelling:

 - A black mechanic for the carnival is run off the road by rednecks for allowing a white female carny to ride in the front seat with him. The ensuing fistfight leaves one of the townies seriously injured and the rowdies are looking for revenge.

- Cindy Stratton, the little sister of the family, has a daredevil act where she dives sixty feet down into four feet of water. Meanwhile, she’s facing the distraction of a rich boyfriend from Kansas City. Evidently, a dive that high requires some precision and concentration. Who knew?

- Little brother Tommy Stratton rides loops on his motorcycle in the Globe of Death. He’s jeopardizing the carnival’s operations by making time with a jailbait girl.

- There’s a maniac on the loose planting incendiary devices at carnival hoochie-coochie tents. The maniac is driven by religious outrage believing that the girly shows represent a modern-day Sodom that needs to be destroyed. Can the arsonist be stopped before he turns the canvas tents into a Hell-on-Earth?

- An ex-con one step ahead of the law sees the carnival as a perfect mark for a payroll heist. All he needs is an insider to make it happen.

- A deformed teenage girl is dropped off at the carnival by her family in hopes of finding her a spot in the freak show exhibit. Could this be the girl’s only hope of finding a real family who will love her for herself?

There’s a lot happening in this 240-page big-font paperback. To the author’s credit, the many story threads are all interesting and resolved quite nicely by the end. At times, it felt like a special, two-hour episode of the Love Boat, but I was never bored. Contrary to the dreadful cover art, Hot Summer Night isn’t a horror novel at all. Some of the subplots are very suspenseful, but I found it to be a very mainstream novel with a fascinating settling.

The author clearly took the time to learn about carnival culture and slang. Early in the paperback, he introduces the character of a female newspaper reporter doing a feature on the carnival. She serves as a proxy for the reader while getting up to speed on terms like mitt camp, madball, grab stand, ten-in-one, etc. Anyone who’s into carny stuff is really going to dig this book.

Hot Summer Night wasn’t a literary masterpiece, but it was an enjoyable look at a subculture most of us don’t get to see from the inside. Whether or not it was written by Frank E. Smith or not, it’s an easy recommendation if you can find a copy on-the-cheap. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Friday, April 2, 2021

The Secret of Devil's Cave

Frank E. Smith (1919-1984) had a number of career paths on the road to becoming a full-time novelist. He worked as a newspaper reporter for the Kansas City Star, was employed as a research analyst for the U.S. Pentagon and served in the Navy during WW2. By 1952, Smith began writing shorts for magazines like Mammoth Western and Manhunt mostly using the name Jonathan Craig. By the mid-1950s, Smith had found success with his police procedural series The Sixth Precinct. After using names like Carl Jacobi, Grant Colby and Elston Barrett, Smith adopted the name Jennifer Hale to cash in on the hot 1970s Gothic suspense genre. As Hale, Smith wrote five novels from 1971 through 1978 including The Secret of Devil's Cave. It was published by Magnum in 1973.

The book's protagonist is 20-year old Beth Nolan, a St. Louis resident who is coping with the recent loss of her father. After meeting with her father's attorney, Beth is astounded to learn that her inheritance includes a commercial cave and inn in the Missouri Ozarks. Her father never informed her that he owned any property outside of their residential home and antique store. This inheritance baffles Beth, warranting a visit to learn more about the property.

Upon Beth's arrival at Devil's Inn, she is introduced to the Bratchers, an eclectic family that has resided at the inn since Beth was three-years old. They run the inn and do guided tours of the accompanying Devil's Cave. Oddly, they convinced the town that they owned the entire establishment. So when Beth shows up to claim what is rightfully hers, the Bratchers become embarrassed and are forced to comply with her wishes. With this transition, Beth must decide if the Bratchers should stay and keep the business running or simply be replaced by new management due to the poor financial state it's in.

Here's the checklist of what Smith presents to Beth and readers that makes this the traditional Gothic 1970s paperback:

- Many years ago, the prior cave/inn owner's daughter died. In a unique rite of passage, the owner had her body laid in a glass casket and placed  on display in the cave. The town was outraged and threw the owner into the cave's endless pit deemed The Devil's Cistern.

- Years ago, a young girl was murdered in the cave and the killer was never found.

- Weeks ago, an inn resident seemingly vanished during a cave tour.

- Beth is warned by the town's wacky witch that she's already died years ago.

- Beth finds a bizarre life-like painting of herself in town with a date 20+ years ago.

- Beth finds a portrait of an unnamed gravestone in her father's possession.

- The cave and inn are apparently haunted by voices that can foreshadow death or danger.

There's a few other things tossed into the narrative like hidden Civil War treasure, a raven that keeps attacking Beth and the obligatory love interest between Beth and the wealthy town attorney. The bulk of the narrative dwells on the Bratchers and their odd behavior. There's a mentally unstable Bratcher named Flossie who Beth befriends and tries to protect. Of course power struggle is a constant with Earl Bratcher's knowledge and management of the business versus Beth's young inexperience as the conflict cornerstone. Villains are aplenty with Walt and Mark Bratcher both exhibiting murderous intentions and a potential risk to Beth.

The Secret of Devil's Cave resembles the book's mandatory cover – a young vulnerable female facing the inevitable danger. Whether it's supernatural or not helps to enhance the overall narrative. It's a sales pitch that always works wonders for this saturated genre. Is it a pillowcase over deceitful humanity or a genuine dreaded monster? Beth is an admirable character and there's a strong ensemble of characters that helps shore up any rough patches. Overall, this was an enjoyable experience and makes me want to read more of Smith's “Jennifer Hale” Gothics.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, March 22, 2021

Paperback Warrior - Episode 83

On Episode 83 of the Paperback Warrior Podcast, we discuss the evolution of sexual content in genre paperbacks. Also discussed: Carter Brown, Adult Westerns, Ardath Mayhar, John Kildeer, Frank Cannon, Sam Spade, Wade Miller, Lawrence Block, Donald Westlake, Jonathan Craig and much more! Listen on your favorite podcast app, at or download directly HERE 

Donate to the show HERE


Listen to "Episode 83: Paperback Sex" on Spreaker.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Junkie (aka Frenzy)

Jonathan Craig (real name: Frank Smith) was an excellent crime fiction novelist of the 1950s and 1960s who really deserves to be remembered today. His Sixth Precinct police procedural mysteries were his best known books, but he also left behind an impressive array of stand-alone novels as well. In 1952, Falcon Books published a Jonathan Craig book called Junkie marketed to leverage the public hysteria over drugs and jazz. The novel was reprinted in 1962 by Lancer Books is Frenzy, and remains available today as an affordable ebook.

Steve Harper is a Washington, DC jazz trumpeter whose mentor and best friend Hal has been murdered by strangulation in his own apartment. Here’s the catch: before the police found Hal’s body, someone identifying themselves as Kathy Mason called the cops and said she’d killed Hal and was going to kill herself. The problem is that Kathy is Steve’s steady girlfriend. Now Kathy is missing and the cops want Steve’s help in finding her. Is she even alive? And if so, is she a murderer?

The possibility that Kathy killed Hal can’t be dismissed out of hand because she is a recovering drug addict. I’m talking about Smack, Junk, Horse, The Big H, also known as the plague of the jazz scene: Heroin. Steve thought she was off the junk for the three months they’ve been dating, but the evidence is pointing towards her continued usage and the possible murder of Hal.

Junkie/Frenzy is deceptively packaged as a salacious look behind the curtain of the seedy world of drug addicts when it’s actually a pretty straightforward murder mystery by an outstanding crime fiction author. The plot moves along quickly, and the characters are well-developed and three dimensional. The author explores the male instinct to rescue beautiful, damaged girls, and it’s easy to have empathy when Steve’s white knight complex is on full display.

There are some decent twists and turns along the way, and the author keeps the action and revelations flowing nicely throughout the short paperback. The mystery itself has a satisfying conclusion, and while this isn’t Jonathan Craig’s masterpiece, it’s certainly another one in his win column. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, December 9, 2019

Dirge for a Nude

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

Monday, July 22, 2019

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 03

In this episode we discuss the literary works of crime-noir writer Jonathan Craig, including his “The Girl in Gold” novel. We also look at the ‘Super Cop Joe Blaze’ series from the early 1970s and its mysterious author. Tom tells us about a locked room treasure house in Detroit that is sure to please fans of vintage paperbacks. (Credit to Bensound for the epic intro music). Stream the episode below or through these services: Apple, Google, Spreaker, Stitcher, iHeart Radio, YouTube, Castbox or directly download the episode HERE.

Listen to "Episode 03: Jonathan Craig" on Spreaker.

Pete Selby #11 - The Girl in Gold

Kansas City native Frank E. Smith wrote over 100 novels and 300 short stories during his writing career. Most of his crime fiction was published under the pseudonym Jonathan Craig, including ten police procedural novels in his Pete Selby-Stan Rayder series during the 1950s and 1960s. These paperbacks were later rebranded as ‘The Sixth Precinct’ books in the 1970s for a re-release. I recently discovered that there may be other stories in the series buried among the author’s magazine work.

The last Pete Selby novel was “Case of the Brazen Beauty” in 1966, but it appears that Smith resurrected his popular police detective characters again in September 1970 for a novella titled “The Girl in Gold” published in “Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine.” The 20-page story was also included in three Hitchcock anthologies:

- Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Grave Business (1975)
- Alfred Hitchcock’s Borrowers of the Night (1983)
- Portraits of Murder (1988)

My theory is that Smith revisited the characters for this 1970 novella knowing that Belmont-Tower would soon be reprinting the Selby novels as “The Sixth Precinct” series. Smith was likely hoping that “The Girl in Gold” would spark a renewed interest in the series that hadn’t seen publication in four years. Or maybe he just felt creatively drawn to revisit some old friends.

In any case “The Girl in Gold” is a fun read and a worthwhile entry into the series. The story begins with a boy flagging down Selby and Rayder to show them a man who landed in the alley behind a Manhattan hotel - presumably having come from the open third-floor window above. Because this is a murder mystery story, suicide and accidental death are quickly ruled out.

A visit inside the hotel identifies the deceased as Harry Lambert, and his room on the third floor uncovers a hotel glass with lipstick on the rim. Jewelers cases in the room are suspiciously missing the gold and diamonds they once contained. With a probable motive and the gender of the suspect, the detectives have clues to leverage in order to solve the case within 20 pages.

Like a normal police procedural, the reader rides along with Selby and Rayder as they interview witnesses and suspects until the clues lead them to a likely solution. There was a neat little hardboiled twist in the final scene that tipped this short story from good to great. Overall, “The Girl in Gold” was a worthwhile diversion from an author who I continue to enjoy.

This story and a Jonathan Craig feature are both on episode three of the Paperback Warrior Podcast.

Buy a copy of this story HERE

Friday, June 7, 2019

So Young, So Wicked

Whenever I mention how much I enjoy the work of Jonathan Craig (a pseudonym of Frank Smith), my bookish friends tell
me his 1957 killer-for-hire novel, “So Young, So Wicked,” was his noir masterpiece. The Fawcett Gold Medal paperback had at least two printings - 1957 and 1960 but doesn’t appear to have seen publication since then.

Steve Garrity plays piano in a Manhattan after-hours nightclub. He also occasionally kills people when asked to do so by the local syndicate. While the career of a hired killer has provided Garrity with substantial creature comforts, its not a job that provides him with much personal satisfaction. However, saying no to the New York organized crime syndicate isn’t a recipe for longevity, so Garrity generally does as he’s told.

Garrity’s latest assassination assignment from his mob handler targets an impossibly-beautiful 15 year-old girl named Leda who lives in a small town in upstate New York. Complicating matters further is the order that Garrity must make Leda’s death look like an accident. Therefore, a rifle shot into the teenybopper jailbait’s bedroom window is strictly a no-go. Garrity has no clue why the mafia wants a pretty teen murdered, and his masters aren’t telling him. He just needs to know that he’s a dead man if he fails to make the hit, so upstate he goes.

The template for “So Young, So Wicked” is quite similar to Max Allan Collins’ excellent ‘Quarry’ series although Garrity is a way more reluctant angel of death than Quarry. When Garrity arrives in Leda’s hometown, he makes some interesting moves to ingratiate himself in the small town’s culture and with Leda herself. It turns out the teen is quite a seductress to the extent that I think the character’s name, “Leda Louise Noland,” is a hat tip to the female lead of Vladimir Nabokov’s “Lolita.” The heart of the paperback’s plot is Garrity unraveling the mystery of why the syndicate wants the teen girl iced.

There are so many great twists and turns in this short noir paperback that I wouldn’t even think of ruining the surprises for you here. I will say that the vintage cover art provides a misleading romantic impression to the reader when the reality is that this is a seriously dark and violent paperback. The writing is vivid and economical, and a lot happens over the course of 160 pages leading up to the satisfying conclusion. 

I’m amazed that “So Young, So Wicked” hasn’t been resurrected as an eBook, but an online search found several used copies available for under ten bucks. It’s worth the investment as this one’s a real noir winner. Highly recommended. 

This book and a Jonathan Craig feature are on the third episode of the Paperback Warrior Podcast.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

The Floater

“The Floater” is a police procedural novella by Jonathan Craig (real name: Frank E. Smith) that first appeared in the January 1955 issue of “Manhunt Magazine” and predates Craig’s similar ‘Police File’ and ‘Sixth Precinct/Pete Selby’ series titles from the same era. The novella has been reprinted by Black Cat Mysteries (a Wildside Press imprint) as a 99-cent eBook.

The story is told by NYPD homicide detective Jim Coren who, along with his partner, Paul Brader, is assigned the case of an 18 year-old female who washed ashore near Manhattan’s Pier 90. The author includes all sorts of interesting forensic science trivia about floaters that seems credible enough to me. The evidence convinces the fictional detectives that the girl was murdered before she was dumped in the water.

The officers follow a logical trail to determine if any missing persons match the demographics of the young floater. There’s something about a “Jonathan Craig” police procedural that’s so pure and logical that they’re always a pleasure to read. The detectives don’t have the colorful, fully-formed personalities of Ed McBain’s detectives of the 87th Precinct, but that approach places the evidence, procedures and suspects front-and-center. You can also count on the female victim of his stories to be involved in deviant or promiscuous sexual activity, and “The Floater” is no exception.

I’d be interested to know why the author was writing NYPD police procedurals during the same era for the ‘Police File’ series, the ‘Sixth Precinct/Pete Selby’ series and stand-alone stories like this one? Wouldn’t it have been better branding to pick one hero and ride him until he drops? It’s not like all these NYPD protagonists were differentiated in any meaningful way.

Sadly, Frank E. Smith died in 1984, so I’ll never get the chance to ask him about his career and the literary choices he made. It doesn’t seem as if he granted many interviews during his life or that anyone has made an exhaustive study of his writing. He was probably just one of those hard-working Florida authors at the time grinding out stories to feed his family. Anyway, the bottom line is that “The Floater” was a great story, and you should read it. Recommended.

A feature on Jonathan Craig is included in the third episode of the Paperback Warrior Podcast.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Pete Selby #8 - Case of the Laughing Virgin

“The Case of the Laughing Virgin” by Jonathan Craig (real name: Frank E. Smith) is the eighth mystery-adventure starring NYPD Detective Pete Selby and his partner, Stan Rayder. The paperback was originally released by Fawcett Gold Medal in 1960 with a cheeky, swinging cover and was re-released in April 1974 by Belmont Tower as #6 in the “Sixth Precinct” series with a decidedly more menacing illustration.

There’s really no reason to tie yourself into knots trying to reading the series sequentially - particularly since the 1970s publisher couldn’t figure out the proper order anyway. This short installment begins with Selby (our narrator) and Rayder pulling a hysterical naked girl down from the roof of a Greenwich Village brownstone - only to discover her dead lover inside the apartment with three bullet holes in his chest. Did the naked lady plug her boyfriend? Sometimes in life it’s that easy but rarely in crime fiction.

Selby and Rayder logically put the pieces of what unfolded at the apartment together to generate logical leads in the case. It’s a pure police procedural and the paperback follows the course of the investigation with a brisk pace that is seldom boring. Also, sex is humming in the background of nearly every scene but no one seems to get laid here.

Over the course of 160 pages, the author does a great job of making 1960 New York City come alive, particularly when the investigation leads the police into the world of underground stag film production and sex clubs. Moreover, the interplay between the two police partners is pure gold. The problem is that this novel isn’t particularly exciting. It’s a serviceable police procedural where Selby and Rayder go from interview to interview running down logical leads. There was really nothing to grab the reader in a story about two honest cops doing their jobs very well.

I’m not giving up on this series. I regard Jonathan Craig as an unsung master of crime fiction, and I know he can do better. If you dive into the Pete Selby Sixth Precinct series, start with a different installment. For me, this one failed to deliver.

We have a Jonathan Craig feature on our third episode of the Paperback Warrior Podcast.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Classification Homicide

In February 1955, “Classification: Homicide” began its publication history as the first of Jonathan Craig’s ‘Police File’ stories featured in Manhunt magazine. In 2016, the story was repackaged for the first time in paperback by Armchair Fiction as the B-Side of a double along with Dexter St. Clare’s “Saratoga Mantrap.” In it’s trade paperback incarnation, Craig’s “full novel” weighs in at 76-pages for a quick, breezy, and enjoyable read.

Before the review, some historical context:

In the 1950s, “Manhunt” magazine was the premier digest for hardboiled crime and mystery stories. For 35 cents, a reader would get a full novel (really a novella by today’s standards) and a handful of short stories by America’s top genre writers. It was quite a bargain and provided a ton of quality reading each month for a nice price. Because of Manhunt’s important place in America’s literary history, copies of the magazine are scarce today and worth a small fortune to collectors.

Jonathan Craig (real name: Frank E. Smith) wrote a series of seven short novels and short stories that were 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 Craig’s ‘Pete Selby & Stan Rayder’ police procedurals originally published by Fawcett Gold Medal starting in November 1955 and later repackaged by Belmont Tower in the 1970s as the ‘Sixth Precinct’ series - likely to capitalize on the success of Ed McBain’s bestselling ‘87th Precinct’ books.

And now the book review:

NYPD 20th Precinct detectives Steve Manning and his partner are called upon to investigate the stabbing death of a young woman whose body is discovered on the roof of a nine-story building on 69th Street. Manning is our narrator, and he follows all the logical steps one would expect to identify the victim and further learn what occurred.

Through canvassing neighbors in the apartment building, Manning learns that the deceased was a resident of the building and struggling fashion model and that she used to date a guy down the hall. In fact, her ex is the one who found her on the roof. A suspect, perhaps? Now we’re getting somewhere! Unfortunately, it’s never that easy.

The police procedural storytelling approach employed by the author owes a lot to the “Dragnet” TV show which premiered four years earlier in 1951. It’s an emotionless style driven by proven investigative methodology and professionalism rather than the overwrought emotionalism popular today. There’s none of this “I’m trying to stay objective, Sarge, but I just care too damn much!” bullshit in a ‘Police File’ story. Realism is the selling point.

That's not to say that Manning is without personality. In his narration, he takes the time to provide the reader with tips about best practices, conventional wisdom, and generalities about what cops know that seem credible, reasonable, and helpful to a lay reader. He also shows real compassion to witnesses and suspects who’ve gotten tough breaks in life.

The mystery takes us through the medical examiner’s conclusions, the lab team’s processing of the crime scene, and interviews of witnesses and suspects. But because this was a 1950s story, all this is done with a keen efficiency, and the reader never has time to get bored or mired in the minutiae of forensic details. “Classification: Homicide” moves forward without unnecessary diversions, and the mystery’s solution springs solely from the narrator’s own wits.

It’s not an action novel, though - it’s a straight-up mystery with clues, suspects, and lucky breaks. The cops and suspects were all great characters, and the solution at the end is satisfying and unambiguous. There was really nothing not to like about this well-written little mystery. In fact, I’m excited to one day read the other stories in this series. Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done.

Further Reading:

It seems that “Classification: Homicide” is the only ‘Police File’ story to be converted to paperback as of this writing. Nevertheless, here are the ‘Police File’ stories in order, and the months they appeared in Manhunt:

“Classification:Homicide” - February 1955

“The Punisher” - March 1955

“The Babystiier” - July 1955

“Cast Off” - September 1955

“The Spoilers” - October 1955

“The Man Between” - November 1955

“The Cheater” - January 1956

Without spending a mint on old copies of Manhunt, it’s unlikely that I’ll ever get to read about the further adventures of Detective Manning and his crew. I’m really hoping that some enterprising eBook entrepreneur will rescue these orphaned works from the dustbin of history and release them all in one, affordable volume. If that happens, they can count me in as a customer.

Jonathan Craig and the Police File series is on the third episode of the Paperback Warrior Podcast.

Buy a copy of the book HERE 

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

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

This Day's Evil

Jonathan Craig was a pseudonym utilized by author Frank Smith. Known for his police procedural series '6th Precinct', which ran ten installments from 1955-1966, Smith was also a contributor to 'Alfred Hitchcock Magazine', submitting five total stories over the course of 1964 through 1970. His first, “This Day's Evil”, was featured in the March, 1964 issue and reprinted again numerous times in the popular paperback anthology formula.

The short-story begins where all good crime novels should – a planned robbery. In this case, it is the young Earl Munger, a small-town crony who's tired of blue-collar labor and slim paydays. After being humiliated by his date, who feels ashamed to ride in Earl's smelly farm truck, the young man decides to rob the wealthy Charlie Tate, a prominent businessman and property owner. 

Right before Earl's planned burglary, the sheriff arrives for a mysterious encounter that leaves Earl torn – wait until the sheriff's departure, bag the old man and take the goods or conservatively plan for another night. After a quick meeting, the sheriff leaves and Earl goes through with the robbery. In turn, Tate is knocked unconscious with what looks to be a deadly blow and Earl makes off with about $20K in bundled bills. Where's the mystery and intrigue that only Alfred Hitchcock's people can deliver? The next day, Earl overhears the sheriff explaining to a local store owner that Charlie left a suicide note before killing himself with poison.

This quick read delivers the goods in an entertaining fashion. Earl must learn how Charlie died, and ultimately how to hide the cash and himself in what could be either a murder or suicide investigation. Everything isn't what it seems and the reader is left guessing until the very end. Frank Smith is a solid writer and this one is just a lot of fun. Looking for a breather between those 180-page action novels? Give it a free read at

We discuss Jonathan Craig and his literary works on the third episode of the Paperback Warrior Podcast.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Alley Girl (aka Renegade Cop)

The 1954 stand-alone novel “Alley Girl” by Jonathan Craig (real name: Frank Smith) was re-released in 1959 as “Renegade Cop.” I suspect that the book was written and published following the success of Jim Thompson’s 1952 masterpiece, “The Killer Inside Me”, as both novels feature sociopath cop protagonists.

The main character of “Alley Girl” is highly-regarded Detective-Lieutenant Steve Lambert, and the first time we meet him he is pounding whiskey before his morning shift while the naked 18 year-old he’s been banging is haranguing him about his bad habits.

The central mystery of the novel concerns Tommy Nolan who may or may not have killed somebody in a whiskey blackout. Detective Lambert is working the case and promised Tommy’s hot wife that he’d keep Tommy out of the electric chair if she sleeps with him. Classy guy, right? Meanwhile, someone else wants to make sure that Tommy is convicted for the crime and is willing to pay Lambert a ton of cash to make sure that happens. The detective has no ethical qualms about this conflict of interest and appears personally uninterested in the truth behind the allegations against Tommy.

Meanwhile, a good and honorable cop named Dave Kimberly wants to solve the murder for all the right reasons. His cop instincts won’t let him mind his own business and allow Lambert to work the case without the scrutiny of an honest colleague. Dave’s character is a ray of light in this novel filled with ill-will and corruption. Dave’s quest for the truth makes this crime novel a straight-up whodunnit mystery with a satisfying conclusion. 

Lambert is a reprehensible protagonist, and you need to be comfortable with that fact to make it through this short paperback. He feels like a 1950s prototype for the Vic Mackey character on the TV show, The Shield - a talented cop with no moral compass. If you can stomach spending so much time with a villainous main character who forces another man’s wife into depraved, coercive sex, you’ll find a pretty compelling police procedural here. I’m embarrassed to say that I enjoyed this book a lot. You might as well if you’re a twisted soul.

A couple postscripts:

The title “Alley Girl” makes no sense, and was likely the idea of someone at Lion Books rather than the author. There’s no obvious Alley Girl in the whole book. There’s a secondary female character of humble beginnings who could arguably be the Alley Girl, but naming the novel after her doesn’t add up. Blame the publisher. As a title, the 1959 Diamond Books re-release as “Renegade Cop” makes more sense even if it shows an utter poverty of imagination.

Jonathan Craig also wrote a bunch of police procedural novels called the '6th Precinct' series. The paperbacks spanned ten installments between 1955 and 1966. At first glance, it would seem that the series was trying to capitalize on the popularity of Ed McBain’s '87th Precinct' series, but Craig actually beat McBain to the punch by a full year. The '6th Precinct' novels follow two NYPD detectives - Pete Selby and Stan Rayder - through a series of murders that always seems to start with the discovery of a dead, nude woman. Craig’s series never saw the commercial success of McBain’s (both were inspired by “Dragnet”, it seems), but Craig was a solid talent and the books seem to be worth a shot. For what it’s worth, the late Bill Crider loved them, and the never-late Paul Bishop was lukewarm on the '6th Precinct'. I intend to break the tie and get back to you.

We have a feature on Jonathan Craig on the third episode of the Paperback Warrior Podcast.

Buy a copy of this book HERE