Showing posts with label Milton Ozaki. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Milton Ozaki. Show all posts

Tuesday, September 3, 2019


Before becoming involved in mail order scams, Milton Ozaki was an accomplished writer of crime and mystery novels under his own name as well as the pseudonym of Robert O. Saber. The Japanese-American author lived in the upper Midwest, and several of his novels are set in the fictional town of Stillwell, Wisconsin, including his 1960 Fawcett Gold Medal original, “Inquest,” now available as a Kindle eBook.

The concept of the novel is that Ozaki wrote this fictional story guiding the reader through a criminal case (like an episode of “Law & Order”) to illustrate the “old-fashioned and inept coroner system which still manages to bumble along in certain parts of our country.” The original back cover has a note from the editor promising that the novel “takes us behind the scenes for an electrifying glimpse into some of the most insidious double-dealings and gutter morals of our day!”

Of course, this was all just Fawcett Gold Medal hype. Ozaki likely wrote an interesting crime novel, and the Fawcett marketing team sold it as an allegorical exposé of a small-town criminal justice system. As one who was always confused when a 1950’s crime novel cuts to a scene at a coroner’s inquest, I was pleased to get a better understanding of that system in the context of this fun crime novel.

The paperback opens with a girl kicking the ever-loving shit out of an on-duty bartender in Wisconsin. Bottles are smashed, mirrors are shattered, and Eddie the bartender’s ass is whooped. By the time the police arrive, the girl is gone and eyewitnesses can’t agree on her age, height, weight, or clothing - not unusual in police work. Soon thereafter, a college sorority girl named Shirley, who matches the assailant’s general description, is arrested by police nearby.

The problem is that Shirley - a preacher’s daughter from nearby Sheboygan - wasn’t the girl who trashed the other bar, yet she is arrested and thrust into the criminal justice system due to misinformation. There’s also a secondary plot about a prisoner murdered in the county lockup and the police’s attempt to cover it up with the help of a bent coroner. An honest, rookie deputy who suspects the truth is the only one trying to do the right thing.

Stillwell is a corrupt town, but not initially in the over-the-top way you normally see in mid-Century crime novels. For example, the Sheriff’s Benevolence Association accepts donations from the local taverns and brothels, and a portion of that money goes into the pockets of the department brass. The local judge does special extra-legal favors for his kitchen cabinet installer. The graft is insidious due to the lack of any governmental oversight, and that’s the problematic web the virginal but plucky Shirley finds herself trapped within. Of course, the rot inside the town’s justice system becomes materially worse as the book progresses until its hard to tell the difference between the police and the criminals.

Ozaki’s writing is a dispassionate third-person narration that changes perspective with every short chapter. The creates a lack of emotional urgency, but it also adds to the horror as the reader is immersed in a broken system with every crooked governmental character acting as a cog in large and rotten wheel. There’s not much mystery or action in the book, but the investigation of a small-town’s corruption was very compelling.

Overall, I really enjoyed “Inquest.” Its not a crime fiction masterpiece, but it was very readable, and the short chapters made it fly by. If you like stories about crooked towns, I’m confident that you’ll find this one riveting and worth your time.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Case of the Cop's Wife

During a writing career that spanned from 1946 to 1960, Milton Ozaki, a Japanese-American author from Wisconsin, authored a few dozen crime novels under his own name and using the pseudonym of Robert O. Saber. The majority of his books were private eye stories, but he also wrote a handful of well-regarded stand-alone crime novels, including a 1958 paperback original for Fawcett Gold Medal titled “Case of the Cop’s Wife.”

As the book opens, we meet Chicago Police Lieutenant Robert Fury who is preparing to take some vacation time coinciding with the upcoming birth of his first child. His pregnant wife is the former Mary Ellen Quinn, daughter of a famous wealthy businessman in Chicago.

Meanwhile, a heist crew has an elaborate plan to knock over a large department store at opening time on payday when the armored truck arrives with the cash. The crew is filled with basic malevolent thugs plus a hot babe getaway driver who gets super-horny when whipped with a belt. So, there’s that.

A confluence of events involving a Chicago crime lord, rogue cops, and pregnant Mary Ellen being at the wrong place at the wrong time conspire to turn the heist into a total bloodbath. One thing leads to another and Mary Ellen - the very pregnant wife of Chicago Police Lieutenant Fury - is snatched away by one of the robbers and taken as a hostage.

The action shifts nicely from character to character with the core being Mary Ellen with the heist crew while Lt. Fury tries to find his missing bride before she goes into labor. The Chicago Police are also hot-to-trot to catch the bad guys, which makes for a nice police procedural aspect to the story.

This is exciting stuff, and Ozaki keeps the story moving with short scenes that cut from one third-person POV to another - a literary technique effectively employed by Stephen King years later. I was left with the impression that Ozaki was a way better writer than most of his contemporaries, yet oddly he’s never remembered for the quality of his plotting. I’ve heard that his stand-alone crime novels are superior to his series books, and this paperback supports that theory nicely.

If “Case of the Cop’s Wife” is a fair representation of Ozaki’s talent as an author, he really was something special. In any case, this is a terrific novel that crime-suspense-heist-police procedural fans are sure to love. It’s certainly one of the most compelling books I’ve read this year. Highly recommended.

Purchase this book HERE

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Robert O. Saber and the Con-Games of Milton Ozaki: A Paperback Warrior Unmasking

Between 1949 and 1956, thirteen original crime novels were released under the name Robert O. Saber by a variety of paperback publishing houses. Most of these were private eye books starring an assortment of hardboiled heroes including Phil Keene, Hal Cooper, Max Keene, and Carl Good.

Consistent with the era, the covers of Saber’s paperbacks featured lushly-painted illustrations depicting scantily-clad women, square-jawed heroes, and often a murder weapon nearby. When compared to the lousy cover art we see today, the packaging of these vintage novels demand that the books be purchased and read. Quite deservedly, the author was also a member of the Mystery Writers of America.

All of this begs the question: Who the hell was Robert O. Saber?

Milton Ozaki was a Wisconsin-born, Japanese-American crime fiction author who wrote mass-market paperbacks under his own name as well as the pseudonym Robert O. Saber in the 1950s while living in Chicago and also operating two beauty shops. The economic realities of the publishing world of the 1950s forced many writers to employ pseudonyms to make a living. Handi-Books, for example, probably didn’t want to flood the market with books by Ozaki, so about half of his novels were published under the Saber pen-name. No harm. No foul. Everybody wins.

However, it appears that his double-identity and 27 published novels - plus women’s hair styling - failed to bring Ozaki the lifetime of financial security he desired. As such, he decided to channel his creative energies elsewhere. Life began imitating art as the man who was author of many heist and con-man stories began to turn his fiction into a dark reality.

In the 1970s, Ozaki began operating a “diploma mill” mail-order scam involving the issuance of phony college degrees from non-existent universities including “Colorado State Christian College” and “Hamilton State University” in exchange for a $100 donation to the fake schools. Campus life at these universities must have been rather mundane since they were nothing but post office boxes in Colorado (As an aside, if your urologist received his degree from either university, you may want to get your vasectomy elsewhere). After realizing $70,000 from the scam, the courts ordered him to knock it off in 1974, according to an article by Mike Royko in the Chicago Daily News.

It seems that 1974 was a doubly-bad year for Ozaki who was also sued by the Colorado Attorney General’s Office for another con-game he operated. Ozaki was director of “Ko-Zee Products Corporation” where he sold a phony “mini-turbo charger” guaranteed to give your car 37% better gas mileage. The device didn’t work, but the government’s action did. The former crime writer turned scammer was put out of business, again.

Additionally, Ozaki ran a mail-order school teaching paying students how to develop their powers of E.S.P. and hypnosis. Given this skill set, you’d think Ozaki would have seen the government investigations coming. 

Regarding his multitude of failures as a professional grifter, Ozaki said, “We are trying to do good work, and we just ran afoul of these archaic-minded bureaucrats.” This quote sounds like a re-working of the famous lament of criminals from the Scooby-Doo universe, “And it would have worked if it weren’t for you meddling kids.”

Ozaki died in Kenosha, Wisconsin in 1989 at the age of 76, and many of his mystery books are still available as eBooks and paperback reprints.

Buy Robert O. Saber books HERE