Showing posts sorted by relevance for query Thomas Dewey. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query Thomas Dewey. Sort by date Show all posts

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Paperback Warrior Primer - Thomas B. Dewey

Paperback Confidential by Brian Ritt is my favorite reference book about vintage crime-fiction. In browsing the book (published by our good friends at Stark House Press), I was able to locate a lot of information about an underrated author named Thomas B. Dewey. He authored 36 novels and a handful of short stories between 1944 and 1969. He also wrote a number of stand-alone novels using the pseudonyms Thomas Brandt and Cord Wainer. For this Primer, I'm using the information I discovered in Ritt's book, so all credit goes to him.

Thomas B. Dewey was born in Ekhart, Indiana in 1915. Dewey graduated from Kansas State Teachers College in 1936 and attended grad school at the University of Iowa. After grad school, he moved to Hollywood to find his fortune working for a correspondence school called Storycraft. In 1942, he moved to Washington, DC to be an editorial assistant for the U.S. State Department during World War 2. While working as a writer and editor for the State Department, he began writing novels as a side hustle. 

Dewey's first published novel, Hue and Cry, was published in 1944. It was also released under the titles Room for Murder and The Murder of Marion Mason. The protagonist was a character named Singer Batts, a hotel owner and Skakespeare fan living in Preston, Ohio. He partners with his hotel manager, Joe Spinder, to solve the book's mystery. Dewey (or readers) liked the character so much that he wrote three other novels starring him - As Good As Dead (1946), Mourning After (1950), and Handle With Fear (1951). The books and character are similar to that of Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe series with Spinder serving as the narrator like Archie Goodwin's role in the Nero Wolfe books. You can obtain the four Singer Batts books through Wildside Press HERE

In 1945, Dewey leaves the State Department to go back to Los Angeles to work in advertising. It’s there that he marries his first wife, Maxine Morley Sorensen, in 1951. It was during his advertising years that he launched his most popular series starring a Chicago private eye named Mac – the reader never gets to know his full name. The first Mac book, Draw the Curtain Close, was published in 1947. It took Dewey six years before the second Mac installment was published, Every Bet's a Sure Thing. Our review of the book is HERE. Remarkably, the Mac series continued for 17 novels with the last installment being The Taurus Trap in 1970. 

Mac is often described as “The Compassionate Private Eye”, a true statement that also understates that Mac can, and does, kick some serious ass when called upon to do so. His compassion as a character really humanizes him in the body of his first person narration. But these books shouldn’t be confused with soft-boiled cozy mysteries. They are top-notch private eye stories. I’ll be reading and reviewing more Mac books here at Paperback Warrior, and he may turn out to be my favorite private-eye series. Wildside Press has reprinted most of these for $5 or less per book HERE.

Dewey quit his job in advertising to write full time in 1952, a steady gig he continued until 1971. In 1957, Dewey launched his third series character, a San Fernando Valley private-eye named Pete Schofield. The first book in the series was And Where She Stops (1957). That series continued for nine total installments through 1965’s Nude in Nevada.  The gist of the series is that Schoefield solves crimes with his adorable redhead wife Jeanne. Once again, Wildside Press has these available as well HERE

The usual trajectory of an author of this era is to write a lot of stand-alone novels, hone their craft, and then launch what they hope will be a successful series. Dewey did it backwards launching three successful series titles right out of the gate and keeping Mac and Pete Schofield alive at the same time.

He did write a handful of stand-alone novels – a couple under his own name - but he also deployed two pseudonyms in the 1950s. This was a pretty common way either to get some extra work on the side without your publisher knowing or to ensure that you aren’t flooding the market and hurting your own brand.

Dewey’s last novel was published in 1969, and then it appears he retired from writing fiction at the age of 54. In 1971, he became a professor of English at Arizona State university, where he taught writing. In 1972, he married his second wife Doris L. Smith, and the author died nine years later in 1981 at age 66.

Hollywood never adapted his work for the big screen, but two of his novels were made into TV episodes:

Bob Hope Presents The Chrysler Theatre
"Runaway" (1964)
Based on “A Sad Song Singing” 

"Death's a Double-Cross" (1971).
Based on the novel Every Bet's a Sure Thing

Thursday, March 24, 2022

Singer Batts #01 - Hue and Cry (aka Room for Murder/The Murder of Marion Mason)

Thomas B. Dewey originally worked in Hollywood at a correspondence school called Storycraft. In 1942, he moved to Washington, D.C. to be an editorial assistant for the U.S. State Department during WW2. As a side hustle, Dewey began writing paperback original novels. Along with stand-alone titles, Dewey created three series titles – Mac, Pete Schoefield, and Singer Batts. In fact, his very first novel introduced the character of Singer Batts, a hotel owner in a small Ohio town that solves mysteries. It was called Hue and Cry in the U.S. and The Murder of Marion Mason in the U.K. Later, it was reprinted under the title Room for Murder. The book now exists in a bundle through Wildside Press with the other three series installments. 

Dewey uses Rex Stout's strategy, and authors before him, to create a narrator that tells the tale of the formidable hero. Like Archie Goodwin's narration in Stout's Nero Wolfe detective series, Dewey uses a  character named Joe Spinder to narrate the story starring Singer Batts. The setup is quite simple: 

Batts is a thirty-something scholarly fellow that has recently inherited the Hotel Preston from his late father Emory. The hotel is in the sleepy mid-western town of Preston, Ohio. The town's goofy marshal is Pete Haley, a friend of the hotel's staff. Batts resides at the hotel and leaves all of the heavy lifting to the hotel's manager and story narrator, Joe Spinder. The staff includes capable night clerk Jack Pritchard, sleepy day clerk Old Harry Baird, and janitorial laborer Nancy Wheeler. 

Before all of the murdering, sleuthing, and solving, Spinder describes Batts in the opening pages: “Never wait for Singer Batts to ask a personal question. He doesn't operate that way. You live your life, he'll live his. It's only when there's something he thinks he's got a right to know that he'll ask questions. Then he'll ask plenty. Questions to drive you crazy.”

The book begins with two drunk young men being wrangled into the hotel by Pete. These are good 'ole boys that tipped a few too many bottles and Pete doesn't want to lock them up and ruin their family's good graces. Instead, he wakes up Joe and Batts and works out an arrangement for the boys to sleep it off in the hotel. The night gives way to the day and Joe leaves for errands in town. When he returns, there is a mob of people outside of the hotel and a corpse inside. A young woman named Marion Mason has been stabbed to death in her room.

Batts has the armchair detective tendencies, but isn't intimidated enough to just stay seated. When three lawmen from the state arrive, including the District Attorney, Joe goes into overdrive explaining the prior night's activities, the short list of guests, and that Marion Mason is new in town and a school teacher. But, Dewey paints the lawmen and the D.A. as the bad guys. They point fingers at Joe and things escalate into a physical brawl. The author doesn't beat around the bush and places a deadline on the novel: 24-hours to find the real killer or Joe is taking the fall. 

Joe mentions other cases that Batts has solved, including one or two that foiled the same D.A. But, Batts doesn't want to solve crimes. He's content living in his small bedroom and just gazing through the window. Joe eventually talks him into action and the two start the investigation by interviewing various town citizens, including two specific men that Marion slept around with. 

The case takes the mandatory twists and turns by leading readers out of Preston and into some seedy places out of town. The action and violence was a step up from what I expected and I really enjoyed Joe's wisecracking demeanor as the storyteller (he's really the show's star). He reminds me of Al Wheeler in the Carter Brown mysteries. Also, the language was surprisingly profane considering this is a 1944 novel. 

Managing my expectations, I went into Dewey's first novel thinking it may be a quirky small town hotel mystery. It is, but it's written very well as Dewey proved he could write crime-fiction with the best of them. I really enjoyed this first Singer Batts novel and I'll check in at the front desk for three more nights: As Good as Dead (1946), Mourning After (1950), and Handle with Fear (1951). 

Get the ebook HERE.

Friday, June 12, 2020

Kiss Me Hard

Thomas B. Dewey was a prolific author that produced 36 crime-fiction novels from 1947-1966. His literary work mostly consisted of three series titles featuring heroes Singer Batts, Pete Schofield, and Mac. However, the author wrote two stand-alone novels under the name Tom Brandt, 1954's Run, Brother, Run! and the subject at hand, 1953's Kiss Me Hard. We reviewed Run, Brother, Run! back in 2018 and haven't had the opportunity to revisit Dewey's catalog until now.

Kiss Me Hard introduces main character Chris Cross as an alcoholic piano player stroking the keys in small-town Ohio. After many songs (and beverages), Cross is seduced by a woman who is escaping from her abusive husband. The woman convinces Cross to join her as she leaves the town and her spouse behind. In a stimulating scene, the woman's husband finds the two making love on the edge of town. Cross, hazy from alcohol and the frantic escalation of the night's festivities, runs away through the forest and hops a train to escape.

On the next stop, Cross hops off and finds himself in a rural stretch of farmland where a carnival is performing. It's here that he runs into a young, troubled woman who asks Cross to help her hop a train. Cross's response is priceless: “I just got off the goddamn thing.” But the decision isn't his to make. Instead, a husky, mountain of a man finds the woman with Cross and begins to become angry and belligerent to the two of them. Cross, overwhelmingly smaller than the man, uses a rock to slow his progress. Cross and this mysterious woman flee to the train and catch it in a fleeting, high-paced conclusion to the opening chapters.

The narrative evolves into a mystery as Cross tries to determine this woman's backstory. Is she a prostitute? A carnival worker? Who's the burly “keeper” of this woman? In an emotional explanation, the woman claims to be Constance Jordan. Upon reading a newspaper clipping she possesses, Cross learns that Constance was abducted at the age of 13 and the world never saw her again. Her wealthy family searched for years through a variety of law-enforcement agencies and private-eye services. The clipping reveals that the Jordan estate is worth millions and that the woman's parents died 8 years ago. The entire fortune went to the family's older daughter Jean. As Cross presses for more information, he begins to doubt the woman's insistence that she is the long lost Constance. Together, the two take a haphazard road-trip to Los Angeles to find some answers.

Chris Cross is so much like David Goodis' fall-from-grace character Eddie Lynn in the 1956 paperback Down There. He's plagued by his alcoholism, and all of his pathways lead to liquor. The booze effects most of his conscious thinking as he is driven to find money to buy booze at the cheapest source. But Cross is painfully embarrassed by his disease, often self-conscious of what others think of his shaky hands and unquenchable thirst. But he's a great piano player who's seemingly wasted his life until now. Constance provides hope and salvation for Cross. Her fortune can buy an endless supply of liquor, but as the novel progresses, Cross finds that his craving for alcohol is somehow rehabilitated by craving this mysterious woman. He wants to be her protector, but the truth behind this mysterious woman is the ultimate mystery.

While not as widely celebrated as his contemporaries, Thomas B. Dewey was a fantastic writer who threads real-world problems into the social context of his stories. Kiss Me Hard could have easily drowned in a romance-on-the-run style novel, but Dewey really turned it into something unique and special. I think you'll really enjoy it. The good news is that you don't to spend a fortune acquiring this vintage paperback. Wildside Press released the Crime and Corruption Megapack in 2016 that features this novel along with A Season for Violence (1966), Run, Brother, Run! (1954) and Empty Saddles (1962).

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, August 9, 2021

Teen-Age Mobster (aka The Life and Times of a Tough Guy)

Benjamin Appel (1907-1977) grew up in Hell's Kitchen, NY, and attended the University of Pennsylvania and New York University. He authored over 20 novels between 1934 to 1977. Most of his crime-fiction involved the tough urban streets of New York City. One such example is the juvenile crime novel Life and Death of a Tough Guy. It was originally released in 1955 and republished by Stark House Press. In addition, Avon released the book as Teen-Age Mobster in 1960.

The book starts with the introduction of the main character, Joey Kasow, when he is four years old. He lives in Hell's Kitchen among the gangs and the criminal underworld of that era. Because of his speed, his father has him running errands throughout the city. But Joey, being Jewish, is at times taken by his peers and subjected to humiliating jokes and violent beatings. After running afoul of a young group of bullies, Joey takes his beating, but is later accepted by the pack. As the story progresses, Joey grows up with those children and establishes a street gang called 1-4-Alls. 

At the age of 15, Joey and some of the 1-4-All gang join a larger, more violent gang called The Badgers. This group is run by small-time hoods that become a staple in Joey's life. These seasoned criminals turn Joey and his friends into small-scale robbers working in department stores. This involves training the kids on how to avoid the retail cops and how to make a swift grab by consistently displaying an innocent face. 

Ultimately, Joey's rise to criminal superstardom involves the armed robbery of department stores and grocery stores. In January 1920, all bars and saloons of the nation were closed as a result of prohibition. The Badgers' gambling, whore and holdup money begin to seem elementary compared to the big bucks of running moonshine. Appel's narrative begins to tighten up as Joey Kasow becomes the gangster known as Joey Case. His rise to criminal stardom, his eventual struggles with a friend and former gang-associate Georgie and his love interest in a young woman named Sadie are all important elements of the story.

There's nothing not to dislike about this rags to riches story. It possesses many of the juvenile delinquent genre offerings of the era. As a biography of this fictional Joey Kasow character, Appel's narrative is often violent with historical references to Al Capone, Dutch Schultz and Thomas Dewey. If you like early mobster fiction or this notorious era of American history, I think you will enjoy Appel's novel. I'm not a huge fan of the run 'n gun 1920s and 1930s, so Teen-Age Mobster didn't quite grasp my attention as well as crime-noir novels set in later time periods. As a quick read, I mostly enjoyed it.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Mac #02 - Every Bet's a Sure Thing

In addition to two excellent stand-alone novels published under the Thomas Brandt pseudonym, Thomas B. Dewey (1915-1981) was the author of three successful and highly-regarded crime-fiction series titles: Singer Batts, Mac, and Pete Schoefield. Conventional wisdom is that the Mac books, which ran for 18 installments from 1947 to 1970, are the strongest of the three. I decided to start with the second book in the series, Every Bet’s a Sure Thing from 1953 - a novel currently available as a $5 ebook.

Mac (his only provided name) is a Chicago ex-cop turned private investigator who is hired to shadow a woman and two kids as they make their way from New York to Los Angeles on a train. What could be easier? You ride the train with her and keep an eye on the dame, right?

The identity of the client is a mystery to Mac, and it’s clear from the outset that this isn’t a simple domestic surveillance job. The target - her name is Harriet - gets off at every stop and uses the payphone, and local hoodlums are milling about every time she disembarks for a few minutes. Most relevantly, an prior operative who had been following Harriett is gunned down in the street as Mac takes over the cross-country surveillance during a Chicago layover. Someone in the shadows is playing for keeps.

Much of the book’s first half takes place on the train, and Mac’s curiosity gets the better of him. He gets to know Harriet and her kids along the journey. And that’s the thing about Mac that separates him from the other hardboiled private eyes from the mid-20th Century: he’s a nice guy with compassion and empathy for others. After reading hundreds of blood-on-the-knuckles mysteries with stoic heroes, having a protagonist narrator who cares about others was a breath of fresh air. Mac is no softy - he’s just human. He can kick ass and take a beating, but he does it because he wants to help others. When the paperback’s action shifts to Los Angeles, the big picture becomes clearer to both Mac and the reader.

By 1953, Dewey has been writing genre fiction professionally for nearly a decade, and his storytelling chops are solid. Mac is a fantastic narrator - self-deprecating and funny - and the reader will want to be his friend. Every Bet’s a Sure Thing is filled with delightful surprises at every turn. Don’t sleep on this one - get yourself a copy and read it ASAP. Highest recommendation.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, June 29, 2020

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 50

On Paperback Warrior Podcast Episode 50, we explore the life and books of Thomas B. Dewey, the Casca Controversy fallout, and a review of Hillary Waugh's Roadblock.  Listen on any podcast app,, or download directly HERE Listen to "Episode 50: Thomas B. Dewey" on Spreaker.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Run, Brother, Run!

Between 1947 and 1966, Thomas B. Dewey wrote dozens of hardboiled mystery novels - most of which featured successful P.I. series characters, Pete Schofield and Mac. He also wrote a couple stand-alone crime novels under the pseudonym “Tom Brandt,” including 1954’s “Run, Brother, Run!” The original 25 cent paperback may be hard to find, but Wildside Press now has it available as an eBook for a buck and a paperback reprint for a ten-spot.

As the novel opens, Jim Stuart is a financially-struggling Chicago private investigator working undercover in a prison as an inmate for an insurance industry client. He’s monitoring the activities of a prolific jewel thief named Big John Halloran, whose latest heist landed Big John in prison but failed to recover any of the valuable jewels he stole. As such, the insurance company hired Jim to pose as an inmate in hopes that Big John would provide a clue leading to the recovery of the stolen jewels.

Jim’s inmate cover is that of a bank robber, and this attracts Big John’s attention. Things get complicated when Big John hatches a prison break plan with his crime partner that relies on Jim’s participation. Killing a prison guard would create unwanted collateral damage in the undercover assignment, but escaping with Big John might lead Jim to the hidden jewels.

The prison break and getaway occur fairly early in the novel, so a sizable segment of the fast-moving book’s first half occurs while the crew is hiding out in Big John’s secluded mountain lodge. Big John imports a group of girls to entertain the escapees with bawdy songs, striptease acts, and sex. This creates a dilemma for Jim as one of the girls knew him years ago in Chicago under his real name. Will she remember him, alert Big John, and blow the assignment? And then how can he ensure her silence?

Eventually, Big John invites Jim to participate in a heist that a repugnant criminal associate has planned. Although this goes beyond the scope of Jim’s undercover assignment, he agrees in hopes that his involvement and proximity to Big John may lead him to the jewels and the successful completion of this assignment.

The plot twists and turns in some interesting ways, and to the novel’s credit, I was never really sure where it was headed. Dewey’s writing is superb, and Jim’s undercover high-wire act is perpetually nerve-wracking for the reader to experience through the first-person narration of the protagonist. Finally the ending was sufficiently bloody and violent to please the action junkies along for this ride. Overall, a solid crime novel from a reliable author in classic era. Recommended.

Buy a copy of this book HERE