Showing posts with label Fletcher Flora. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Fletcher Flora. Show all posts

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

The Collector Comes After Payday

The August 1953 issue of Manhunt featured a novella from Kansas native and World War 2 U.S. Army veteran Fletcher Flora (1914-1968) that has been reprinted on its own and as part of The Second Fletcher Flora Mystery Megapack from Wildside Press.

Frankie is a down-and-out loser living in a crappy apartment on Skid Row. He grew up and still lives with an abusive, drunken and bullying father, and the paternal indignities have continued into Frankie’s young adulthood. One evening after the old man humiliates Frankie in a crowded bar, he makes up his mind that dad needs to die.

In the dark and twisted world of Manhunt magazine, killing is the easy part. Getting away with murder is frequently the real challenge. Frankie’s plan to dodge justice is quickly derailed by unforeseen events that he initially regards as a lucky gift from above. When you read enough crime fiction stories, you know that there’s no such thing as a free murder, and the luck of a loser never lasts. There’s always a cost.

“The Collector Comes After Payday” is a nasty cautionary tale that reminded me of the work of David Goodis. The ending wasn’t particularly twisty, but I was never bored as the pages flew by through the novella’s seven short chapters. The story only costs a buck on your Kindle device, and it’s well worth the investment. Recommended.

Buy a copy HERE

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Best of Manhunt: Volume 2

In 2019, Stark House Press generated a commercial and critical hit with the release of The Best of Manhunt, an anthology of stories from the legendary 1950s crime fiction digest. Knowing a good thing when they see it, the reprint publisher has compiled a second volume of blood-on-the-knuckles tales from the popular magazine’s heyday for an August 2020 release.

By way of background, Manhunt began publishing in January 1953 capitalizing on the success of a new breed of hardboiled authors with Mickey Spillane leading the pack supported by muscular authors including Evan Hunter and David Goodis willing to make five cents per word for their stories. While the magazine’s run stretched into 1967, everyone knows that the publication largely lost its way by the mid-1960s. As such, the new anthology front-loads the content with stories primarily form the 1950s.

Before the stories, the reader is treated to a series of essays about Manhunt Magazine by scholars Peter Enfantino, Jon L. Breen, and Robert Turner followed by over 400 pages of twisted, violent short fiction. Anthology editor Jeff Vorzimmer intentionally sought out many “deep tracks” from the magazine’s history choosing many authors who never achieved paperback stardom. There’s a lot to enjoy in stories by John M. Sitan, Roy Carroll, and Glenn Canary who share the pages with heavy hitters including Bruno Fischer, Donald E. Westlake, and Erle Stanley Gardner.

Reviewing an anthology is always a challenging task - particularly in a literary buffet filled to the brim with this much quality. Here are some thoughts regarding a handful of noteworthy stories in the collection:

As I Lay Dead by Fletcher Flora (February 1953)

Fletcher Flora brings the reader a perverse and twisted little tale. Cousins Tony and Cindy work each other into a sexual lather while oiling each other’s skin on the man-made beach. Meanwhile, their wealthy, fat grandpa floats in the lake nearby. It occurs to the lusty twins that if something happened to grandpa, they’d be free - and financially-set - to run away to Acapulco together where the booze, sun and screwing never stops.

Flora’s novels are often tinged with a heavy dose of non-graphic sexuality, and “As I Lay Dead” amplifies that aspect of this writing. Murder, blackmail, and double-crosses are also on the menu making for a perfect story. Whatever you do, don’t skip this one. It’s everything that dark crime fiction should be. With over 160 published short stories to his name, I can’t help but think this might be his best magazine work.

Shakedown by Roy Carroll (April 1953)

Roy Carroll was a pseudonym for Robert Turner, a short story guy who started in the pulp magazines. His literary agent was Scott Merideth, who curated a lot of the talent that appeared in Manhunt. It was at Merideth’s urging that Turner shifted his style from over-the-top pulp writing to the gritty and realistic crime digest format.

“Shakedown” is narrated by Van who has just knocked up a chick at work and has no intention of doing the right thing by the poor girl. He comes up with the idea that she should bang their boss, pin the pregnancy on him, and be set for life as the old man’s wife.

As you can imagine, the plan goes very wrong when the boss doesn’t take kindly to being shaken down by a knocked-up employee in his typing pool. If you can handle some 1950s misogyny with your crime fiction, you’re going to enjoy this one just fine.

One More Mile to Go by F.J. Smith (June 1956)

I could find next to nothing about author F.J. Smith other than the fact that several of his stories appeared in various Alfred Hitchcock anthologies. “One More Mile to Go” is a rare third-person narration from the pages of Manhunt. A small-town Louisiana shopkeeper strangles his nagging wife in her sleep and needs to hide the body somewhere (a recurring theme in Manhunt).

Along the way to the body stash site, he’s pulled over by a state trooper, and the interaction feeds the tension of the situation. It’s a good, simple story. Nothing revelatory, but certainly not a waste of your time.

The Geniuses by Max Franklin (June 1957)

Richard Deming is the only author to appear twice in the anthology with one story under his own name and this one under his Max Franklin pseudonym. “The Geniuses” is about two teenage thrill-killers long before murderous youth was a regular occurrence in American life.

Bart and Edward are high-IQ college kids who find themselves to be social pariahs among their campus peers. A conversation about how one might craft the perfect murder takes a nefarious turn when they begin experimenting with these ideas on a classmate. It begins as an intellectual exercise and then becomes deadly real high-wire act. Under any name, Deming is a solid talent and was rightfully among the bedrock of the Manhunt talent pool.

Girl Friend by Mark Mallory (September 1957)

Mark Mallory was a pseudonym for Morris Hershman who did a lot of writing in the mid-20th Century in the science fiction, war and crime genres. He was also a regular contributor to Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine.

“Girl Friend” is a diabolical little story told as an interrogation transcript of a 14 year-old girl accused of murder. As the story unfolds, the kid appears to be the daughter of a prostitute pressed into service herself. Her mom would command top dollar for the girl by telling the clients she was a twelve year-old virgin. As the nightmare narrative shifts into a murder confession, the brilliance of this nasty little story really takes shape. Despite the disturbing set-up, don’t skip this gem.

Midnight Caller by Wade Miller (January 1958)

Wade Miller was the popular collaboration of Robert Wade and Bill Miller that produced so many outstanding crime and adventure novels in the paperback original era. “Midnight Caller” is a short-short story - only two pages long - about a woman being menaced by a sexually-aggressive intruder in her bedroom. It’s a tense little story with a fun punch line at the end.

Paperback Warrior Verdict:

The Best of Manhunt 2 is another masterpiece of short fiction that will be an essential part of any hardboiled library. I’m hoping that it’s another monster success for Stark House to justify more volumes in the future. Highly recommended.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Killing Cousins

Fletcher Flora (1914-1968) was born in Kansas and served in the U.S. Army during World War 2. After the war, he became a mystery writer while continuing to serve as an Education Advisor to the Army. The promise of sex in his novels is always front and center in the marketing, but his stories were never as graphic as the tawdry covers promised. Flora’s “Killing Cousins” was a 1960 hardcover later reprinted in 1961 as an Ace Double and several other times since then. It’s currently available as both an ebook and audiobook.

Willie is married to Howard, but she’s also the town slut in their affluent suburb of Kansas City. It seems that a sizable number of men in the town - certainly at their country club - have taken their turn with Willie over the years. One some level, Howard knows this is happening and chooses to look the other way like a good cuckold.

All this changes when Howard catches his wife servicing his brainy cousin, Quincy. Willie’s infidelity with a family member is a bridge too far, and Howard packs his bags to leave Willie once and for all. This leads to an altercation in which Willie shoots Howard dead with a pistol in their home. No spoilers here - this early-novel killing is disclosed in the opening pages.

Of course, this is just the novel’s setup. The heart of the story is how Willie deals with the dead body of her husband lying in her bedroom. She enlists the help of her lover Quincy to manage the disposal of his cousin’s corpse while planning the elaborate cover-up together.

Flora writes “Killing Cousins” in a breezy and darkly humorous style reminiscent of a good episode of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents.” This tonal choice makes sense as the author sold dozens of stories to Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine and anthologies throughout his writing career. The focus is not on the horror of Willie’s infidelities and husband-killing but rather how she and Quincy navigate suburban norms and niceties in their attempt to get away with it.

I enjoyed the hell out of this short novel and you probably will too with three important caveats: First, all the characters are pretty reprehensible, so there’s no hero to really get behind. Second, it’s not an action-packed novel at all. It’s more like a chess match between the protagonists and the their obstacles. Lastly, this is a crime novel, not a mystery. There are twists and surprises along the way, but there’s nothing for the reader to solve. None of these issues detracted from my enjoyment of the book, but you should know what you’re getting. Recommended. 

Purchase a copy of this book HERE

Monday, March 2, 2020

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 33

On our newest podcast episode, Paperback Warrior presents a feature on prolific crime-fiction author Frank Kane's popular series of Johnny Liddell private-eye books and stories. Tom reviews the 1961 crime-noir novel "Killing Cousins" by Fletcher Flora and Eric discusses "Saigon Slaughter", the seventh installment in the M.I.A. Hunter series. Stream the episode below or on any popular streaming platform. Download the episode directly HERE.

Listen to "Episode 33: Johnny Liddell" on Spreaker.

Friday, April 19, 2019

For Money Received

The short fiction of Kansas native Fletcher Flora (1914-1968) was a regular fixture in “Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine” in the 1950s and 1960s as well as dozens of Hitchcock-branded anthologies. Wildside Press has compiled many of Flora’s greatest hits in two eBook compilations for the ridiculously low price of a buck-a-pop. “For Money Received” is a 31-page novelette that originally appeared in the October 1964 issue of AHMM. It was also included in the Hitchcock anthologies “Meet Death at Night” (1964) and “Murderer’s Row” (1975) and most recently in “The Second Fletcher Flora Megapack” from Wildside Press.

The story is narrated by cut-rate private investigator Percy Hand whose business is so slow that his receptionist is an electric buzzer. One day he’s visited by new client with an unusual request. Mrs. Coon believes her husband is being blackmailed by his mistress. The fact that her husband is straying doesn’t pose much of a problem, but the wife won’t settle for blackmail and hires Percy to get to the bottom of the matter.

An easy job soon becomes complicated after the secret lovers somehow spot Percy and give him the slip. Percy needs the money and must figure out a way to salvage this engagement and get to the bottom of the blackmail scheme that becomes a murder case. Percy is a great main character because he’s unusually focused on his own professional ethics - a challenge when engaging in the dirty business of tailing a cheating spouse. He’s also a legitimately funny and sarcastic narrator with a great self-deprecating nature, and I found myself laughing aloud several times over the course of this single-sitting mystery.

Flora is a fun author, and I suspect that shorter fiction plays to his strengths. “For Money Received” is a clever bit of short fiction that won’t change your life but serves as a great introduction to this largely-forgotten author’s body of work. It’s an easy recommendation and a breezy way to spend an hour. I also learned that Percy is the main character in other short stories and Flora’s full-length novel called “Leave Her to Hell” from 1958 that’s been reprinted by Stark House. I intend to check that one out soon. 

Buy a copy of this story HERE

Thursday, February 28, 2019

The Hot-Shot

Kansas native Fletcher Flora (1914-1969) wrote 13 novels and 150 short stories after returning from WW2 combat. His writing generally falls into the crime fiction genre with a few diversions into the world of lesbian pulp fiction. “The Hot-Shot” is a coming-of-age paperback published by Avon in 1956. The short novel is now available in every format as a cheap eBook.

“The Hot-Shot” is narrated by Skimmer Scaggs, a dimwitted high school senior living on the wrong side of the tracks with his dysfunctional parents. One day he accidentally learns that he has a natural gift for sinking baskets on the court, and with a little coaching quickly becomes a high school basketball prodigy. The author was a high school basketball coach before being drafted into the U.S. Army in 1943, so he knows his way around the game. As a result, the sports action scenes are vividly recounted.

For Skimmer, instant popularity and local celebrity follow his awakening as a basketball star. The school pads his grades, and he’s finally able to lay a girl in the country club set. Moreover, a dead-end future is no longer his destiny as basketball provides the ticket to get out of his lousy town and away from his crummy parents.

For most of the paperback, the coming of age narrative far overshadows the crime story revealed fairly late in the novel. The crime in question involve the dilemma of whether to shave points for a local racketeer in exchange for some steady cash and regular sex with an irresistible torch singer. The point-shaving scheme was probably innovative at the time before Northwestern University’s football team was caught by the FBI doing almost the exact same thing decades later. “The Hot-Shot” is a fun read but shouldn’t be confused with a crime fiction classic.

The writing style adopted for Skimmer’s narration almost perfectly apes that of Holden Caulfield from 1951’s “Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger. Lawrence Block did the same thing years later with his Chip Harrison series with pleasing results. If you enjoy that type of first-person writing (and I do), you’ll probably enjoy this novel quite a bit (and I did). Just don’t go into it expecting a tightly-plotted hardboiled crime story. Recommended.

Buy a copy of this book HERE