Showing posts with label Johnny Maguire. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Johnny Maguire. Show all posts

Monday, November 30, 2020

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 71

It’s time for the Paperback Warrior Podcast Holiday Shopping Guide Episode! We discuss the dilemma of giving and receiving vintage paperbacks along with many suggestions to get you through the season.  Also: reviews of novels by Bruce Cassiday and George Gillman. Download on your favorite podcast app or or download directly HERE

Listen to "Episode 71: Holiday Buyer's Guide" on Spreaker.

Monday, August 17, 2020

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 57

On Paperback Warrior Podcast Episode 57, our feature is on the life and work of Richard Himmel with a review of his sexy spy paperback The Chinese Keyhole. Also discussed: Flipping books for cash! Harry Whittington! Ashville, North Carolina! Sleaze fiction! The Mantrackers by William Mulvihill! And more vintage fiction hijinks! Listen on your favorite podcast app or at or download directly HERE Listen to "Episode 57: Richard Himmel" on Spreaker.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Johnny Maguire #02 - The Chinese Keyhole

In the 1950s, Richard Himmel (1920-2000) wrote five books in the Johnny Maguire series about a lawyer who functions as a hardboiled detective and all-around troubleshooter. I loved the series debut, so I was excited to tackle the second installment, The Chinese Keyhole from 1951. The book was originally a Fawcett Gold Medal paperback and has been re-released by Cutting Edge Books.

The novel opens with Johnny telling the reader something he neglected to share in the first book. During World War 2, Johnny was recruited into the OSS, the wartime precursor to the CIA, and he’s periodically called upon to set aside his law practice to engage in espionage at the request of the U.S. State Department. Yes, our favorite hardboiled Chicago lawyer is evidently a spook as well. It’s almost as if the author had a cool idea for a spy novel and decided to slot Johnny Maguire into the lead role because he had an extra protagonist just lying around with no immediate plans. 

Anyway, Johnny’s handler instructs him to go to the Chinese Keyhole, a strip club in Chicago’s Chinatown, to deliver a coded message to an Asian stripper. One thing leads to another, and Johnny has a bloodbath on his hands. The only way to get close to the killers is to, well, sleep with a stripper. A part-time spy’s work is never done. 

Meanwhile, Johnny’s childhood friend Tom was recently plugged in the back six times with no leads as to the killer’s identity. Tom was a walking saint on earth, and who would want to kill a guy like that? If you’re familiar with the way 1950s plotting works, you’ve probably already guessed that Tom’s death is somehow tied into the nudie bar spy situation. A central mystery develops regarding the identity of the enemy spy ring boss, and the solution - a big reveal at the end - was pretty obvious to anyone paying attention. That said, the series of final confrontations with Johnny’s adversaries was pretty outstanding. 

Himmel was a great writer who knew how to keep a story moving, and The Chinese Keyhole is a sexy and exciting thin paperback. Readers should know that this 1951 work of disposable fiction has some retrograde things to say about Asians and gays. It didn’t bother me, but consider yourself warned that 1951 was, in fact, nearly 70 years ago. 

Richard Himmel deserves to be remembered, and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that The Chinese Keyhole was the high-mark of his writing career. It’s a romantic and exciting bit of domestic spy fiction, and I’m thrilled that Cutting Edge Books has made the series available to a new generation. I’m also excited to read what Johnny Maguire is going to do next. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Johnny Maguire #01 - I’ll Find You

Between 1950 and 1958, prominent interior designer Richard Himmel (1920-2000) wrote five novels starring a hard-nosed Chicago lawyer named Johnny Maguire with the first being “I’ll Find You” (U.K. title: “It’s Murder, Maguire”). Both the cover art and synopsis sell the novel as a melodramatic romance, but the reality is that Himmel wrote something likely to please readers of well-written hardboiled crime who are also comfortable with some romance and human drama in their stories.

“I’ll Find You” begins with Johnny being rousted out of bed by the cops. A female client named Cynthia that he’d attempted to romance was dead, and Johnny was the last person to see her alive. As narrator, Johnny recounts the trajectory of their brief relationship (“She needed some rough stuff, she needed a guy like me to let her have it, to give it to her good.”) that became an obsession to the horndog lawyer. Here’s the thing: Cynthia had Johnny, as her attorney, bring her $200,000 cash the night of her death, and she supposedly committed suicide by walking into Lake Michigan in the pitch darkness with all that cash. Neither her body nor the money were ever recovered making it the most Fawcett Gold Medal demise in the history of death.

Johnny is a very funny narrator and a self-deprecating lawyer. He explains to the reader that he was a night school guy, and he shares an office on Chicago’s State Street full of low-end punk attorneys, poseurs who use fancy stationary to create the illusion of successful practices. He’s a ladies man, dead broke, and completely honest - with one exception. You see, Johnny does some legal work for a local mob boss in Chicago. Nothing serious, but Johnny knows that his client is seriously bent. His relationship with the racketeer makes for an interesting subplot that gets intertwined with the missing girl story.

Naturally, Johnny begins to suspect that maybe Cynthia’s “suicide” was staged, and he can’t get her out of his mind. The plot is really about Johnny conducting an investigation into Cynthia’s disappearance - and possible suicide - based solely on his romantic obsession with her. The mystery brings Johnny down to Florida in search of the truth. To be fair, there’s a lot of romantic content in the Florida part of the book, and if that’s problematic for you, skip this one. If you’re willing to buy the idea that a guy will turn the world upside-down for a woman he hardly knows based on a hunch she’s alive and in trouble, you’re bound to enjoy this short, well-written paperback.

Richard Himmel was an outstanding writer, and “I’ll Find You” is a quality book. It must have been a successful title for the publisher as the paperback went through five print runs between 1950 and 1955. That’s good news for you decades later because there should be ample old copies for you to find and read today. And you should. This is one of the better genre novels - call it romantic suspense- from the dawn of paperback originals. If it helps, disregard the overwrought romantic cover art and focus on the revolver sticking out of Johnny’s pocket. Recommended.

The Johnny Maguire series by Richard Himmel:

I’ll Find You. Gold Medal, 1950
The Chinese Keyhole, Gold Medal, 1951
I Have Gloria Kirby, Gold Medal, 1951
Two Deaths Must Die, Gold Medal, 1954
The Rich and the Damned. Gold Medal, 1958

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, February 10, 2020

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 30

On our 30th episode, it's a Fawcett Gold Medal All-Review Extravaganza! We discuss vintage paperbacks by John D. MacDonald, Lionel White, Dan J. Marlowe, Basil Heatter and more! We are available on all podcast platforms or stream below. Download directly HERE.

Listen to "Episode 30: Fawcett Gold Medal All-Review Extravaganza" on Spreaker.