Showing posts with label Manning Lee Stokes. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Manning Lee Stokes. Show all posts

Monday, July 25, 2022

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 98

Gil Brewer is a fixture of mid-20th century crime-fiction, and on this episode, Eric and Tom discuss his life and career. Tom tells listeners about a new collection of short-stories by Robert Colby and Eric highlights the career of crime-noir writer James M. Fox. Reviews include a post-apocalyptic novel that was the basis for the 1979 film Ravagers and a Manning Lee Stokes classic. Listen on any podcast app, or download directly HERE

Listen to "Episode 98: Gil Brewer" on Spreaker.

Monday, April 18, 2022

The Grave's in the Meadow

To the extent that he’s recalled at all, Manning Lee Stokes (1911-1976) is remembered for his pseudonymous work in men’s adventure paperback series titles, including John Eagle: Expeditor, Richard Blade, Nick Carter: Killmaster, and The Aquanauts. However, Stokes began his career authoring mystery novels beginning in 1945 and beyond. His crime-fiction output includes a largely unknown hardcover novel from 1959 titled The Grave’s in the Meadow that was later reprinted by both Dell and Manor Books in paperback.

Our narrator is an amoral sociopath named Dick Ludwell who just witnessed the murder of a middleweight boxer for refusing to take a dive. Dick was the only person to witness the killing at the hands of a ruthless mob henchman, and he correctly figures this makes him a marked man. Dick is a crooked newspaper reporter who supplements his income by providing tips to the local mob boss, but this cozy relationship isn’t going to be enough to save Dick’s bacon this time.

Dick decides to hide 100 miles from the city in his friend’s vacant farmhouse, and this is where the plot really takes off. The farm is located on the outskirts of a small town where everyone knows one another, and Dick assumes the identity of a dead hobo for his new life in exile. As Dick tries to assimilate into small-town life, an astute genre fiction reader begins to see exactly the direction the paperback is headed. He meets a girl and a sweet relationship evolves bolstered by the lies Dick tells her about his identity and background. Could this story be the tale of a heel redeemed by true love?

About halfway through the novel – right when you think you see where it’s going – there is a bonkers scene that turns the plot into a nasty, violent noir. I promise that there’s not a single reader who will ever forget the scene that sparks the paperback’s turning point. I never saw it coming and I read a ton of this stuff. From that point forward, the book erupts into one of the finest crime-noir stories I can recall reading in a long, long time. It reminds me of Dan J. Marlowe’s The Name of the Game is Death, but this Stokes novel predates the Marlowe classic by three full years.

The paperback sprints to the finish line with an exciting, bloody climax. A couple pages from the conclusion, you’ll be dying to know what’s going to happen at the very end. Stokes’ plotting is superb and he does a fantastic job getting you into the narrator’s warped mind. I honestly can’t get over how exciting and wild The Grave’s in the Meadow is, and I can’t believe it hasn't been reprinted since 1973. This is a forgotten paperback definitely worth rediscovering. Readers should seek out a copy, and reprint publishing houses should acquire the rights and resurrect this lost classic. Highest recommendation. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Friday, August 21, 2020

The Crooked Circle (Too Many Murderers)

Before writing house-name adventure paperbacks in popular series titles including The Aquanauts, Nick Carter: Killmaster, John Eagle: Expeditor and Richard Blade, author Manning Lee Stokes (1911-1976) was already successful in a variety of genres. In 1951, Graphic Books published his paperback original crime novel titled The Crooked Circle, and the book was re-released by the same publisher as Too Many Murderers in 1955. The novel has found new life as a modern trade paperback from Oregon publisher Armchair Fiction.

Our narrator is a 40 year-old, rather unsuccessful ex-cop turned private eye named Steve Paget in fictional Steel City, USA (think Cleveland or Pittsburgh). Against all odds, Steve lands a new client, an eccentric rich guy named Jeff Torrance, who wants to pay Steve good money to have sex with Torrance’s pretty and long-legged wife. I won’t spoil the reason behind this indecent proposal, but after some in initial resistance, Steve agrees to the undercover seduction for a $100,000 fee. Business is business after all, and Mrs. Torrance is a tasty little dish.

Along the way, Steve gets beaten with a wrench and must contend with a dead body that could derail his future plans. Most of the action in the novel’s second half takes place on a remote estate where Steve is pretending to be a guest of the Torrance family looking for an opportunity to seduce the lady of the house and complete his mission. There are long stretches in the paperback where not much happens, and Steve fails to have enough charisma to fully carry the story devoid of any action.

Things pick up quite a bit as we near the climax and the double-crossing gamesmanship among the cast escalates. A murder plot is hatched that becomes a somewhat brilliant and cinematic set piece worth the wait. The Crooked Circle was a decent novel but nothing special until the satisfying ending. It’s interesting to read Stokes’ work before he became a go-to series-novel hired hand. If you can stand some uneven pacing at the paperback’s midsection, the reward at the end is pretty great.

Buy a copy of this book HERE