Showing posts with label Wade Miller. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Wade Miller. Show all posts

Monday, October 5, 2020

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 64

Paperback Warrior Podcast Episode 64 explores the legacy of author David Goodis. Also discussed: Black Berets! Eric leaves his house! Used Bookstore haul! Funeral home field trip! Antique store tirade! Wade Miller's Devil May Care! And more! Listen on your favorite podcast app, or download directly HERE

Listen to "Episode 64: David Goodis" on Spreaker.

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

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Devil May Care

Childhood friends Robert Wade and H. Bill Miller were responsible for the most successful collaboration in vintage genre fiction. Together they wrote around 33 novels under the Wade Miller and Whit Masterson pseudonyms selling around 15 million copies of their mystery and adventure paperbacks. Many have said that their finest work is their eighth book, Devil May Care from 1950, recently reprinted by Stark House as a double paired with Sinner Take All from 1960.

The hero of Devil May Care is Biggo Venn, a fortysomething soldier of fortune working the speaking circuit for $50 per gig telling globetrotting adventure stories to meeting hall audiences. After a speech in Cleveland, Biggo reconnects with his old friend with a business proposition for the aging mercenary.

The feds deported a Sicilian mobster named Tom Jaccalone who is now living comfortably in Mexico. Biggo is hired to deliver a letter to the mobster that will exonerate him and allow Jaccalone to return to the U.S. legally and resume his racketeering. The letter is a signed confession from someone else admitting to the crime that caused Jaccalone to be deported from the U.S. The gangster is willing to pay $20,000 to get his hands on the letter, and Biggo just needs to deliver the confession to Mexico and earn some easy cash. Of course, Biggo accepts the gig.

The action shifts to Mexico, and the mission turns out to be more complicated than originally represented. Biggo’s point-of-contact for the exchange is murdered. It seems the mobster who took over Jaccalone’s U.S. rackets following his deportation isn’t excited about the prospect of a possible exoneration and repatriation resulting from Biggo’s delivery. This leaves Biggo in Mexico caught in the crossfire between two rival gangsters - both of whom want the letter Biggo is carrying. One has $20,000 for Biggo, and the other has a bullet with his name on it.

In Mexico, Biggo falls in with an impossibly sexy bar hostess named Jinny. There’s also a local Mexican torch-singer that Biggo wants who seems to run the town. Whether these women are friends or foes is a twisty question as the plot develops. Meanwhile, a rival mercenary from Biggo’s past also surfaces in the same Mexican town on the Baja Peninsula to repeatedly throw a monkey wrench in Biggo’s plans.

Overall, Devil May Care is a fine novel. Some of the treatment of the fictional women in the paperback would never fly today, so consider yourself warned if that type of thing bothers you. It’s also a bit padded and slow in the middle section as Biggo hangs around Mexico becoming involved in relationships while waiting to make contact with his buyer.

But once the climactic ending begins, things get great very quickly with lots of cool plot twists and turns. Overall, I’m sure you’re going to like Devil May Care quite a bit, and I completely understand why many say it’s the strongest Wade Miller release. Recommended.

Fun Fact:

Devil May Care was the 9th novel published by the legendary Fawcett Gold Medal paperback imprint. The book never had a second life after multiple Gold Medal printings throughout the 1950s, so the Stark House reprint is a big deal. Buy a copy HERE

Monday, April 13, 2020

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 39

On Paperback Warrior Podcast Episode 39, we take a deep-dive into the crime fiction work of Wade Miller, including a review of “Kitten with a Whip.” A review of Mickey Spillane’s “My Gun is Quick” inspires a discussion of 1940s vs. 1950s crime fiction with lots of vintage paperback fun starring Eric and Tom! You can stream the show at below or listen on any podcast app. Download directly HERE.

Listen to "Episode 39: Wade Miller" on Spreaker.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Max Thursday #03 - Uneasy Street

Popular crime-fiction author Wade Miller was actually a collaborative pseudonym utilized by two writers – Bob Wade (1920-2012) and Bill Miller (1920-1961). While the two mostly concentrated their efforts on stand-alone titles, they did launch a successful six-book series in 1947 starring private-eye Max Thursday who works cases in and around San Diego, California. The series debut, “Guilty Bystander”, was adapted to film in 1950 and switched the location from San Diego to New York City. I've always enjoyed the Wade Miller brand, so I'm sampling this series with the third installment, “Uneasy Street”, published by Signet in 1948.

It's December 23rd and our private-eye protagonist wants a quick job before the Christmas break. Instead, an older client named Syliva Wister engages Thursday to transport a music box for her. However, after being told where to deliver the goods, Wister is murdered and Thursday immediately becomes the prime suspect. Teaming with series ally Lieutenant Clapp, Thursday hopes to clear his name while also determining what's so special about the music box. Who wants it? What secrets does it contain?

As much as I hoped to enjoy this novel, I found it incredibly dull. The authors incorporate dozens of characters and involve them with a handful of crimes. By page 80, I was dumbfounded by PI fiction's two important elements – the client and the mission. These should be easily defined but in this case it's a moving target. The plot becomes a confusing chain-reaction of bribery for nude photos, a stolen painting, international smuggling and murder. It was so dense I couldn't tell the murdered from the murderer. I think the authors were flying by the seat of their pants – winging it all the way.

If you are a Wade Miller completest, maybe this is worth owning. It’s also available as a cheap ebook. However, be prepared: “Uneasy Street” was a quite uneasy read. You may just want to leave it alone.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, November 18, 2019

A Cry in the Night (aka All Through the Night)

Whit Masterson was a pseudonym for the literary collaborations of Bob Wade and Bill Miller, who were also prolific under their other pen name, Wade Miller. “A Cry in the Night” was a 1955 kidnapping thriller released as a Bantam paperback that was also titled “All Through the Night” in hardcover and adapted into a film starring Raymond Burr and Natalie Wood in 1956. The novel remains available today as a cheap eBook - free, in fact, if you have Kindle Unlimited.

“A Cry in the Night” opens just after midnight where our villain, a perverted sociopath, is lurking around the lover’s loop on a hill above a Southern California harbor. He’s a ghoulish creep - sneaking up to the windows of cars containing couples, so he can better listen to their passionate gasps for his own solo sexual thrills. A confrontation with a couple of lovers goes sideways, and he ends up driving away with young Liz while leaving her boyfriend unconscious in the dirt. The perv has inadvertently become a kidnapper.

When the boyfriend regains consciousness, he is disoriented and concussed. The police pick him up wandering the streets in the middle of the night and throw him in the drunk tank to await court in the morning. After realizing that he’s not just some wino, the cops begin to piece together that something sinister and awful must have happened to the missing Liz at the make-out spot. An early plot twist reveals the personal nature of the investigation for the department’s leadership.

The police characters are just awesome. There’s a pair of patrolmen who know each other so well that they can finish each other’s sentences. There’s a Lieutenant nicknamed Old Ironhead who appears to be a tactical genius dispatching police resources where they can do the most good. There’s a sex crimes detective awakened to provide subject matter expertise to save Liz before it’s too late. “A Cry in the Night” is one of the best police procedural novels I’ve ever read as it shows the teamwork involved in a proper critical incident response.

This is a compressed-time paperback in which all the action transpires over a five-hour period with each chapter designating the turning of a new hour. Third-person perspective changes allow the reader to follow the sequential events through the eyes of several characters. The writing is smooth and the pages really fly by. The cop scenes depict a logical and competent investigation conducted with great urgency. The scenes with the kidnapper and victim recall a horror novel - or, at the very least, a dark suspense story filled with menace and terror. Wade and Miller created one of the most disturbing psychos since Norman Bates.

The cat and mouse game between the police and the kidnapper comes to a satisfying conclusion at the novel's climax. I can quibble with some of the law enforcement choices made, including the involvement of a civilian in a tactical operation, but why bother? After all, it’s just pulp fiction.

Wade and Miller wrote a hell of a lot of books together, and I have only scratched the surface of their body of work. However, I can comfortably say that “A Cry in the Night” is the best of their novels that I have read thus far. Highly recommended.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, October 7, 2019

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 14

Join us for a controversial discussion on authors who utilize ghostwriters to draft series novels under house names. Also, we look at the 1955 crime-noir "A Cry in the Night" by the tandem of Bob Wade and Bill Miller. We also dig into the 1988 men's action novel "Houston Hellground" (Avenger #2) by Chet Cunningham. Stream below or anywhere that streams good podcasts. Also download it directly (LINK).

Listen to "Episode 14: Ghostwriters" on Spreaker.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

The Killer

Authors Robert Wade (1920-2012) and Bill Miller (1920-1961) collaborated under the pseudonyms Whit Masterson, Dale Wilmer, Will Daemer and Wade Miller. Together, the duo wrote over thirty novels including the 1951 Fawcett Gold Medal noir novel “The Killer,” now available as an affordable reprint through Stark House.

“The Killer” refers to protagonist Jacob Farrow, a successful American safari guide living in Africa. After an infraction on his hunting license, Farrow finds he has some additional free time on his hands. This proves to be convenient as an attorney from the U.S. arrives at Farrow's African home to offer a perplexing opportunity. His client wishes to employ Farrow for a hunt in North America. The payday is a cool 5K to accept the offer, and another 10K if Farrow can kill the intended prey.

Accepting the offer, Farrow arrives in New York to discover the attorney’s client is a customer who Farrow guides in Africa every two years, a skillful hunter named Stennis. Farrow learns that Stennis' son was killed in an armed robbery by a gang leader named Clel Bocock. Stennis, hoping to avenge his son's death, hires Farrow to hunt Bocock, make the kill, provide proof, and collect the payment. The gig is complicated by the fact that Bocock is a high-profile criminal wanted in several states for various robberies. To find Bocock, Farrow will need to remain a few days ahead of law enforcement.

As a 1951 paperback with a sultry cover, the story practically demands an inclusion of a beautiful woman. The authors certainly deliver with Marget, Bocock's estranged wife. In Georgia, Farrow stumbles on the drunken Marget and rescues her from the clutches of a seedy “fencer” who had a personal agenda in locating Bocock's whereabouts. With Marget at his side, Farrow searches from Georgia swamps to Chicago before moving to the rural mountains of Yellowstone park. It's a national whirlwind of hunting, chasing and shooting as the duo attempt to find Bocock's gang.

There's a number of things that work extremely well in “The Killer.” Farrow is a likable hero with an unsettling problem – killing a human after decades of hunting defenseless animals. Not only is it a new, more physical challenge (and illegal), but an overly emotional one. The authors spend a great deal of time focusing on Farrow's internal conflict, while also introducing a ravishing love interest in Marget. However, I found the final scenes rather dull and uninspiring despite a clever twist that brought the storyline a bit more depth.

“The Killer” is simply another 1950s crime novel that shouldn't be altogether avoided, but certainly shouldn't be too high on your essential reading list. The Stark House reprint includes an additional Wade Miller novel in “Devil on Two Sticks,” also known as “Killer's Choice,” originally released in 1949. Both are introduced by the esteemed crime noir enthusiast David Laurence Wilson.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Kitten With A Whip

Author Wade Miller was the pen name for the writing partnership of Robert Wade and H. Bill Miller, who collaborated on over 30 novels, also writing under the name Whit Masterson. “Kitten with a Whip” was their 1959 novel that was packaged as a Fawcett Gold Medal paperback designed to titillate male readers. “She had a child’s mind in a lush woman’s body and she reached for evil with both hands,” the blurb promises. This must be the hottest S&M crime book of all times, right?

Not really, but it’s a decent suspense novel in the Gold Medal tradition. Our protagonist is paunchy, 33 year-old, San Diego suburbanite David Patton. As the book opens, he is giddy with excitement at the possibilities of the adventures that await him while his wife and daughter are out of town on a trip. He knows in reality that a weekend home alone is usually just a lonelier version of a weekend with the family, but a working man is entitled to dream.

His dream of an adventure begins to take focus when he awakens to find a hot 17 year-old chick wearing a nightgown prowling inside his house. We quickly learn that her name is Jody, and she is a runaway from the local girl’s reformatory who broke into David’s place looking for a change of clothes and somewhere to sleep. Instead of turning the young, sexy fugitive into the authorities, David decides to show her some hospitality. The central tension of the book’s opening act is David playing chicken with his desire to have sex with this troubled teen.

The interpersonal dynamic between these two characters - the suburban shlub and the manipulative sex kitten - provides the novel’s central tension, and their relationship evolves over the course of the weekend as David ties his life into knots to avoid his neighbors and family from finding out about his uninvited guest. The psychological manipulation of one character over the other makes for some compelling suspense along the way, and watching David thread the needle on a volatile and delicate situation keeps the pages turning despite minimal action in the story until the explosively violent conclusion.

The authors play with two central ideas: fear of women and fear of adolescents. The premise is that neither group are entirely rational and that one’s use of logic and reason is an inadequate response to their innate impulsiveness. These aren’t themes that would play as well in today’s world, but they make for a satisfying glimpse into the mindset of 1950s America in this compelling novel.

“Kitten with a Whip” was adapted into a cheesy 1964 film starring John Forsythe and Ann Margaret. However, a more fun way to to enjoy the film would be the comedic Mystery Science Theater 3000 edit which, as of this writing, is available free on You Tube. In any case, read the book first. Stark House has reprinted it as a double packaged with Miller’s 1966 novel “Kiss Her Goodbye.” Recommended.