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

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

The Short Stories of John M. Sitan

 A recent Facebook posting in one of my book groups wondered if John M. Sitan was an alias of another writer, such as Jonathan Craig or Gil Brewer, also writing stories for Manhunt at the same time. I had no idea myself, so I did some homework to find out more about this shadowy author.

By way of background, Sitan authored only three short stories in Manhunt and then disappeared as a writer. According to The Manhunt Companion by Peter Enfantino and Jeff Vorzimmer, Sitan wrote the following stories for Manhunt in three consecutive months during 1954:

“My Enemy, My Father” – June 1954
“Confession” – July 1954
“Accident” – August 1954

Enfantino and Vorzimmer review all three stories favorably in the guide, but they single out “Confession” as something special. The story of a serial sniper (reviewed below) was selected by editor David C. Cooke for inclusion in his 1955 Best Detective Stories of the Year anthology. Vorzimmer later featured the story in his curated The Best of Manhunt 2 compilation from Stark House Press released in 2020.

I searched far and wide for any indication that Sitan’s work was ever published elsewhere and found nothing. The guy apparently sold three stories to Manhunt and then nothing else, so it’s not crazy to wonder if he was a pseudonym or a house name.

As fun as it would have been to unmask the pen-name of John M. Sitan, a few minutes of internet sleuthing revealed that he was, in fact, a real guy.

John McElroy Sitan was born on May 1, 1925 in Longview, Washington. He served in the U.S. Army during World War 2 from 1943 to 1946. Upon his return to Washington State, he began a 30-year career as a technical writer for Boeing. It was while he was gainfully-employed by Boeing that he decided to do some non-technical writing for the top hardboiled crime digest at the time, Manhunt.

For reasons unclear to me, he never caught the bug to continue his side-hustle as a fiction writer. Instead, he and his wife Hazel focused on getaways to a cabin John built himself on Mount Index and traveling the world on vacations following his retirement. The couple never had children, and John died on November 9, 2012. His limited contributions to the world of hardboiled crime fiction would have been lost to the ages but for a renewed interest in Manhunt spurred on by Stark House Books, Enfantino, Vorzimmer, and Paperback Warrior.

Copies of Manhunt are rare and prohibitively expensive, so mere mortals are forced to leverage modern short story anthologies that reprint the greatest hits from the legendary digest. As such, I’m left with only one resource to read Sitan’s work - the second volume of The Best of Manhunt from Stark House Books, where I found Sitan’s only enduring story, “Confession” from July 1954.

“Confession” is the story of a sniper named John Egan. As the story opens, Egan is pulling the trigger on his scoped and silenced rifle that results in a nurse’s head exploding as the round penetrates her skull on the street below. Egan is not a paid assassin. He’s a factory worker who happens to be a crackerjack shot with a long gun. He’s basically a serial killer before there was a term for such things.

When he takes to the road, the reader gains insight into Egan’s real motivations. Sadly, our modern society has become accustomed to mass killers without conscience. However, when Manhunt published Sitan’s story, it must have been a chilling peek behind the curtain of a remorseless psychopath. The ending was a bit abrupt to me, but it was a satisfying story in line with the dark fiction that made Manhunt great.

Despite his minimal contribution to the catalog of American crime fiction, John M. Sitan was a unique voice who deserves to be remembered. It would be nice to see his other two stories find a modern audience in a future anthology.

Buy The Manhunt Companion HERE:
Buy The Best of Manhunt 2 HERE:

Friday, December 16, 2022

The Best of Manhunt #04 - The Jack Ritchie Stories

In this fourth volume of stories from Manhunt, the good folks at Stark House Press took a different approach by focusing on a single author, Jack Ritchie. If you’ve never heard of Jack Ritchie, consider it further evidence that short-story writers don’t get the respect and adoration lavished upon novelists.

Jack Ritchie was the prolific pseudonym of Wisconsin native John G. Reitci (1922-1983). During his career as an author, he sold countless stories to publications including Manhunt, Murder!, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, The Saint Mystery Magazine and on and on. To my knowledge, he never wrote a novel - short works were his specialty.

As Paperback Warrior fans are well aware, Manhunt was the premier fiction digest for hardboiled, noir crime stories in the 1950s and 1960s, and Ritchie began selling his grittiest work to Manhunt in 1954. In total, Manhunt published 23 of Ritchie’s stories through the year 1965.

Mystery fiction scholar Jeff Vorzimmer lovingly compiled this chronological collection of Ritchie’s Manhunt work — as well as five extra stores from similar publications of the era. Vorzimmer’s introduction is also an insightful look into this largely-forgotten, but insanely productive, crime fiction master.

Let’s sample some stories and see if this guy is the real deal.

“My Game, My Rules” (July 1954)

A slumlord is forced to pay protection money to a local mobster. When he refuses, his buildings start mysteriously catching fire. The crime boss has also taken over the local gambling racket as well as the politicians and police force. A coalition of displaced leaders wants the thug gone, and approach our narrator Johnny to make it happen. Johnny has his own reasons for wanting the crime boss eradicated. This was Ritchie’s first sale to Manhunt, and it’s outstanding.

“Hold Out” (May 1955)

As with most of Ritchie’s stories, this one opens in the middle of the action. Ed and his partner have kidnapped a guy named Pete with the intention of holding him for ransom. Pete’s boss is a nightclub owner and may be willing to pay fifty grand to get his right hand man back in one piece. This story has a nasty twist you won’t see coming until it hits you like a gut punch. Top-shelf stuff.

“Shatter Proof” (October 1960)

An assassin arrives at the narrator’s house. It’s abundantly clear that his much younger wife commissioned the hit. Despite the unusual circumstances, the interaction between the victim and his soon-to-be-murderer is surprisingly cordial and businesslike. The patter is so alluring that you may not even see the double-cross coming. Another solid entry.

“Going Down?” (July 1965)

Ritchie’s final appearance in Manhunt finds the narrator on a urban building ledge prepared to jump while a police sergeant tries to keep him talking. The poor copper didn’t ask for this assignment. He was just walking by the building at the wrong time. The comedic back and forth between would-be-suicider and would-be rescuer is a stitch as the men compare their problems and failures. Another winner with a fun ending.

The Paperback Warrior Verdict?

This superb collection is proof positive that Jack Ritchie was a master of the hardboiled short story game. His work exemplifies everything that made Manhunt great, and this compilation should go along way toward cementing his legacy as one of the greats. Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Monday, July 29, 2019

The Best of Manhunt

Running from 1952 to 1967, “Manhunt Magazine” was the premier American journal for hardboiled crime short fiction. The publication was originally conceived as a showcase for the literary aesthetic popularized by the work of Mickey Spillane and succeeded in finding a market for the finest crime fiction authors of the 20th century.

The Best of Manhunt” is a 2019 anthology from Stark House Press containing 384 pages of stories from - and essays about - the legendary “Manhunt Magazine.” The non-fiction pieces were written by Lawrence Block, Jeff Vorzimmer, Scott & Sidney Meredith, and Barry Malzberg. More importantly, the anthology reprints 39 short stories from a who’s-who of mid-20th century crime fiction.

Reviewing 39 short-stories in one article wouldn’t be satisfying for the reader or reviewer, so allow me to provide some perspective on a sampling of the short works by authors we regularly cover here at Paperback Warrior.

“Mugger Murder” by Richard Deming

“Mugger Murder” is the first of two Richard Deming short stories included in “The Best of Manhunt” (the other is the fantastic “Hit and Run”). It originally appeared in the magazine’s April 1953 issue, and is narrated by police reporter named Sam. It’s a tidy little story about a coroner’s inquest surrounding a murder in an alley that may or may not have been committed in self-defense during a mugging. I think the story would’ve made a great first chapter to a novel, but it stands well enough on its own. Fans of Mack Bolan and vigilante fiction will really appreciate this one. Deming is an unsung master of crime fiction, and this story is a bite-size taste of his talent.

The Scrapbook by Jonathan Craig (Frank E. Smith

Jonathan Craig was a pseudonym used by Florida author Frank E. Smith. He wrote both noir and police procedural crime fiction with a sizable catalog of both short stories and full novels. “The Scrapbook” is from Manhunt’s September 1953 issue, and it’s the most dark and sinister story I’ve read by the author. Old Charlie has been working in a warehouse for years hauling boxes. He’s got his eye on Lois, a sweet young tease working at the same business. He thinks she’d be a nice addition to the scrapbook of women hidden in his home - all of whom are victims of sex killings coinciding with Charlie’s annual vacations. That’s all I’ll tell you here, but this is one of those stories that puts you smack dab into the mind of a real psycho, and it’s not a tale you won’t forget anytime soon.

Night of Crisis by Harry Whittington

While many of Harry Whittington’s novels remain in print, his short story output is awfully hard to find these days. For this reason, it’s a real treat to see this short story from October 1956 made the cut. “Night of Crisis” is about a guy named Jim who witnessed a tavern robbery that evolved into a homicide. The cops are grilling Jim rather hard for a guy who claims to be an innocent bystander to the crime. Upon arriving home, Jim’s wife and baby are missing. Could these things be related? This is one of the longer stories in the paperback, and it’s pretty suspenseful, not bad. However, it’s not one of the stronger stories in the anthology nor is it up to Whittington’s high standards.

Frozen Stiff by Lawrence Block

Lawrence Block wrote the Forward to the Stark House anthology reminiscing about his experiences with Manhunt when he was a young and struggling writer. The editors also included a clever short story from the future mystery Grandmaster called “Frozen Stiff” from June 1962. It’s a diabolical little story about a butcher who wishes to attempt suicide by locking himself in the walk-in freezer following his terminal cancer diagnosis. He wants his devoted wife to enjoy the life insurance proceeds without being crippled by medical bills. Of course, ending one’s life in that manner is easier said than done. As expected, this is a great little story and a perfect way to kill 15 minutes.


I’ve only dipped my toe into the water of this anthology, but I can already assess that this may be the greatest short story compilation I’ve ever owned. It’s certainly the one most in keeping with Paperback Warrior’s fiction obsession. The stories are brutal and filled with final-page twists - or in other words: essential reading. Highest recommendation.

Fun Fact Postscript:

Stark House’s “The Best of Manhunt” (2019) isn’t the first Manhunt anthology. In 1958, Permabooks released a paperback called “The Best From Manhunt” edited by Scott and Sidney Meredith. Don’t waste your money on the vintage paperback (like I did) because all 13 stories and the introduction are included in the new Stark House compilation - along with 26 additional tales. Another reason to buy the new one: So they’ll release a Volume Two...

This book was discussed on the fourth episode of the Paperback Warrior Podcast: Link

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, November 28, 2022

Best of Manhunt: Volume 3

The good people at Stark House Press have blessed us with another compilation of hardboiled crime stories from the pages of Manhunt Magazine, the premier digest for crime noir fiction in the 1950s and 1960s.

The introduction by scholars Jeff Vorzimmer and David Rachels tackles the literary mystery of the identity behind the house name of Roy Carroll, a pseudonym employed by the Manhunt editors when an author had more than one story in a single issue. The thought was that magazine readers desired a great diversity of names in the Table of Contents and would somehow feel ripped off if the same author appeared twice.

Several of the Roy Carroll stories in Manhunt are now known to be written by Robert Turner - but not all. The editors performed some investigative legwork worthy of Paperback Warrior to firmly-establish that the Roy Carroll story appearing in the November 1956 issue under the title “Death Wears a Grey Sweater” was, in fact, written by fan-favorite Gil Brewer for which Brewer was paid a tidy sum of $260.

With that mystery about a mystery solved, it’s only fair that we begin our tour of this anthology with the story itself.

Death Wears a Sweater by Gil Brewer writing as Roy Carroll (November 1956)

The story opens with the horrific death of an 11 year-old girl in a broad daylight hit-and-run while her father watches helplessly nearby. After verifying that his little girl is, in fact, dead, her dad — his name is Irv Walsh — goes bananas, hops in his car, and begins pursuing the hit-and-run driver. The confrontation with the car occupants goes poorly for Walsh, and his quest for quick justice is thwarted while his desire for revenge burns hot.

As vendetta stories go, this one is pretty dark, gruesome and sadistic. Brewer’s strongest works were his short stories and this one is no exception. It’s a tough and tension-filled read that packs the appropriate emotional punch.

Services Rendered by Jonathan Craig (May 1953)

Henry Callan is a crooked, hard-drinking police lieutenant investigating the murder of a florist. A suspect named Tommy is in custody, but refuses to talk. The dirty cop visits Tommy’s wife and makes her an offer of regular sex with Henry in exchange for Tommy’s freedom and avoidance of the electric chair.

This is the kind of dark and twisted story that made Manhunt great. Jonathan Craig (real name: Frank Smith) is always a reliably great writer, and this story is consistent with his hardboiled output. Don’t skip this one.

Throwback by Donald Hamilton (August 1953)

Donald Hamilton was the author of the esteemed Matt Helm spy series, but this short story predates his groundbreaking Death of a Citizen by nearly seven years. “Throwback” is an unusual story for both Hamilton and Manhunt as it is a post-apocalyptic story set shortly after the atomic destruction of the USA.

George Hardin and his wife are among the shambling survivors wandering among the smoldering ruins of a freshly-destroyed America. Hamilton’s writing is characteristically beautiful and descriptive. Unfortunately, a coherent plot never comes together, making this story perfectly skippable.

The Red Herring by Richard Deming (December 1962)

Richard Deming appears twice in this Manhunt compilation, and “The Red Herring” won the coin toss for the prestigious Paperback Warrior review. The story stars a Private Detective named Matt Gannon, who is engaged by a corporate CEO.

The company manufactures a radiation detector similar to a Gieger counter but way more sensitive. The company bought the technology from the inventor for a song, and now the creator is apparently sending threatening notes. Gannon is hired to make the case. As expected, Deming does a fine job with a compelling, if rather standard, PI mystery.

The Verdict

The brain-trust behind these Stark House Manhunt anthologies has another winner on their hands. I hope these collections never stop, and they expand to the other hardboiled magazines that popped up in the wake of Manhunt’s success. These short crime stories are an important part of American literary history and need to be preserved for modern audiences and future generations. 

Buy a copy of this book 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

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Classification Homicide

In February 1955, “Classification: Homicide” began its publication history as the first of Jonathan Craig’s ‘Police File’ stories featured in Manhunt magazine. In 2016, the story was repackaged for the first time in paperback by Armchair Fiction as the B-Side of a double along with Dexter St. Clare’s “Saratoga Mantrap.” In it’s trade paperback incarnation, Craig’s “full novel” weighs in at 76-pages for a quick, breezy, and enjoyable read.

Before the review, some historical context:

In the 1950s, “Manhunt” magazine was the premier digest for hardboiled crime and mystery stories. For 35 cents, a reader would get a full novel (really a novella by today’s standards) and a handful of short stories by America’s top genre writers. It was quite a bargain and provided a ton of quality reading each month for a nice price. Because of Manhunt’s important place in America’s literary history, copies of the magazine are scarce today and worth a small fortune to collectors.

Jonathan Craig (real name: Frank E. Smith) wrote a series of seven short novels and short stories that were published in Manhunt between February 1955 and January 1956 tagged as the ‘Police File’ series. My theory is that the ‘Police File’ stories served as a literary precursor to Craig’s ‘Pete Selby & Stan Rayder’ police procedurals originally published by Fawcett Gold Medal starting in November 1955 and later repackaged by Belmont Tower in the 1970s as the ‘Sixth Precinct’ series - likely to capitalize on the success of Ed McBain’s bestselling ‘87th Precinct’ books.

And now the book review:

NYPD 20th Precinct detectives Steve Manning and his partner are called upon to investigate the stabbing death of a young woman whose body is discovered on the roof of a nine-story building on 69th Street. Manning is our narrator, and he follows all the logical steps one would expect to identify the victim and further learn what occurred.

Through canvassing neighbors in the apartment building, Manning learns that the deceased was a resident of the building and struggling fashion model and that she used to date a guy down the hall. In fact, her ex is the one who found her on the roof. A suspect, perhaps? Now we’re getting somewhere! Unfortunately, it’s never that easy.

The police procedural storytelling approach employed by the author owes a lot to the “Dragnet” TV show which premiered four years earlier in 1951. It’s an emotionless style driven by proven investigative methodology and professionalism rather than the overwrought emotionalism popular today. There’s none of this “I’m trying to stay objective, Sarge, but I just care too damn much!” bullshit in a ‘Police File’ story. Realism is the selling point.

That's not to say that Manning is without personality. In his narration, he takes the time to provide the reader with tips about best practices, conventional wisdom, and generalities about what cops know that seem credible, reasonable, and helpful to a lay reader. He also shows real compassion to witnesses and suspects who’ve gotten tough breaks in life.

The mystery takes us through the medical examiner’s conclusions, the lab team’s processing of the crime scene, and interviews of witnesses and suspects. But because this was a 1950s story, all this is done with a keen efficiency, and the reader never has time to get bored or mired in the minutiae of forensic details. “Classification: Homicide” moves forward without unnecessary diversions, and the mystery’s solution springs solely from the narrator’s own wits.

It’s not an action novel, though - it’s a straight-up mystery with clues, suspects, and lucky breaks. The cops and suspects were all great characters, and the solution at the end is satisfying and unambiguous. There was really nothing not to like about this well-written little mystery. In fact, I’m excited to one day read the other stories in this series. Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done.

Further Reading:

It seems that “Classification: Homicide” is the only ‘Police File’ story to be converted to paperback as of this writing. Nevertheless, here are the ‘Police File’ stories in order, and the months they appeared in Manhunt:

“Classification:Homicide” - February 1955

“The Punisher” - March 1955

“The Babystiier” - July 1955

“Cast Off” - September 1955

“The Spoilers” - October 1955

“The Man Between” - November 1955

“The Cheater” - January 1956

Without spending a mint on old copies of Manhunt, it’s unlikely that I’ll ever get to read about the further adventures of Detective Manning and his crew. I’m really hoping that some enterprising eBook entrepreneur will rescue these orphaned works from the dustbin of history and release them all in one, affordable volume. If that happens, they can count me in as a customer.

Jonathan Craig and the Police File series is on the third episode of the Paperback Warrior Podcast.

Buy a copy of the book HERE 

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Hot Summer Night and the Unmasking of Elston Barrett

There’s nothing about this 1980 paperback that’s appealing at first glance. The cover photo is embarrassingly bad. A mystifying font choice makes the title, Hot Summer Night, almost unreadable. And the author, Elston Barrett, isn’t a name anyone knows. Is this a horror novel? A carnival thriller? Why would anyone buy this low-budget book and read it?

Actually, I searched rather hard to find a copy of this paperback. I did this because I have a theory about the identity of the author that I wanted to put to the test. I review the book below but first I want to attempt to answer the question:

Who the Hell was Elston Barrett?

I believe that Elston Barrett was most likely a pseudonym. I could find no record of any other novels published under that name. Unfortunately, Leisure Books never bothered to register the book with the U.S. Copyright Office, so that’s no help.

My theory - and I could be wrong - is that Hot Summer Night was actually written by Frank E. Smith (1919-1984), better known to Paperback Warrior readers as Fawcett Gold Medal and Manhunt crime fiction author Jonathan Craig. Here’s my circumstantial case:

In the 1950s, Smith’s literary agent was a guy named Scott Meredith whose clients were the top crime fiction guys at the time (Lawrence Block, Richard Deming, Donald Westlake, etc.). Meredith’s stable of authors also served as the farm team who wrote hardboiled stories for Manhunt where Smith - as Jonathan Craig - contributed a ton of stories.

The success of Manhunt spawned a bunch of other hardboiled crime digest imitators, including Hunted and Pursuit. During the years 1954 through 1956, Smith sold six stories to Hunted and Pursuit that were published under the name Elston Barrett. These would have been logical stories for the Jonathan Craig pen-name, but Smith probably didn’t want to piss off Manhunt who was providing him with a nice living at the time.

During the 1970s, Smith was living in Florida and authoring Gothic novels under the name Jennifer Hale until his death in 1984. If I’m right and Smith was the real author of 1980’s Hot Summer Night, it would have been his last published novel.

Not convinced? Here’s some more data points:

The publisher of Hot Summer Night was Leisure Books, founded in 1957 by a guy named Harry Shorten who retired in 1982. Shorten also oversaw a sleaze paperback publishing house called Midwood Books that drew upon writers represented by Scott Meredith to write erotic novels in the 1950s and 1960s. As such, it stands to reason that Smith and Shorten would have known each other for decades before Shorten bought and published Smith’s final book in 1980.

There are other things in Hot Summer Night where Smith left his fingerprints behind. First, the book takes place in 1932 in Missouri - not a typical year for a 1980 thriller to take place. It was, however, a year Smith would have remembered from his own boyhood in Missouri where his family relocated during the Great Depression. It stands to reason that Smith was drawing from his memories of struggling carnivals limping through Missouri at the time. I think the Missouri 1932 setting strongly implicates Smith as the author.

I’ll double-down and further guess that Hot Summer Night was likely a Frank E. Smith trunk novel that he probably wrote, but didn’t sell, many years before it’s 1980 publication. He probably blew the dust off the old manuscript, did some re-editing, and sold it for a couple grand to his old friend at Leisure Books while both men were at the end of their careers. The low-end paperback house slapped a crummy cover on the novel, sold a couple thousand copies, and the world forgot the paperback ever existed. The book does not appear in any bibliography of Smith’s body of work.

Anyway, that’s my theory. I could be wrong, but it makes sense to me.


The year is 1932, and the Great Stratton Shows traveling carnival has fallen on hard times. General Manager Brady Stratton is fighting to keep his family business afloat amid competitive pressures and the economic downturn sparked by the Great Depression. The only hope of solvency is winning the contract to provide the attractions for the Cullis County Fair, and Brady has only ten days to raise $10,000 for the participation fee.

There are a lot of plot threads in Hot Summer Night, all of which are quite compelling:

 - A black mechanic for the carnival is run off the road by rednecks for allowing a white female carny to ride in the front seat with him. The ensuing fistfight leaves one of the townies seriously injured and the rowdies are looking for revenge.

- Cindy Stratton, the little sister of the family, has a daredevil act where she dives sixty feet down into four feet of water. Meanwhile, she’s facing the distraction of a rich boyfriend from Kansas City. Evidently, a dive that high requires some precision and concentration. Who knew?

- Little brother Tommy Stratton rides loops on his motorcycle in the Globe of Death. He’s jeopardizing the carnival’s operations by making time with a jailbait girl.

- There’s a maniac on the loose planting incendiary devices at carnival hoochie-coochie tents. The maniac is driven by religious outrage believing that the girly shows represent a modern-day Sodom that needs to be destroyed. Can the arsonist be stopped before he turns the canvas tents into a Hell-on-Earth?

- An ex-con one step ahead of the law sees the carnival as a perfect mark for a payroll heist. All he needs is an insider to make it happen.

- A deformed teenage girl is dropped off at the carnival by her family in hopes of finding her a spot in the freak show exhibit. Could this be the girl’s only hope of finding a real family who will love her for herself?

There’s a lot happening in this 240-page big-font paperback. To the author’s credit, the many story threads are all interesting and resolved quite nicely by the end. At times, it felt like a special, two-hour episode of the Love Boat, but I was never bored. Contrary to the dreadful cover art, Hot Summer Night isn’t a horror novel at all. Some of the subplots are very suspenseful, but I found it to be a very mainstream novel with a fascinating settling.

The author clearly took the time to learn about carnival culture and slang. Early in the paperback, he introduces the character of a female newspaper reporter doing a feature on the carnival. She serves as a proxy for the reader while getting up to speed on terms like mitt camp, madball, grab stand, ten-in-one, etc. Anyone who’s into carny stuff is really going to dig this book.

Hot Summer Night wasn’t a literary masterpiece, but it was an enjoyable look at a subculture most of us don’t get to see from the inside. Whether or not it was written by Frank E. Smith or not, it’s an easy recommendation if you can find a copy on-the-cheap. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Brad Dolan #05 - Miami Manhunt

Between 1954 and 1959, Florida author William Fuller wrote six Brad Dolan mystery paperbacks for Dell about an American playboy who finds mystery and adventure while bumming around the Caribbean in his rickety houseboat. “Brad Dolan’s Miami Manhunt” is the fifth book in the series from 1958, but there’s no particular reason why they need to be read in order.

As a hero, Dolan is a can-do guy in a laid-back shell. His only ambitions are “blue water, sunshine - and freedom.” In practice, Dolan funds his freedom by doing some low-level smuggling throughout the Caribbean - mostly guns, booze, smokes, and people. As required, he’s got an eye for the ladies and very specific feelings about the appropriate breast size. And while he’s unlikely to ever get booked on the “Ed Sullivan Show,” he’s quick with a funny wisecrack at just the right times.

In this Miami-based adventure, Dolan finds himself on vacation while his boat is being repaired. Upon arrival at his hotel, he meets a stripper with all the correct proportions who asks him to help recover money that her dead husband squirreled away before his demise. Faster than you can say “Travis McGee,” Dolan is on the case. The stripper - Marta is her name - thinks she knows where the money is stashed, but bad guys are after her to get that information. She offers to split the dough - a cool quarter million - with Dolan, which will help fund his roustabout lifestyle for years into the future.

Almost right away, things go sideways. Dolan is tailed by an unknown shadow and he is questioned by police for a crime he didn’t commit. The hidden cash is somehow tied into an airline pilot who recently went missing in a Caribbean banana republic, and Dolan turns gumshoe to get the straight dope on the pilot’s disappearance in hopes that it will open the door to the hidden fortune. 

I don’t know much about the author, William Fuller, but he was likely very different than most of the genre paperback scribes of the 1950s. The back of “Brad Dolan’s Miami Manhunt” has a photo of the impossibly handsome, shirtless, muscular writer with the bio, “Like his fictional creation, Fuller’s been around himself - merchant seaman, hobo, movie bit player, infantryman on Guam, Leyte, and Okinawa. He now lives in Winter Haven, Florida.” It sounds like Fuller lived a remarkable life and channeled his experiences into his fiction.

At 160 stubby Dell pages, this Brad Dolan adventure wasn’t a huge time-commitment, but it was a lot of fun to read. Given Fuller’s looks, charisma, and talent, the real mystery may be why he remains largely unknown today. At the very least, it was good enough to motivate me to seek out the other five books in the series. Recommended.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Friday, June 11, 2021

Strictly Poison and Other Stories

Charles Boeckman (1920-2015) learned to play clarinet and saxophone through listening to records and studying fingering boards. His musical talent made it possible for him to play and write New Orleans jazz for 70 years. However, it was not his only occupation. Boeckman sold his first short story in 1945 and contributed regularly to Alfred Hitchcok's Mystery Magazine, Manhunt and pulps like Detective Tales, All-Story Detective and Dime Mystery. In the 1980's, he partnered with his wife Patti to write 25 love novels. 

In 2015, Bold Venture Press of Florida captured 24 short stories from the author in a massive volume entitled Strictly Poison and Other Stories. The book consists of four pages of commentaries by Boeckman shortly before he died. In addition, the publisher includes small cover pictures of many digest magazines and pulps that these stories are harvested from. I listed some capsule reviews from some of my favorite stories:

"Should a Tear Be Shed?" was originally published in 1954 by Malcolm's. It is a success story that focuses on the rise of a tap dancer named Lawrence Terrace Jr., a young man that suffered a brain injury when a truck ran him over. When a shyster named Jess Norvell catches Lawrence dancing by a bar jukebox, he puts together a scheme. First, he befriends Lawrence, then has an insurance policy placed on the young man for $50,000 (double indemnity for an accident) with himself as beneficiary. The next logical step is to get Lawrence accidentally killed. However, Jess' girlfriend, Candy, does not endorse the scheme and repeatedly tries to warn Lawrence that Jess is using him for financial purposes. Like any good story of suspense, Boeckman intensifies the tension with multiple attempts at murder. It's an explosive, though not surprising, climax. I loved the story and read it twice.

"I'll Make the Arrest" was one of Boeckman's most successful stories. It appeared in the very first issue of Manhunt (Jan 1953), one of the most highly-regarded digest magazines. The story was also adapted to the television program Celebrity Playhouse in 1956. This is an unusual story involving a police detective named Mike O'Shean tracking down the killer of a beautiful female celebrity. O'Shean has a particular need to locate the killer and, despite the title of the story, has no intention of arresting him. I love how Boeckman, in first person narrative, advises readers of O' Shean's motives: "I went down into the night and where it was dark and alone; I checked my gun because I was going to kill this boy who had strangled Pat." But, the author throws the obligatory curveball and it was a twist I didn't see coming. This was so unique and Boeckman delivered it perfectly with a smooth prose.

Boeckman's musical career contributed to "Run, Cat, Run", a 1949 story initially published in Dime Mystery. The story is about a trumpeter named Johnny Nickle fleeing a murderer. It's a suspensive tale about the musicians who appeared on a hit record called Jazz Date. Unfortunately, all the musicians on the album died mysteriously but Johnny. While frantically jumping from one town to another, Johnny manages to make ends meet by performing dive bars and jukes. But his luck runs out in Texas when a lady with a gun walks into his hotel room. Is she the killer? Or is she also running from a murderer? The story comes to a close on the shore of Corpus Christi Bay. I have always enjoyed novels and stories in the music industry and Boeckman used this aspect well. "Run, Cat, Run" was a real high point to me.

I wouldn't have the blog space to write spacious reviews on all of the high-quality stories included in this volume. Fantastic entries like "Ybor City" (1953 Manhunt), a gritty revenge story set on Florida's Gulf Coast or the wickedly humorous "Strictly Poison" (1945 Detective Tales) is worth mentioning. Even Jacksonville, Florida, otherwise known as the Paperback Warrior headquarters, plays host to the murderous terror of "Class Reunion" (1973 Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine). 

In the early 1950s, renowned writers such as Day Keene, Gil Brewer, Harry Whittington and Talmage Powell moved to Florida's Gulf Coast. Boeckman spent several weeks getting together with his colleagues at Day Keene's house to talk about the industry. I feel that Boeckman deserved to be there with crime-noir royalty. He was just a fantastic storyteller and had a knack for portraying broken and financially strapped characters in his story. Whether they were avenged, killed, successful or simply unlucky was in the imagination. Thankfully, Boeckman had it in spades.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Everybody's Watching Me

“Manhunt Magazine” was a hardboiled crime fiction digest that first hit the shelves in January 1953. The first four issues featured a serialized short novel by Mickey Spillane called “Everybody’s Watching Me” that was also reprinted by Manhunt in 1955. The story runs about 100 pages and was brought back for yet another Manhunt encore in 1964 under the new title, “I Came to Kill You.” It exists today as an affordable eBook and a paperback reprint.

“Everybody’s Watching Me” isn’t a Mike Hammer story but instead is told by a young laborer named Joe who delivers a threatening message to a local gangster named Renzo from an enigmatic killer named Vetter. The mobster is a “kill the messenger” kinda guy who beats young Joe unconscious for the audacity of simply delivering the note.

The note is from the mysterious Vetter is taken seriously since he recently knocked off a mob underboss and has everyone in the underworld on edge. What is Vetter’s agenda? Is he a rival godfather looking to take over the local rackets? Renzo suspects that Joe knows more than he’s admitting regarding Vetter, and he has Joe followed by surveillance goons hoping that the kid will lead the mobster to Vetter.

Joe has no information to provide anyone about this “assassin of mobsters,” and he - along with a sexy showgirl he meets along the way - finds himself in the middle of underworld tensions and the police. All these concerned parties are hoping that the naive Joe will lead them to Vetter.

Despite a cool setup, the story of Joe running around both manipulating and being manipulated at the eye of a mafia storm isn’t all that compelling. However, the last scene of this novel is just awesome and features a plot twist that I never saw coming. Ultimately, I suppose it was worth the hundred pages of my attention.

Buy a copy of the book HERE

Monday, December 9, 2019

Dirge for a Nude

Jonathan Craig was a pseudonym for Frank E. Smith, who wrote a ton of crime novels and short stories during the 1950s and 1960s. Much of his short fiction work was published in Manhunt Magazine, the finest outlet for that type of thing. Dirge for a Nude began its life as a story from the February 1953 issue of Manhunt and has been reprinted as a stand-alone eBook as part of the Noir Masters line. I’ve always enjoyed the author’s work, and I had an extra 99 cents burning a hole in my pocket, so I decided to splurge.

The story is narrated by a jazz piano player named Marty Bishop who entertains fellow hep cats in an after-hours Greenwich Village dive. During a break between sets, Marty’s ex-girlfriend Gloria appears and tells him that she’s got twelve-grand in her bra, and she wants Marty to run away to Mexico with her. She’s a torch singer with questionable ethics who also gets around, and Marty is done with her. Gloria gets super-pissed when Marty turns her down, and they decide to talk it out in Marty’s car after he finished his gig.

When Marty finally gets to his Caddy, Gloria is waiting for him inside the vehicle - naked and dead. Learning who stripped and killed the girl (and why) is the heart of the story, and it takes Marty on a torturous ride. Could it be the psychotic prizefighter Gloria has been banging recently? Maybe a skid row jazzbo she helped cheat out of his songwriting royalties?

Dirge For a Nude is 26-pages of unrepentant Manhunt-style hardboiled violent action. Marty spends the bulk of the story driving around with a naked, dead girl in his caddy trying to solve her murder - rough, unpleasant stuff, but also visceral and effective. It’s surprising that the author never chose to inflate the story into a full novel - a common practice at the time - because this one is just fantastic. It’s definitely the best short story I’ve read in quite some time.

Don’t be a cheapskate. Shell out the 99 cents for this damn story on your Kindle. You won’t regret it. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, November 1, 2018


The May, 1957 issue of “Adventure” magazine featured four short stories by the likes of Dick Halvorsen, Robert Zacks, Jack Daniels and James Miller. A western novel entitled “Gunmen Die Sudden” by Will Cook was included, along with artwork from the likes of Bob Schultz and Gil Cohen. Looking for a quick western read, I chose unknown author James Miller and his short story “Manhunt”.

The story introduces us to Cree warrior Iron Legs, a brave who has abnormally short legs and long, dangling arms. Iron Legs is a hunter in his tribe, and they welcome a trio of trappers just before the heavy winter hits the Canadian Rockies. The trio are led by a cruel Cree known as Fire Hair and consists of a drunk white man and a typically hated Blackfoot. Iron Legs, fearing the worst but hoping for the best, braces for a confrontation with the three.

Meanwhile, a tribesman named Soaring Eagle comes across a young Chipewyan woman and her brother stranded on a riverbank in the wilderness. The two, along with their father, had been cast out of their own tribe due to signs of smallpox. Soaring Eagle finds them kneeling at their father's grave and brutally kills and scalps the Chipewyan man. After taking the woman forcefully by horseback, he trades her to Iron Legs for two robes. Iron Legs cares for the woman and the two begin to sew the seeds of a relationship. 

While Iron Legs is off hunting, the trio led by Fire Hair leave the camp with the Chipewyan woman. When Iron Legs returns, he finds that she has been taken. Thus the bulk of the story is spent on this mono-myth telling of the Cree warrior hunting and finding his lover. Through the snowy mountains into Alberta, Iron Legs tracks the trio and fights them one by one. The final confrontation revolves around the bound woman on a frosty, windswept ridge (captured perfectly by artist Bob Schultz).

This is a short - but stocky - read that really captures the essence of the American western; hardmen, hard living, love and vengeance. There's plenty of gun and knife play to fill this 20-minute read. I'm not sure what else James Miller has written. Unfortunately, it's a rather common name with a lot of online avenues to travel in an attempt to locate his work and biography (which probably is a pseudonym to begin with). Overall, you can do a lot worse than “Manhunt”.

Thursday, July 6, 2023

Pulp Champagne - The Short Fiction of Lorenz Heller

Lorenz Heller (1910-1965) was an awesome crime-fiction author under a variety of different pseudonyms who was largely forgotten until Stark House Press began reprinting his novels under his actual name. The publisher has released a 13-story compilation of Heller’s short stories spanning from 1947 to 1955 from the pulps and digests.

The compilation has a smart introduction by pulp scholar Bill Kelly, who explains that Heller’s gimmick, if it can be called that, is deep and thorough characterizations nestled into the salacious, pulpy plots. His characters are well-drawn and three-dimensional rather than archetypes or stereotypes that exist solely to push a plot forward. I’ve made this point in my previous reviews of Heller’s novels, and I wanted to see if this literary trick could be sustained in the four stories I sampled from the collection.

“I’ll See You Dead”

This story originally appeared in Detective Tales from May 1947. The narrator is Al Crane, a newly-promoted police detective who is also a family man with a reputation for honesty. One night at a bar, Crane receives a tip that a local torch singer had recently been tossed in the river to die by goons working for a local mobster. As a cop with a sense of duty, Crane is compelled to act.

It’s a pretty good short story with a specific “solution” typical of a lot of pre-Manhunt 1940s crime stories still bound to the conventions of mystery fiction. Heller’s writing is solid as his narrator adopts the hardboiled voice we’ve seen elsewhere from Robert Leslie Bellem and Carroll John Daly.

This was a good story, but I want to see what Heller could do after 1950 when hardboiled crime-fiction got great.

“Forger’s Fate”

This one was from Dime Detective’s April 1951 issue, and it’s organized as a verbatim transcript of a statement provided to the District Attorney’s Office by a Florida man named Wesley Smith. He’s a salesman peddling a check-writing machine designed to thwart forgers. As part of his sales pitch, Smith practices a trick called “muscle forgery” to show how easy it is to copy another’s handwriting perfectly.

After showing off his talent in a bar, Smith is strong-armed into a situation where he is pressured to use his forgery skills to cover up a murder. This is a great story largely because Smith is such a foppish blowhard of a character. Don’t skip this one. It’s a really fun read and a surprisingly violent action story.

“Don’t Ever Forget!”

March 1953’s Detective Story Magazine brings us this gem. Our narrator is recently-retired Police Chief McMahon, who is grabbing a meal and some coffee with his replacement in their dumpy Florida backwater town. A reporter approaches McMahon wanting to do a story on the former chief, who declines the offer.

Later, McMahon learns that the reporter asking around about him isn’t a reporter at all. What’s his agenda? McMahon’s badge-less investigation is solid and the ending is satisfying in this neatly-packaged short story.

“Living Bait”

This one originally appeared in the May 1955 issue of Justice! (a decent Manhunt knockoff). It takes place on a Florida chartered fishing boat with a couple catching tarpons, a local fish. The guy is a wealthy blowhard and his girl is a real dish. The boat captain is telling the story, and his first mate is a colorful, lively character.

A fight erupts and one of the characters falls overboard - presumably dead in the choppy sea. Was it murder or is something else going on? This story was a complete delight and showcased Heller’s superior characterizations.

Paperback Warrior Assessment:

As expected, Pulp Champagne is a terrific collection by an author worth remembering. I will say that if you are looking for very hardboiled crime short stories, any of the Manhunt anthologies from Stark House are superior volumes. Fortunately, we live in a world where you can own them all, so you probably should. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Lt. Clancy #02 - Mute Witness

Mute Witness by Robert L. Fish (writing as Robert L. Pike) was adapted into the movie Bullitt starring Steve McQueen with significant deviations from the book’s original vision. The paperback’s sequel, The Quarry, is an exciting manhunt mystery from 1964 that remains in print today from Mysterious Press.

As the novel opens, NYPD’s 52nd Precinct Detective Lieutenant Clancy (no first name is ever provided) is informed that a recent four-man prison break from Sing-Sing includes Lenny Cervera, a hit-and-run car thief killer who vowed revenge when Lt. Clancy put him away three years ago. It’s Clancy’s job to catch Cervera before the escapee kills Clancy, the prosecutor and the sentencing judge, all things he vowed to do in court following his conviction.

Clancy commandeers a small army of police officers to help to find the fugitive and protect the presumptive vendetta targets. Coincidentally, the threatened prosecutor and the judge are both running against one another in a municipal judicial election, and neither are excited about being assigned 24/7 police protection. Clancy also dispatches surveillance teams to watch the houses of Cevera’s girlfriend and mother on the assumption that the escapee will be seeking help while out on the streets.

As the manhunt intensifies, a mystery develops: Why would a small-time punk like Cervera, serving a five-to-ten year sentence, risk a violent prison escape three years into his stretch? After all, he’d have a shot before the parole board soon enough, right? The mystery intensifies as the shots fly and the bodies pile up.

The Quarry is an excellent police procedural along the same lines as Ed McBain’s popular 87th Precinct series. Fish is a terrific writer who knows how to keep the pace moving with a sense of real urgency. He keeps the readers in the third-person head of Lt. Clancy, a fine protagonist, for the paperback’s duration. Although, the novel is a sequel to Mute Witness (or Bullitt, if you will), the two books stand alone nicely and can be read in any order with no supplemental materials needed.

Overall, it’s easy to like The Quarry, but readers should understand that this is a mystery novel (as advertised), not a violent adventure book. If you enjoy a good police procedural fugitive story with some clever twists, this one’s for you. Recommended. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Black Pudding

“Black Pudding” by David Goodis (1917-1967) began its literary life as a novella in the December 1953 issue of “Manhunt Magazine.” The story was also included in Bill Pronzini’s essential 1995 anthology, “Hard-Boiled” and was a bonus story tacked onto the 2006 paperback reissue of Goodis’ “Black Friday.” 

The mandatory sad-sack loser in this Goodis work is Ken Rockland, a Philiadelphia street person with 31 cents to his name dreaming of a day he can scrape together 80 cents for some egg-foo-young. Through an expository flashback, we learn that Ken wasn’t always a skid row bum. He was once part of a successful armed-robbery crew in California before a double-cross landed him in San Quentin for the past nine years. Now that he’s out, two of his old crew-mates have located him and want him dead as a preemptive strike against anticipated retaliation from Ken.

Ken ducks the first attempt on his life and takes to ground on the mean streets of Philly in this fast-moving manhunt story. He finds sanctuary with a physically and emotionally scarred woman named Tillie who offers tactical and logistical help to friendless Ken. Once it’s established where his former partners are hiding, Ken needs to decide whether to keep his distance or control his own fate with some bloody vengeance.

You can imagine which option makes for more compelling action, and “Black Pudding” (a metaphor for revenge) does not disappoint. The writing is terse and to the point, and Goodis makes his loser heroes jump off the page with real humanity peppered with their bad decisions. At about 30 pages, you won’t be disappointed by this essential entry into a noir master’s body of work. Highly recommended.

Buy a copy of this short-story HERE

Monday, July 29, 2019

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 04

The newest episode of the Paperback Warrior Podcast is out now! In Episode 4, we discuss the brand new Stark House “Manhunt” magazine compilation. Also, we check out the “Man from U.N.C.L.E” influence on spy fiction and offer two new reviews. We close out the month of July with our top three book picks of the month. Don't miss it! Follow the show on any streaming service as well as below:

Listen to "Episode 04: It’s a Manhunt!" on Spreaker.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Sick Heart River (aka Mountain Meadow)

Scottish author John Buchan (1875-1940) was a Unionist politician, a Member of Parliament for Scottish Universities and a Governor General of Canada. While his career flourished in diplomacy, Buchan used this time to simultaneously focus on his literary work. His critically acclaimed novel, “The Thirty-Nine Steps”, was published in 1915 and adapted for cinema in 1935 by Alfred Hitchcock. My first introduction to Buchan is his last published work, “Sick Heart River”, which was titled “Mountain Meadow” in the US. It was released in 1941 posthumously and bears a striking resemblance to Buchan's personal life.

Like Buchan, the book's protagonist is Scottish-born attorney Edward Leithen, a member of parliament and a seasoned diplomat. Leithen is diagnosed with Tuberculosis, a devastating disease that decimated Europe and the Americas during the 1800s. Refusing to enter a sanatorium for treatment (which typically resulted in a 50% morality rate), Leithen has premonitions of dying in the wilderness, specifically a meadow in upper Quebec that he fondly remembers from his travels. Coincidentally, a longtime friend asks Leithen to assist in locating a man named Galliard who has abruptly abandoned his prosperous business career for a remote section of Canada.

After learning more about the man's past and the wife he's left behind, Leithen decides that he wants to accomplish one final job while allowing the forces of nature to bring his demise. Partnering with Hare Indians (natives of Canada) and a tracker named Lew, the group embarks on a journey through upper Canada and into the outer regions of the Arctic Circle. On the quest, the group discovers that Galliard has joined Lew's brother in a stretch of wasteland called Sick Heart River.

Leithen's background in Canada, notably the Quebec region, pairs well with the Buchan's own experiences. Saddling Leithen with a chronic condition and placing him in the author's footsteps appears to foreshadow Buchan's own unfortunate death in 1940. But unlike Leithen, Buchan's death was the result of an accident. How did he write this mortality tale with so much authenticity? I don't know. But what I can tell you is that this novel was probably intended for a much different reader than myself.

“Sick Heart River” is a book weighted with deep philosophy and a euphoric sense of nature and its surroundings. I would imagine that at the time of release, readers probably knew what to expect from this talented author. My confusion lies in the bizarre marketing scheme created by Pyramid Books in 1968. Utilizing the original US title of “Mountain Meadow”, the publisher featured the painted cover (pictured) that showcases the novel as an adventure story with the intriguing invitation of “A bizarre manhunt becomes a trek into terror.” It's a clear attempt to capture men's action-adventure enthusiasts under a false pretense. The back cover synopsis adds fuel to the fire: “...pitted the strength of his body against the hellish frozen world and the even more hellish violence of man.” Pyramid was attempting to create everything from nothing.

If you are in search of a great wilderness adventure tale involving a manhunt, track down “Duel in the Snow” by Hans-Otto Meissner. It's far superior to this watered down story. “Mountain Meadow” is nothing more than a dying man's journey into the wilderness and his reflections on life, nature and morality. It is written well, but unfortunately it’s also a plodding and dull work that left me counting down the pages.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Friday, January 25, 2019

Pete Selby and The Sixth Precinct: A Paperback Warrior Primer

Pete Selby & The Sixth Precinct: A Paperback Warrior Primer

This year, we are launching a new feature we are calling “Paperback Warrior Primers” with a goal of giving you a mile-high overview of interesting series titles. Our hope is that you can use these Primers as a guide to decide if a series appeals to you while giving you enough knowledge to jump into the series mid-stream if you choose. We launch this feature with a primer on a noteworthy series from crime fiction author Jonathan Craig.

Under the pseudonym of Jonathan Craig, Frank E. Smith wrote ten related hardboiled police procedural novels in the 1950s and 1960s that were originally marketed as “The Detective Pete Selby” series. As Selby’s partner began to play a larger role in the novels, they were rebranded as the “Pete Selby - Stan Rayder Detective Series.”

The stories are hardboiled police procedural mysteries that, more often than not, begin with the discovery of a murdered (but always totally hot) naked lady (Recall that nudity was a novelty in the 1950s). NYPD Detective Selby is our narrator guiding us through the twists and turns leading to the successful capture of the perps in a readable first-person style.

The original publisher of this commercially-successful series was the great Fawcett Gold Medal imprint, and the paperbacks were packaged with beautiful painted covers consistent with the era. The author was a prolific contributor to the short story digest market and much of his work appeared in “Manhunt” and “Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine,” but I think it’s fair to say that the ten Pete Selby books really put Jonathan Craig on the map.

He also wrote a series of seven novellas and short stories published in “Manhunt” between February 1955 and January 1956 tagged as the “Police File” series. My theory is that the “Police File” stories served as a literary precursor to the Pete Selby police procedurals. They are considerably harder to find but also worth checking out.

In the 1970s, Belmont Tower reprinted the Pete Selby mysteries with covers attempting to appeal to a Men’s Action-Adventure audience. The low-end publisher rebranded the series as “The Sixth Precinct Thrillers.” This was likely an effort to capitalize on the popularity of Ed McBain’s “87th Precinct” series despite the fact that the Pete Selby books actually debuted first. In true Belmont Tower fashion, they screwed up the series order and numbered the books all wrong. The good news is that the series order doesn’t really matter, and the books seem to stand alone quite well.

Unfortunately, if you want to read the Pete Selby Sixth Precinct series, you’ll need to do some hunting for the rare Fawcett Gold Medal paperbacks or the slightly cheaper Belmont Tower reprints. As of this writing, the novels have not been digitized as commercially-available eBooks.

For the record, here is the actual series order:

  The Dead Darling (1955)

  Morgue for Venus (1956)

  Case of the Cold Coquette (1957)

  Case of the Beautiful Body (1957)

  Case of the Petticoat Murder (1958)

  Case of the Nervous Nude (1959)

  Case of the Village Tramp (1959)

  Case of the Laughing Virgin (1960)

  Case of the Silent Stranger (1964)

  Case of the Brazen Beauty (1966)

Stay tuned to Paperback Warrior in the upcoming months for reviews of selected installments from the Pete Selby Sixth Precinct series.

We discuss the author and series on the third episode of the Paperback Warrior Podcast.

You can buy a used copy of the third novel HERE