Friday, March 8, 2013

Forgotten Books: NO QUARTER by Nels (Leroy) Jorgensen


A couple of weeks back, Mr. Richard Robinson (of Broken Bullhorn fame) and I toured a few Portland area bookstores. He came away with two fistfuls of Perry Mason paperbacks, and I scored this hardcover - No Quarter.

The title caught my eye, as did the Lone Star flag on the spine, because I knew it would be Alamo-related. What I didn’t expect was for it be by Nels Leroy Jorgensen, one of Joe Shaw’s Black Mask boys, and a friend of Dashiell Hammett.

Reading The Thin Man (again) recently, I came across this passage (and no, sorry, it’s not the famous one about Nick’s erection). Nick’s sort-of client, Dorothy Wynant says, “I don’t suppose you know Jorgensen.” “I know a Nels Jorgensen,” says Nick. To which Dorothy replies, “Some people have all the luck.” This is the only time I’ve spotted Hammett paying tribute to one of writer friends.

Jorgensen, I’m sad to say is the Forgotten Man of Black Mask. Despite making 40 appearances in the magazine, 32 of them featuring a cool gambler hero called Black Burton, he’s been consistently ignored by editors of hardboiled anthologies. Why? Beats me. Stylistically, I’d rate him just behind Frederick Nebel, on a par with Raoul Whitfield, and certainly ahead of George Harmon Coxe.

Black Burton made his first appearance in 1925, before Shaw took the helm, and his last in 1938, after Shaw was gone. What Burton did for the next ten years I don’t know, but I know he was still gambling in 1948, when he made at least two appearances in Black Book Detective.

Like many of his peers, Jorgensen wrote just about any kind of story he could sell. Some of the non-Burton stories in Black Mask were westerns, and he continued writing for western pulps into the late ‘40s, particularly for the Thrilling Publications line. But along with the mystery and western mags, he also wrote for (among others) Boy’s Life, Danger Trail, Top-Notch, Argosy, Pirate Stories, Munsey’s, Smart Set, NorthWest Stories, Battle Birds, Love Story and American Magazine.

His career as a novelist is rather spotty. The earliest I’ve found reference to is Three Bad Men (1917) a novelization of the John Ford film, based on a novel by another guy. A (probable) juvenile called The Balloon Boys appeared in 1926, as did a collaboration with Linton Wells called Jumping Meridians. Breed of Gun Smoke, another western, was published by Chelsea House in 1930 and reprinted elsewhere. Then El Coronel, A Romance of Mexico in 1935, and The Laughing Caballero in 1936. After that, I’ve found nothing until 1954, the year of No Quarter, and a juvenile baseball book called Dave Palmer’s Diamond Mystery. Another juvenile, Smoke Jumpers, appeared around this time or shortly after. And that’s it. No mysteries. If anyone knows of other novels, I’d sure like to hear about them.

As for No Quarter, it follows the pattern of many other novels set during the Texas Revolution, in which the hero struggles and fails to bring aid to the heroes of the Alamo. In this one, Nicholas Wayne is recruited by Jim Bowie to procure and deliver arms and medical supplies to Bexar (San Antonio), where Bowie expects trouble from the Army of Mexico. Wayne spends the rest of the book roaming between New Orleans, Galveston and the wilds of Texas, struggling mightily to complete his mission. (SPOILER ARERT!) Contrary to the cover illo, Wayne does not arrive at the Alamo after the battle and see dead bodies lying around. He learns that the battle is over and sees that the supplies get to San Jacinto instead, where they'll help Sam Houston win the battle and war. (END OF ALERT)

Jorgensen’s style here is lean and tough, though maybe a shade less lean and tough than the Black Burton stuff I’ve read in Black Mask. I’m thinking what the world needs now is a book called The Complete Adventures of Black Burton. Hear that, you reprinters?

Want a sample of Jorgensen's mystery writing? There's a Detective Fiction Weekly story you can read online right HERE

More Forgotten Books at pattinase!.


6 comments:

Keith said...

Could Jorgensen have been writing under a different name in the 1940s? I suspect he would have been a little old for war work, unless he landed a desk job somewhere.

RkR said...

Excellent review, Evan. I too old like to see a reprint of complete Black Burton stories.

Ron Scheer said...

Thanks. I just checked a Black Mask collection from the 1930s I'm reading, and I was disappointed to find that he's not there either.

Evan Lewis said...

If I looked hard enough, Keith, I suspect I could find plenty of pulp appearances during the war. On the other hand, since he was probably around the same age as Hammett, it's possible he enlisted and was given a non-combat job, like Hammett had in Alaska. I've never seen any biographical info or bibliography of his work.

RkR said...

Um, I meant to say "I too would like to see..." It's interesting there's nothing biographical about him. Could that be one reason he's not reprinted? No way to know what his actual output is?

Evan Lewis said...

I have indexes for Black Mask, Dime Detective and Argosy, but for most mags there's no such thing. And the only reprint I've seen is in Black Mask (in 1950 they reprinted a "classic" from 1932).