Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Art of Raymond Chandler: Tom Adams 1

Over the next few days (with time out tomorrow for Flash Fiction and Friday for a Forgotten Book), I'll be posting the complete set of ten Tom Adams covers that graced Chandler paperbacks in the early 70s. I will now shut up and let you enjoy them.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Alamo Bookshelf 7: Jim Bowie, Alamo Soldier & Gregorio Esparza

I find most Alamo related books irresistible, but usually pass on the juveniles, because in most cases they offer no new information or insight. But there are exceptions, and here are three notables . . .

In an earlier post, I mentioned that the best Bowie bio to date is technically a juvenile. Well, this is it. But aside from the way it’s packaged and marketed, there’s nothing juvenile about it. J.R. Edmondson is one of the foremost authorities on Big Jim, and the author of two other books I’ve much enjoyed (one of those is a study of the Sandbar Fight, the incident that made Bowie famous). He’s also the closest thing we have to a modern-day Bowie, having portrayed him in many venues over the years, including several TV documentaries. Anyone seriously interested in the real-life Bowie needs this book in his library.

What makes this one special is the subject. Napoleon Bonaparte Mitchell was one of the many unsung defenders of the Alamo, one of those guys who sacrificed every bit as much as Crockett, Travis and Bowie, but is now little more than a name on the list of dead. Though it looks like a biography, this book is actually a full-length historical novel recounting Mitchell’s journey to the Alamo and his experiences during the siege. Templeton says he became interested in Mitchell’s story while doing research for a book on another young defender. How much of the story told here is supported by that research and how much is pure imagination is unclear. Templeton presents Mitchell as a young man of 17, while Bill Groneman’s book Alamo Defenders lists his age as 32. I have to believe Groneman.

GREGORIO ESPARZA, ALAMO DEFENDER by William R. Chemerka (2009)
Alamo Journal Editor Bill Chemerka is the author of several fine Alamo related books and knows the subject matter as well as anyone alive. Gregorio Esparza is of special interest because he was one of several Tejano defenders who chose to fight for his freedom alongside his more recently emigrated neighbors. Esparza’s story is better documented than most, because he had his family with him inside the Alamo’s walls, and they survived the battle. His son Enrique, eight years old at the time, was interviewed late in life, providing rare first-hand testimony regarding his father and the other defenders during the siege. Chemerka weaves the facts into a compelling story, giving us new insight into the conflicts faced by Esparza and other Tejanos in the weeks leading up to the battle, and the sacrifice they made for what they believed in.

Friday, February 26, 2010

FORGOTTEN BOOKS: Dead and Done For by Robert Reeves

Not only is Dead and Done For a forgotten book, Robert Reeves is a forgotten author - and one who very much deserves to be back in print.

Reeves compares very favorably to several other hardboiled writers who have been reprinted over the past twenty-odd years. Among them are Paul Cain, Norbert Davis and Jonathan Latimer. Heck, even Robert Leslie Bellem's crappiest work (and there was lots of it) is now available, and Reeves was way better than Bellem.

Anthony Boucher considered Reeves a forgotten, or at least neglected, writer as far back as 1953, and as far as I know, absolutely nothing has been reprinted since then. Boucher called him "one of the best" of the writers developed by Black Mask, but also "one of the least known of the major tough writers". "But," Boucher goes on, "he can hold his own with the best, giving you as sharp and action-packed a story-line as any of them, brightened by vivid dialog and enlivened by the presence of Cellini Smith, who is unique among hard-boiled private eyes in being admittedly an intellectual - and tough enough to get away with it."

While Reeves was clearly influenced by the Black Mask school, he was not actually developed by the magazine. Most others learned their trade writing short stories and progressed to serials that eventually appeared as novels, but Reeves seems to have skipped those steps and went straight to hardcover. As far as anyone knows, Dead and Done For (1939) was his first published work. Only afterward did he begin selling stories to the pulps, and produced fewer than a dozen. The bio here is from the dust jacket of No Love Lost (1941).

Dead and Done For finds Cellini keeping the books for Tony Moro, a big man in the slot machine racket in New York. The two grew up in the same neighborhood, and Tony paid for Cellini's education. Now Cellini just wants to be an anthropologist, but he's still indebted to Tony, and (despite his protests) seems to enjoy the tough life.

When Tony is suspected of murder, Cellini plays detective to clear him. In the process, he finds he's pretty good at it. In the second book, No Love Lost, Cellini is operating a detective agency in Los Angeles.

Reeves' style can be as tough as Paul Cain's, but laced with humor worthy of Jonathan Latimer and Lester Dent. As the series progresses to the third book, he almost strays into Norbert Davis territory. I like this guy a lot.

Here's the bad news: Dead and Done For has only been reissued once - a Grosset & Dunlap edition in 1941. Your best bet may be to get one from InterLibrary Loan or plead with your friendly neighborhood hardboiled reprinter to add it to their list.

Find more of this week's Forgotten Books at Patti Abbott's pattinase.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

FORGOTTEN MUSIC: Grab Your Woman, It's "Louie, Louie" Time!


You've heard the Kingsmen's version, probably many more times than you'd like. The all-thumbs guitar solo, the offbeat drumming, and most of all, the whiny, incomprehensible lyrics. Yeah, it's pretty bad, but somehow conveyed a primitive power that captivated a nation. Believe it or not, the recording was a hit even before word got out that the lyrics were dirty.

Anyway, the Kingsmen's version has so dominated the scene that other early (and some would say better) recordings of the song are neglected or forgotten. Though the song has now been recorded about 1,600 times (see, you'll rarely catch any of them on the radio (except, of course, the one by you-know-who).

Richard Berry, the doo-wop singer who wrote this classic ditty, released the first recording in 1957 with sort of a calypso beat. It was not a big hit. I prefer the Kingsmen's version to this, but present it as an historical arty-fact.

Though the song was forgotten elsewhere, bands in the Northwest discovered it made a great rock tune. Which group actually recorded it first is unclear, but this 1961 version by Rockin' Robin Roberts and The Wailers (of Tacoma, WA) was the one that got the air play and inspired the Kingsmen and the Raiders.

Legend has it this version was recorded in the same Portland, Oregon studio used by the Kingsmen, and during the very same week in 1963. Though the Raiders' version was a bigger hit in the Northwest, the Kingsmen caught a lucky break. Their record was picked up for national distribution, while the Raiders' rendition was squelched by Columbia Records mogul Mitch Miller, who hated rock 'n' roll.

This now-legendary Tacoma band was nurtured by The Wailers, and produced some of the most powerful rock of the sixties. In 1965, when most bands were trying to sound like The Beatles, The Sonics were doing this . . .

Yes, Louie had a softer side, too, and you've probably heard the one by The Sandpipers (of "Guantanamera" fame). But largely forgotten is this sultry rendition by Julie London. If you're sleepy at the end, play The Sonics' version again.

For links to more tunes on this first Forgotten Music Thursday, check out Scott Parker's blog!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Two Windows with Two Sleeping Nudes (plus Bellem autograph!)

A few Forgotten Book Fridays ago, James Reasoner reviewed The Window with the Sleeping Nude by Robert Leslie Bellem, posting a scan of the Handi-Book below. That's the first edition, and the same cover art is used on the reprint editions now available. (You can read his sage remarks HERE).

Well, just the other day I came across my copy of the Harlequin edition (above), published a year later, in 1951. Interesting similarities, don't you think? But you'll note the Harlequin folks are looking through the window from outside, and are shocked by the sleeper's nude bum. The Handi-Book people are inside the department store, and seem more concerned than surprised. Maybe they're dismayed to find her sleeping on the job.


The back cover hype reads the same on both books . . .

P.S. In response to this post, Mr. Art Scott sent the pic below, displaying the flyleaf of the near-mint Handi-Book he found at a thrift store for ten cents. That's what clean living does for you. Thanks Art! Funny, I never thought of RLB as "Bob".

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

DAVID CROCKETT IN CONGRESS: The Most Important Crockett Book in Fifty Years

When this book was published, I invited co-author Allen Wiener to say a few words about it here on the Almanack (that's HERE). He made it sound like a fine book, and I was anxious to read it. So I ordered a copy.

When it arrived, I was shocked at the size. I’m not sure how I pictured it, but I wasn’t expecting a deluxe hardcover the size of a big city phonebook!

Then I read it, and had still another revelation. You see, folks, this ain’t no ordinary history book. It’s a landmark in Crockett literature. Bottom line? This is the most important Crockett book to appear in over fifty years. I know, because aside from a handful of juvenile biographies and storybooks, I’ve read them all.

Why is it so important? First, it provides a wealth of new scholarship regarding an vital and long overlooked period of Crockett’s life. And second, it introduces us to the real David Crockett in a way never before possible - in his own words.

Wait! you say. Didn’t Crockett write an autobiography? Yes he did, sort of. And it’s a fine read. But he had help. It’s not pure Crockett, and it’s not always as factual as historians would like.

That autobiography was published in 1834, and for the next 122 years, biographers just rehashed the same information. James Atkins Shackford changed all that in 1956, with David Crockett: The Man and the Legend, opening up acres of new territory in Crockett’s life. Most important of these was Crockett’s political career. But while Shackford’s work on that period was groundbreaking, it left me wanting more. I kept expecting someone to dig into the original sources Shackford only alluded to and give us the whole story.

That’s what James Boylston and Allen Wiener have done, and the result is far more than I’d hoped for. The back half of the book delivers all the poop from those original sources - letters, circulars, newspaper articles, and the congressional record. Much of this stuff is in Crockett’s own unvarnished words (complete with lack of punctuation), taking us closer to the real man than we’ve ever been.

The first half of the book puts that information in context, taking us step-by-step through Crockett’s career in Congress. Boylston and Wiener introduce us to all the major players, both friend and foe, and give us a firm grounding in the issues of the day, allowing us to understand what Crockett was up against, and appreciate what his actions revealed about his character.

This is not the Davy we saw on the Disney show. This is the real guy, and we get to know him warts and all. The Crockett that emerges is a different kind of hero, the one hinted at in the book’s subtitle. Whatever troubles came his way (and they were many), Crockett never lost sight of his ideals, and truly was “the Poor Man’s Friend”.

Want more info before you buy? Visit the book’s official website HERE, or watch James and Allen’s 40-minute presentation at the Texas Book Festival, as broadcast by C-SPAN2, HERE.

Monday, February 22, 2010

THE SHERLOCK SHELF 2: Exit Sherlock Holmes, Holmes of the Movies, The Adventure of the Ectoplasmic Man

EXIT SHERLOCK HOLMES by Robert Lee Hall (1977)
This one sports rave blurbs from Allen J. Hubin, P.D. James and Atlantic Monthly, so it’s probably not bad. I really can’t remember. According to the back cover, when Holmes disappears to deal for the final time with Moriarty, Dr. Watson travels “deep into Holmes’ mysterious past, until he must face that shocking discovery that his old friend has lied to him for years about who he really is and where he comes from.” Dang! That sounds pretty good. I see that Mr. Hall has since written a series of Benjamin Franklin mysteries, the latest published in 2001.

HOLMES OF THE MOVIES by David Stuart Davies (1966)
A nice overview of Sherlock flicks from the silent era to Gene Wilder's appearance as the smarter brother. Along the way there are chapters on Wm Gillette’s play, the first talkies, Arthur Wontner, Basil Rathbone, the Rathbone-Bruce series, Peter Cushing, and Holmes in the sixties, peppered with a good number of black and white photos. If the book has a flaw, it’s in giving Cushing slightly more than his due, dubbing him "The “Authentic Holmes”. But since Mr. Cushing was kind enough to write the Introduction, I suppose such flattery should be overlooked.

Instead of being discovered in one of Dr. Watson’s many hidden dispatch boxes, this manuscript surfaced in the papers of Mrs. Henry Houdini. Though the good doctor had no intention of publishing the story he and Holmes shared with her husband, he was kind enough to pen a novel length manuscript and mail it to her. What a guy. Holmes and Houdini joined forces, we are told, to foil crooks out to blackmail the Prince of Wales. In the course of the adventure, Houdini reduces his body to ectoplasm, and Holmes deduces how he does it. Hey, I’d like to know that, too.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Yancy Derringer: Hell and High Water

Concluding our 3-day tribute to Richard Sale, here's a complete episode of Yancy Derringer from 1959, courtesy of YouTuber matthias1949. Sale not only created and produced the show (with his wife Mary Loos), he directed this episode and wrote the script. This one takes place as a flood threatens New Orleans (why does that sound familiar?). Jock Mahoney stars as Yancy, butting heads with guest star Charles Bronson.  

Saturday, February 20, 2010

A complete DAFFY DILL story by Richard Sale!

I'm not sure when the Daffy Dill series began or when it ended. The two dozen stories I have range from 1935 to 1943, with almost half of them appearing in 1939. "A Dirge for Pagliaccio" is one of those 1939 stories. Daffy was one of DFW's biggest draws, and usually got the cover illo. I'm guessing this tale didn't because at ten pages it's one of the few short stories. Most Daffy Dill yarns were novelettes running 20 to 30 pages.

As far as I know, only three Daffy stories have been reprinted. If you haven't seen them already, I direct you to “A Nose for News” in The Hardboiled Dicks, “Double Trouble” in Hardboiled Dames and “Three Wise Men of Babylon in The Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps.

So here, for the first time in 70 years, is "A Dirge for Pagliaccio". I invite you to click on each page to SUPERSIZE it for easy reading. But be warned! Like Dan Turner - Hollywood Detective, Daffy can be habit forming.











For more on Daffy, see my earlier post on the story Dancing Rats.
And for more on Sale, see yesterday's review of his first novel, Not Too Narrow... Not Too Deep.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Forgotten Books: Not Too Narrow... Not Too Deep by Richard Sale


Don’t be fooled by the heaving breasts. This book is not about sex. Nor is it about “Love, Violence and Hate on the High Seas”. There’s a good helping of hate, I’ll admit, but there’s no love and precious little violence. And while it may be about “Fugitives from Horror”, you’d never know it, because that horror is never portrayed, described or discussed.

What this book is about, ultimately, is Faith.

I’m a huge fan of Richard Sale. I’ve read all his novels that have been published in book form (11), and one or two that have not. I’ve read a whole bunch of pulp stories that have never been reprinted. And I’ve enjoyed every word. This book is no exception. In fact, the first half is some of the most compelling fiction I’ve ever read.

Not Too Narrow, Not Too Deep was Sale’s first novel, published in 1936, and is an amazing work for a guy only 25 years old. It starts on a French penal colony, where ten prisoners (rapists, murderers, psychos, etc) band together to buy a small boat and escape. The weird thing is, they’re joined by an eleventh man, a mysterious figure named Jean Cambreau. No one has ever seen Cambreau on the island, but he knows things about each of the ten men - in some cases things they do not yet know about themselves. He knows who will survive the journey and who won’t, and what will happen to them afterwards. Over the course of the book, all ten men are changed by the experience. Some just a little, some beyond their wildest dreams.

In the first half, which forms Book 1, Cambreau is a magical figure. Some characters are drawn to him, wondering if he might be an angel. Others are terrified, certain he’s a devil. As long as that mystery held, I found this novel almost impossible to put down. Book 2 was less compelling. Instead of deepening the mystery, Sale started telling me more than I wanted to know. Guess that proves he was human after all.

Still, for Book 1 alone, I’d say this is well worth reading. You might call it literary fiction for people who don't like literary fiction.

Not Too Narrow, Not Too Deep was the basis of the 1940 film Strange Cargo. I haven’t seen the flick, but descriptions I’ve read bear little resemblance to the book. The character played by Clark Gable, presumably the hero, is a jerk who’s washed overboard before the end of Book 1. And the book has absolutely no role for Joan Crawford. There’s only one woman in the story, and only for about three pages. She ain’t good looking and (as noted) her breasts don’t heave.

Richard Sale wrote hundreds of stories for the pulps, but is most fondly remembered for Daffy Dill, a smart-mouthed reporter who was one of the most popular characters in Detective Fiction Weekly. I don’t know how many Daffy stories appeared, but I have over two dozen, and there are a lot I don’t have. The shocking thing is, only three seem to have been reprinted. “A Nose for News” is in The Hardboiled Dicks, “Double Trouble” in Hardboiled Dames and “Three Wise Men of Babylon in The Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps.

That’s a shame, because Daffy tells a story like no one else. He’s witty, wacky and literate. What more can I say? You just have to experience him for yourself. Well, you’ll get your chance tomorrow - right here - as the Almanack presents, for the first time in 70 years, “A Dirge for Pagliaccio” by Richard Sale.

Find links to more of today's Forgotten Books on Patti Abbott's pattinase.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

A Tribute to Norman Saunders

Richard Robinson posted info yesterday on The Broken Bullhorn about a very cool book devoted to the art of Norman Saunders. He even provided a link to the book's official site, where you can see thumbnails of all 368 pages.

Well! This naturally put me in a Norman Saunders frame of mind, so I pulled out a few pulps and slapped them on the scanner. Here's the result:






Wednesday, February 17, 2010

LEGEND 3: Lonigan Must Die! by Ben Bridges

I’m working my way ever-so-slowly through A Fistful of Legends (savoring it, you might say) and just read “Lonigan Must Die!”

It begins like this . . .

Given that he’d once been the most dangerous man in the territory, Jesse Rayne proved to be a model prisoner. He kept to himself, said yes sir and no sir and never, ever made trouble - which was odd, because Rayne had spent practically his entire life making trouble.

Jesse Rayne, you see, is a man with a plan. He’s doing whatever it takes to earn his parole, get out of prison and kill the man he blames for sending him there. And it works. Everyone is fooled and Rayne is released. First thing he does is hop a train, whisking him straight for Lonigan. He buys a gun. He finds Lonigan and beats hell out of him, all just a warm-up for the revenge he’s waited eight long years to enjoy.

What happens next? Surprising stuff! That’s all I’m saying. You’ll have to find out for yourself, but you won’t be disappointed. This tale is packed with action, wisdom and a healthy dose of heart.

Ben Bridges is the author of more than twenty Black Horse Westerns.  But that’s only the beginning of his story. “Ben Bridges” is actually David Whitehead, who’s sort of the James Reasoner of the Black Horse gang.  He’s written another six as Matt Logan. At least three as Carter West. Three more as Glenn Lockwood. A couple as Leonard Meares. And at least another ten as David Whitehead. For more on this man of many names, visit his website HERE.

A Fistful of Legends is available from Amazon and other online booksellers. Among the 20 other new tales of the Old West are the three we’ve already reviewed:

Legend 1: Dead Man Talking by Derek Rutherford
Legend 2: Billy by Lance Howard (Howard Hopkins)
Legend 19: Cash Laramie and the Masked Devil by Edward A. Grainger (David Cranmer)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Bald-Faced Lies Exposed!

On Sunday I did my part in the "Creative Writer" challenge by telling either six lies and one truth or six truths and one lie. Here's the real poop:

1. My dog ate my contact lenses three years before I stopped wearing them. LIE! Though my mother closely observed our beagle Herbie's "activities" and retrieved the contacts, I wore them only two more years.

2. I played guitar in a three-man band called The Strychnine Five. LIE! It was a two-man band. See video below.

3. I once received a fan letter from Philip Jose Farmer. TRUE. In response to my 1975 epic mimeo chapbook novella, Doc Simple, The Man of Aluminum.

4. I once (and only once) voted for a Democrat for President. LIE! I once voted Republican, and ain't saying when. Of course, I also voted for one Independent, one comedian and one duck.

5. I’ve seen Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid at least nine times. LIE! It's only eight (so far).

6. The comic book Metal Men was my idea. LIE! It was Teen Titans. Back in 1963, the editors of one of DC's try-out books, The Brave and the Bold, asked readers to suggest new series. I wrote saying I'd always wanted to see a junior Justice League. Some months later, in July 1964, Kid Flash, Aqualad and Robin appeared in a team-up. A year later they were joined by Wonder Girl and adopted the name Teen Titans. (OK, it's possible it was someone else's idea too, but I know for sure it was mine.) 

7. Neil Young once rode in my car. LIE! It was Neil Diamond. I was on the concert committee in college, and (being possessed of a very classy 1955 Buick Special) was assigned to ferry Mr. Diamond from his hotel to the show (a distance of about a mile). He was righteously stoned.

The No-Prize goes to Paul Brazill, who said they were all lies except #5, so he got 5 of 7 right. Congrats, Paul! The prize will be rushing your way via No-Mail.

The Strychnine Five was me and Mr. Drew Bentley, who used to bang our guitars around after high school in Spokane, WA (Drew is still in show biz, now playing bass for Omaha's Birks-Bentley Jazz Explosion). We never actually had any gigs, but we did have business cards, so we were a real band, right? We made our recording debut in the YouTube vid below. That's Drew singing and me thrashing the guitar. Among the many costars appearing in this video are Cap'n Bob Napier and his #2 daughter Kristine, Brian Trainer of Rock Residue, Paul Revere, The Kingsmen and The Fabulous Wailers.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Alamo Bookshelf 6: With Santa Anna in Texas, How Did Davy Die? & Defense of a Legend

WITH SANTA ANNA IN TEXAS by Jose Enrique de la Pena (1975, 1997)
In 1955, at the height of the Davy Crockett Craze, this tattered manuscript conveniently surfaced in a Mexico City flea market. The document was purported to be a diary kept by one of Santa Anna’s officers on his campaign into Texas. The manuscript made only one reference to David Crockett, on paper remarkably different from the rest, and in remarkably different handwriting. Still, when the first English translation was published in 1975, that single page ignited a battle that still rages. That Crockett passage, you see, claims that Davy, along with several other defenders, was captured and executed at the order of Santa Anna. 

HOW DID DAVY DIE? by Dan Kilgore (1978)
This slim volume, published when the debunking of American heroes was becoming all the rage, fired the flames of the controversy by rehashing the de la Pena tale and presenting as corroborative “evidence” several other questionable Mexican accounts. Some say that a few defenders surrendered to Mexican troops, and at least one contains a hearsay tale that a man named “Cwockey” may have been among them. Taken alone these other accounts were worthless, but those choosing to believe the de la Pena story elevated them to the level of gospels.  In response to this book, Kilgore, along with Carmen Perry (translator of the “diary”), received death threats.

DEFENSE OF A LEGEND by Bill Groneman (1994)
The voice of reason fought back in this, one of my all-time favorite Alamo books. Bill Groneman demonstrated that the de la Pena manuscript, far from being a “diary” was at best a researched memoir. The page concerning Crockett, if not an outright forgery, was clearly added later, the result not of de la Pena’s first hand knowledge, but gleaned from newspaper accounts surfacing after the Battle of San Jacinto (in which Texas won independence) and intended to inflame American public opinion against Mexico. Groneman points out that several first hand accounts, by witnesses who actually knew Crockett, support the notion that he died fighting.

Much has since been written on this issue, and intelligent people have argued eloquently on both sides, but nothing has been proven. Historians who acknowledge the question is in dispute have my respect, while those who flat-out claim that Davy was captured or surrendered - without addressing evidence to the contrary - get my spiritual-Texan dander up.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Bald-Faced Liar Award!

Even though my profile photo clearly proves otherwise, Mr. Paul D. Brazill has honored me with a Bald-Faced Liar Award (I'm not fooled by that "Creative Writer" sugarcoating). Thanks, Paul!
The rules, he says, are these:
1. Thank the person who gave this to you. Check.
2. Copy the logo and place it on your blog. Check.
3. Link to the person who nominated you. Check.
4. Tell up to six outrageous lies about yourself, and at least one outrageous truth - or - switch it around and tell six outrageous truths and one outrageous lie. See below.
5. Nominate seven "Creative Writers" who might have fun coming up with outrageous lies. Hm.
6. Post links to the seven blogs you nominate.  Seven, really?
7. Leave a comment on each of the blogs letting them know you nominated them. Seven? I don't have that many fingers.

Truth or Lies?
1. My dog ate my contact lenses three years before I stopped wearing them.
2. I played guitar in a three-man band called The Strychnine Five.
3. I once received a fan letter from Philip Jose Farmer.
4. I once (and only once) voted for a Democrat for President.
5. I’ve seen Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid at least nine times.
6. The comic book Metal Men was my idea.
7. Neal Young once rode in my car. 

Deserving Recipients of this Award:
Craig Clarke
Laurie Powers
David Cranmer
Richard Robinson
Patti Abbott
Richard Prosch
Cap'n Bob Napier

My Truth(s) or Lie(s) will be revealed in a day or two. Best guesser wins a No-Prize.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Chinaman's Chance: A Lost Story by Paul Cain


"Chinaman's Chance" appeared in the Sept. 1935 issue of Black Mask. As far as I know, it is one of only five Paul Cain stories that have never been reprinted. Three of the others were also in Black Mask, while the fourth, "555" (mentioned in yesterday's review of Fast One), was in the December 14, 1935 issue of Detective Fiction Weekly.

I have both "Chinaman's Chance" and "555" and would be pleased to share them with readers of the Almanack. For one reason or another I won't be posting the stories on the blog, but if you'd like copies of the scans via email, just shoot me a message at

(click to enlarge)

Friday, February 12, 2010

Forgotten Books: Fast One by Paul Cain

When I first read Fast One, sometime around 1980, it probably qualified as a forgotten book. Heck, I was even able to afford a first edition. These days it’s more of a legendary book. It's been reprinted several times, lionized, and even adapted as a graphic novel. A guy on Abe wants $2250 for a first in a crappy dust jacket, and another guy is asking $750 for a copy without. Yikes.

Fast One  is not a whodunnit. It’s a  who’s gonna get it next, and from whom. The biggest mystery may be who (if anyone) will still be alive at the end.

Fast One has been acclaimed for its razor-sharp prose and bullet-like speed. I can’t argue with that. It’s tough, fast and to the point, probably more than any book that had come before.

I was talking to a friend about this recently and he said he didn’t particularly enjoy it. The book was all plot, he said, and almost no character development. Well, I see his point. The story appeared in Black Mask in 1932 as five separate novelettes (a sample of the last segment, called "The Dark", is featured below) . Since each piece had to stand on its own, the book has five plots, each with its own rising conflict and semi-resolution. Each story builds on those before, so things get pretty complicated. Everytime you turn a page, someone new is walking in with a gun.

As for the characters --- it’s hard to imagine a more venal bunch of amoral backstabbers assembled in a single novel. Almost without exception, they are out solely for themselves, willing to betray allies and switch allegiances at the drop of a plot point.  Imagine throwing a bunch of dirty cops, dirty politicians and just naturally dirty mobsters into a barrel and clamping on a lid. Then tumble the barrel down a hill before prying off the lid to see who claws their way out. 

Our anti-hero Gerry Kells arrives in L.A. from the East, where the cops considered him the “it” guy everytiime there was a shooting. Now out West, he just wants to be left alone to gamble and enjoy himself. Trouble is, everyone wants him on their side - and if they can’t have him they want him dead. He’s too dangerous a guy to be walking around loose.

As for character development, there actually is some, but you have to look real close. Though Kells would never admit it, his actions show he develops feelings for a couple of his more steadfast allies. In the end, he places loyalty and - perhaps - love, above his own self interest. The question is, will these uncharacteristically human qualities redeem him or destroy him?  Read it and see.

Researchers have peeled back the layers of Paul Cain to find he was actually George Sims, who also wrote screenplays as Peter Ruric. One of his first screen credits (for story, not screenplay) was for Gambling Ship, a film very loosely based on Fast One. I’m told his screenplay for the Karloff film The Black Cat is especially good. I’ll be checking it out.

In addition to Fast One, Cain had a dozen stories in Black Mask and two in other detective mags. Seven of those appear in the collection Seven Slayers and a couple have been reprinted elsewhere. The first tale in that book, about a freelance hood called Black, has been adapted for radio is playing this week only on the BBC’s “This Is Pulp Fiction” program. Pop over to Gary Dobbs’ TAINTED ARCHIVE for a link to the show. It’s somewhat abridged, but true to Cain and nicely done. 

As always, you'll find links to more Forgotten Books at Patti Abbott's pattinase.

(click to enlarge)

P.S. One of the few never-reprinted Paul Cain stories is "555" from Detective Fiction Weekly of December 14, 1935. I was planning on scanning it and putting it up tomorrow - until I read it. Unfortunately, the lead character's dialogue is of the Amos 'n' Andy variety, and may be deemed offensive. So I won't be posting it. It isn't much of a story anyway - more of an extended joke - and only four pages long. Still, it is a Paul Cain tale, and there are precious few of those around. Anyone interested is invited to email me,, and I'll be happy to fire back copies of the scans.

Breaking News: It's come to my attention, via The Rap Sheet, that Vince Keenan reviewed Fast One a couple of days ago. His take on it is HERE.