Friday, April 27, 2018

Forgotten Books: AT THE STROKE OF MIDNIGHT by John K. Butler (1998)

I've told this story before. My hardboiled mania began back in 1976 with the release of Jim Steranko's graphic novel Chandler. After burning through Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, I cast a wider net and found Ron Goulart's anthology The Hardboiled Dicks. And that's when I discovered John K. Butler, along with a bunch of other guys I've been blabbing about for years: Frederick Nebel, Richard Sale and Norbert Davis to name but a few. And I started hunting pulps with stories by them all. 

That Butler tale in The Hardboiled Dicks was "The Saint in Silver," starring his chief series character, Steve Midnight, making the rest of that series a high priority. But try as I might, I managed to score only two more Midnight adventures, along with a dozen or so other stories. (A few years back, I posted one of those non-series stories HERE.)

So I was mighty pleased when this complete collection came out in 1998 from Adventure House. All nine stories, originally published between 1940 and 1942 in Dime Detective. And all were scanned from the pulps, complete with illos and ads, the way they were meant to be read. 

Unlike most of the other Hardboiled Dicks guys, Butler never got around to writing a novel. He cut his pulp career short in 1943, when he succumbed to the call of Hollywood, where he turned out film treatments and screenplays for the next fifteen years. I've been watching 77 Sunset Strip on MeTV (you should be, too) and recently saw an episode called "The Inverness Cape," where Butler was credited as a co-writer. I'll be on the lookout for more. 

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Comic Book Story: "The Spawn of Venus" by WALLY WOOD

The story "The Spawn of Venus," as drawn by Al Feldstein, appeared in Weird Science #6. Legend has it that this version, redrawn by Wally Wood, was intended for a 3-D comic that was never published. E.C. released only two 3-D issues, E.C. Classics and The Crypt of Terror in 1954, before the fad faded.

Friday, April 20, 2018

STEPHEN MERTZ returns to detective fiction with SAY IT WAS MURDER

Steve Mertz’s first book, way back in 1979, was a detective novel called Some Die Hard (reviewed HERE). Since then, over the course of his wild and woolly career, he’s pumped out more than, sixty more books, ranging from men’s adventure to military action, political thrillers, paranormal mystery, historical fiction, adult westerns, and even a vampire novel.

Surprisingly, what he has not written, as far as I know, is another detective novel. Until now.

Say it Was Murder is a return to Steve’s roots, and based on the tag-line “A McShan Thriller,” appears to be the first in a series. And that’s a good thing.

Good as Some Die Hard was (and still is – it was reissued by Rough Edges Press in 2014 and is available HERE), Steve has come a long way since then, and Say it Was Murder puts all his skills on display. This novel is not only more hardboiled than the earlier book, it’s more thoughtful, it’s funnier, and the characters are more fully developed. More than anything, it reminds me of Ross Macdonalds’ early (and best) Lew Archer novels.

McShan, an “old school” detective in a smart phone age, is an unruly operative of Honeycutt Personal Services. He’s assigned to what his boss, the hawk-faced and hardboiled Agatha Honeycutt, calls “a misbehaving daughter job.” Much of the deftly handed humor is in the repartee between McShan and Agatha. He is unfailingly insubordinate, but gets away with it because he’s her best detective—and because she just plain likes him.

McShan himself is a shaggy-haired incarnation of Mr. Mertz himself, wearing boots, jeans, and a black t-shirt. And he’s operating on the author’s home turf of Southern Arizona. The richly described territory is almost a character in itself. We visit the old cowboy town of Bisbee, with it’s historic Copper Queen Hotel, and his client is staying at The Tipi Lodge, where the rooms actually look like tipis. We also get the lowdown on rural bar crowds, the mystery of the Anasazi, the role of Walmart in rural society, and an appreciation of the temporary nature of civilization on the desert borderlands.

The cast includes characters who at first appear to be stereotypes of mystery fiction—the leader of a religious cult, the abused wife of a brutal jerk, the cop who works no harder than he has to, the mother who wants her girl back, and the misbehaving daughter herself, who doesn’t seem to give a damn. But as the story plays out, they are all revealed as more than they seem, and grow into real people.

For fans of Steve’s “action specialist” past, there’s a good taste of that, too, as McShan goes up against a behemoth biker babe who does her best to stomp him into oblivion.

Put it all together and you get a great read, and the hope of more McShan mysteries to come. Get yours HERE