Death Lit: Manchette Under Review

My review of the latest translation from French noir master Jean-Patrick Manchette — No Room at the Morgue — recently popped at PW.

Here’s the really good news — New York Review Books lined up another translator to work on the Manchette oeuvre. For years now it’s been either Donald Nicholson-Smith or James Brook, and I’m not complaining about their product — between them they made Manchette one of my all-time favorite noir writers. But with Alyson Waters added to the mix, it is possible they might translate the rest of Manchette’s novels in my lifetime — I honestly didn’t think it would happen. They might even be able to put his criticism and reviews, such as Chroniques, into my vernacular.

Manchette is legendary for writing ten crime novels and then quitting after he wrote his obvious masterpiece, The Prone Gunman.

But then he made a comeback to write a decades-spanning saga of assassins and spies, supposed to go on book after book. Manchette didn’t quite get the opening finished before his death. That novel-length fragment appeared under the title Ivory Pearl.

Of the previous ten novels, six now have seen American print.

Four left.

I’m hanging on. I can make it, I can make it.

Go, New York Review Books, go!

While the top half of my No Room at the Morgue review presents the info points I sketched in, the wordage is switched up to the point I normally wouldn’t link to it. However, the last couple of sentences are pretty good, and those are mine.

If you’re interested, you’ll find it in the list of Manchette reviews in PW that follows, presented in order of American publication. Surfing around their site, I could not find a review for Nada, so I’ll cover that one on These Mean Streets in the next day or two.

If PW reviewed it, it wasn’t me at the keys.

Of the other reviews, I did all but one — acknowledging whatever editorial input tweaked a few words here or there:

Three to Kill

The Prone Gunman

Fatale

The Mad and the Bad

Nada

No Room at the Morgue

and

Ivory Pearl

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Sinister Cinema: Twentieth Century Hot Spot

Pulps in the Movies!

On Sale Every Wednesday!

I wonder what the fiction mag and film impresario John Locke has for us today. . . .

Let’s find out:

Here in 1934’s great comedy, Twentieth Century, a private investigator is forced to take a call while reading Dime Detective Magazine. He appears to be very near the end of Frederick Nebel’s latest Cardigan story, “Hot Spot.”

No wonder he looks annoyed.

The pulp is dated March 1, 1934, and the film premiered in New York City on May 3, so you know it was the latest issue when they filmed it.

John Newton Howitt’s great cover reveals the literal underworld — New York’s crime-infested sewers.

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Rediscovered: Place of Hawks — a.k.a. Arkham House

Apparently my post the other day on August Derleth and his home Place of Hawks set off a little brush-fire on Facebook.

The main point I was disputing was that Derleth lived in a “log cabin” in Wisconsin, and that his custom-made castle dubbed Place of Hawks was not a log cabin — unless somehow in your brain you think it is.

John D. Haefele writes to let me know that “People are sharing your recent blog about Derleth on Facebook,” but that “they are posting inadequate photo-postcards they happen to have with Place of Hawks in the background to show the home Aug had built” — which is more or less what I did. I figured anyone ought to be able to determine from the sheer scale of the building in the image I used that it was not what anyone would think of as a “log cabin.”

A ski lodge, sure — maybe a hunting lodge from which you might head out to pursue the most dangerous game.

“Here is a much better snap you should post as a follow-up of your own,” Haefele adds, “and it even has a good view of the original roof. For some reason I note ‘1949’ on my postcard, but the photo itself looks to be earlier . . . .”

Haefele is the expert on Derleth and his publishing firm Arkham House. And Place of Hawks housed both Derleth and the press he massaged into myth.

So, what do you think?

Log cabin or not log cabin?

You decide.  

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Hammett: Birthday 126

Yeah, 126 years ago today Samuel Dashiell Hammett began life as a fat baby, and lived that life as a thin man. Pinkerton’s detective. Pulp writer in San Francisco. Hollywood. Ended up in New York.

You probably know the outline.

But if you don’t, Brian Wallace found an article in a 2002 issue of The New Yorker that goes over the ground, using the 2001 publication of Hammett’s Crime Stories from the Library of America as the excuse.

I’m loathe to link to it because of the instant barrage of banner ads, but if you’re willing to tough it out, then it’s your problem and not mine.

Brian specifically pointed out this little section:

The Library of America’s new Hammett collection, “Crime Stories and Other Writings,” contains a poignant textual note explaining that one of the stories could not be taken from Hammett’s original version because no copies of the magazine it appeared in still exist. Few are likely to mourn the January, 1928, issue of Mystery Stories, one of about seventy “pulps” then on the market — “pulp” as a category denoted the low quality of the paper, and presumably also of the contents and the readership — but the contrast of this rough extinction with the smooth, acid-free immortality of the volume at hand does point up the cultural irony of Hammett’s career. . . . But the contrast also points up the irony of the sweeping cultural mandate of the Library of America, for, as it turns out, the salvaged story — “This King Business,” printed from a later version — is hardly worth the effort of reading once.

He knew I’d like that because right here on Up and Down These Mean Streets we witnessed Terry Zobeck find a copy of Mystery Stories and go through the textual differences between the original pulp and that “later version.” Terry provided Library of America with the pulp text for a revised third printing of Crime Stories.

Somehow when dealing with topics they’ve barely heard of — such as wood pulp fiction magazines — even the sophisticates come off like backwater rubes.

When the article writer typed

The current collection contains one perfect story — “The Scorched Face,” published in 1925 —which demonstrates how imaginative wit can transform even the crudest material into an exquisite whirring toy, a rococo clock with cops chasing crooks in circles and tumbling forth to chime the hour.

you can tell she has no idea whatsoever that Hammett stole the plot for that one from the Sherlock Holmes yarn “The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton” — still, sure, it is a hot Continental Op tale.

And not to be too mean to the venerable New Yorker. In 2013 they showed Hammett maintained his clout by using one of the “lost” stories later collected in The Hunter and Other Stories in a “fiction” issue —and nothing in Hunter can touch the best of the Op series gathered in Crime Stories.

I’m thinking if another lost Hammett story turned up today, The New Yorker wouldn’t be loathe to publish it.

One New Yorker to another.

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Sinister Cinema: Holy Spicy Detective, Batman!

Pulps in the Movies. On Sale Every Wednesday.

Sometimes Spicy. Always Hot.

For the nineteenth installment in his series, pulp expert John Locke takes us along on another expedition, where we find a unique sighting of a pulp in the cinematic wild.

Here’s John:

In Chapter 2 of the 1943 serial Batman — “The Bat’s Cave” — Bruce Wayne’s butler Alfred wiles away the time reading the October 1940 issue of Spicy Detective. The “spicy” element should be obvious from the cover art—and from the prim Alfred’s startled expression. The content of the stories lived up to the lascivious suggestion of the cover. But only just.

The pulp belonged to a suite of four fiction magazines, the others being Spicy-Adventure, Spicy Mystery, and Spicy Western.

The appearance of a Spicy pulp in Batman is very much an inside joke. Both Culture Publications, which produced the Spicys, and DC Comics, which published Batman, were owned by the same individual: Harry Donenfeld.

(Another crossover: H.J. Ward, who painted the cover to this Spicy Detective — and many other issues of the chain — also painted a famous portrait of DC’s other big star, Superman.)

Because Spicy Detective was an “adult” magazine, and Batman aimed squarely at youngsters, the inside joke is barely discernible in the film. For one, the cover is obscured by shadow. Further, Alfred’s out-loud reading from the magazine reveals a standard spooky mystery. No sex.

But we insiders know what that look on his face really meant.

Note the grandfather clock in the background. It’s the secret entrance to the Bat’s Cave, from which Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson soon emerge to catch Alfred in the act of enjoying his guilty pleasure.

Bruce Wayne holds a “radium gun” that Batman and Robin have just confiscated from an insidious bunch of gangsters.

Just for laughs — and he gets ’em — Bruce zaps a vase on the table in front of Alfred — and the Spicy Detective goes airborne, exposing the risqué interior illustrations to any impressionable youth possessed of super-freeze-frame-sight.

Then Bruce and Dick take turns busting Alfred’s chops. He’s clearly the odd man out in this version of the Batman story:

When Alfred explains that he’s “sharpening his wits” with the detective-story magazine, it’s an extension of the gag for insiders who know that it’s not his wits that are gaining an edge from Spicy Detective. Alfred confirms as much by claiming to have made “a little joke.”

That’s all amusing enough, but this sighting is special for another reason:

It’s our only known appearance of a Spicy pulp on vintage film.

So far.

Ironically, the Spicys were off the market by the time Batman’s 15 weekly chapters were running in the summer of 1943. With the January 1943 issues, the publishers had toned down title and content to become the line of Speed magazines: Speed Detective, Speed Adventure, Speed Mystery, and Speed Western.

Thus the inside gag carried a note of nostalgia.

Or payback.

By the close of the 1930s, many pulps, in addition to the Spicys, had gotten quite daring — as well as offensive to the everyday Alfreds whose eyes and souls were assaulted by the extremes of sex and violence displayed on their local magazine racks — and at child’s-eye level.

In December 1938, a group of Catholic bishops formed the National Organization for Decent Literature to provoke citizens from coast-to-coast into pressuring vendors to take the offensive mags off the newsstands. For the most part, the initiative worked. When the bishops targeted the sex-and-sadism “weird menace” pulps in 1940 — Dime Mystery, Horror Stories, Terror Tales, Mystery Tales, etc. — they died, either through neutered content, outright cancellation, or both.

An entire pulp genre rapidly went extinct.

Except for Spicy Mystery, which remained as the last weird menace pulp standing.

The entire Spicy group motored on, seemingly impervious to censorship. The NODL lamented that the chain could turn a profit after selling thirty percent of the print runs, and thus there wasn’t enough boycotting muscle to bully the Culture boys into obedience.

However, wartime paper (i.e., labor) shortages — rumored through 1942 and introduced on January 1, 1943 — appeared to kill off the Spicys.

The timing is precise but the cause-and-effect less so.

We suppose that the publishers, with a frowned-upon product, feared being elbowed out of the competition for sufficient paper for all their endeavors. Why risk Batman just to be a little racy?

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Rediscovered: Time for Derleth

August Derleth is beginning to get renewed evaluation — and not just from our good pal John D. Haefele.

Just noticed an article by G. W. Thomas that blurbs Derleth’s 132 appearances in the magazine Weird Tales. Provides a list, in order — and reproduces many if not all of the original illustrations. Seeing is believing, right?

Without further checking, my memory tells me that Derleth was the second most prolific contributor to Weird Tales. First, of course, was Seabury Quinn, who knocked out the almost endless stream of stories about occult detective Jules de Grandin, and other yarns. Third, I believe — and you wouldn’t expect it — was none other than Clark Ashton Smith.

The blurbage in the article has a rough spot or two. Haefele mentions, “Actually, I counted 138 appearances in The Unique Magazine. This guy must have missed a legit pseudo.” And Derleth did not live in a “log cabin” in Wisconsin. He and a pal did rent a small shack to use as a writing studio. For a summer.

Or, I suppose you might think of the custom-made home Derleth had built, Place of Hawks, as a log cabin — a GIANT log cabin.

Here’s a postcard Derleth had made up, standing in front of his house. Log cabin or not log cabin? You decide:

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Rediscovered: Hannes Bok — “Dear Virginia”

And how about a gander at the letter legendary artist Hannes Bok sent before the one he sent yesterday?

Also courtesy of noted book and pulp collector Kevin Cook prowling around in his treasure trove, of course.

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Rediscovered: A Letter from Hannes Bok

And noted book and pulp (and autograph, and letter, and miscellania) collector Kevin Cook thought some of you might like to peruse a letter the legendary fantasy artist Hannes Bok tossed into the mail seventy-eight years ago today.

Cool, right?

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Rediscovered: Theodore Roscoe

Noted book and pulp collector Kevin Cook mentioned to me that Up & Down has “yet to feature Theodore Roscoe, who did write fantastic fiction, including two stories in Weird Tales in 1928 — but whom I admire most because of his Foreign Legion stories in Argosy.”

Those Thibaut Corday Foreign Legion stories from Argosy were collected complete in four volumes by Altus Press in 2012, for the curious.

Kevin also sent in an example of Roscoe inscribing a novel from 1935 — in 1990.

Murder on the Way! (Dodge Publishing Company, 1935) is a rewritten version of the Argosy serial “A Grave Must Be Deep”  from 1934. Roscoe would do the same thing for Dodge Publishing when he rewrote “War Declared” from Argosy in 1935 into I’ll Grind Their Bones in 1936.

Our pal Morgan “The Morgman” Holmes gave Roscoe a blurb earlier this year over on Castalia House.

Consider Roscoe featured. Ka-Chow!

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Sinister Cinema: Doc Savage Meets Bogie

On Sale Every Wednesday: Pulps in the Movies — and How!

Today hero-pulp stalwart Doc Savage shares a scene with Humphrey Bogart. Man, you cannot get any more pulp and movie than that, right?

Not that anyone ever spotted Doc’s cameo in all these years since 1945.

But we’ve got the eagle-eyed pulp enthusiast and movie savant John Locke working the mean streets, ready to break the story so everyone will know.

Here’s John with the scoop:

It’s a nation’s shame that the historic encounter of Doc Savage and Bogie — Pulp Icon meets Movie Icon — has gone unnoted until now.

In Conflict (1945) — one of the least known of Bogie’s films after Falcon made him a star — he sits at an interrogation table in police headquarters answering questions about his wife’s mysterious disappearance. To the left is the sister-in-law he’s secretly in love with (Alexis Smith), and on the right is a prominent psychiatrist and friend of the family (Sydney Greenstreet).

The table is strewn with books, pulps, and other magazines. Several shots — including in this closeup, at lower left — reveal the April 1940 Doc Savage:

From 1933-49, Doc was to the adventure story what The Shadow was to the detective tale: a larger than life hero embroiled in the most amazing of exploits.

And there are other pulps on the table, but the oblique camera angles wouldn’t allow identification.

The idea of the table seems to be that it was like a doctor’s waiting room where clients might need reading material to pass the time.

Which raises the question: Did actual waiting rooms in those days keep pulps on hand?

Notably, Conflict is the most Hitchcockian of Bogie’s films — not that that’s been a thing until now, either.

First, it’s a tale of suspense, not a mystery, since the murderer (Bogie) is revealed closer to the beginning of the story than the end.

Second, and most interesting, Conflict forms a weird thematic bridge between two of Hitchcock’s most haunting films. Conflict successfully mimics Rebecca (1940), Hitchcock’s only Best Picture winner, mesmerizingly demonstrating how a dead woman can cast a powerful shadow over the events of the present. (Note that Conflict was actually made two years before being released, when the memory of Rebecca would have been fresher in the creators’ minds. It was held up in a rights dispute over the source story, “The Pentacle,” by Alfred Neumann and Robert Siodmak.)

At the same time, Conflict foreshadows another Hitchcock classic, Vertigo (1958), based on a 1954 French novel, in which a dead woman’s spirit (Carlotta Valdes) seems to inhabit the present.

The difference is subtle, and Conflict deftly merges the two themes.

Critics quibble with the plausibility of Conflict’s plot, the way they used to with Vertigo.

But the real issue is how these films function as dreams — or nightmares. Dreams operate on a level where plot is less important than mood, but that makes them no less compelling while they’re being experienced.

Finally — because it’s the, er, stuff that dreams are made of — we circle home to the Black Bird. When Bogie’s murderer visits the office of the chief investigator of his wife’s case, what do we see on the top of the bureau?

The brooding presence of the Maltese Falcon!

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