Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Bibliographic puzzle: Ronald Wills/Hans Vogel: What Comes Next?

I've dealt in my research with some bibliographic problems before, but this one is a real puzzle. I don't even know where to start.

Okay, there's a paperback published in Finnish in 1955 called Hän ei tullut kotiin. It translates back as "He Never Came Home" or some such. It's a private eye novel about kidnapping of rich kids. Now, there's no book under this title (or actually there almost is, but it's not this one). The Finnish translation is credited as by Ronald Wills. There really was a writer called Ronald Wills. His real name was Ronald Wills Thomas. He lived from 1910 to 1969 (or possibly 1955) and wrote crime novels starting from 1950, ending in the early sixties. He used pseudonyms, such as Jeff Bogar (a house name) and James Cadell.

As Ronald Wills he published four crime novels in the early fifties, but they all seem to have something to do with fishes and fishing, and this here novel doesn't, so it's not any of them. What is it then?

The Finnish translation - at least my copy doesn't - doesn't give away the original title, but the bibliography of crime fiction published in Finnish and the Finnish National Library database both say it's What Comes Next? Now, that is a real novel, published in 1953 by the paperback house Scion. It was published under the house pseudonym Hans Vogel. And sure enough, the Finnish book has Hans Vogel as the hero. (Can you think of a more un-American name for a private eye?) But this isn't over yet. The British pulp and paperback scholar Steve Holland says in his blog that What Comes Next? features one Scud Keddell as the hero. And "He Never Came Home" doesn't have anyone called Scud Keddell. (And furthermore What Comes Next? isn't supposed to be written by Ronald Wills. Actually Ronald Wills doesn't seem to have written anything under the Hans Vogel house name.)

So, what gives here? Is this written by someone else entirely than Ronald Wills? Is this something entirely else written under a pseudonym by Ronald Wills, but published in Finland for some reason under his real name? Anything written as by Jeff Bogar doesn't even remotely sound like the book at hand. Or is this something that's been published only in Finland? As you might remember, while doing my first book, Pulpografia (on American crime paperbackers), I found out there were some dozen American books that were never published in the US, but published in Finland and/or Scandinavia.

different book published as by Hans Vogel
What's the book about? Oh, that's a different issue altogether. The book is a sorry mess, but somehow intriguing. Hans Vogel is a private eye working for the FBI (which, by the way, is spelled as FIB in the Finnish book), he handles very special cases. Now, there's a gang kidnapping small children of rich families and Vogel is hired to investigate the matter. He uses some strange methods that don't seem very professional. We never believe that this is a real private eye. Also we never believe this really takes place in the US, which is quite common for the early British crime paperbacks.

There are some truly odd moments throughout the book. Hans Vogel is for example tortured by boiling his feet in hot water. His skin peels off, but somehow he manages to still walk and drive a car. Okay, he admits he feels pain. There's also an odd perversion for talking about Nathaniel Hawthorne all the time - or actually "Nat", as Hans Vogel calls him. In the end Hans Vogel gets the kidnappers with the help of some 13-year old kids who are out playing Wild West with real-looking guns. The book is filled with erotic scenes, but nothing happens in them, they are just Vogel's descriptions of good-looking ladies in erotic costumes, such as silky night gowns. And this is what drove writers and publishers to jail?!

This is in no way a good crime novel, let alone a good novel, but there's something fascinating about the badness and weirdness of it. But the main thing here is the bibliographic puzzle. Can anyone help? I'd really love to solve this, but I don't know where else to look.

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