Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Kenneth Royce

Of all the British pulpsters and paperbackers I've been covering in my forth-coming book, there have been only a few writers whose work I've really been fond of. I don't know why this is, but it's something I've been noticing for the past dozen years: I like American stuff more than British, and this is the case even with films and music. Give me The Sonics anytime over The Rolling Stones or The Dead Kennedys over The Sex Pistols!

But there are indeed some British crime writers whose work I really like. Kenneth Royce is one of them. He writes in clear prose that keeps the story moving, he creates interesting characters with just a few lines, they are likable even though they are not heroes, his plots are unpredictable and original. Too bad he's not very well known these days. I'm not sure if he's known at all. He does have a Wikipedia page, though. He's had three Finnish translations, all in pulpy paperbacks and with not interesting covers (see below).

Of the two translations, the first two have Royce's serial character, Spider Scott, as the hero. He's a former master burglar, who's gained his nick name with his skills in climbing. He climbs any wall. In the beginning of the first Spider Scott book, The XYY Man (1970; Ansa ilman muuta in Finnish; the original name comes from the "fact" that most of the male criminals have an extra chromosome). Scott is lured by some secret organization to break and entry the Chinese embassy or his brother's career in the police force is threatened. Spider Scott doesn't want that, so he complies - and has to kill the Chinese ambassador in order to stay alive. And now he has to flee everyone. This is a very intriguing thriller, to the last page.

In the second Spider book, The Miniatures Frame (1972; Tie murhaan in Finnish), the plot is even more original. Spider is taken into a committee that's supposed to make the prisons better places for the prisoners. The head of the committee is a rich asshole who collects art and antique. Spider is lured by the man's teenage daughter into a secret chamber the man has in his house and Spider spots two extremely valuable miniature paintings he's stolen ten years ago! The man threatens Spider with the jail, but Spider fights back. Spider Scott was developed into a TV series, but I've never seen it.

The third translation, The Stalin Account (1983; Tappavat varjot in Finnish), is an interesting spy novel the plot of which starts in the 1920s and the attempt of the Soviet bolsheviks to turn Brits into communists and then spies for the Soviet Union. What follows is a tragic love story between a Soviet spy and a young British girl. The thing comes again alive in the early eighties when the woman of the love story dies almost entirely alone, nurtured only by her nephew. When the elderly woman dies, her diary also goes missing. It all ties around the story of Stalin's son, Jacob. It's a very interesting spy novel with believable characters and believable history.

I haven't read any other books by Royce, but I come across them, I'll be sure to take a look. George Kelley says in his entry for Royce in The St. James Twentieth Century Crime and Mystery Writers that some of Royce's best books are The President Is Dead (1988), Fall-Out (1989) and 10,000 Days (1981). The last one should prove interesting as it's about the ending of oil.

Everybody Lies and other crime stories

Apart from finishing my book on British pulpsters and paperbackers, I've also been compiling and editing the book that will hopefully come out later this year. It's a collection of the new crime stories that came out mainly in Isku, but also in Ässä and Seikkailukertomuksia (Adventure Stories), all mags I published in 2003-2011. Here's the lowdown:

Ed Gorman: Tauko (Layover)
Allan Guthrie: Rakkain terveisin Rex (Love, Rex)
Patrick Shawn Bagley: Vielä yksi sotku (One More Mess)
Bill Crider: Ilta Carlin kanssa (Evening Out with Carl)
Lawrence Schimel: Pudotus (Falling)
David Terrenoire: Tulipalo (The Fire)
Harry Shannon: Langanpätkiä (Loose Ends)
James Reasoner: Kaikki valehtelevat (Everybody Lies)
J. A. Konrath: Ihmisen paras ystävä (Whelp Wanted)
Duane Swierczynski: Munakello (Eggtimer)
Kevin Wignall: Kuolema (A Death)
Anthony Neil Smith: Clive tunnustaa (Clive Confesses)
Vicki Hendricks: West End (West End)
Keith Rawson: Veri, sirpaleet ja kaikki muu (The Blood, the Shattered Glass and All the Rest)
Pat Lambe: Lemurian portto (The Whore of Lemuria)
J. D. Rhoades: Satanen (The Hundred)
Jason Starr: Viimeiseksi valittu (The Last Pick)
Pearce Hansen: Halvaantunut tappajasimpanssi (Paraplegic Killer Chimp)
Sandra Ruttan: Ihana tapa kuolla (To Die For)
Ed Lynskey: Isoveli (Think Pink)
Michael Wiecek: Lahja veljeltä (A Brother's Gift)
Molly Brown: Tähti (Star)
Sandra Scoppettone: Lihamureke (Meatloaf)
Patricia Abbott: Aukko seinässä (Hole in the Wall)
Christa Faust: Anna tulla (Hit Me)

The book will be titled according to James Reasoner's story. It will also have a short preface by Tapani Bagge and a longer preface by me. There's no cover yet. I think that's a mighty good table of contents, don't you?

Monday, May 19, 2014

Michael AKA Mike Hervey, pt. 2

I promised to say something about short story writer Mike Hervey's short stories. I covered what I know of his life in this post. It's not much and lots is mere speculation.

Same goes for his short stories. I can't say I read them carefully, many I only eyed lazily. Lots were translated in Finnish and published in mags in the late fourties and the fifties. As you remember, he had a magazine to his own name in Australia, called The Mike Hervey Detective Monthly Magazine. The Finnish magazine called Salapoliisilukemisto (Detective Digest; see photo) seems to have taken its stories from that magazine, since it had issues that contained only stories by Hervey! And many were straight from the Australian magazine.

Hervey was as prolific as hell, writing over 3000 short stories in a span of ten years. That must show in the quality of his stories. Many are pretty simple, focusing on the twist at the end, as in the story "Death of a Widow" (1953). There's not much description of the scenery, nor is there much character development. Most of the characters are what's usually called stock characters: detective, police officer, career criminal, deceitful babe, disappointed wife, etc. In "Nick to the Rescue" (1953) that's almost of a flash fiction length we get both the career criminal and the deceitful babe. There are some variations, though. "Death on Wheels" (1953) is about a race driver who's forced to win in a race. If he loses, he'll be killed.

Some of the stories are science fictional, for example in the story called "In the Year 2500" (I don't know the original title, and I don't even know what really takes place in the story). "You Can't Deceit Faith" (the original title missing, probably from 1953) is about foreseeing the future and clairvoyance.

I realize this isn't much, but it's a start! There's not much info on Mike Hervey in the web.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Michael AKA Mike Hervey, pt. I

My forth-coming book on British paperbackers doesn't really cover the writers who specialized in short stories. There are two reasons for this: there were only few translations from those who wrote only short stories, and then again I haven't had enough resources to check the magazines that could've carried British writers' stories. The American pulpsters were covered in great length by mainly a one magazine, the Lahti-based Seikkailujen Maailma (The World of Adventures; see this post in English by me), but none were specialized in British pulps.

I do have sketchy entries for some writers from whom I found only short stories. One of them is Michael AKA Mike Hervey. Not many have heard of him during the past 30 or 40 years. He had lots of stories and serials translated in Finnish pulp and other fictionmags in the fifties. The magazine called Salapoliisilukemisto (The Detective Digest or some such) had issues that had only stories by Hervey in them!

Now, who was Mike Hervey? He seems a pretty enigmatic character in his own right. He wrote lots of cheap paperbacks for mushroom publishers like Forsyte and Mitre in the 1940s and 1950s. Many of his books are one-act plays or skimpy short story collections. The books have hardboiled titles like Dumb Witness or No Excuse for Murder. (The book in the picture is from 1946, hardback from Alliance, yet another publisher I've never heard of.) This guy wrote a lot.

But not for a great many years. Seems like his first book (Save Your Pity) came out in 1943 and his last one Crime a la Carte in 1953. His career lasted only ten years, yet he's said to have written 3,500 short stories.

There's something fishy about Mike Hervey. The Science Fiction and Fantasy Encyclopedia tells us more. He was born in 1915, but he told everyone he was born in 1920. His birth name was apparently Mark Hockman, but he used the name Mark Hoffman. Then he changed it into Michael Hervey. And then, in the early fifties, he moved to Australia. Therein he edited a magazine called The Mike Hervey Detective Monthly Magazine that a publisher called Transport put out. The magazine seems to have contained only stories by Hervey himself. (The Finnish digest I mentioned earlier probably picked its stories from this magazine, and only hell knows how the stories found their way into Finland.) And then it stopped in 1953. (The years are uncertain.) The SFF encyclopedia tells us Hervey died in 1979. What did he do for the last 26 years of his life?

And what was with the name changes and all? Was Hervey a swindler? Changed names to deceive those whom he owed money to? Or was he just a guy down on his luck who couldn't find any reasonable way to make his living? Anyone know anything about Mike Hervey? Did he change names again living in Australia and write something entirely else?

How are his stories then? I'll get back to them in a later post, now I'm slightly drunk and getting soon to get to bed.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Philip Chambers and Sexton Blake

Philip Chambers is a writer almost next nothing is known of. He was born in 1936, is possibly dead by now, wrote six Sexton Blake stories in the early sixties and nothing else. I've skimmed through his Blake story Bullets to Bagdad (1960) in which a secret organization is planning to take over the government in Iraq and take their oil supplies. In the story Blake's boss is and old man called Craille. He's the leader of the British counter-intelligence organization, as secret as the criminal organization in the book.

Here are some of Chambers's Sexton Blake covers. Pretty good ones, too, but I don't know the illustrator. There's a signature in Keep It Secret!, it seems it says "S. Barany".

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Sean Gregory's serial hero Mack Regan

I'm sure not many of you have heard of Sean Gregory, not even by his real name, Harry Hossent. He started out in the early 1950s writing cheap crime hardbacks for Hamilton under the house name Jeff Bogar. He went on to write more thrillers in the sixties under his real name. He seems to have dropped out of the publishing business in the early seventies.

As by Sean Gregory he wrote some short paperbacks for the Tit-Bits Books paperback series in the early 1950s. (At least I think they were paperbacks, but I'm not 100 % certain. Hope someone can confirm this. I believe the books accompanied the issues of the Tit-Bits magazine.) His stories in that series were for some reason or another translated in Finnish in a paperback series called Max Strong (who was an Australian series character, but that's another story altogether). I've browsed through the three stories, here's a lowdown.

All the stories came out originally in 1954. The hero, appearing in all three stories, is one Mack (short for Mackenzie) Regan. He's a Hollywood PR agent, but in what I believe was the first story in the series, Murder Bangs a Big Drum, he's still trying make his living in Ohio. He gets a phone call from a Hollywood producer, who asks Regan to come down to Hollywood to prevent a young actor's name appearing in headlines. Reason: he's disappeared. It all ties down to a hazy union job. In Murder Makes the Corpse Regan is asked to write a book on an undertaker firm. He agrees, but finds out soon there's something fishy about the outfit. Murder Is Too Permanent finds Regan working for a gangster called Ricky Vescino. He wants Regan to make way for his beautiful wife and escort her into high society, but at the same time his own life is being threatened as someone wants to blow up his car.

The stories are old-fashioned private eye fun, nothing more, but nothing less, though. As I didn't really read the stories, I can't say how well they hold up, but if you come across them, I'll advise to take a look. Seems, though, that the Tit-Bits Books are hard to come by.

One more thing: Harry Hossent-Sean Gregory came up with some strange names for his stories. This seems a staple in this kind of private eye stuff. There are Bats Moloney, Lex Hupner, Alvar Domonici, Rafe Engels, Bull Gregow and Jed Yurfy, and there's also a heavy called Griff, which is a nod to a house name of British mushroom jungle publishers.

Photos accompanying the post are the covers of the Finnish editions of Sean Gregory's stories.

Monday, May 05, 2014

Frank Struan's other stories from Tit-Bits Books

Remember I wrote about Frank Struan's private eye booklet Murder's So Unpleasant? It was published in the Tit-Bits Books paperback series in 1954 and translated in Finnish some ten years later. The story features one Johnny July, and I got to thinking he might warrant an entry in the Thrilling Detective site, but I've now browsed through (note: not read!) Frank Struan's other translated titles and none have Johnny July in the lead. Of course there's a possibility that Struan has more stories that were not translated in Finnish.

Struan has another series character, though. His stories Tunnel of Nightmare, Ruthless Enemy and Fall Guy, all from Tit-Bits Books and from 1954, are spy stories about a British counter-spy called Fabian and his bosses called Delmer and Johnstone. The best of the bunch is probably Tunnel of Nightmare (Painajaistunneli, see the photo) in the beginning of which Fabian wakes up from the seedy side streets of the London port and seems to have lost his memory. Ruthless Enemy is about an East-European communist leader whom other commies want to kill. Fabian is set to protect him. I didn't really make any notes on Fall Guy, so I can't say anything about that.

There was still another piece by Struan in Finnish. The story The Girl from the Sea (yet another from 1954)
is about, well, a girl from the sea. A guy is swimming by the sea and notices a young woman is trying to escape from a ship that's anchored some hundred meters from the shore. It all has to do with the English nuclear weapons.

I'm a private eye man myself, so these spy stories didn't interest me as much. The stories seem competent enough, but they are no hidden gems.

I'm finally getting my Pulpografia Britannica - book on British crime pulpsters and paperbackers - together. It should be out in June. Don't know for sure yet, still got tons to do. I'll post some stuff on the writers therein in the blog for some days now.