The Sad Serbian – Frank Gruber (1939)

A racket to mulct the multitudes is plenty reason for murder.

Mulct?  Yep, real word.

Sam Cragg is the kind of guy who will repo a car at a funeral, i.e. efficient.  He busts Anthony Druhar at his grandmother’s funeral.  His entire family can only come up with $32, so Cragg agrees to stop by his house the next day for the balance.

It is a good day for Cragg as he finds Druhar dead, with his head twisted around backwards.  So I guess he gets the $32 and the car.  There is a piece of paper sticking out of Druhar’s pocket.  Cragg reads, “For value received, I promise to pay Tony Druhar five thousand dollars — WC ROBERTS.”  So, a pretty good day for WC Roberts, too.

A moment later, a character futurely known as Prince gets out of a cab.  “He is wearing a black, single-breasted coat which is open showing a fawn colored waist-coat.  Under it is a pair of striped trousers and below that, believe it or not, white spats.  On his head, he’s got a pearl gray Homburg.  He’s carrying a pair of pig-skin yellow gloves and a cane.”  He introduces himself as Prince Peter Strogovich.  He was just about to give Druhar a job.

The cops show up and briefly detain Cragg and the Prince, but neither is a suspect.  On an unrelated case the next day, their paths cross again.  Cragg sees him leaving a candy store that Cragg is heading for.  Inside “sits the biggest woman I’ve ever seen in my life.  She’s six foot two or three inches tall and big all around.  She weighs 290 or 300 and none of it is flabby fat.”  She asks what he is looking for and he says — heehee — “a dick magazine.”

He sees the Prince exit the saloon across the street where he must have only had a shot.  The Prince hires Cragg to locate a man who owes him money — WC Roberts!  He says that his cousin was the King of Serbia, Peter Karageorgovich.

Cragg goes to an address the Prince (because I ain’t gonna keep typing Karageorgovich) gave him.  He asks the super where to find WC Roberts.  The man laughs and pulls out his own $5k note signed by WC.  He says the Irish are buying them for $5, but the Polacks and Serbians are paying up to $20.  He says the Prince is in cahoots with WC and directs Cragg to a big Serbian hootenanny that night.

The Prince is giving a speech about how Edison and Westinghouse and Ford stole ideas from WC Roberts.  The notes are to fund lawsuits against them.  The giant woman is on the stage with them.

Blah, blah, blah.  And I mean that in the nicest possible way.  The story takes enough twists and turns that your time would be better spent reading the story rather than reading this blog.  But really, what wouldn’t be?  It zips right along and is filled with characters like the Prince, the giant woman, Cragg’s boss & secretary.  Cragg sets a trap involving a children’s book and the post office.

It all good fun.  Hopefully Frank Gruber shows up again in the anthology.

Other Stuff:

  • First published in the March 1939 issue of Black Mask.
  • Also that month, Howard Carter suspiciously succumbs to King Tut’s curse a mere 17 years after finding the tomb.  And some Hitler stuff.

You’ll Always Remember Me – Steve Fisher (1938)

Our star wakes up to Pushton blowing the beagle bugle.  He goes down the row of beds, tearing the covers from everyone.  He yells, “Get up!  Get up!  Don’t you hear Pushton blowing his lungs out?”  Who is this grizzled leader?  Sgt. Hartman?  Sgt. Foley?  Sgt. Carter?  [1] No, it is 14 year old Martin Thorpe at the Clark Military Academy.

He is unhappy with the school despite the double tuition his father has to pay to keep them from expelling him.  He thinks, “I swear there isn’t a 14 year old in it that I could talk to without wanting to push in his face.”  He feels this way because he thinks he is smarter than everyone else, so I’m sure guys from 15 to 50 (and above, but alliteration, ya know) find his mug imminently punchable also.

He is trying to get the latest on his pal Tommy Smith.  A senior tells him the governor didn’t come through, so he will be hung on Friday.  Martin didn’t think they had the evidence to convict Tommy of “putting a knife in his old man’s back.”  He has the hots for Tommy’s 15 year old sister Marie, but fears her brother’s execution might be a downer for their relationship.

Martin had been at the Smith house the night of the murder.  Tommy wanted to marry a girl his father did not approve of.  Martin says, “Tommy was a nice enough sort.  He played football at the university, was a big guy with blond hair and a ruddy face, and blue eyes.  He had a nice smile, white and clean.”  So I kinda want to punch him.

Detective Duff Ryan thinks Martin might be more involved than he admits.  He confronts Martin about the time the class mascot goat broke its legs in a stunt . . .  what a scamp.  Then there was the time he pushed a kid into an oil hole and wouldn’t let him out . . . just some horseplay.  Remember when he roped that calf, stabbed it, and watched it bleed to death . . . er, OK.  And he got sent away for observation when he poisoned a neighbor’s two Great Danes . . . alright, there might be a problem.

Well, once you hear about Martin’s shenanigans and hijinks, ya kinda know where this is going.  Of course, he killed the old man and set Tommy up for it.  He does have at least one more evil deed left for the story.  Suffice it to say, the name PUSHton was probably not chosen at random.  In fact, the name is spelled Push-ton in the first paragraph of the story.  I was ready to both praise the fore-shadowing and criticize the ham-handedness.  Nah, I was just going to mock it.  The paperback version also spells it Push-ton, but Push- is at the end of a line, so I guess the middle of the line Push-ton on the Kindle is just an editing error.  Quite a racket they have:

  1. Sell a 2.8 pound paperback book that is physically impossible to read.
  2. Force purchaser to then get the Kindle version.
  3. Maximize profit by doing no editing on the e-version.

Well-played, Amazon.  Well-played.

That goofiness aside, it is a fun, short read.

Other Stuff:

  • [1] Kudos to Gunnery Sgt. Vince Carter for being the only one not to use the steers & queers gag.
  • First published in the March 1938 issue of Black Mask.

The Cat-Woman – Erle Stanley Gardner (1927)

Big Bill Ryan knows Ed Jenkins is flat broke. Ed is a crook.  Once his bankers found out, they quietly stole his money assuming he wouldn’t call the cops.  If it’s any consolation to him, they will be jumping out of windows in a couple of years.  I guess Ed wasn’t much of a crook; I don’t remember Don Corleone getting rolled like that.  Bill has a job for Ed and hands him a note.

Two hours after you get this message, meet me at apartment 624, Reedar Arms Apartments.  The door will be open — HMH.

Ed shows up at the address and finds a woman in a negligee despite the fact she knew a man would be there in 2 hours.  Oh, right — I get it.  The woman pulls out a $500 bill and hands it to the guy which is not the transaction I’m used to.  She follows it with 19 others as payment for the guy to do a simple job.  She wants him to steal a necklace, and to kidnap her niece.  She says, “Mr. Jenkins, once you have my niece, you can do anything with her that you want.  You must keep her for 2 days.  After that, you may let her go or keep her.”

He declines.  She counters that the necklace he would be stealing actually belongs to her.  Also, she is the legal guardian of the niece and gives him permission to kidnap her.  Not only that, she will let him meet the niece and she will agree to be kidnapped.  It is just a ruse to get the insurance money for the necklace.  I don’t get the role of the niece . . . although I could be talked into just about anything for $10,000 and a young woman to be named later.[1]  Somehow, Ed has the supernatural reputation of being able to get away with crimes even when caught, so the police aren’t an issue.  Ed agrees to take the gig.

She arose, slipped out of the negligee, and approached the suitcase.  From the suitcase, she took a tailored suit and slipped into it.

That’s it?  These stories might have a better pedigree than the ones in the Spicy Adventure Megapack, but they are a lot less fun.  This is especially maddening from Erle Stanley Gardner.  His books often had really c*ckteasing titles and covers, but the insides never delivered.

The woman drives them to a large house where she introduces Ed to her niece Ellery Queen Jean Ellery.  Jean has inherited the family subtlety and asks, “I understand you are going to kidnap me.  Are you a caveman or do you kidnap ’em gently?”  She says, “Life here is the bunk.”  She is happy to be kidnapped.

The woman explains this is the house of Arthur Holton and she is his personal secretary.  Tomorrow night, he is going to announce their engagement and give her the necklace.  At 9:30, she will pocket the original, let her niece test-drive a fake, and an assistant will grab Jean, tie her up and stow her in the trunk of a car that will be left for Ed.  To convince the insurance company this was a legit robbery, she suggests Ed arrive at the party, announce he was shafted by Holton in a business deal, and wave his gun around at the guests.  He will then escape to a seaside house the woman has rented for him where he and Jean will pose as a married couple.  And, oh yeah, he must not open the trunk until he reaches the cottage.  What the hell is this mysterious Clintonesque Get Out of Jail Free Card he possesses?

He worries about her double-crossing him and calling the cops although showing his face at the party, waiving a gun around, and kidnapping Jean might be enough to get their interest . . . you know, if not for the GOOJFC.  She agrees to write an affidavit explaining everything, have it notarized, and filed with a trust company.  We finally get her name — Hattie M. Hare.[2]  At the lawyer’s office, he catches the lawyer pocketing the signed confessions and handing the trust company an envelope of blank paper.  And here we go.

Of course, “the niece” was not the niece.  The real Jean never trusted her aunt and turns out to be cute, resourceful, and a graduate of stunt driving school.  Hattie grabs Jean and Ed goes Brian Mills on her.  He thinks back to “years I had been a lone wolf, had earned the name The Phantom Crook, one who could slip through the fingers of the police.  There had been a welcome vacation while I enjoyed immunity in California, but now all that had passed.”

Hattie gets away, but Ed saves Jean just as the police show up.  They are ready to haul him in, but everything is explained, showing him to be innocent.  Jean’s rich father vows to see Ed’s “name is cleared of every charge against you in every state, that you are a free man, that you are restored to citizenship.”  Well, it’s all well and good that her fat-cat father will bribe the judiciary in several states, but what had been keeping Ed out of jail all this time?

A pretty good one.

Other Stuff:

  • [1] The niece is 20, so that’s not as creepy as it seems.
  • [2] So much attention is devoted to cats — the title, Hattie’s cat-like eyes and movement, a leopard skin Davenport, a tiger rug, a painting of a cat — and Gardner names her after a rabbit?
  • First published in the February 1927 issue of Black Mask.
  • Also that month:  Buster Keaton’s The General is released.
  • The Kindle version repeatedly misspells Erle as Erie.

Two Murders, One Crime – Cornell Woolrich (1942)

Gary Severn goes out at 11:45 pm, as he does every night, to pick up the midnight edition. OK. Were there midnight editions of newspapers back then?  Newsstand operators manned their post in the wee hours of the morning?  There were people waiting on this delivery?  Severn actually has to “worm his way through a cluster of customers” and ends up grabbing the same paper as another man.  He begins reading as he walks home, hearing “numbers of other footsteps” behind him, which eventually dwindle to one; well, one pair.

As he arrives at his home, a hand comes down on his shoulder.  It is the man he played newspaper tug of war with.  The good news is, he’s a police officer.  The bad news is Severn is arrested for the murder of another officer.

At the police station, the guys are monkeying around with the eye chart and they are a pretty average bunch.  They bring in Mrs. Novak for a test as she was a witness to the murder.  Unfortunately for Severn, she can read the chart down to “Printed in Taiwan“. She busts Severn as “the man I saw running away right after the shots.”  A CPA backs up her story.

In no time, Severn is walking to the electric chair with another man accused of the crime.  The other man decides to come clean before he is executed.  He finally admits to the priest that he killed the cop, but that Severn wasn’t involved; his accomplice was a guy named Donny Blake.

The cops bring in Blake.  Mrs. Novak and the CPA decide, no that’s the guy.  Whoopsie, Severn has already been executed.  Kudos on this being quite a shock; you know, if some jerk didn’t spoil it for you.  The author took the time to establish a bit about his life, and it was clear he was to be the protagonist of the story.  Then bang, or rather buzzz, he’s dead.  They get word from the District Attorney’s office to let Blake go free because it is more important to let a murderer go free than to have the state admit a mistake.

Detective Rogers is the only one unwilling to go along with the ruse.  When Blake laughs at them, Rogers resigns from the force and promises to dog Blake’s every move; which I believe was the 2nd Act of Dirty Harry.

At first Blake is aggravated by Rogers tailing him.  Then he gets paranoid.  Eventually it seems to become a road picture; everywhere Blake goes, Rogers is sure to show up.  Blake eventually learns to accept it.  They don’t exactly become friends, but there is a familiarity.  Finally, after 3 years and 7 months, Rogers is able to manipulate Blake into a position where he will pay for his crime.

This was a very good entry in the collection.  It surprised me, had some humor, and justice was served.

Other Stuff:

  • First published in the July 1942 issue of Black Mask.  Also that month:  Harrison Ford born.

Mini-Mini-Review of Baby Driver:

It is so great to see a movie from a director who is in control.  The opening scene is almost too precious, but quickly reeled me into this stylized world through the combination of writing, direction and music.  If I had to come up with any criticisms, they would be pretty miniscule:

  1. Parts of the soundtrack are god-awful.  But then, I’m not 14.
  2. Jon Hamm is a great actor, but they put him in a leather biker jacket.  I’ve said it before, if you aren’t Vic Mackey or The Fonz, just don’t do it.  You will look foolish.

Chicago Confetti – William Rollins, Jr. (1932)

Coleman Fuller shows up in the office of detective Percy Warren.  His rich uncle Henry Fuller was bumped off and he doesn’t trust the police to get the killer.  He admits he found Warren by going to the Yellow Pages and backing up through the private dicks. Not only does he not seem to appreciate the insult to Warren, but that was also a shot out of nowhere against Nero Wolfe and V.I. Warshawski.  On the other hand, given that this was 1932, I guess we should just be thankful he didn’t find Charlie Chan in the Yellow Pages.

They meet up again at the office of Fuller’s lawyer Bond, Harley Bond.  Bond says if he had known Fuller was in need of some private dicking, he would have recommended a bigger agency.  Although, it sounds like Warren is getting dicked around pretty good as it is.

Bond says the fee for finding the killer has been set at $10,000 [1] by Carl Fuller, Coleman’s uncle.  Henry Fuller croaked and left $20M to his siblings, but excluded his bother John, and John’s son Coleman.  That’s a pretty good motive right there.[2]

To begin his investigation, Warren goes to see the Fuller’s valet Jobson.  After a pleasant chat, the valet hurries out to an appointment which the author seems to imply means he’s going to a prostitute.  Left alone, Warren asks the switchboard boy if he’d like to make a quick 10 bucks.

“I guess a 10 spot wouldn’t look bad to you, hah?”

He eyed me funny.  “Well . . .”

“Don’t worry.  Nothing like that, buddy.”

So what did the switchboard boy think Warren had in mind for $165 in 2017 dollars? This author has a one-track mind.  The dough was to allow Warren to take over the switchboard.  He takes a call from Jobson asking for Miss Kelly.  Jobson tells her to have an unnamed man meet him in room 311.  Warren traces the call to the Stopover Inn, hangout of the Lewis Gang.

Warren checks in to the Stopover and gets room 317.  He tiptoes down the hall to listen at the door of 311.  He hears two men talking briefly before the cops show up — well, one cop and the lawyer Bond.  A passing truck prevents him from hearing much.  The the cop, Bond and Jobson leave the hotel.  Warren sneaks on the ledge over to 311 to find the other man, but Miss Kelly catches him.  She spotted the other man and his description sounds like Spike Lewis of the Lewis Gang.

Warren goes back to Jobson’s building.  He calls up to warn Jobson about the Lewis Gang, but the call is cut short by a gunshot.  Warren goes upstairs and finds Jobson dead, but someone placed the phone back on the hook.  Warren looks around the valet’s home.  The first three rooms are bedrooms, then he goes to the bathroom, dining room and kitchen. Note to self:  Look into lucrative field of valeting.

Blah blah, for reasons I’m not even sure of, the rest of the story bored me to death.  At the end, after the lawyer Bond is naturally revealed as vile, opportunistic, immoral, but also a murderer, Warren and Coleman come together.

“And I suppose you know what a low-life like me wants to do when he’s come into a juicy bit of money.”

“Exactly,” he murmured.  He reached in his pocket and pulled out a full pint flask, and after I took a good pull at it, he finished it off himself.  “That,” he said, “is just about enough to last us until we reach the nearest speak.”

I looked him over again; and I liked his looks.

“Exactly,” I said.

I hope he kept the key to room 317; sounds like he’s going to need it.

Post-Post:

  • [1] Holy crap — that’s $165,000 in 2017 dollars!
  • [2] Actually, it’s a terrible motive.  Why kill the guy if there is a chance you might end up back in the will someday?  Maybe he’ll need a kidney.
  • First published in the March 1932 issue of Black Mask.  Also that month: fore-seeing digital cameras will destroy his company in 75 years, Kodak founder George Eastman preemptively kills himself.
  • Title Analysis:  So bullets are confetti?  Kind of dopey.