Red Wind – Raymond Chandler (1938)


Phillip Marlowe is minding his own beeswax, having a beer in a bar conveniently located within staggering distance of his apartment. Business is as lite as the beer if lite beer had been invented, with only one other customer in the bar.  The drunken man has a pile of dimes in front of him and is pounding back shots of rye like there is no tomorrow, which there technically never is.

Another man walks into a bar.  He asks the bartender, “Seen a lady in here, buddy? Tall, pretty, brown hair, in a print bolero jacket over a blue silk crepe dress, wearing a wide-brimmed straw hat with a velvet band?”  The drunk whips out a .22, shoots the man twice, and says “So long, Waldo” before the man has a chance to further detail the woman’s make-up, kicks, and knack for accessorizing.  He turns the gun on Marlowe and the bartender, moves toward the door, plays Where’s Waldo’s Car and drives off in it.


Marlowe goes back to his apartment.  When the elevator doors open on the 4th floor, he sees a girl dressed just as Waldo had described.  He suggests she slip out of that hat and jacket and into his apartment to avoid the cops.  While he is mixing some drinks, she pulls out a gun.  Turns out Waldo is was a man named Joseph Coates who also lives lived in Marlowe’s building.  While they are talking, Marlowe is able to hear the elevator and then footsteps in the hall which makes me wonder why this building is so popular.


The man who killed Waldo / Coates points the same .22 in Marlowe’s face.  The dame comes up behind him and pokes a gun in his ribs.  Marlowe gives him a knee in the cajones.  She leaves and Marlowe calls the cops.  He talks Detective Copernik into taking credit for taking the man down.


The dame reconnects with Marlowe and spills names like a third hot toddy.  She is Lola, the wife of Frank Barsaly.  She helpfully gives Marlowe her address and does that weird old timey thing where she gives the last 5 digits of her phone number.  Frank was out of town a lot so she started keeping time with Stan Phillips.  For polishing his fob, he gave her a pearl necklace worth $15,000, although it felt like a million to him.  After Stan died in a plane crash, she hooked up with their chauffeur Waldo.  When Frank returned, he booted Waldo out, but Waldo stole the necklace and held it hostage for the low, low price of $5,000.

Lola asks Marlowe to search Waldo’s apartment, where she had been heading the night they met.  He doesn’t find the necklace, but does find a choker — a dead man hanged in the apartment.  He doesn’t mention this to Lola; he just sends her off.  He also doesn’t mention the keys he found in the corpse’s pocket which fit a Packard downstairs.


The keys have the name and address of a Eugenie Kolchenko on the case, so Marlowe drives the car to that address.  The Russki offers a ten-spot for his valet service before a man joins them in the living room.  He had hired the dead man to retrieve a briefcase Waldo had stolen.  That man is dun-dun-dun Frank Barsaly.  Marlowe will keep his part secret for a cool $500.


When Marlowe arrives back home, Detectives Copernik and Ybarra are waiting for him inside.  Since this was written before the Bill of Rights, the detectives searched his place and found the bolero jacket and hat.  Since it was written after Prohibition, they also helped themselves to Marlowe’s hooch.  Marlowe knows he’s busted for not telling the cops about the girl.  He spills his guts figuratively, but Copernik wants to spill them literally.  Ybarra turns out to be an honest or, at least, reasonable cop.  They agree not to haul Marlowe in if they get credit for cracking the case.  Ybarra even lets him keep the pearls they recovered from Waldo’s car — they were $100 fakes anyway.[1]


Marlowe meets Lola. Sadly, she and Frank are separating.  If these two crazy kids who are accepting $100k gifts from other men, banging the chauffeur, sending a hit-man to make collections, and shacking up with a Commie can’t make it work what chance do any of us have?

There is a bit with a second string of pearls and a package that I guess I will never understand.  I suppose her jacket and hat are in the box, but why the drama?  He gives her a super-cheap knock-off of her pearls and chucks the original into the sea, pearl by pearl.

Despite being baffled by the ending, a great story.  There is no reason for my mediocre writing to attempt to describe Chandler’s excellent writing.  The prose is warm and thick, the characterizations are life-like, and the hats, my God, the hats!

Great stuff.


  • [1] That’s still $1,700 in today’s dollars.
  • First Published in Dime Detective in January 1938.
  • Also that month: Birth of The X-Files’ Cigarette Smoking Man.
  • Used as the basis for two TV episodes starring Powers Booth and Danny Glover as Marlowe.  Both actors were attempting to fill one shoe each of Humphrey Bogart, and I suspect they both failed.
  • After skimming both episodes on YouTube, they both seem like pretty dreary affairs with many changes in just the bits I saw.  The Glover version seemed better and had at least 2 bonuses:  1) Copernik was played by world’s greatest actor Dan Hedaya, 2) there was an interesting theory about that 2nd set of pearls.  It didn’t fit with the short story, but maybe made sense for the episode.

The City of Hell! – Leslie T. White (1933)

The piercing screams of a woman filled the awed hollow of silence left void by the chatter of a sub-machine-gun and acted as a magnet of sound to suck the big squad car to the scene.

That opening sentence had me diving for cover —  I mean the cover of the Cliffs Notes version.
Fortunately, things took a turn for the much better, although not immediately:

Even before the police driver braked the hurtling machine to a full stop, Duane and Barnaby debouched from the tonneau.

Did what from the what now?  From this point, things get more serious as a child has been killed with three slugs in the back from a drive-by shooting.  Just to keep the reader on his toes, Barnaby and Duane are the last names of the detectives.

The boy’s mother is not comforted by the presence of the police.  She shrieks, “You’re just like the gangsters wat [sic] kill my baby!  You know who did it, but you won’t do nothin’!”  Sadly, Barnaby and Duane know she is right to feel that way.  It was probably Krako’s boys hitting one of Okmyx’s men, but nobody saw nothing and they are all politically protected.  Even if they were hauled in, they would never be convicted.

It’s worth a shot, though.  They see Boss Ritter in his car and pull him over.  He is packing a .38, but has a permit all nice and legal.  They search his car without a warrant which is not so legal.  Ritter is utterly shocked when Barnaby punches him out and arrests him.  By the time they get to the police station, his lawyer is waiting to spring him.

This gets Police Chief Grogan’s goat and he chews Barnaby out for slugging Ritter, illegally searching the car, and hauling him in with no evidence.  He is busted down to a uniformed beat cop.  He tells off the corrupt Grogan and quits.

Later at Duane’s house, Barnaby and Duane are joined by two fellow cops.  The four men decide to establish an alternate legal system.  Not as vigilantes, but as private citizens operating by the rule of justice rather than the rule of law.  So, yeah, vigilantes.

Their first target is “Big Dutch” Ritter whom they haul out of La Parisienne Cafe before his companions see how he got his nickname.  Ritter knows that a squad car ride downtown ends at the police station, which is no problem.  He is a little concerned, though, that this time he has been thrown in the back of a private sedan, and the driver has an Uber rating with fewer stars than Batman v Superman.  Barnaby tells Ritter they are working for a different police force now — from the City of Hell!

Ritter is hauled subterranean to their HQ in an abandoned sewer line.  They say it is appropriate because it was built due to graft and is unusable.  Crooked lawyers in the above-ground court-rooms can’t save him now.  They have set up a whole judicial system down there including a judge, lawyer, clerk, grand jury etc that they have abducted into service as apparently kidnapping is not considered a crime in the City of Hell.

After a brief reign of terror justice, our boys clean up the streets, the police department, and hopefully that septic tank they are operating out of.  Of course there will be no repercussions for their unconstitutional shenanigans — having driven the old gang of corrupt bureaucrats out of their jobs, the City of Hell gang will assume those positions and keep their brothers out of jail.  The cycle continues.

Maybe my favorite story of the collection so far.  Who doesn’t love vigilantes?  Until they usually end up killing the wrong person, I mean.


  • First published in Black Mask in November 1933.
  • Also that month:  Duck Soup released.

Stag Party – Charles G. Booth (1933)

Stag Party — Ha-cha-cha!  We’re off to a good start in the first two words!  The bad news is this is a novella — long enough to have chapters. The bright side is maybe I can milk this for a couple of posts.


McFee of the Blue Shield Detective Agency is checking out a dame with “a subtle red mouth and experienced eyes with green lights in them.”  Irene Mayo needs his help.  Her beau Rance Damon went to the Gaiety Club to see local gangster Sam Melrose.  McFee knows that Melrose is hiding out on Larry Knudson’s yacht trying to avoid being served a subpoena, or sardines.  Even with the gangster at sea, Damon never came out of the club.  McFee checks it out.


The downtown had gone downhill over the years.  Businesses had changed hands or closed, and “The Gaiety had gone burleycue” which I assume is a burlesque house with pulled pork, but then aren’t they all.  The Gaiety was closed in the afternoon, but McFee goes in anyway.  In the dark theater, Damon falls dead into his arms with a gunshot in his chest.  McFee assumes it is because Damon asked for change in the VIP Room.


McFee follows the blood trail to an undressing room where he finds Mabel Leclaire. Mabel’s negligee is sticky . . . and also covered in blood.  He is able to tell she used the phone, probably for a call.  “Who’d you call?”  he asks.  “Go roll a hoop,” she replies to my inexplicable amusement.


Local legitimate business man Joe Metz shows up.  He wants to get Damon’s body out of the club so owner Melrose isn’t implicated.  He accuses McFee of copping a grand jury file from Damon.  McFee asks where Melrose is, and Metz tells him he is aboard Larry Knudson’s yacht.  McFee makes his move — he smashes a lamp and flees in the dark.


He is still able to find the fuse box and steal a couple of fuses to keep everyone in the dark.  Metz’s goons Tony StarkeMonty Welch, and Art Kline run around in the dark, colliding with furniture and bloodying their knees, which had always been more of a woman’s injury in this establishment.  They hear the cops roll up and take off.  McFee crawls to Damon’s body, but it is gone.


Detective Hurley and his dicks find McFee, and are also interested in the whereabouts of the Shelldon File.  They confirm for the 3rd time that Melrose is on Larry Knudson’s yacht.  Chubby-chaser Hurley takes a moment to wistfully remember the old days.  “You need a pair of field glasses to see the jittering toothpicks that dance on the boards nowdays.”  Chief Detective Littner shows up to let us know for the 4th time that Melrose is on Larry Knudson’s yacht.


At 3:15, McFee walks out “rolling a match in his ear.”  This is the 2nd time he has done that and I still can’t figure it what it means.  He finds Irene and they drive back to her place.  When McFee sees that they are being followed, he swings by a service station and buys a 5 gallon can of crank case oil.  He pours it out on the road causing a horrific crash for his pursuer and the school bus that should be a long shortly.


Apparently this was too much excitement for Irene and she passed out.  McFee carries her up to her apartment.  He also finds the Shelldon File hidden in her coat.  She pulls a .38 on McFee to get it back, but it turns out to be full of blank pages.  McFee goes back home and finds Metz sitting in front of his apartment also holding a .38 on him.  His goons really rough McFee up.  Metz threatens him, “They got no use for dicks in heaven” which doesn’t exactly square with the way I picture it.  He is worked over pretty well before they are interrupted by Hurley and a reporter named Cruikshank.  Hmmm, of the Paris Cruikshanks?


McFee drops by his office and finds a letter telling him Melrose has the Shelldon File.  I have a hunch it is on Larry Knudson’s yacht.  He meets Irene for lunch and she has received a similar letter.  McFee rolls another match in his ear.  He finds Damon’s body in the home of a clerk who had a shop near The Gaiety.  She was conked on the head and her gas jets had been opened.  Lucky that match in his ear wasn’t lit.


Melrose finally returns from the Scudder yacht.  Wait, what?  We’ve been told four times it was Larry Knudson’s yacht — WTF is Scudder? [1]  McFee gets a phone call.  Muffled in the background he can hear someone yelling, “We are in a house on Butte Street!  I saw the name — Butte Street!  Butte Street!”  He is able to deduce that it is either Irene or The Jerky Boys . . . OK, that reference really only works in print.


McFee goes to the house on Butte Street and, appropriately, breaks into the rear of the house.  He gets the drop on the gang roughing up Irene.  She comes up with a plan for her to replace Leclaire dancing at The Shawl Club that night.  She should be able to score the Shelldon File as well as a wad of singles.  McFee ties the men to chairs.  Leclaire protests, but McFee tells her, “I’ll forget you’re a lady if you don’t sit in that chair.”  She replies, “Forget it anyway.”  It doesn’t really fit the situation, but it is such a great exchange that I love it anyway.


At The Shawl Club, we finally meet Melrose.  He is “an olive-skinned man with an uneven mouth and grizzled hair parted in the middle.  His face was old, his forehead corded by deep lines that never smoothed out.  He was thirty-eight.”  Irene does her dance, then she and McFee look for the file.  Just as they spot a manila file, they are busted.


Melrose’s goons take McFee to see him.  Turns out Melrose doesn’t have the Shelldon File either, but thinks McFee does.  The cops bust in and break up the fun.  McFee convinces them to let him have a minute alone with Melrose.

14. & 15.

McFee explains everything.  It all makes sense and there were even clues along the way.  I must admit to missing the naughtiness of the Spicy Mega-pack; especially in a story called Stag Party which takes place mostly in places with dancey girls.  It is a great read, though, and even has a nice dark ending.  Hehe, Butte Street.


  • [1] There is a Scudder Cup in yachting, but I don’t see anything called a Scudder Yacht so it must be the owner’s name.  Strangely enough, the phrase “Scudder’s yacht” appeared in the November 23, 1874 edition of The Brooklyn Daily Eagle Newspaper.
  • First published in the November 1933 edition of Black Mask.
  • Also that month:  Duck Soup released.

Double Check – Thomas Walsh (1933)

1,154 pages and 2.8 pounds — interesting in concept, but nearly impossible to read.

Devine was a small, slender man, thin-featured and quick of manner.  So it’s not Andy.  Or Divine.

He is a banker who is telling Detective Flaherty about blackmail letters he has been receiving. Unfortunately he lacked the foresight to save the letters for the police.  After getting a phone-call from the extortionists, he called the cops. The only clue is that he heard one of the men use the name Jigger.

Flaherty’s partner Mike Martin knows a Jigger Burns and says, “Jigger is a peter man.” I don’t even want to Google that.  Luckily, we are soon told that means he is a nitro expert.  The only blowing he does is -up safes.  Because Jigger was recently seen talking to Johnny Grecco, they somehow make the leap to question Grecco.  They head to the Esplanade to pick him up.

Grecco is not at the club, but one of his lackeys points out his girlfriend charmingly referred to as “the Polack.”  She is giving dime dances for $.25 so Flaherty hires her for a song.  Martin heads over to Flaherty’s house after he gets another threat about him calling the police.  While Flaherty is waiting for Grecco to show up, Martin calls in to say, “Someone laid a pineapple in Devine’s car.  Him and the chauffeur was blown to hell.”  Maybe it was that peter man.  Because of the nitro, I mean.

Flaherty returns to the club and looks around.  He asks, “Where’s that tall blonde, the Polack girl?”  She called in sick, tired of being the butt of two series of jokes impugning her intelligence [1].  He plays the cop-card, gets her name — Anna Brinski — and her address.  He busts into her apartment and finds her holding a pair tickets to Los Angeles, packing a whistle and a clipboard because the tickets said coach class.  That is enough for Flaherty to haul her downtown, although I’m still not seeing the connection.  A man comes to the door.  After a struggle, Flaherty shoots him.  As he is searching the body, Anna conks him on the head with a brass vase.

Flaherty wakes up half an hour later, but Anna is gone.  He identifies the dead man as Devine’s assistant, but can’t figure out his involvement.  He finds a piece of paper with “1934” written on it.  He staggers down the stairs of her apartment.  In front of Anna’s building, a man tries to shoot him from a passing car.  It would have been much easier to kill Flaherty in Anna’s apartment but the car could never have taken that tight corner at the base of the stairs.

After seeing an explosion in Devine’s bank, Flaherty goes to the only hotel in town tall enough to have a 19th floor.  Oh, and he calls the house dick.  Hehe.  Maybe to catch the peter man.  In room 1934, he finds Anna, Grecco, and the very much alive Devine. Flaherty puts all the pieces together.  The man killed in the explosion was a decoy for the similarly built Jigger. [2]  His pieces were not put together.

“Anna screamed suddenly, seeing the sudden bulge in the banker’s pocket.”

Since it is neither the house dick nor the peter man, it is just a pistol.  Yada yada, a bunch of cash and two honest cops.


  • [1] How does she find her way to work in the morning?  Wakes up, goes home . . .
  • [2] Hey, the plot to Fletch!
  • First published in Black Mask in July 1933.
  • Born that month:  Joan Rivers & Gene Wilder.
  • The 2nd story in the collection to mention a flivver.

Frost Rides Alone – Horace McCoy (1930)

Captain Jerry Frost of the Texas Air Rangers, like me, hears footsteps behind him.  He and his reporterette companion Helen Stevens duck into La Estrellita [1].  It is a smokey cafe along the border filled with hombres y mujeres. Since this is 1930, this means it is on the south side of the border.  He sees his pal Captain George Stuart and tells him, “Hell’s about to pop.”

Frost notices three Mexican men — or as they’re known there, men — follow them into the bar.  One of them pretends to trip over Frost’s feet, but Frost catches him with an upper-cut. Before Frost can draw his pistol, the man’s two amigos have already drawn on him.  Stuart knocks out one of the men and grabs the third.  Frost brains him with a bottle as five more men ran into the bar.

The lights go out — the economy of characters suggests Helen threw the switch — and Frost fights his way out.  Luckily “Mexican marksmanship is notoriously bad.  The first love is the blade.”  Frost and Stuart find each other and escape across the street.  They start heading back to El Norte, but Frost is worried about the woman, so they head back to La Estrellita.  They ask the proprietor if he has seen the American woman.  He gives Frost an envelope someone gave a waiter.  Inside, a letter says, “Thanks Captain for the woman”  and WTF is so hard about keeping an agua glass filled?

Four days later, the Governor and the Adjutant-General of the Rangers have joined the search.  It is their responsibility to find blonde American babes missing in foreign lands until Fox News is invented.  They get a break as a Coast Guard cutter spots a woman on board a rum-runner.  Like Jack Bauer, Frost says he is going alone to rescue Helen. The A-G says, “I’d hate like hell to have him after me!”

In the next few sentences, we meet Jimmy O’Neill, Hans Traub, Ox Clay and Oliver Roland in Corpus Christi.  What happened to that economy of characters?  O’Neill was the one who spotted Helen.  He provides Frost with a plane to search for Helen.  Frost finally spots the cutter.  He lands the plane on the water and climbs aboard.

After killing one crew-member, he forces another to tell him there are six people on board, two of them women.  They are going to pick-up illegal rum, or four more women. Frost manages to kill or subdue all of the dudes.  He finds Helen in a luxurious cabin. She even has a phone on the wall.[2]  I don’t understand how a phone on a ship worked in 1930, but I don’t understand how it would work in 2017 either.

Turns out this chick — the one from the cafe — was just pretending to be Helen.  The fight was a set-up to kill Frost.  The real Helen has been locked away for a week.  So I guess the spotter on the Cutter was so desperate to see a woman at sea that it was hard to differentiate.  I think that also explains why pirates wear earrings, but that’s just a theory.

Frost saves the day and calls in the Coast Guard to clear away the bodies and hose down the deck.  Speaking of getting hosed, after things are settled, Frost takes the real Helen — who he met about 2 minutes ago — down below to make out.

This is standard action hero stuff — Indiana Jones, Dirk Pitt, etc.  I must say, though, that the stories in this collection are more intricately plotted than those in the $.99 megapacks — lofty praise indeed.  Good stuff.


  • [1] Spanish for Tom Cruise.
  • [2] C’mon, even I know it is called a bulkhead.
  • First published in Black Mask in March 1930.
  • Also that year: Steve McQueen born and DH Lawrence died.
  • Horace McCoy’s best known work is the novella They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? which was made into a great but very bleak movie.  Not only was it a dark allegory for the weariness and hopelessness of the Depression, it gave Jane Fonda her first Oscar nomination launching her to be a thorn in people’s sides for the next fifty years.  On the other hand, it also spawned They Shoot Gilmores, Don’t They? so we’ll call it even.