Jul 242014
 
Reviewed by DAVID VINEYARD:         


CLARENCE H. NEW – The Unseen Hand: An Adventure of the Freelancers of Diplomacy. Doubleday Page & Co., hardcover, 1918. Wildside Press, softcover reprint. Illustrated by Clinton Pettee. Available in ebook form online here.

   The following appeared in the January 15. 1933, issue of the New York Times:

C.H. NEW, NOVELIST, ASKED THEM IN HIS WILL NOT TO “SCATTER” HIS EFFECTS

   The heirs of Clarence H. New, Brooklyn novelist, whose serial, the Freelancers of Diplomacy, ran for twenty three years in Blue Book, are enjoined in his will from “scattering about” his personal effects in foreign countries.

   The will goes on to explain his son and grandson were travelers and prone to leave items behind them, and concludes with a quote from the will:

   “As I do not believe anyone regains consciousness after death,” the will says. “I wish it distinctly understood there shall be no church or funeral ceremony.”

   That explains a bit about New, but not the Freelancers of Diplomacy, whose adventures ran in Blue Book for twenty three years with out a break, a saga Robert Sampson describes in Yesterday’s Heroes as unparalleled in American pulp history.

   Despite a history of adventure covering a few thousand pages and by my guesstimate at least one million words, there remains only one novel recounting the adventures of the Freelancers of Diplomacy, The Unseen Hand, what in science fiction used to be called a ‘fixup,’ a bit of new material tying together several shorter adventures from the magazine.

   We are given a brief history of said Freelancers from the point of view of the Germans who have recently learned the identity of the group and its leader from an American magazine — a surprisingly modern touch considering recent events in the real world of espionage and diplomacy.

   Cassells monthlies … devotes quite a lengthy article to the ‘Diplomatic Free Lance’ and his associates. This man will be remembered — by the most contemptible betrayal of confidence reposed in him by his former German hosts, who had entertained him and the woman masquerading as his wife, upon the supposition that they were people of breeding who belonged to the aristocracy — has been the solitary exception among the English to be really dangerous to us, and a rope is waiting for him as soon as he is caught. Various conjectures have been made by Wilhelmstrase as to his identity — but the truth is now kindly offered to us by the fools across the channel. It seems that he is — as we have been morally certain for sometime — a certain sports crazed English peer who has never been credited with the least political ability, Lord Trevor, of Dartmoor. In his nefarious and unprincipled schemes against us he has been assisted by the woman posing as his wife, Lady Nan Trevor; by a Sir Edward Lammerford, who was once dismissed by the English Foreign office for conduct unbecoming a diplomat and a gentleman; by a blackamoor servant calling himself an Afghan prince; by Sir Edward Wray, whose thinly veiled name is easily recognizable by every German who recalls the black treachery of August 1914; by an attache of the American Embassy in Paris; and by the old reprobate Cavaliere Scarpa, in Italy.

   Giving us our introduction to the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel — oh, sorry wrong century, the Freelancers of Diplomacy.

   Of course we know quite a bit more, for instance that Lord Trevor, the idle sportsman who is mastermind behind this group, is really American Cyrus K, Grisscome, alias Commander Cresspinge, who operated for President Roosevelt (Teddy) using his fast yacht as a mobile base.

   Of course the resemblance is only one of those coincidences of fiction … because there are no such people as Viscount Trevor of Dartmoor or Sir Edward Wray (hint, he may be the Prime Minister) in DeBrett’s. “It’s a legend, a joke, Baron Munchausen and Sherlock Holmes combined, gossip, hearsay, pure fiction …”

   If you think this is all terribly old-fashioned and out of date I refer you to bestselling writer Ted Bell’s half-American peer Alexander Hawke, Lord Hawke, who ‘freelances’ a bit himself from his heavily armed super fast yacht the Hawke. What goes around as they say.

   And it is only a coincidence that the Condessa de Montessa, her moorish servants, her titled Afghan friend, Baron W, and her husband the Earl occupy apartments so like those described in the stories published about the Diplomatic Freelance in Cassells.

   In short order we are filled in on the adventures of Cyrus Grisscome and how he ‘might’ have become Viscount Trevor, and how perhaps the Diplomatic Free Lance is something like the Mission Impossible team undertaking missions that the government can deny should they fail or be captured. About the only thing missing is the theme music and the self destructive instructions.

   Noticeably there is a good deal of back story to fill in for a series that runs twenty three years, but by chapter two we are off on the adventure, and chapter one has at least been intriguing. The ten chapters that follow are loosely connected adventures from Blue Book such as “The Aldershot Affair,” “Touching on the Honor of Islam,” “The Neutrality of Holland,” “A Machiavellian Coup in Roumania,” “The Mysterious Camp in the Pyrenees” … and the plot and action are almost non-stop and well told. For instance in that last one, Trevor and company have to foil a plot to invade France with sixty thousand men hidden in the Pyrenees wearing stolen American uniforms.

   Fantastic? Perhaps, but in WWI the Germans actually tried to smuggle anthrax-infected mules into France through the Pyrenees and in WW II specially trained SS donned American uniforms and penetrated the American lines at the Battle of the Bulge.

   Bulldog Drummond fans may appreciate a certain Madame Irma and her ‘supposed husband’ whose allegiances are in question. The Freelancers also barely avert a plot to kill Kitchener with the fleet at Skager Rock — not unlike his real death organized by the real German spy known as Fraulien Doktor. New at least knew how to read the newspapers and extrapolate.

   As with Oppenheim, Le Queux, and even Buchan and Sapper, at least some of the appeal of these was the feeling of being in on the back rooms of intrigue and espionage. Eric Ambler, Ian Fleming, and John le Carre would all mine the same territory one way or another. Whenever Bell’s Lord Hawke is in conference with the President of PM and the various Secretaries and Ministers he routinely rubs noses with it is a nod to the past and the beginnings of the genre.

   Treachery waits at every crossroads. Are there those in Spain who would aid the Kaiser to gain greater favor, can the Bulgarians be trusted (if you read Ian Fleming the answer is no but then the Bulgarians did most of the Soviet’s dirty work in the Cold War), will Holland’s neutrality be violated?

   Are people friend or foe, agents of the Boche or agents of the Entente Cordiale, fair or fowl, operating at cross purposes or for the same goal? Who can be trusted, and who should be silenced? Spy fiction hasn’t changed a lot in the century or so since its beginnings. (*)

   The Diplomatic Freelancers fall somewhere between E. Phillips Oppenheim and William LeQueux, a bit more active than the former, better written and less melodramatic than the latter. No one reading this is going to discover an early version of James Bond, the real world of Eric Ambler, or even the cut throat back alley secret wars of Peter Cheyney.

      Everyone has a title, everyone is a cliche, we are never all that far from the Scarlet Pimpernel; even the relative modernity of John Buchan, Sapper, Dornford Yates and the Clubland Heroes is some time ahead.

   But these adventures were written with conviction. As late as the pre-war years Max Brand’s Anthony Hamilton spy stories were still on this mode with spies in white tails and slinky women in black velvet, as, in many ways, were the adventures of Operator #5, and even the more realistic adventures of John P. Marquand’s Mr. Moto. And not unlike the heroes those, British agent he may be, Cyrus Grisscome is still an American and knows his own countries neutrality won’t stand against German aggression.

   “There are still a few of the old breed living in America, your Highness — And they’ll wipe the stains from our good old flag in a way that will mean annihilation to everything that Germany stands for, today!”

   Duck, you Huns, Uncle Sam wants you! And admit it, even today it’s effective.

   Like Somerset Maugham’s Ashenden, or the British Agent — which it resembles in no other way — it ends with the Russian Revolution and hints of a new secret war to come in which the Diplomatic Freelancers will be needed once again. Already in 1918 the writing on the wall was clear, and this time in bright red.

   These tales and the twenty-three years worth of saga from Blue Book are worth reading today for more than nostalgia. We may be as much in Ruritania or Graustark as the real Europe, and there may be a few deadly electronic eyes (even Oppenheim used that one in The Wrath to Come), exploding cigars and poisoned needles (Le Queux’s Duckworth Drew), femme fatales poured into elegant black satin and opera gloves (everyone save Buchan), untrustworthy ‘fureigners’, loyal Afghan princes and moorish servants, and all the trappings of an earlier age, but the writing is good, the stories are fun, and the musty scent of crumbling pulp paper intoxicating, even in electronic form.

   If Clarence New and the Diplomatic Freelancers are only a name faintly redolent of black velvet cloaks lined in red satin and crossed daggers, or even if they are completely unknown to you, they are worth the effort to become acquainted with.

   There are touches of modernity, good old fashioned swashbuckling, intrigue, adventure, and entertainment to be had, and the dust you have to blow away to get to it is nowhere near as deep as you might expect. Blue Book was one of the Cadillacs of the pulps, in a rank with Adventure, Top Notch, and the various incarnations of Argosy. Names like John Buchan and Agatha Christie graced Blue Book‘s pages, so New is in heady company.

   You won’t have to lower your standards to enjoy this book, and you may wish you knew someone with a complete collection of Blue Book so you could read more. That’s a high recommendation for any series out of the pulps, though managing twenty three years of consecutive issues may be a bit ambitious for most collectors. From this example it might well be worth the effort though aside from the countless other examples of well written fiction gracing those pages.

(*)   The first modern spy novel, by all critical opinion, is John Buchan’s The Power House from 1910, however Le Queux, Oppenheim, Fred White, the adventures of Norroy and others at least reach back to the late 1880‘s early 1890‘s into the turn of the century, and it could be argued as far back as the Trojan Horse and the two Israelite spies who enter Jericho.

   Sherlock Holmes and Martin Hewitt render services to England in the area of espionage and counter-espionage, and Sexton Blake was always encountering foreign agents. Certainly the doings at Zenda in Ruritania are secret service work, and as far back as Stevenson’s ‘Pavillion on the Links’ there is international skullduggery taking place in placid old England.

   For that matter Dumas Musketeers and Monte Cristo are the very definition of ‘cloak and dagger.’ The spies may change from the Tsar’s Secret Police to the lads at Wilhelmstrasse, to Reds under the covers, and back to the Gestapo, the Japanese, the Soviets, the Chinese, Islamic terrorists, all the way to Putin’s Russia to day, but the odds and the heroes are remarkably consistent interspersed of course with an overlay of Carl Petersons, Fu Manchus, and Blofields when ever international politics got a bit dull.

 Posted by at 1:32 am
Jul 242014
 
THE ARMCHAIR REVIEWER
Allen J. Hubin


CHARLOTTE MacLEOD – Vane Pursuit. Mysterious Press, hardcover, 1989; paperback, 1990.

   Vane Pursuit is one of the better tales in Charlotte MacLeod’s series about Peter Shandy, professor of botany at Balaclava College in the nether regions of Massachusetts. Shandy’s wife Helen is here working on a book project involving the potentially famous weathervanes created by the nomenclaturally unforgettable Praxiteles Lumpkin.

   However, disaster seems to attend her photographic rounds: buildings burn and weathervanes are destroyed. Or mysteriously disappear. One of the casualties is the Lumpkin Soap Factory, the conflagration of which destroys the Lumpkinton employment base, returns one employee to his Maker, and signals the departure of a particularly stellar vane.

   These goings-on, plus the antics of a crew of rural survivalists and a fascinating cave dweller, fully engage the Shandys to the brinks of their lives. Vane Pursuit has a stronger plot than some in this series, with less reliance on the soon tiresome tactic of outrageous character names, and the dialog is sprightly.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier,
       Vol. 11, No. 3, Summer 1989.


      The Professor Peter Shandy series –

Rest You Merry (1978)
The Luck Runs Out (1979)
Wrack and Rune (1981)
Something the Cat Dragged in (1983)
The Curse of the Giant Hogweed (1985)
The Corpse in Oozak’s Pond (1986)
Vane Pursuit (1989)
An Owl Too Many (1991)
Something in the Water (1994)
Exit the Milkman (1996)

 Posted by at 12:52 am
Jul 242014
 
Following James Garner’s death last weekend, I started rummaging through my storage room for a particular edition of Mystery magazine that I remembered featuring Garner in one of his most famous TV roles, that of Los Angeles gumshoe Jim Rockford in The Rockford Files. Naturally, this was no easy endeavor; it required my unpacking and then repacking more boxes than I (or my sore muscles) care to recall. But I did finally find the item I sought.

For those who don’t remember Mystery, it was founded as a full-size mag in 1979 by Stephen L. Smoke (who, under the pseudonym Hamilton T. Caine, went on to produce at least two novels about Southern California gumshoe Ace Carpenter). The contents combined non-fiction and fiction, and there were several contributors to the publication whose names are still familiar, among them Robert J. Randisi and Paul Bishop. Mystery’s other claim to fame might be that it was headquartered in downtown L.A.’s landmark, 1893 Bradbury Building, which had featured prominently in Garner’s 1969 film Marlowe, and provided office space for the protagonists in such small-screen gems as Banyon, City of Angels, and 77 Sunset Strip. I was pretty young at the time, but I managed to get two profiles into Mystery after it shrank to digest size (and before it folded in 1982), one of Stuart M. Kaminsky, the other of Collin Willcox. (I’ll have to dig up both of those sometime, too.)

Anyway, the January 1981 edition of Mystery boasted a cover story, written by Bob Randisi, that looked back at “the best TV private eyes of the 1970s.” He highlighted a number of prominent shows from that decade, including Mannix, Barnaby Jones, Harry O(“my personal favorite of all the TV P.I.s I’ve seen”), Charlie’s Angels, and Cannon. He also noted, however, that a survey taken of “writers, readers, editors, and TV viewers from all sections of the country” had determined that the most popular shamus of the ’70s was … Garner’s impecunious but loyal Rockford. Randisi explained:
The reason for the success of [The] Rockford Files was simple: James Garner. Rockford was probably one of the more humanly portrayed P.I.s of all the TV “eyes.” He was not a superman, and preferred to talk his way--or con his way--out of a tight spot rather than fight his way out--which doesn’t mean he didnt fight when he had to. He just preferred not to.”
I’m embedding the whole story below, just for your entertainment. Click on the images to open more readable enlargements.



Jul 232014
 
So, Hermes Press has just collected their Buck Rogers miniseries by Howard Chaykin. I didn't read the individual comics, but I pre-ordered it in trade, and expect it to arrive in a week or so. I don't always like Chaykin's comics, but when I do, I tend to like them a lot. In the 80s, I adored American Flagg, and the writer/artist is responsible for creating one of my all-time favorite comics characters - Atlas Comics' The Scorpion. I also dug his 80s Shadow miniseries (and will probably pick up his recent return to the character eventually), among many other titles.

I've read online that this version of Buck Rogers hews more closely to the original Philip Francis Nowlan pulp novellas, Armageddon 2419 A.D. and The Airlords Of Han.... and I think that's a great approach. Hey, I love the 70s TV series as much as anyone (and more than most), but it's about time to get back to the character's roots.

Here are Chaykin's covers for the four issue miniseries.

Jul 232014
 

Adventure 46-03In his introduction to The Worlds of Philip José Farmer: Voyages to Strange Days, editor Michael Croteau writes, “A child of the Golden Age of Science Fiction, Farmer wrote many of the same types of stories as his contemporaries during the last half of the twentieth century: tales of space exploration, alien planets, fantastic journeys, alien invasions, time travel, artificial worlds, the afterlife, space opera, alternate history, mad scientists, robots, dystopias, list worlds, feral humans, displaced men, artificial intelligence, the future, the distant future, and the realy, really far distant future. Name a science fiction trope and Farmer almost certainly tried his hand at it, sometimes playing it straight, sometimes turning it on its head.”

Although noted for his “pioneering use of sexual and religious themes,” Philip José Farmer was, in short, a pulp writer. This year FarmerCon IX, our “convention within a convention,” turns its attention to the pulp elements found in Peoria’s Grand Master of Science Fiction‘s canonOur annual FarmerCon panel presentation will begin at 10 PM on Thursday, August 7th.

In The Farmerian Vision: Pulp Meets Science Fiction, moderator Paul Spiteri–editor of the Farmer collection Pearls from Peoriaand panelists Jason Aiken and Christopher Paul Carey will discuss the unique way in which the Hugo award-winning author blended pulp elements and themes with his science-fictional works.

Jason Aiken became interested in the pulps and works of Philip José Farmer in 2009. He is the host of the Pulp Crazy podcast and video blog where he reviews classic and new pulp fiction. Christopher Paul Carey, one of our 2014 New Fictioneers, coauthored Gods of Opar: Tales of Lost Khokarsa with Mr. Farmer, and authored Exiles of Kho, a prelude to the Khokarsa series.

Since 2011, PulpFest has hosted FarmerCon, a convention that began in Peoria, Illinois, the hometown of Philip José Farmer. Originally a gathering of Farmer fans figuratively, and literally, right outside Phil’s back door, FarmerCon offered presentations, dinners, and even picnics at the author’s house.  After the passing of Phil and Bette Farmer in 2009, it was decided to take FarmerCon on the road to broaden its horizons. By holding the convention alongside events like PulpFest, Farmer fans get a variety of programming and a room full of pulp and book dealers to enjoy. As always, PulpFest is  pleased to welcome FarmerCon IX members to the Hyatt Regency Columbus.

Picky, Picky

 Awards 2014  Comments Off
Jul 232014
 
Adding to the anticipation surrounding this year’s Iceland Noir festival in Reykjavik (November 20-23), organizers have announced their finalists for the inaugural Icepick Award celebrating translated crime fiction. They are:
La Vérité sur l'affaire Harry Quebert [The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair], by Joël Dicker; Icelandic translation by Friðrik Rafnsson
Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn; Icelandic translation by
Bjarni Jónsson
Panserhjerte [The Leopard], by Jo Nesbø; Icelandic translation by Bjarni Gunnarsson
Människa utan hund [Man Without Dog], by Håkan Nesser; Icelandic translation by Ævar Örn Jósepsson
Veljeni vartija [My Brother’s Keeper], by Antti Tuomainen; Icelandic translation by Sigurður Karlsson
The winner will be announced at Reykjavik’s Nordic House on November 22 (which, were he still alive, would be author Raymond Chandler’s 126 birthday).

(Hat tip to Shotsmag Confidential.)

Charging Into the Darkness

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Jul 232014
 
I didn’t even have this birthday marked down on my calendar, but Criminal Element contributor Jake Hinkson evidently keeps better track of some things than I do. He explains:
This year film noir turns 70. While there had been some intermittent films leading up to the birth of the classic noir, in 1944 the dahlia bloomed with six key films: Double Indemnity, Laura, Murder My Sweet, Phantom Lady, When Strangers Marry, and The Woman in the Window. In these films you have many of the key figures in noir making some of their first forays into the genre (directors Billy Wilder, Otto Preminger, Fritz Lang, and Robert Siodmak; writers Raymond Chandler, Cornell Woolrich, Vera Caspary, Phillip Yordan; actors Robert Mitchum, Barbara Stanwyck, Joan Bennett, Dana Andrews--just to name a few). This onslaught of darkness came in the wake of the bleakest days (from the American perspective, anyway) of WWII. The basis of many of these films were older properties, but it is the way these films came out--physically darker, psychologically denser, and ultimately more pessimistic--that marks the real birth of film noir.
By way of celebrating, Hinkson today posted the first of half a dozen articles, this one recalling the many strengths of Double Indemnity, the Fred MacMurray/Barbara Stanwyck/Edward G. Robinson picture that he says “might well be the most famous of all film noirs.” Stay tuned for the remaining installments of Hinkson’s series.

READ MORE:When Lightning Strikes,” by Thomas Kaufman
(The Rap Sheet).

Pro-File: Ariel S. Winter

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Jul 232014
 

THE TWENTY-YEAR DEATH
Ariel S. Winter
August 2012
ISBN: 978-0-85768-581-0
Cover art by Chuck PyleRead A Sample Chapter
Order Now






1. Tell us about your current novel.

It's a bit of a stretch to call The Twenty-Year Death current since it came out in the summer of 2012, but it's just come out in a completely new format that I'm very excited about. The book as a whole tells of the twenty-year descent of the great American novelist Shem Rosenkrantz from bestselling literary darling to out-of-work Hollywood hack. The story is told through three separate mystery novels each in the style of the greatest crime writer of the decade in which that part of the story is set: Georges Simenon, Raymond Chandler, and Jim Thompson. It was important to me that each of the books operated independently from each other, as though each section was a lost novel of its respective era. That way if a reader read just one portion of the novel, he would feel as though he had read a complete novel, but if he read the whole thing as intended, it added up to a greater work. My original vision of the novel was as a boxed paperback set, and my editor Charles Ardai agreed. For cost reasons, however, and to make the biggest splash, we put it out as a single hardcover. This month all three books were released as independent mass market paperbacks. Now some readers might only experience a part of the story, or read the books in a different order than in the single-volume edition, and it will be interesting to hear how those experiences are different.

2. Can you give a sense of what you're working on now?

My next novel is a robot romance in the Bronte tradition. Set in a dystopic future in which humans are a small minority, it tells of an aged robot who rents a beach-side cabana to contemplate his future. He's been in a terrible accident, and the societal expectation is that he should deactivate himself, but he's not ready to die. While at the beach, he becomes obsessed with the robot family that lives in the big house that overlooks the beach from the top of the cliff. Through a series of interlocking narrators, he learns the terrible secrets that separate this family from robotkind.

3. What is the greatest pleasure of a writing career?

Now that I have a real published book out, there's some comfort that there's tangible evidence that I existed. If I die tomorrow, even if my book goes out of print, it still exists out there, to be found, worthy of a footnote at least.

4. What is the greatest DISpleasure?

The years and years of toiling with very little encouragement, and the shock that even after you publish a novel to critical acclaim and with good sales figures, it doesn't mean that anyone will rush to publish you again. The uncertainty with the years and years between paychecks.

5. If you have one piece of advice for the publishing world, what is it?

Don't forget the booksellers. The booksellers are who sell the books. Not only is it important to cultivate a relationship with as many booksellers as possible, but publishers should help to publicly champion booksellers, emphasizing the role they serve in the literary culture. If the general public began to feel that a bookseller should be consulted like a sommelier, it would help save bookstores, and it will ensure the understanding that there's a reason that 99% of books that should be read are published, not self-published.

6. Are there two or three forgotten mystery writers you'd like to see in print again?

I'm not knowledgeable enough to know of any forgotten mystery writers. NYRB, Hard Case, and other presses like them seem to be doing a great job of bring deserving authors back into print.

7. Tell us about selling your first novel. Most writers never forget that moment.

I was cooking dinner when my agent called. I don't remember what I was cooking, but I remember I was using a frying pan on the front right hand burner, and it was something time-sensitive, and there was a lot of noise in the kitchen, my daughter, my wife at the sink, so I was distracted. The months of trying to sell had worn me down, so that it was almost as though the news passed right by me that it had happened. There was a delay in the excitement for some reason. Of course, my wife would probably tell me that I have all of these details wrong. In any event, the moment is hyper-real for me, like the world shrunk into me at that moment. You're right that you don't forget it, but I'm not sure I remember it either. It was epochal.



Help Making the Leap

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Jul 232014
 
Are you an aspiring crime, mystery, or thriller writer looking for professional assistance to get you on the right literary track? Then the 2014 Book Passage Mystery Writers Conference--to be held in Corte Madera, California, from July 24 to 27--might be an event worth your attending. Writers and others leading workshops will include Ace Atkins, Cara Black, David Corbett, Anne Perry, literary agent Amy Rennert, and Judge Peter J. Busch of the San Francisco Superior Court. The conference schedule is here. To register, click here.