I've been reading a lot of early transgressive fiction as research for an essay to be included in a book slated for 2016. This has led me into a strange and fascinating world of crime novels with plots that touch on formerly taboo topics mostly to do with sexual preference and unusual sexual practices. So when I fortuitously came across a book called The Fetish Murders (1973), with that cover seen at left, I had to read it. It's not at all transgressive fiction as I thought it might be since it has at its core a respect for morality and normalcy and does not revel in all things rebellious or counterculture. Thankfully, it did not turn into a serial killer novel as the title seems to imply. It's an attempt to present what most people in the 1970s (and I guess quite a few these days, too) would view as a distasteful subject -- erotic fetishism -- in a humanistic compassionate setting. It succeeds to a degree, but it disappoints on a whole other level.
The Fetish Murders begins with a comical scene in which June Hissock, "Carnival Queen of East Ganford", storms into the police station to report being attacked. She is the latest victim of a scissors wielding maniac who has been cutting locks of hair from young blond women. June is incensed; her hairdo is ruined. And the attack occurred just before she was to award some prizes at a school in one of her many beauty queen publicity gigs. Smart aleck journalists have alternately dubbed this hair crazed phantom the Demon Barber and Jack the Snipper. The newspapers also make a lot of allusions to Pope's "Rape of the Lock". It's all tongue in cheek and ridiculing and all a bit wrong. For they have no idea just how dangerous this hair clipping creep will become.
No one has ever seen Jack the Snipper, not even the women whose hair he is collecting. Each young woman has been attacked from the rear, the hair quickly snipped from the nape of the neck and the attacker fleeing before the victim even knows what's been done. Sergeant Pinnett is a bit worried that the attacks seem to be on the rise. He has a daughter who also has blond hair. What if she should be next?
You can guess what follows. Not only is Marjorie Pinnett next on the list she is also fatally stabbed with the scissors in what appears to be an attempt to fight back. And now the Demon Barber is no longer just a creep but a murderer.
This is very bad news for reporter Peter Stack. He had just written an informative news feature on fetishism in which, quoting expert advice of psychoanalyst Dr. Luton-Bailey, he explained the harmlessness of the attacks. The article was to reassure the public and prevent hysteria and vigilantism. He's alarmed by the murder and even moreso when he learns the victim is the daughter of a police officer who he overheard vowing to seek revenge on the Demon Barber. Stack revisits Dr. Luton-Bailey to try to understand why the fetishist suddenly became violent. When the psychologist hears that this particular hair clipping attack happened from the front he comes to the conclusion that the Demon Barber must've been recognized by Marjorie. And in that moment he felt it necessary to kill.
Luton-Bailey is one of the better realized characters. His psychology is modern and sound, even sympathetic, but still a bit too Freudian. I was disappointed that here was yet another instance of a psychological suspense story that dealt with aberrant behavior that must be explained away by an absent father, a domineering mother, and a belittled and abused child who grows up to be a deeply disturbed adult living out "perversions" in order to deal with trauma. No attempt is made to discuss fetishism as a form of eroticism without the taint of mental illness. Not all sexual fetishism is about mommy and daddy issues. There's a lot more involved in the fetish world that Avon Curry didn't seem to want to explore.
Bringing us to the writer. That name is an obvious pseudonym and by page 20 I was sure that the androgynous sounding Avon Curry was probably a woman writer. The way that Marjorie and her friend Nancy are depicted, the detailed talk of women's clothes and hairstyling, the sensitive nature of so many of the male characters -- this seemed not to be a male writer at all. And I was right. After consulting The Dictionary of Pseudonyms I learned that Avon Curry was one of several pen names used by the prolific writer Jean Bowden.
|Jean Bowden, retired at age 90|
The Fetish Murders begins as a crime novel and slowly evolves into a psychosexual mystery but is never a true detective novel. Early in the novel Bowden reveals the identity of the killer and the existence of his mysterious girl friend Angela Good. The book alternates between Peter Stack's sleuthing -- both as a quasi psychological profiler with Luton-Bailey's assistance and a physical evidence gathering detective -- and the tortured behavior of Dennis Justinson determined along with Angela's help to shift the blame to an imaginary mad killer. There is one final twist Bowden adds towards the end of the book that is no real surprise to a modern crime fiction reader and sadly so ineptly handled that it fairly ruins the book. When the end comes it is violent as expected, tragic, a bit pathetic but wholly contrary to how the author led us to believe she felt about her antagonist. When Peter Stack calls Dennis "that thing" I was not just disappointed, I was pissed off.
Reading Challenge update: Silver Age card R5 -"Author who uses a pseudonym"
It took a couple of weeks after I posted a review of The Red-Light Victim (Tower, 1981), a paperback original by Lawrence Kinsley, to track the author down, thanks to Google and the assistance of Mark Nevins, a mutual friend.
You probably should go read (or re-read) the review again, before continuing. Here’s the link. I’ll reuse the cover image that I used then, but you’ll probably find it helpful to go back to read what I had to say about the book before reading Larry’s own comments on it. What I will tell you here, though, is that it’s a private eye novel, the PI in this case being Boston-based Jason O’Neil. In the background is the anti-nuclear movement of the early 1980s.
This interview consists of a long comment that Larry left on that earlier blog post, somewhat edited to fit an interview-type format, along with his answers to a few additional questions I asked him.
Steve (SL): I’m glad I was able to get in touch with you, and of course it’s good that you’re still around to be gotten in touch with. Can you tell us something about the book, your reaction to the cover, and how it happened that a second book never happened?
Larry (LK): No, the nukes haven’t gotten me yet! Larry Kinsley is still alive, and am the author of The Red-Light Victim, though I had nothing to do with the cover pic! – that was strictly Tower Pub, which I doubt ever even fully read the book! In fact, I pretty much had an agreement with a scientific group named the Union of Concerned Scientists to review and publicize the book when it came out, but as soon as they saw the cover the agreement vaporized.
Don’t know how much anyone would be interested in my subsequent tale of woe concerning the book. Suffice it to say that after I sold a second Jason O’Neill detective novel to Tower Pub, The Salem Cult, a year later, they went out of business three months before that book’s fall 1982 release date. Worse, they literally stole away in the middle of the night from their Park Avenue offices, taking all of my royalties from Red-Light with them! These included sales of the book to at least three different European countries, with translations, what Tower had previously told me was unprecedented for one of their mystery/detective books.
As my writing career up to then had netted me approximately eighht cents an hour, and as at the same time my agent retired suddenly and I couldn’t re-market the second O’Neil book since Tower had already paid for a 15 year copyright, I decided at that time, aided by a sudden move out of the Boston area to Florida because of a work offer in the video retail business, to put my career on hold.
Red-Light had been up for an Edgar as best first mystery novel, but didn’t win, I was told by Mystery Ink’s librarian, because Tower did nothing to push the book. Although I had other O’Neill books outlined, I simply for a number of reasons both financial and personal couldn’t continue at that time. Little did I know that my hiatus would last well over 30 years!
SL: What have you been doing in the past 30 years?
LK: I have recently retired from the retail business and am back in the writing game, though of course O’Neill himself is vastly out of date – in fact he took up residence in the retirement home for old detectives some time ago – but I do have an historical novel and a WWII spy novel in the pipeline, though no agent as of yet.
I also spent several years writing a non-fiction book on the architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s campus of buildings at Florida Southern College near where I currently live, which is currently being looked at – no decision yet – by the History Press.
SL: Thanks for all information about The Red-Light Victim and what you’ve been doing since it was published. Do you now own the rights to the book? You mentioned that Tower had a 15 year long contract for the copyright, but that’s long past. And in that regard, have you considered finding a publisher specializing in reprinting oldout-of-print mysteries? There are quite a few actively putting out books today.
LK: You’re very welcome. I’m always interested in letting the reading public know something of the behind the scenes writing game.
I don’t know much about publishers interested in publishing out of date mysteries – mine was so topical I really didn’t think about a re-release over 30 years later. Maybe by now enough people have come along who thing that the China Syndrome is a casual drug that there might be some re-interest in the topic. (In 1982 I was actually in the middle of negotiating a five-figure deal with a Hollywood producer to sell the screen rights to the book to him when China Syndrome screened, and the deal fell thru.)
I do own the rights since Tower had only a 15 year window, even if with the failure to pay royalties they had even that, and when the book was published a couple of lines was left out of one chapter which has always nagged me. In fact I have computerized the novel, making a few improvements mainly in the grammar and syntax, so I suppose I could try to market it again.
I am juggling a couple of other books now, so I will see, but thanks for the suggestion. I also have the second novel in the O’Neill series on the computer now, and may make an attempt with that at some time, though it’s probably even a bit more time sensitive than Red-Light and may not be publishable.
SL: Have you been keeping up with the mystery field in recent years?
LK: Other than rereading Chandler and Hammett, I must confess that I have pretty much put mystery reading as well as writing in the rearview mirror. My current knowledge of the detective/mystery field is severely limited.
SL: Thanks for taking the time to talk with me this way, and for agreeing to have our discussion put online.
LK: I certainly appreciate your interest. Basically I’m just an old gumshoe geezer now whose 15 minutes of near fame has long come and gone, and is probably wasting his time trying finally to get 15 more. But what the heck, I can still breathe, and a writer is usually a writer until his last breath!
Although PulpFest 2015 is still over six months off, do not despair. There are other collectors conventions fast approaching. For instance, on Sunday, March 22nd, the Los Angeles Vintage Paperback Collectors Show will take place in the Glendale Civic Auditorium at 1401 North Verdugo Road in Glendale, California from 9 AM to 4 PM. It’s still the best bargain in town, featuring an admission price of five bucks!
Now in its 36th year, this convention was started by Tom Lesser, who invited dealers, fellow collectors and paperback enthusiasts to his home in Chatworth, California in 1980. Since then, it has grown to be the world’s largest vintage paperback gathering. This year’s show will feature more than 80 dealer tables with tens of thousands of vintage paperbacks for sale, from inexpensive filler copies to the most elusive and rare collectibles in the hobby. In addition to collectible paperbacks, you’ll also find pulp magazines, original illustration art, hardbound science fiction and mystery books, and more. There is no telling what might show up!
Over the years, an important attraction of the show has been its exciting roster of guest authors and artists. It has included such notables as Robert Bloch (18 years); A. E. Van Vogt , Ray Bradbury, Poul Anderson, and Fredrik Pohl (all for over 10 years); and the show’s champ, William F. Nolan (with over 30 years of appearances). This year the show will feature approximately fifty guests who will be available to meet the attendees and sign their works for free! Click here for a schedule of this year’s guest writers and artists.
For additional information on this great collectors gathering, click here to visit the Los Angeles Vintage Paperback Collectors Show website or call Tom Lesser at 818-349-3844. And while you’re at the show, be sure to pick up a PulpFest 2015 post card to learn more about this summer’s tremendous pulp con, taking place from August 13th through the 16th at the Hyatt Regency in Columbus, Ohio.
(The show’s characteristic poster images were originally designed by the late Glenn Souza, starting in the early 1990s and continued by him through 2007, when he handed on his legacy to Tony Gleeson.)
T-minus 2 days to the kick-off of our first ever International Women’s Day Edition of the Read For Pixels campaign featuring award-winning bestselling female authors collaborating with The Pixel Project to raise awareness and funds for the cause to end violence against women! Among the authors taking part are Christina Lauren, Lauren Beukes, Marie Lu, Jaye Wells, and Yasmine Galenorn.
Find out more at http://is.gd/Read4Pixels
These women are amazing. This cause is urgent. Get involved.
I read in one of our newspapers yesterday a review of the film Circle of Danger out soon on DVD in the UK. Doing the usual thing I do and look on IMDB it says, Writer: Philip MacDonald (novel).
A little further googling says based on his novel White Heather. There’s no book I can find by him called White Heather or anything similar, nor can I find a book under that title by any other author. The plot does not remind me of any MacDonald book. Do you by any chance have it on DVD?
This is Steve. The reason Jamie asked if I had a copy on DVD was to check to see if White Heather is included in the opening credits. I don’t, but perhaps someone reading this does.
I also Googled the book title in conjunction with Philip MacDonald’s name and got no farther than Jamie did. Almost every reference I came across copied the same wording from each other. The closest to a solid reference source is this one:
The Complete Index to Literary Sources in Film
Any assistance from this point on would most certainly be welcome. The fact that the film was directed by Jacques Tourneur may be of some help, as quite a bit of critical attention has been directed his way.
So I am left with the books left here by
other guests. The only ones I think I might like are the ACs. Now I have read every AC but a long time ago.
These are my choices: THE PALE HORSE, MRS. MCGINTY'S DEAD, SLEEPING MURDER, AN OVERDOSE OF DEATH, THE UNDERDOG, THE BURDEN, A MURDER IS ANNOUNCED, CROOKED HOUSE, DEAD MAN"S FOLLY, NEMESIS and THE CLOCKS.
Which one would you read?
- Canary by Duane Swierczynski