Jul 292014
 
1956 Horwitz Edition


Joe Carslake is in the town of Linmouth to visit a pal of his named Godfrey for a quiet weekend in the country. All is going well except the two murders and the ulcer. His weekend started with the girl at the gas station in the bikini. It further developed into a double cross with his buddy Godfrey, whose idea of fun was to twist Joe's arm and break it. The weekend further developed with a girl named Lucille who did not know the finer things in life and thought Joe was the guy to put the love into her, but her father disagreed. The weekend really could have been happening if the frustrated brunette by the name of Jennifer made sure it did not happen. Joe did not mind the corpses, up until the police lieutenant thought he was responsible for them. And Joe did not mind the gangsters until they started minding him. It all started with a real estate deal. It was real alright, but the only estate he was likely to wind up in was a six foot plot. 

Cover by Moira Bertram

Printing History
Written by Alan G Yates (1923-1985)

Horwitz Publications, Inc
Numbered  Series #34 1956
Collector's Series Vol 1 No 27 July 1959

Bonus Cover
 Finland 1969


Note
This title was originally published on Feb 12, 2011
 Posted by at 3:42 pm
Jul 292014
 


The newest addition to the Mulholland Classic series is James Sallis’s Death Will Have Your Eyes. This espionage novel is suffused with music references. For the optimum reading experience, press play on the playlist above, pour yourself a cup of coffee (black), and crack open this slim, spare book to enter the world of a re-activated spy.

Jul 292014
 

The post Start Reading Death Will Have Your Eyes by James Sallis appeared first on Mulholland Books.

Death Will Have Your Eyes by James SallisThe Mulholland Classic series is our initiative to bring our favorite classic mysteries back to print. Our fervent hope is that a new generation of readers will pick up one of our Classic paperbacks and discover the great authors who made us fall in love with this genre. First we published A Single Shot by Matthew F. Jones, followed by Brian D’Amato’s Beauty. Today we welcome the return of James Sallis’s acclaimed espionage novel, Death Will Have Your Eyes. Sample Sallis’s inimitable writing style below.

The man kept opening his mouth, wanting something from me, but it was a language I didn’t know. Not Mandarin. Not Thai or Vietnamese. Only sounds. His voice rose and fell in pitch. Shouting, demanding. I shook my head, the sour, foul smell of my own body washing up over me in waves, tongue so swollen I could not talk, could not respond. Soon the pain would start again. And I would rise, hover near the ceiling looking down. Watching. Apart.

I woke suddenly, rushing to exchange the currency of dreams for coin I could spend. Morning light fell dazzlingly through the skylight onto the futon. Those wide shadows were not bars or slats in a cage—only the leaves of plants in hanging baskets up there. That sound was only the phone.

Nothing else in the room. No windows. The futon, a painted bamboo screen against one wall, an expanse of blond wood floor—tongue and groove I’d put in myself. About as close as the real world gets to the ordered simplicity of oriental drawings.

No one else, either. Only Gabrielle and myself.

She slept crosswise on the futon, my head cradled in her lap. Trying to get away from the light, I turned over. “Oh yes, please,” she said. But obviously the phone was not going to quit ringing, so I snaked along the bed to answer it. Gabrielle grabbed me as I went by and held on.

I listened for a moment and hung up. “Wrong number,” I told her. “I’ve got your number,” she said, head moving to replace her hand, but I stopped her, wrapping black hair around both my hands and pulling her up into a slow, easy kiss.

“I’m going for a run,” I said. “Get the sludge out. Want to come along?”

“At six in the bleedin’ mornin’?

With Gabby you never knew what accent you might get. Her features came mostly from an Irish mother and patrician Mexican father, but her extended family was pure goulash. Dad left when she was three, and she and her mother spent years shuttling from household to household, family to family, country to country. This early morning, the accent was British, a better choice than most, I suppose, for gradations of polite outrage.

“Okay, but don’t say I didn’t ask. So go back to sleep now, my little peasant.”

“Pheasant?”

“Peasant. Half an hour, tops, even with a head wind. I’ll bring breakfast.”

“And here I thought you were breakfast.”

“Miss, have you considered taking up a hobby?”

“No time for it.”

“That was my point.”

She shrugged. “One stays with what one’s good at. Run along now,” she said, and was asleep again before I got shorts and shoes on.

I stood watching her a moment—her compact brown body against light blue sheets, breasts just a little too heavy, rib cage set high—then went into the bathroom. Turned on the radio there. It was Mozart, a serenade performed on “original” instruments which the musicians wrestled valiantly to bring into tune. Thousands upon thousands of dollars, thousands upon thousands of hours, had been expended on this bogus authenticity, these elaborate counterfeits. I washed my face and brushed my teeth, then stood at the window looking out till the piece was over. One doesn’t hang up on Mozart.

There were few others in the park that early: a handful of runners and dog walkers; one young mother who looked remarkably like Shirley Temple pushing a pram; another trotting along with three children at her heels, all of them androgynous looking and none over five years old; street people starting off on their day’s boundless odyssey. Birds and squirrels worried at yesterday’s leavings, perhaps hoping their investigations would help them understand these huge, dangerous beings that lived in their midst.

I swung around the park’s perimeter in an easy jog, following an asphalt bike path, and stopped at a pay phone on the far side, the kind of old-fashioned booth you rarely see anymore. There I dialed a number I still knew all too well. It was picked up on the first ring.

“Age has slowed you, perhaps.”

“As you must realize, I was in no hurry to return this call. At first, I was not even sure that I wanted to respond at all. And after eight years—”

“Actually, it just slipped over the edge into nine.”

“—I believed it likely that whatever business you think you have with me could wait a few more minutes.”

“Perhaps. However, your plane departs at ten or thereabouts. American, Flight eight seventeen. You are Dr. John Collins, a dentist on vacation.”

“Sir.”

Silence.

“It has been, as you say, nine years. I have a career, a new life, commitments.”

Silence still.

“I am no longer in your employ.”

A still longer silence. Then finally: “It will be good to see you again, David.”

I hung up and ran back the way I’d come, pushing myself now. A light breeze was coming up, and full sunlight struck the artificial lake at a slant, tossing off sheets of glare. Birds and squirrels didn’t seem any closer to understanding us. Neither did I.

They were waiting by the benches about halfway around, in a space partially screened by trees. You wouldn’t be able to see much, here, either from the street or adjacent apartments. So some thought had gone into it, at least.

One was in jeans, black sweatshirt and British Knights, twentyish, a broad, pale-complected man with bad skin. His head kept tic-ing convulsively towards his right shoulder, crossing and recrossing the same minute, almost imperceptible arc. The other was maybe ten years older, wearing what had once been an expensive suit, with a chambray dress shirt frayed to white at the cuff and loose threads at the collar, and a knit tie with the knot tugged down to his breastbone. Lank brown hair tucked behind his ears.

“Your money, sir?” the younger one said, stepping in front of me. “Don’t mean to hurt you. This can all be over with in half a minute, you want.”

Chest heaving, heart throwing itself again and again against rib cage, I sank onto one of the benches. A placard alongside documented this as STATION NINE (9). Pictographs indicated that I was to restretch muscles and tendons, check my pulse against my own personal MHR, perform ten to twenty deep knee bends.

“ . . . Minute,” I said. Then, catching my breath: “I don’t carry money when I’m running, boys. Better pick another pigeon.”

“Done got our pigeon.” The older one. He raked straying hair behind one ear with the open fingers of his hand. Ran his nose quickly along that coat sleeve. It was slick already from prior crossings. “Just got to fry it up now. Drumsticks.”

I glanced briefly at him, and when I did, the younger one made his move.

With amateurs, it’s always easier when there’s more than one. Then you can use them effectively against each other, the same way you use an attacker’s own momentum against him in classic judo. That’s the physical part. But they also get overconfident: safety in numbers and all that. And even those who know something about what they’re doing can get sloppy or, hesitating to check on the other one, let down their guard for that essential brief second.

With these guys I swiveled into a basic high-low, unwinding like a spring, low and moving inexorably right-ward to take out the younger one with a sideways blow to the knee as I spun past, then on past the older one, coming in high and behind as he was looking down to see what happened to his partner, watching him crumple from an open-handed blow just below the third cervical vertebra as I went past.

I followed the arc out to its natural stop and straightened, concerned. You never lose the reflexes, but the edge fades on you. You lose the exact touch, where imperceptible gradations can mean the difference between stunning an adversary and permanently damaging him. I was afraid I might have come down a little too hard.

But apparently not. If anything, from my concern over going in too hard and fast—when I shouldn’t have been thinking at all, simply reacting—I’d held back. The older guy had already climbed to his feet and was staggering towards me with a hunting knife he’d tugged out of his boot.

I felt all consciousness of self melt away, felt myself dissolving into motion, reflex, reaction.

The knife clattered onto cement and he lay in a grassy patch beside a bench, elbow shattered, face draining of color.

“Please,” he said. “Oh shit. Please.”

I stood there a moment. Yesterday, even an hour ago, what had just happened would not have. I’d have handed over whatever money I had, talked to them. Or simply run. And yesterday, even an hour ago, once it had happened, I would have called the police and awaited them. I’d spent years trying to turn myself off, shut the systems down, before I was finally successful. And now the switch had been thrown again: deep within myself, whether or not I wished it, whether or not I accepted it, I was again active, and on standing orders.

So I left the muggers there, knowing they were people with complicated histories and frustrated needs like my own and probably didn’t deserve what had happened to them, and went home to Gabrielle.

She stumbled into the kitchen just as I was finishing breakfast, wearing one of my T-shirts, which hit her midthigh, and white socks that had started off at the knee and now were bulky anklets. She took the cup of tea I handed her, looked at my face and said, “What’s wrong, Dave? Something has happened.”

“Sit down.” I slid a plate of buttered rye toast, fruit and cheese in front of her. Ceramic plate, thrown on a wheel near Tucson, signed by the artist, all brilliant blues and deep greens. I sat opposite her with my own tea, in a mug from the same set.

“This is going to be difficult.”

“Yeah, looks that way. But we’ve been through a lot together. And we’ve always handled it.”

“Nothing like this, G, believe me.”

I looked at the window, wondering how the birds and squirrels were doing, then at her face. So familiar, so filled with meaning for me. So open to me now.

“Everything you know about me, everything you think you know, is false.”

“No,” she said.

“Yes. I have to tell you that much, have to insist on it. But for good reason I can’t tell you more, not now. Now I have to ask you to do something for me, to do it immediately and without question.”

After a moment she nodded.

“I want you to pack whatever you absolutely must have and I want you to go away. Not back to your apartment, but
somewhere—anywhere—else. Preferably out of the city. I don’t want to know where you are. In a week, a month, whenever I can, if I can, I’ll come and find you.”

“It would be easier if I knew why, Dave.”

“Yes. It would.”

“But I don’t have to know.”

She was away maybe ten minutes and came back into the kitchen with a huge over-the-shoulder bag and one small suitcase. I sat at the table and drank my tea, looked out the window. Heard sirens nearby, then, as though just an echo, others far away. Watched an ambulance pull up at a brownstone down the street, lights sweeping.

“Well,” she said.

“You’re an extraordinary woman, Gabrielle. I love you, you know.”

“Yes. You do.”

And she was gone.

Outside, several million lives went on as though nothing had happened.

After a while I walked through the archway into the studio. Began capping tubes and cans of paint, turning off burners and hot plates under pots of wax, soft metals, glue. It would be a long time before I came back here, if I came back at all.

At one end of the long room, by the windows, sat the piece I’d been working on, a forbidding mass of mixed materials—burlap, clay, metals, wood, paper—from which a shape struggled to release itself. You could feel the physicality, the sheer exertion, the intensity, of that struggle. I threw a tarp over it and as the tarp descended, the sculpture’s form, what I’d been seeking, what I’d been trying to uncover for so long, came to me all at once: suddenly I could see it.

The post Start Reading Death Will Have Your Eyes by James Sallis appeared first on Mulholland Books.

Not the Booker Prize: The Last Tiger

 Uncategorized  Comments Off
Jul 292014
 
After clawing its way up the charts, The Last Tiger (see what I did there?) has now found itself onto the Guardian's Not the Booker Prize longlist.

This is a great result for all at Cargo Publishing, especially my publisher, Mark Buckland, who has done an outstanding job getting the book noticed.

Voting is causing a wee bit of confusion for some folk, but it's a simple enough affair, really.

Here's how to vote:

1) Go to the Guardian page for the Not the Booker Prize.

2) Scroll down to the comments section, and state your vote, with a few words about why you've made that choice. You can list a second choice too, in the same fashion.

3) If you're not already registered with the Guardian to leave comments, then, at the same point on the page - just before the comments section - go to this bit:

Open for comments. or create your Guardian account to join the discussion. 

You'll have to give your email address and a username, but that's it. I've been registered for years and never had any spam so no need to worry.

Simples.

To all of you who have voted already, my huge thanks, it really means a great deal to see so many of you speaking up for The Last Tiger. Much appreciated, folks!

:: As part of Amazon's Summer Sale The Last Tiger is still only £0.99 right now.

Jul 292014
 
Reviewed by DAVID VINEYARD:         


JOHN BUCHAN – Witch Wood. Hodder & Stoughton, UK, hardcover, 1927. Houghton Mifflin, US, hardcover, 1927. Reprinted many times since, in both hardcover and soft.

   I’ve written elsewhere on this blog about the virtues of John Buchan as storyteller. thriller writer, scholar, man, and political figure, but as memorable and loved as his ‘shockers’, as he called them, are, his greatest talent perhaps was his gift as a historical novelist, books like Blanket of the Dark, Salute to Adventurers, The Free Fishers, and The Path of the King are among his finest works, and among them lies his foremost achievement, a novel that transcends genre and rises to a rare power, Witch Wood.

   Being a Scot, and with a Scot’s sense of the uncanny, Buchan was a natural to deal with the darker side. He was a favorite of Lovecraft and Howard, and his shorter works like “Watcher by the Threshold” and “The Grove of Ashtoreth,” are often anthologized among the best of their kind. Witch Wood is his only novel length flirtation with the uncanny. (Gap in the Curtain is science fictional and largely a parable though uncanny on its own).

   Those familiar with Buchan will not be surprised to find Witch Wood was chosen one of 100 Best Supernatural novels ever written, and with good reason, because in it are echoes of Scott and Stevenson as well as Machen, James, and Blackwood. It is no wonder it appealed to Lovecraft and Howard, for something ancient and malevolent lurks in the shadows of the witch wood.

   The place is Scotland, the time the late seventeenth century towards the end of the Montrose rebellion when the country side is torn by civil war, and at a time when Scotland was haunted by the iron hand of the Kirk, and the the scent of Satan’s breath as witch hunts, black mass, and hypocrisy walked hand in hand. As Buchan’s minister hero admits: “If the Kirk confines human nature too strictly, it will break out in secret ways, for men and women are born into a terrestrial world, though they have hopes of Heaven.”

   This is the way of things in the village of Woodilee where young David Sempil has come to minister the local kirk, a place of superstition, complacency, and distrust of outsiders in a time of violence and cruelty, and Witch Wood is the tale of the young minister and how he came to depart that Kirk: “…right in the heart of Reiverslaw’s best field of turnips was a spring…which the old folk called the Minister’s Well, and mentioned always with a shake of the head or a sigh, for it was there, they said, that the Minister of Woodilee had left the earth for Fairyland.”

   Woodilee’s shame is hidden though, hidden in a place where brave men fear to tread and locals avoid, the Black Wood, once called, Melanudrigill.

   The place was hateful, but it could not daunt him. It was the battleground to which he was called… On the edge of trees was a great mass of dark foxgloves, the colour of blood, and they seemed to make a blood-trail from the sunlight into the gloom.

   Almost from the beginning the young minister clashes with the elders of the Kirk. They have narrow interpretations of Scripture and pick and choose what suits them. They are cruel in their piety, proud of their record for burning witches, yet among their number, among the most pious and cruel, lies the agent of the great deceiver himself.

   It’s the dacent body that sits and granes aneath the pu’pit and the fosy professor that wags his pow and deplores the wickedness o’ the land.—Yon’s the true warlocks. There’s saunts in Scotland, the Lord kens and I ken mysel’, but there’s some that hae the name o’ saunts that wad make the Devil spew.”

   That’s not far off the message of Buchan’s shockers and that moment in The Power House when the “thin veneer of civilization” falls away in the middle of Piccadilly Circus.

   It is in the Wood that David first witnesses the devil’s mass when he dares to venture into it on “ … the day they ca’ the Rood-Mass and the morn is the Beltane, and it behoves a’ decent bodies to be indoors at the darkenin’ on Beltane’s Eve.”

   And sure enough David stumbles on a black mass and in his rage attacks and is badly beaten. He survives, and now he knows his mission. “I have had my eyes opened and I will not rest till I have rooted this evil thing from Woodilee. I will search out and denounce every malefactor, though he were in my own Kirk Session. I will bring against them the terror of God and the arm of the human law. I will lay bare the evil mysteries of the Wood, though I have to hew down every tree with my own hand. In the strength of the Lord I will thresh this parish as corn is threshed, till I have separated the grain from the chaff and given the chaff to the burning.”

   Despite the wrath of an Old Testament prophet, David is, as his name implies, a simple good man. Witch Wood is not the story of a towering figure arraigned against the powers of evil, but of a fallible good man battling for the soul of his Kirk, not against towering Luciferian powers, but ordinary men, corrupt and corrupted, weak and foolish, and afraid: “…you think you can tamper with devilry and yet keep your interest in Christ…I tell you that your covenant is with Death and Hell.”

   Yet he is also a simple man who falls in love with Katrine Yester of Calidan, a great lady, and an almost elfin figure he spots by a pool. Their love will change him from a boy raging against evil to a man determined to save as many souls as he can.

   Aside from Katrine, one of his few allies is Mark Kerr, cavalier and soldier of Montrose, who David agrees to hide and nurse to health after he is wounded when Montrose is defeated and on the run for the Highlands.

   Kerr, who takes the name of Mark Riddel, is a handsome adventurer with a quick blade and little patience with the good folk of Woodilee, but he knows a man when he meets one. He’s a figure right out of Stevenson, and breathes great life into the proceedings by dint of his jaundiced eye and dark humor. Leaving David with a small army of a handful of villagers, an outlaw, and a beautiful almost enchanted woman to fight the powers of darkness, the Kirk Session, and the highest court in the Kirk Aller that all oppose him when he dares to call out wealthy Ephraim Caird of Castlemore, the leader of the coven.

   When the village is swept by plague, David, Katrine, and Mark fight to save them, but David is blamed for bringing the plague, and when Katrine dies, he is left more alone than ever, yet from her death he gains a determination to fight. He witnesses a second mass, this time with a more empathic eye for the people mislead by superstition and narrow minds into this blasphemy, and things come to a head when Caird convinces a woman from the coven to confess to witchcraft and be tortured to death to cover himself. “What devil’s prank have you been at?” he cried.—”Answer me, Ephraim Caird.” David is ready to kill to try to save the foolish woman and violence is only averted by the presence of Mark Kerr, and only because she is too far gone to save.

   Still, that is the last straw and David summoned before the Kirk Aller, to be tried for daring to defy his own Kirk Session and denying the wealthy Caird. By this point he no longer cares about his ministry, only to save Woodilee from itself and try to save Caird’s soul: “Hell is waiting for some, and maybe this very night,” building to a powerful and dramatic ending when David drives a terrified cowering Caird into the Wood, to the profane altar, to try and save him.

   “Renounce your master here in his temple… I will give you words if you have none of your own.

   “Say after me, ‘I abhor and reject the Devil and all his works, and I fling myself upon the mercy of God.’ Man, man, it is your immortal soul that trembles above the Pit.”

   But a maddened Caird, driven by the baying of the hounds of hell on his heels, breaks away and runs in blind flight. It’s a memorable moment, and you may hear the hounds yourself reading it.

   With David and Caird missing, it is Mark Kerr who holds the Kirk Session at sword point to chastise them. Caird is dead: “Go and look for him. You will find him in a bog-hole or a pool in the burn. Bury his body decently, but bury it face downward, so that you speed him on his road,”and Mark has words of his own to preach to the hypocritical ‘Pharisees’ of the Kirk: “A prophet came among you and you knew him not. For the sake of that witless thing that is now going four-foot among the braes you have condemned the innocent blood. He spent his strength for you and you rejected him, he yearned for you and you repelled him, he would have laid down his life for you and you scorned him. He is now beyond the reach of your ingratitude.”

   The ironic epilogue reveals how history sided with the Kirk Session and condemns David as the cause of all the problems and a failure in his ministry, though at the very end we are shown two men, one Mark Kerr, buying passage out of Scotland to find a war to fight in.

   “All roads are the same for us that lead forth of this waesome land …” and the two men stand on deck as they watch the “hills of Lothian dwindle in the bleak April dawn.” While in Woodilee they still tell tales of how the minister of Woodilee was abducted to Fairyland…

   Witch Wood is one of those books that I would pack for that mythical desert island where book lovers hope to be stranded with their most beloved tomes. It is not an easy book, in fact even if you read it in hardcovers or paperback I suggest you download the annotated version available in e-book form at Roy Glashan’s Books, but it is more than worth the effort.

   It is a fine novel, a moving love story, an adventure of the first water, and though there is not one actual supernatural event you can point to in the novel, one of the finest novels of the supernatural ever written. Here the Devil only appears in flawed human form, there are no angels, no miracles occur, all the terrors and darkest fears arise from the human mind and no Dracula, Hyde, sorcerer, demon, or real witch darkens its pages, but the scares here are genuine, the confrontation between good and evil palpable, and you may never look at a dark wood the same again.

   Unlike most of today’s writers in the field, Buchan is not a twelve year old boy leaping out to say boo or trying to gross you out in blood and gore. Witch Wood goes to more deeply seated fears. It reminds us of our fragile humanity, our capacity for blinding ourselves, and that a simple good man can be enough to stand against the most powerful of evils even where once “the great wood of Melanudrigill had descended from the heights and flowed in black waves to the village brink.”

Note:

   Some of the language in Witch Wood will inevitably remind you of J.R.R. Tolkien and The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and I think that is no accident. Aside from the ‘hills of Lothien’ and other similar passages, one of the Kirk Session who sins most grievously against David is named Mr. Proudfoot.

   I strongly suspect it is no accident, and that David Sempil and Mark Kerr may well be models in some ways for Frodo and Aragorn and Woodilee for the Shire, as much as David Balfour and Alan Breck served as models for them. But read it yourself and see if you agree.

 Posted by at 4:24 am
Jul 282014
 

Terror Tales 34-09Back in the days of bread lines and hobo jungles, millions of readers found escapist thrills in the pages of cheaply produced magazines printed on rough pulpwood paper. Pulp magazines catered to every imaginable reading taste from detective yarns to pirate stories, from jungle adventures to science fiction, from sports stories to romance tales. But the wildest of them all were the notorious horror tomes known collectively as the shudder pulps.

The so-called “shudder” or “weird-menace” titles were a blood-red splash of color in the grey days of the Great Depression. They announced their monthly wares with circus-poster-style covers featuring voluptuous under-dressed beauties being pursued by hordes of leering lunatics as bent as boomerangs. Their promise: cheap thrills, and plenty of them. In their nightmare universe it was always a dark and stormy night. Tethered damsels suffered in the clutches of fiends such as hell-mad surgeons, warped scientists, and masked and cowled cultists, eagerly abetted by legions of demented dwarfs and horny hunchbacks. They stripped, whipped, and boiled their curvaceous victims with the enthusiasm of medieval inquisitors. Even the requisite rock-jawed heroes of these stories suffered a purgatory of horrors in order to rescue their brutally treated fair maidens.

The weird-menace magazines lasted for but a few brief years, roughly from 1933 to 1941, when the actions of blue-nosed watchdogs helped propel them from the market. In contrast to previous horror magazines with their literate but fusty eldritch mysteries, the new breed of terror pulps dared go where no newsstand magazines had gone before. Dime Mystery 33-10Join PulpFest 2014 on Friday, August 8th, at 9:30 PM as we celebrate the eightieth anniversary of Terror Tales, the best of the weird-menace magazines.

Popular culture professor Garyn G. Roberts, winner of the 2013 Munsey Award and editor of some of the best collections from the pulps; Ed Hulse, publisher of Murania Press books and a consultant for the Dime Detective series from Altus Press; and Walker Martin, who writes about pulp collecting for Steve Lewis’ Mystery*File blog, will weigh in on this Popular Publications title, as well as other shudder pulps–Ace Mystery, Dime MysteryEerie Mysteries, Eerie Stories, Horror StoriesMystery Novels and Short Stories, Mystery Tales, Spicy Mystery Stories, Thrilling Mystery, Uncanny Tales, and others.

To learn more about the images used in this post, click on the illustrations.

Jul 282014
 
(Editor’s note: The following article comes from Steve Aldous, who works in the banking industry in Great Britain and has concocted a number of well-received short stories, two of which--“Lightning Never Strikes Twice,” an affectionate parody of the pulp private-eye novels of the 1940s and ’50s, and its follow-up, “Fork Lightning”--were shortlisted for prizes in Writer’s Forum magazine. A longtime fan of Ernest Tidyman’s Shaft novels, he wrote three years ago in The Rap Sheet about Shaft Among the Jews and has since undertaken extensive research on Tidyman’s career in order to pen a book titled The Complete Guide to Shaft, which is currently seeking a publisher. Aldous lives with his wife and two sons in Bury, Lancashire, UK. He also has a daughter and granddaughter.)

The recent announcement that publisher Dynamite Entertainment will, firstly, reissue Ernest Tidyman’s 1970s Shaft novels and, secondly, produce new novels and comic books featuring his black New York City private detective, came as a most pleasant surprise. The books have been out of print since the late 1970s in both the United States and the UK. Only Germany has kept the seven Shaft novels in circulation, with Pendragon re-publishing the series between 2002 and 2008.

Dynamite’s decision was also confirmation of a view I have held for a long time, and indeed have promoted in The Rap Sheet previously--that there is still an interest in and a market for this culturally iconic character. Whilst the image of Richard Roundtree dressed in a leather coat, strutting through the streets of Manhattan to Isaac Hayes’ funky score is most people’s image of John Shaft, his genesis was on the written page. Ernest Tidyman’s Shaft series is in need of re-discovery and re-appraisal.

Over the last two years I have been preparing a book, provisionally titled The Complete Guide to Shaft--a history and analysis of the series in print and on screen. The aim of this work is to introduce the character and, in particular, Tidyman’s books to a new audience, as well as furnish longtime Shaft fans with new details about the series.

I started by re-reading all the novels, which I bought during the 1970s and still possess in their original UK Corgi paperback editions. I then undertook extensive research, initially online, to compile as much information and history as I could. This research also suggested a suspicion in some quarters that a number of the Shaft books had been ghost-written, and the name Robert Turner came up from a couple of sources. That initial research, however, proved sketchy and inconclusive.

It was earlier this year that I made a breakthrough when I discovered Ernest Tidyman’s papers had been stored in the American Heritage Center at the University of Wyoming, in Laramie. On approaching the Center I learned there was a vast amount of material covering Tidyman’s professional career, with the inventory containing 180 boxes of items: correspondence, financial records, and manuscripts. There then came a problem of logistics. Being based in the UK, I was unable to travel to the Center to undertake the research personally, so I obtained an inventory breakdown and hired a proxy researcher to work with me on honing the material down to what I needed. Over a period of two to three months, we identified the elements specifically relating to the Shaft series. I obtained copies of key pieces, such as Tidyman’s original character outline and handwritten notes.

Also during this period, I managed to enter into an e-mail correspondence with Alan Rinzler, who was publisher Macmillan’s mystery department editor in the late 1960s and commissioned Shaft (1970), the series’ initial installment. Alan was able to provide me with insight into the genesis of that first book.

These two new sources, therefore, gave me much of the detail I needed to fill in the gaps and finally answer many of the outstanding questions concerning the creation of the John Shaft character and the writing of the seven Shaft novels.

* * *

It was in late 1968 or early 1969 that Rinzler touted the idea for a black detective hero to literary agent Ron Hobbs. Rinzler had been involved in the changing social culture of that era, initially through his work fundraising and ghost-writing for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in New York in 1964. He also worked for Simon & Schuster at the time, editing, promoting, and publishing works that highlighted the plight of black America--including Claude Brown’s Manchild in the Promised Land (1965), which detailed the struggles of growing up in Harlem. These books helped inspire the equal-rights movement for African Americans.

Hobbs was the only African-American literary agent in New York City, and Rinzler figured he could come up with the necessary writer to fulfill his brief. Hobbs, however, suggested a white writer by the name of Ernest Ralph Tidyman, who had only recently set up as a freelance writer, after previously enjoying a long career in newspaper journalism in Cleveland and Manhattan.

Tidyman was keen, too, to tap into the social mood of the time. His first novel, Flower Power (1968), was the tale of a runaway teenage girl who joins a hippie camp and is introduced to sex and drugs. It didn’t sell well, and despite his having contributed articles to magazines and written a non-fiction book (1968’s The Anzio Death Trap) about a controversial Allied assault in Italy during World War II, Tidyman was close to being broke when the opportunity to take Rinzler’s commission was presented to him.

Hobbs arranged a meeting between Rinzler and Tidyman. Rinzler was initially reluctant, but he allowed Tidyman to work up some sample chapters of the prospective novel. Tidyman duly obliged, and whilst Rinzler was impressed with the writing, he felt the story was too soft. He suggested a show of violence to emphasize the hero’s no-nonsense approach to solving problems. Following up on Rinzler’s suggestion, Tidyman re-wrote those early pages to include the fight in which the detective hero ends up throwing a hood out of his office window. Rinzler was pleased with the re-write, and offered Tidyman a $10,000 advance to complete the book.

Thus was John Shaft born.

Tidyman finished his draft and synopsis for Shaft on July 3, 1969. Keen right away to promote his property to filmmakers, he circulated galley copies of his novel. One interested reader was producer Phil D’Antoni, who was impressed by Tidyman’s use of dialogue and his knowledge of New York. D’Antoni thereafter recommended Tidyman to director William Friedkin as somebody who could adapt Robin Moore’s 1969 non-fiction book of the same name into the film The French Connection (1971). Later, Shaft was picked up by MGM’s new head, Jim Aubrey, who--due to his studio’s financial difficulties--was looking to produce lower-budget movies, and Shaft seemed a perfect fit for his new vision. A deal to turn the novel into a big-screen picture was signed in April 1970.

The novel version of Shaft was first published by Macmillan in the United States on April 27, 1970. (A UK hardcover edition, from Michael Joseph, followed on June 24, 1971.) It was well-received, and Gordon Parks was hired by MGM to direct the movie adaptation. Tidyman formed Shaft Productions, with initial producers Roger Lewis and Stirling Silliphant acting as equal partners. However, production responsibilities were later passed to Joel Freeman, after Lewis moved to Warner Bros. Richard Roundtree beat out 200 other potential John Shafts to grab the title role, with which he would forever be associated. The resulting 1971 film, Shaft, became a smash hit across the world and was a major inspiration for the so-called blaxploitation movies of the early to mid-1970s. A deal was executed between Tidyman and MGM for options to adapt future Shaft novels.

Tidyman had already written a screenplay for a sequel, which MGM initially accepted on May 28, 1971, before the movie Shaft even reached theaters. The story was based on an article Tidyman had read in 1968 about the mysterious deaths of three diamond merchants. He folded that idea into a larger plot concerning an Israeli fugitive and his formula for the production of synthetic gems.

Meanwhile, after rejecting a screenplay proposal from B.B. Johnson, the writer behind the Superspade novels (Death of a Blue-Eyed Soul Brother, Black Is Beautiful, etc.), Tidyman’s partners at Shaft Productions had developed their own story for the sequel, which found Shaft having an adventure in the Caribbean. With the approval of MGM, Roger Lewis developed a screenplay entitled The Big Bamboo, and Lewis and Silliphant sought Tidyman’s approval to proceed. Tidyman, however, had commenced work on adapting his original sequel proposal into a follow-up novel--Shaft Among the Jews. Tidyman did not like, and subsequently rejected Lewis’ screenplay, and he would eventually submit a new original story himself in which Shaft seeks out the killer of an old friend whilst infringing on a gangland turf war for the control of Queens. It was developed between October and December 1971 under the name Gang Bang, but was later retitled Shaft’s Big Score!

The original crew from Shaft, including director Gordon Parks, returned to commence filming Shaft’s Big Score! in January 1972. Tidyman set about writing the novelization, which was scheduled to be published in May 1972, a month ahead of the film’s proposed release date. A disagreement over royalties with both MGM and his partners in Shaft Productions, though, resulted in the book’s publication being postponed, and Tidyman threatened to withdraw the novel altogether. After some prickly negotiations, an agreement was finally reached and the book was published on August 7, 1972, in paperback--the hardback publication of Shaft Among the Jews having preceded it on June 29.

The second film was also a box-office hit and it seemed the franchise had a strong future. Like the James Bond films of the 1960s, Shaft had also inspired many imitators. However, Tidyman’s disagreement over the royalties for the novelization of Shaft’s Big Score! led to a cooling of his relationship with his partners. Lewis and Silliphant were left to continue work on Shaft’s big-screen adventures, the third of which--Shaft in Africa--went into development in late 1972.

Tidyman, meanwhile, was keen to maximize the future earnings potential from his creation by adding to the series of Shaft books and hoping MGM would take up options to film those new stories. Also during this period, he attempted to launch a daily Shaft comic strip. Test panels had been drawn by Don Rico, who had worked for Marvel Comics, and were circulated to the big newspapers in New York and Los Angeles, but they failed to attract interest.

* * *

The success of the films Shaft and The French Connection--for the latter of which Tidyman received an Academy Award (as well as an Edgar Allan Poe Award)--significantly increased demands for his time and encouraged him to branch out further into other film writing and production. He set up Ernest Tidyman Productions and began to spread his time across a number of developing projects. The increasing workload encouraged Tidyman to hire writers to help out--particularly with continuing the Shaft book series.


Tennessee Williams presents Ernest Tidyman with the 1971 Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for The French Connection.

Tidyman had sketched out story ideas for three further Shaft books, which he wanted to produce in quick succession so they would fall within the timeframe of MGM’s options agreement. He recruited two writers to help: Robert Turner, a vastly experienced author of pulpish fiction (The Girl in the Cop’s Pocket, etc.) and a contributor to many of the pulp magazines of the 1940s and 1950s; and Phillip Rock, a screenwriter who had also worked on a number of novelizations in the early 1970s (including an adaptation of Dirty Harry). Tidyman had previously used Rock on his novelization of High Plains Drifter, the screenplay Tidyman had written for Clint Eastwood’s 1973 Western.

Robert Turner took up the first book, based on an outline Tidyman had written for a work titled The Gang’s All Here, Shaft. Turner developed Tidyman’s story, which centered on the planned heist of half-a-million dollars in laundered Mafia funds from a hotel that was hosting a gay convention. The resultant Shaft Has a Ball was completed in August 1972, having been heavily edited by Tidyman, and was published in paperback on April 2, 1973. Turner then moved on to compose Shaft’s Carnival of Killers (1974).

In September 1972, Rock had started to develop a book Tidyman called Shaft’s Last Goodbye. Tidyman had initially intended to end the series at that point, but once he’d conceded to involve other writers in his work he abandoned the idea. This latest story saw Shaft in action in a location outside New York City for the first time, in this instance London, where Tidyman and Rock had both lived for a time. The idea of shifting locations mirrored what Lewis and Silliphant had done with their third film, Shaft in Africa, directed by John Guillermin and released in the summer of 1973.

The plot of Shaft’s Last Goodbye centered on a kidnapping aimed at preventing Senator Creighton Stovall (who had also appeared in Shaft Has a Ball) from becoming the first black vice president of the United States. Shaft is hired to bodyguard Stovall’s young sons, who are moved to London in order to reduce the risk of their being snatched. Rock completed his writing on December 22, 1972, and Tidyman finished his editing on January 29, 1973. The book wound up being retitled Goodbye, Mr. Shaft as a nod toward James Hilton’s Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1934), acknowledging that the Stovall boys had attended an English public school during their stay in Great Britain.

Meanwhile, in August 1972, Turner had also commenced working on Shaft’s Carnival of Killers. This time Shaft would go to Jamaica in an attempt to discover who is responsible for a plot to assassinate that country’s prime minister. The story was rooted in a non-Shaft screenplay Tidyman had originally written in 1971 entitled A Carnival of Killers, featuring a private eye named Francis Clifford. John Shaft effectively replaced Clifford as the tale’s lead. Turner struggled, though, with the work due to illness, and deadlines were missed. The final manuscript, delivered in March 1973, was rather subpar and required heavy editing by Tidyman before publisher Bantam accepted it for American release.

Goodbye, Mr. Shaft reached U.S. bookstores on December 28, 1973, whilst Shaft’s Carnival of Killers, with its relatively short page-count, followed in paperback nearly a year later, in September 1974.

Around this time Tidyman had become disenchanted with the treatment of his creation on screen. Shaft in Africa had received his blessing, if not his approval. The film did not match the success of its predecessors, though, and in 1973 John Shaft made a move to television, instead, with Richard Roundtree reprising his role in Shaft, a series of seven watered-down movies for CBS-TV. At least that short-lived Tuesday-night drama returned Shaft to his New York City roots. But Tidyman had by then become tired of his creation and resolved to kill him off in the last book of the series, appropriately titled The Last Shaft.

(Right) The final page of 1975’s The Last Shaft. Click on the image to enlarge it.

Phillip Rock started converting Tidyman’s outline into a full novel in October 1973. The plot finds P.I. Shaft avenging the murder of his friend Captain Vic Anderozzi, who had arrested the Mafia’s bookkeeper and was looking to turn that man and his account ledgers over to the district attorney. Rock finished his manuscript on January 11, 1974, and Tidyman his edit on January 22. Shaft was killed off in a random mugging in a coda to the book that had no link to the story itself, providing a disappointing conclusion to the series. Bantam passed on publication in the States, but the book was later released in hardcover in the UK on March 27, 1975, with a paperback publication two years later.

* * *

Despite a couple of attempts to restart the Shaft movie franchise--first by Tidyman himself in 1979, after the expiration of his deal with MGM, and later (in 1985) by the author’s widow, Chris Clark-Tidyman--it wasn’t until director John Singleton’s Shaft, in 2000, that the character was finally reintroduced to the public. That film found Roundtree’s role being reduced to little more than a cameo, while the focus was on Shaft’s “nephew” played by Samuel L. Jackson. Disagreements between director, producer, and star meant any potential franchise relaunch was doomed.

Ernest Tidyman’s Shaft books are a product of a time when men’s adventure novels and film novelizations dominated the paperback racks. The first three books, written solely by Tidyman, had a distinctive hard-edge, wit, and style reminiscent of Mickey Spillane and, to some extent, Raymond Chandler. Those were the strongest entries in the series. The later books still carried Tidyman’s house style, due to his heavy editorial input and story outlines, but they suffered from a more formulaic approach to the writing and plotting, as well as an increasing level of absurdity. Throughout, though, Tidyman heavily protected his detective creation, and despite the tough exterior presented by John Shaft, the character remained real as a result of his fallibility. He is a hero of his time but also a hero who can transcend time, in the same way Mike Hammer and Philip Marlowe can, due to his iconic status.

The books remain eminently readable and well worth revisiting. I hope their reappearance under the Dynamite banner, along with a new series of adventures, will reignite interest in the literary version of John Shaft. He has been absent for too long.

READ MORE:Beyond Shaft: Black Private Eyes in Fiction,” by Kevin Burton Smith (January Magazine).

Better Connected

 Awards 2014  Comments Off
Jul 282014
 
This last weekend’s Comic-Con International in San Diego, California, included a presentation by the International Association of Media Tie-in Writers of the 2014 Scribe Awards, “honoring excellence in media tie-in writing.”

Mr. Monk Helps Himself, by Hy Conrad (Signet), and Leverage: The Bestseller Job, by Greg Cox (Berkley), tied in the Best Original Novel category, while “So Long, Chief,” by Max Allan Collins and Mickey Spillane, won for Best Short Story. Science-fiction and fantasy author Diane Duane was chosen as the IAMTW 2014 Grandmaster, “the highest honor awarded by the International Association of Media Tie-In Writing, recognizing her achievements writing novels based on movie and television shows.”

You will find all of the nominees and winners here.