Category Archives: Synopsis

George C. Appell’s Gift Wrapped

gunman's grudgeA selected story from Justice Amazing Detective Mysteries #1, May 1955: “Gift Wrapped” by George C. Appell

An unidentified con man give a first person account of his latest scam. Imitating a wealthy businessman whom he learned to mimic listening to speech over the Universal network, the con tricks a prestigious jeweler into delivering an expensive brooch right into his hands. It’s a twisted scheme that nearly worked.

Appell’s stories usually appeared in western magazines like Zane Grey’s, Western Monthly, and Western Magazine. Dan Stumpf (Mystery File) wrote in his review of one of Appell’s novels, Gunman’s Grudge, “Actually, this is surprisingly fine: a fast, remorseless and straightforward tale of violence and damnation in the manner of Jim Thompson and James M. Cain—yes, it’s that good.”

Edward A. Herron’s Call Me a Liar

Willaim DallA selected story from Justice Amazing Detective Mysteries #1, May 1955: “Call Me a Liar” by Edward A. Herron

George Anderson is on the lam. From what, we don’t know, but he pitched his gun somewhere in the Mojave, so it can’t be good. He tries blending in with the crowd dining at the Starlight Rescue Mission, but when the cops show up they single him out in an L.A. minute. He figures his first person story is over by page two, but surprise, he’s wrong. Old man Silvester has singled him out for a job.

“It’s back in the desert country. Caretaker at one of the mines in the Saline Valley.”

Anderson takes the offer, and it does him more good than he deserves. He dries out, he maintains the idle Magnet Mine’s equipment, and he even begins to resemble a man who’s gone straight. But trouble finds him, and after what happens, any jury you pick would likely call him a liar.

This could well be Edward A. Herron’s final short story. He’d written a few earlier that appeared in Argosy, NorthWest Romances, and Adventure, but then apparently turned to non-fiction and wrote a series of books about Alaska.

John Bender’s No Margin for Error

No Margin for ErrorJohn Bender wrote detective stories for the pulps throughout the 1940s. His first sale was “Sermon in Cell 15” for Detective Tales Feb. 1941. He placed stories with Strange Detective Mysteries, Shock, Dime Mystery Magazine, and plenty of others.

His final two stories appear to be sales to Justice. The first, “No Margin for Error,” ran in the debut issue of Justice in May 1955. It was followed by “Double or Nothing” in Oct. 1955, for the Justice #3.

In “Margin,” a concert pianist, Max, discovers his wife’s affair with “A thin, ill-dressed hack of a writer who wrote books that never sold and tried to persuade people that he was a liberal intellectual.” As the story opens, Max has already killed his wife, and contemplates what to do next.

“Think only of getting rid of the body, he commanded himself. Nothing else. Not of what it was like in the early years of marriage when you were a struggling music student. Not of what your life together might have been. That is finished. Think of how to dispose of a body.”

The twist ending helps raise “Margin” above the routine.

Lorrie McLaughlin’s The Way Out

suspense_4Stories from Suspense Magazine #4 Winter 1952: “The Way Out “by Lorrie McLaughlin

The final story of the Suspense digests is a “storyette,” a filler for the final page. With only a single page to work with McLaughlin does a fine job setting up a desperate situation, planning its aftermath, and taking the fatal last step from which there is no return.

Raymond Drennen’s Murder Town

youll die nowStories from Suspense Magazine #4 Winter 1952: “Murder Town” by Raymond Drennen

Drennen’s pulp fiction career spanned a neat ten years: 1947–1957. It began with Street and Smith’s Detective Story Magazine and ended with Terror Detective Story Magazine. “Himself a man of action, he’s shoved thousands of fellahin [Egyptian laborers] up and down the Nile, wrangled with Nazi agents in Cairo and worked on a hydrogen bomb project for the A.E.C. [Atomic Energy Com- mission], in North Carolina.”

His novelette for Suspense opens with “A rain of blood, a prevalence of corpses, and a deadly puzzle for Jim Brady made the sinful city of Jordanville into a . . . Murder Town.”

Jim Brady, private operative, catches wind of trouble in Jordanville on a routine background check for a client. He’s soon swallowed up in a racket that involves mobsters, crooked cops, a Treasury Agent, slot machines and opium. Drennen is a fine writer. His story is a fast paced, carefully plotted, action- packed mini-saga reminiscent of “Red Harvest.” My only quibble is the hero is so perfect, he pushes the boundaries of suspended disbelieve. The unlikely female Treasury Agent, Gloria Yale, sums it up, “Bill Shumate said you were good, Jim. Now I’ve been here six months, and it took you twenty-four hours to start from scratch and break it open.”

Drennen wrote at least two crime novels, You’ll Die Now (1953) and Murder Beat (1956). He died in 1967 in Philadelphia, at the age of 67.

James Robbins Miller’s Give Back the Dead

colliers_6-11-49

Collier’s June 11, 1949

Stories from Suspense Magazine #4 Winter 1952: “Give Back the Dead” by James Robbins Miller

Inspired “. . . by a woman receiving a letter from a friend who had died a week before, in which he told of future plans.” Miller transforms the concept into an upscale melodrama good enough for Collier’s, where it first ran in 1949 as “Letters from Cairo.”

(Image from ebay)

Brett Halliday’s You Killed Elizabeth

mike_shayne_6_1957Stories from Suspense Magazine #4 Winter 1952: “You Killed Elizabeth” by Brett Halliday

The loyalty of two best friends is tested when the perfect woman comes between them. Halliday builds tension masterfully as romance blooms and the killer of the title is finally revealed.

Halliday’s most famous creation, Mike Shayne, starred in his own digest magazine for 337 issues from 1956 to 1985. Shown here is the cover to MSMM June 1957.

Dean Evans’ Hot Eyes

Stories from Suspense Magazine #4 Winter 1952: “Hot Eyes” by Dean Evans

A businessman, blinded on principle, can’t see the monumental abuse his wife heaps upon him until his loyal secretary bursts his illusions. His new found knowledge triggers an ability to spontaneously ignite the sources of his anger. Dean Evans was one of several pseudonyms used by Robert Arthur (of Mysterious Traveler and Three Investigators fame), and this yarn certainly seems to fit his MO. However, it was also a pseudonym used by George F. Kull, whom this story is attributed to at Galactic Central.

Ted Stratton’s Find the Witness

mobsters_195304

Mobsters April 1953 with “Time to Kill” by Terry Spain

Stories from Suspense Magazine #4 Winter 1952: “Find the Witness” by Ted Stratton


Ed Emshwiller produced a striking scratchboard-style illustration that depicts the story’s witness watching a woman as she’s thrust over a balcony railing by her murderer. It’s a police procedural that follows the thin trail of the victim’s clues that eventually lead to the witness, the murderer, a potential romance and a satisfying conclusion. Stratton was a prolific crime fiction writer during the pulp era. He also wrote at least one story under the name Terry Spain.

Image from Galactic Central.

Duane Yarnell’s Ask No Quarter

Mantrap_backStories from Suspense Magazine #4 Winter 1952: “Ask No Quarter” by Duane Yarnell


The introduction to Yarnell’s story reports: “He sold his first seven stories before turning 21, and his slicks, pulps and network shows are legion.” Beyond Suspense Yarnell’s stories appeared in Five-Novels Magazine, Trapped, Detective Tales and Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. But his main body of work was centered on sports—from team sports to hunting and fishing. Even his Suspense story is really a boxing yarn, with a twist ending that likely helped him place it here.

Yarnell wrote novels too, primarily sporting stories, but his novel for Crest, Mantrap (1957), appears to be genuine crime fiction. The back cover copy, written by the publisher, tells readers the book “packs a wallop like Mickey Spillane.”