Tag Archives: Suspense Novels

Suspense Novel #3: Carl G. Hodges


Suspense Novel #3 Naked Villainy by Carl G. Hodges

Of all the digests in Farrell’s Suspense series, Naked Villainy by Carl G. Hodges is the most provocative. The story’s first victim is shown on the cover in a sheer bra and panties—exactly what she’s wearing in the opening chapter.

“The light was weak, but good enough so that the black panties held no mystery.”

And later: “She had whirled to face me, one hand jerking up from the front of the black bra and tearing the flimsy cloth. A nipple pointed at me, the color of a pecan on top of a cup cake.” Steamy prose for 1951.

Hodges’ reverence for the Midwest MWA provides a wonderful surprise mid-novel when Lieutenant Davis visits one of the chapter’s meetings. Chapter president Bill Brannon is on hand, a journalist and crime fiction writer with reportedly over 5,000 stories and articles to his credit. His biography of con man Joseph Weil, Yellow Kid Weil, is mentioned, but Brannon wrote several other books as well as stories for Coronet, Reader’s Digest, Omnibook, Saga, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and many others. He used his middle name, Tibbetts, to write as William Tibbetts, one of more than a half-dozen pseudonyms he used. Known as “The Dean of Crime Writers,” Brannon was nominated for the Edgar Award in 1951.

In 1976, MWA produced the Mystery Writer’s Handbook, under the guidance of Lawrence Treat. Each chapter tackles an element of the craft, written by a veritable who’s who of the industry. William T. Brannon is onboard with a chapter on how to write true crime. According to Treat: “After reading it, all you need is to go out and do it.”

Back at the fictitious MWA meeting, Lennie Hilts had just sold From Jennys to Jets. As it turned out the book was published in 1951, as The Airmail Jennies to Jets as told to Leonard Finley Hilts.

Milton Ozaki, who apparently coiffed hair by day, and had a “police dog” named Sacre Bleu, receives a quarter page tribute. His novels, A Fiend in Need, The Cuckoo Clock and Too Many Women are mentioned—as is his pseudonym, Robert O. Saber.

Another MWA member, Allen Pruitt, identified by his pseudonym “because he was Commissioner of Public Welfare of the City of Chicago and I guess he figured it would be better to use a pen name for his excursions into the mystery writing field.” This was actually Alvin Emanuel Rose, a Chicago journalist in the 1920s and 1930s before becoming Commissioner. He wrote two novels as Alan Pruitt, The Restless Corpse (1947), which Hodges mentions, and Typed For a Corpse, in 1954.

The final attendee was Paul Fairman, author of The Glass Ladder, Harlequin #139. Fairman’s work appeared most often in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, but he also sold to The Saint, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Mike Shayne, Shell Scott—and earlier in pulps like Black Mask, FBI Detective Stories, and Mammoth Detective. He also wrote as Paul Daniels.

Getting back to Hodges, Naked Villainy is an excellent digest original that can leave you searching for more of his work. One of his short stories, “Murder Throws a Ringer” from Thrilling Detective (Dec. 1947), is included in The Noir Mystery Megapack from Wildside Press.

Suspense Novel #2

suspense_novel_2The second Suspense Novel was an original, The Case of the Lonely Lovers by Will Daemer, published in 1951. A pseudonym, Will Daemer, is an anagram for Wade Miller, the writing team of Robert Wade and Bill Miller, who also wrote as Dale Wilmer (another anagram) and more famously as Whit Masterson and Wade Miller. Perhaps their most famous novel as Whit Masterson, Badge
 of Evil (1956), was the source of Orson Welles’ screenplay for his film noir classic Touch of Evil (1958).

The Wade/Miller team wrote over thirty novels together. Their lifelong friendship began in childhood; they attended San Diego State together and even enlisted in the US Air Force in unison. Both writers were born in 1920. Bill Miller died much earlier, in 1961, while Robert Wade lived to the age of 92, until his death in 2012.

After 1961, Wade continued his writing career as a solo novelist and a movie and television scriptwriter. He was honored with several awards over his career, including the Private Eye Writers of America’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 1988.

The Case of the Lonely Lovers opens with a dark-eyed, young woman, one Betty Ackerman, dressed in a gayly flowered frock, running for her life. She chances upon an isolated house, its reluctant owner, Robert Muir, and his massive dog, Kahn. Only the mystery of what and why loom larger than the danger and desperation hinged on her disagreeable host, reluctant to help a damsel so obviously in need.

She explains she was kidnapped and how she only escaped by a stroke of luck. She pleads for him to believe her, to which he replies, “It doesn’t make any difference whether I believe you or not.”

A knock interrupts their strained conversation. A voice through the door, a police detective yells, “We’re looking for an escaped prisoner by the name of Betty Ackerman . . . I’d like to take a look around.”

But the ornery churl shares his aversion to the needs of others freely. He denies the detective entry, seeing it as the shortest route to end further interruption and investigation. Betty is quick to capitalize, and ekes out permission to stay the night, as he grudgingly unlocks one of the upstairs bedrooms for her.

Ed Lynskey, on MysteryFile. com, quotes the back cover copy from Evil Come, Evil Go, about Wade and Miller’s writing process. In part: “After discussing an idea at length, they outline extensively.” For me, this technique shows prominently in the tight plotting of The Case of the Lonely Lovers.

Tension builds masterfully as the fog of mystery behind “The Case” slowly clears. A conspiracy, with Betty unknowingly thrust into its center, in the fight of her life. As the main plot heats up, Wade and Miller simultaneously fuel the romantic triangle of Betty, her boyfriend Glen Proctor, and Muir, as she steadily thaws the cold heart of her reluctant host.

Most of the prose is purposefully composed, driving the plot, character depth or the emotional impact of the action. But a few lines stand out as more poetic, like this one near the climax: “She blamed the thin fog that had been sucked inland by yesterday’s heat and drifted like a grey broth at the windows.”

Like the first Suspense Novel, The Case of the Lonely Lovers is a terrific read, one that seems perfectly ripe for a new printing.

N.R. De Mexico’s Strange Pursuit

suspense_novel_1A half-page ad in Suspense Magazine #4 offered a series of three Suspense Novels, companion digest/ paperbacks to Suspense Magazine, all published in 1951. The offer combined all three, along with a copy of The Scented Flesh by Robert O. Saber, also in the digest/paperback format, for a buck, postage paid.

Madman on a Drum written by Suspense contributing editor N.R. De Mexico, was first published in 1944 by Cavalcade Books based in New York, as a digest-sized paperback. In 1951 it was retitled Strange Pursuit and featured as the first of three Suspense Novels from Farrell Publishing.

Strange Pursuit (Madman on a Drum) is a top notch thriller, cleverly plotted with beautifully written narrative and dialogue. When Lois Vincent fails to keep a date with boyfriend Larry Graham, the mystery of her disappearance sparks a surreal, paranoid crisis for Graham that quickly escalates into a full-blown conspiracy in which he can trust no one as he doggedly fights to clear himself of her murder and figure out who could so completely destroy his life.