Justice #3


Richard Matheson’s The Frigid Flame

Story splashpagePublisher Martin Goodman started both Non-Pareil (Justice) and the Lion paperback book line, so it’s no surprise the novels featured in the digest magazine first appeared as Lion paperbacks a few years earlier. The seventh, and final story in Justice Amazing Detective Mysteries #3, October 1955 is Richard Matheson’s “The Frigid Flame,” which was first published as Someone is Bleeding by Lion in 1953.

Matheson is best remembered for his science fiction and horror novels, but he wrote suspense and thrillers too, and this one could be labeled as such—or noir. Young Davie Newton falls hard for the beautiful, but unpredictable Peggy Lister, a young woman with a past. The story is ripe with action and plot twists, and Matheson’s excellent writing does a good job selling the sometimes melodramatic events and dialogue. The mystery here is whether the story is true noir, or a crime drama that wraps things up with a happy ending—and you won’t know for sure until the final page.

Someone is Bleeding coverJames Reasoner’s Rough Edges and Admiral Ironbombs’ Yellowed and Creased cover reviews of the paperback version of the story.

“The Frigid Flame” gives this issue of Justice a strong finish, but overall I’d give the previous edition from July 1955, a slight edge.

Peter Enfantino provides synopses for all four issues of Justice in The Digest Enthusiast book five.

Philip Weck’s The Rat Game

The sixth story from Justice Amazing Detective Mysteries #3, October 1955:

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The quirky elements of Philip Weck’s “The Rat Game” keep an otherwise mediocre whodunit entertaining. The Rat Game itself is rigged in favor of the carny barker who runs it. But the rubes who play along aren’t the only ones being gouged. As the story opens, it’s the barker who’s left face down in an alley, stabbed in the back with a shiv. He miraculously survives despite his refusal to allow the wound to seal properly, while he repeatedly attempts to solve the mystery of his would-be murderer from the narrow list of suspects—his wife, brother, and best friend.

Weck had success with several dozen stories from 1947 to 1961 published in popular pulps and digests like Manhunt and Trapped. I found his “You Can’t Run Away” from Suspense Magazine (Fall 1951) to be outstanding. Michael L. Cook, in Mystery, Detective, and Espionage Magazines highlights the story in his entry on Suspense. “[Weck]…tells with some power about murder resulting when a G.I. returns home and his girl has married someone else.”

John Bender’s Double or Nothing

The fifth story from Justice Amazing Detective Mysteries #3, October 1955:

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The Trent twins use their identical appearances to be in two places at once. A perfect alibi for contract killers. But the odd man of the pair prefers his identity as Jody and puts the trigger man in double jeopardy.

John Bender wrote mystery and detective yarns with an occasional western or sports story for the pulps beginning in 1940 and ending in 1956. “Double or Nothing” was his second yarn for Justice, and his before to his final story, “Homecoming,” for Redbook in Nov.1956.

Gil Brewer’s Teen-Age Casanova

The fourth story from Justice Amazing Detective Mysteries #3, October 1955:

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Misperceptions abound in Gil Brewer’s “Teen-Age Casanova.” Carol loves Allen, and Allen used to love her back—until he fell hard for Binnie. Now he’s as gaga over Binnie, as Carol is over him. He makes it clear to Carol that he’s done with her—again and again. Yet she persists. In fact, Carol’s indefatigable—unbelievably so. What’s a teenage casanova to do? Allen cobbles together a reverse stalker murder plan that bites back.

Gil Brewer (1922–1983) was a major paperback original writer in the 1950s. His short stories sold to all the digest magazines of the day, most notably Manhunt, The Saint, Pursuit, Hunted, and the short-lived Accused. Bill Pronzini wrote a chapter about him for The Big Book of Noir, citing his novels The Red Scarf and Nude on Thin Ice as two of his best. Hard Case Crime and Stark House Press have reprinted over a dozen of his novels, keeping the works of one of the great 50s and 60s noir writers in print for today’s readers.

Bryce Walton’s Fever Street

The third story from Justice Amazing Detective Mysteries #3, October 1955:

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Lieutenant Carl Maxson is surprised when Captain Burkson, reinstated from retirement, is assigned to the lead in a breaking murder case. The victim’s brutal knife wounds signal the return of a serial killer Burkson was never able to catch during his previous career. To uncover the killer’s identity, Burkson convinces Maxson they must get into the murderer’s mind to best him. The final lines of Bryce Walton’s “Fever Street” are as disturbing as its opening line: “Even the Graphic reporter couldn’t look into the room again.”

Bryce Walton (1918–1988) wrote dozens of short stories for science fiction and mystery magazines over his long career. His pseudonyms included Paul Franklin and Kenneth O’Hara. “Fever Street” was reprinted in Tough Stories Magazine #3 (March 1956), a handmade digest magazine of which little is detailed online.

John D. MacDonald’s Scared Money

The second story from Justice Amazing Detective Mysteries #3, October 1955:

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By 1955, John D. MacDonald had already written a dozen novels, so Justice editor Harry Widmer was fortunate to secure a short story from the prolific author. MacDonald’s fine writing is the only bright spot in this story of a gambler who kills a pedestrian on his drive home from another in a string of big losses. The vapid ending does nothing help this lackluster tale.

A grandmaster of mystery writers, “Scared Money” is not a good representation of MacDonald’s normally exceptional work.

William R. Cox’s Las Vegas Trip

If you’re a fan of Manhunt, Justice, which lasted only four issues, is a worthy addition to your collection. The third issues starts out strong with a novelette by William R. Cox called “Las Vegas Trip.”

Splashpage of Las Vegas Trip

Anthony Boucher wrote in his review of Death on Location (1962) that Cox wrote about gambling “more convincingly than anyone except Ian Fleming.” In “Las Vegas Trip” gambler Nick Crater is a little too good for the crooked poker tables at the Flaming Arrow hotel’s casino. When confronted by a wiseguy named Buster, Nick foolishly adds to his troubles by decking the guy. That mistake forces him to gather his winnings and flee. Fortunately, the casino B-girl he met earlier, Meg Bond, also wants out of Vegas after the beating she took at some point prior, curtesy of Buster. Nick doesn’t know if he can trust her, but he needs a ride so he bets she’s on the level. She drives fast and they soon find themselves in the farm district of California, in a small berg, name of Suntown.

They ought to lay low, but Nick hears about a poker game run by the town’s sheriff and can’t resist. He plans to simply watch, but of course, he’s soon drawn into the game. He does manage to keep his gambling itch under control and resist changing the luck of the evening’s big winner, their motel’s owner, Bull Barber. Unfortunately, the big man’s luck runs out anyway. By morning, Nick learns Bull has been robbed and murdered, and finds himself drawn into the mystery of whodunit when the sheriff’s lead suspect is obviously the victim of a setup.

There’s romance, bigotry, gunplay, and pathos as the story unfolds, culminating in a neat ending that ties up loose ends and serves Justice well.

Justice #3 cover

William R. Cox wrote 80 novels over his long career as a freelance writer. He purportedly averaged over a half-million published-words-a-year for 14 years during the pulp era. In addition to his sports, mystery, and western fiction, he also wrote the biography Luke Short: Famous Gambler of The Old West.

His wife, Casey, said that her husband died at the typewriter while at work on his 81st novel, Cemetery James and the Tombstone Wars, in August 1988. Cox also wrote several novels under the name Jonas Ward.