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A (Black) Gat in The Hand: Bill Crider Reviews ‘The Brass Cupcake’

Monday, December 30th, 2019 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Crider_BillEDITEDYou’re the second guy I’ve met within hours who seems to think a gat in the hand means a world by the tail.” – Phillip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep

(Gat — Prohibition Era term for a gun. Shortened version of Gatling Gun)

If you asked me to name the nicest person I’ve encountered since becoming a writer/blogger/whatever I am, I’d immediately fire back, “Bill Crider.” I have yet to come across one person who had anything bad to say about Bill. He was always friendly, and generous with his knowledge and advice. Bill was an excellent writer of mysteries and westerns, best known for his Sheriff Dan Rhodes series.

His ‘Bill Crider’s Pop Culture Magazine’ was a fun blog, full of all kinds of short posts about books, music, advertisements, history – pop culture stuff. I’m pretty sure that Bill would have liked A (Black) Gat in the Hand. And I think he would have contributed an essay. So, for the final entry in round two, I’m reposting Bill’s review of John D. MacDonld’s The Brass Cupcake. Swing by his blog and read some great stuff!

 Now and then I like to read a book by John D. MacDonald just to remind myself of how good he was.  The Brass Cupcake was his first novel, and while it’s not as strong as some of the later ones, it’s still topnotch. I have a couple of editions, and the one pictured on the left is the one I read this time.

Cliff Bartells was a cop in Florence City, Florida, until the corruption became too much for him. It’s 1950, but already the syndicate is in town and things are starting to change. So Cliff resigned (the “brass cupcake” is a derogatory term for his badge), and now he’s an insurance adjuster. It’s not an exciting life, but it’s something he’s good at.

And then things get exciting. A wealthy tourist is murdered, and her jewelry is missing. It’s expected that the killer will make an offer to sell the jewelry (worth $750,000) back to the insurance company, and Cliff is assigned to make the buy. As a result, he meets the tourist’s beautiful niece, Melody Chance, who’s a real MacDonald woman (beautiful, hearty appetite, great figure, independent [up to a point]). You can guess what happens between them, but along the way there’s another woman, Letty, and we see how far Cliff will go to get the jewelry and solve the murder.

Crider_BrassCupcakeEDITEDCliff is the first-person narrator of the novel, and some of his descriptions of Letty are, well, let’s say not as flattering as those of Melody. There’s a third woman, too, the one who wants to marry Cliff. She’s needy and clingy, and the descriptions of her aren’t flattering, either. Another guy at Cliff’s office loves her, and Cliff’s advice to him at the end of the novel will set feminists’ blood to boiling.

This might be MacDonald’s first novel, but the writing is swell, the pacing is great, there’s some convincing action, and a lot of things that made his work so appealing in the later novels are there. If you think his environmentalism was something that came along later, you don’t have to read any further than this book to learn that it was always there.

John D. MacDonald is the writer who inspired me to begin collecting paperbacks 50 years ago. Reading this book again reminds me of why I was so powerfully affected. JDM has a lot to answer for.

This was Bill’s final blog post, on December 5, 2017. He passed away on February 12, 2018.

Things could change, but I suspect this will be my final post on the blog.  I met with some doctors at M. D. Anderson today, and they suggested that I enter hospice care.  A few weeks, a few months is about all I have left.  The blog has been a tremendous source of pleasure to me over the years, and I’ve made a lot of friends here.  My only regret is  that I have several unreviewed books, including Lawrence Block’ fine new anthology, Alive in Shape and Color, and Max Allan Collins’ latest collaboration with Mickey Spillane, The Last Standwhich is a collection of two novellas, “A Bullet for Satisfaction,” an early Spillane manuscript with an interesting history, and “The Last Stand,” the last thing that Spillane completed.  It saddens me to think of all the great books by many writers that I’ll never read.  But I’ve had a great life, and my readers have been a big part of it.  Much love to you all.

Bill is greatly missed.

And thanks to those who jumped on board and wrote for this second go-round. I’ve got a couple different series’ in the works for Black Gate in 2020 and 2021 (Conan, and John D MacDonald, anyone?), but there’s still way too much hardboiled and pulp to write about out  there. And folks available to tell you about it. So, expect a round three somewhere down the line. 

Prior posts in A (Black) Gat in the Hand – 2019 Series

Back Deck Pulp Returns
A (Black) Gat in the Hand Returns
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Will Murray on Doc Savage
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Hugh B. Cave’s Peter Kane
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Paul Bishop on Lance Spearman
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: A Man Called Spade
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Hard Boiled Holmes
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Duane Spurlock on T.T. Flynn
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Andrew Salmon on Montreal Noir
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Frank Schildiner on The Bad Guys of Pulp
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Steve Scott on John D. MacDonald’s ‘Park Falkner’
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: William Patrick Murray on The Spider
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: John D. MacDonald & Mickey Spillane
A (Black Gat in the Hand: Norbert Davis goes West(ern)

A (Black) Gat in the Hand – 2018 Series

With a (Black) Gat: George Harmon Coxe
With a (Black) Gat: Raoul Whitfield
With a (Black) Gat: Some Hard Boiled Anthologies
With a (Black) Gat: Frederick Nebel’s Donahue
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Thomas Walsh
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Black Mask – January, 1935
A (Black) Gat in the hand: Norbert Davis’ Ben Shaley
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: D.L. Champion’s Rex Sackler
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Dime Detective – August, 1939
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Back Deck Pulp #1
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: W.T. Ballard’s Bill Lennox
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Day Keene
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Black Mask – October, 1933
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Back Deck Pulp #2
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Black Mask – Spring, 2017
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Frank Schildiner’s ‘Max Allen Collins & The Hard Boiled Hero’
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: William Campbell Gault
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: More Cool & Lam From Hard Case Crime
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: MORE Cool & Lam!!!!
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Thomas Parker’s ‘They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?’
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Joe Bonadonna’s ‘Hardboiled Film Noir’ (Part One)
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Joe Bonadonna’s ‘Hardboiled Film Noir’ (Part Two)
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: William Patrick Maynard’s ‘The Yellow Peril’
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Andrew P Salmon’s ‘Frederick C. Davis’
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Rory Gallagher’s ‘Continental Op’
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Back Deck Pulp #3
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Back Deck Pulp #4
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Back Deck Pulp #5
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Joe ‘Cap’ Shaw on Writing
A (Black) Gat in Hand: Back Deck Pulp #6
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: The Black Mask Dinner


Bob_Houston_HatCroppedBob Byrne’s ‘A (Black) Gat in the Hand’ was a regular Monday morning hardboiled pulp column from May through December, 2018 and was brought back in the summer of 2019.

His ‘The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes’ column ran every Monday morning at Black Gate  from March, 2014 through March, 2017 (still making an occasional return appearance!).

He organized ‘Hither Came Conan,’ as well as Black Gate’s award-nominated ‘Discovering Robert E. Howard’ series.

He is a member of the Praed Street Irregulars, founded www.SolarPons.com (the only website dedicated to the ‘Sherlock Holmes of Praed Street’) and blogs about Holmes and other mystery matters at Almost Holmes.

He has contributed stories to The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories – Parts III, IVV and VI.

2 Comments »

  1. You’re right about Bill Crider. He was an insightful reviewer and an excellent mystery writer. Bill also loved Gold Medal paperbacks!

    Comment by kelleyg@ecc.edu - December 30, 2019 3:19 pm

  2. Kelly: Yeah – Bill absolutely loved those Fawcett/Gold Medal paperbacks.

    Comment by Bob Byrne - December 31, 2019 11:35 am


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