A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Black Mask — May, 1934

Monday, July 30th, 2018 | Posted by Bob Byrne


“You’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)

Last week, we looked at an article on writing from famed Black Mask editor, Joseph ‘Cap’ Shaw, which appeared in the May, 1934 issue of Writer’s Digest. What? You didn’t read that post? Well, click on over, do it, and then come back here and continue! Yeesh..

Done? Okay, let’s continue.

May, 1934 featured yet another solid issue of Black Mask under Shaw’s direction. The cover art was by J.W. Schlaiker, who had about fifty covers from 1929 to 1934. I don’t know why he abruptly stopped drawing for Black Mask. He served in France during World War I and was the War Department artist during World War II. He did portraits of Eisenhower, MacArthur and Patton.

Carroll John Daly carried the cover with Race Williams’ “Six Have Died,” which became part of the novel, Murder in the East. There were two more stories in this serial, which featured  The Flame. There would be one more story (“The Eyes Have It”) in November, and then Race Williams was no more in Black Mask. Williams would appear twenty-one times in Dime Detective but his successful career was in decline by May of 1934.

George Harmon Coxe’s Flashgun Casey was the subject our the very first post in this column. The hardboiled newspaper photographer was in the midst of appearing in seven consecutive issues; this story being “Two Man Job.” I like Casey, who was replaced by the more genteel Kent Murdoch.

From 1927 to 1934, Horace McCoy wrote thirteen stories about Captain Jerry Frost, leader of a group of Air Texas Rangers nicknamed ‘Hell’s Stepsons.’ They were basically a special ops team and Frost was a hardboiled problem solver. “Flight at Sunrise” was the second-to-last Frost story. I don’t believe that McCoy’s air tales have every been collected.

Of all the pulpsters, none may have had greater pretensions to greatness than McCoy. He’s best remembered for his novel, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, which became a successful film after his death. McCoy was a member of ‘The Fictioneers,’ which was an informal social club consisting of southern California pulpsters, including, at various times, Raymond Chandler, Norbert Davis, William Campbell Gault and W.T Ballard.

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The Last Video Store in my Neighborhood Closed and it’s Partially My Fault

Wednesday, July 25th, 2018 | Posted by Sean McLachlan


It’s a sad day for Madrid, especially for the barrio of Malasaña. The last video store in the neighborhood has closed. After 14 years of swimming against the tide, Ficciones closed a month ago today. I haven’t been able to rent a video since.

Sadly, I might not have rented one even if it had remained open. I liked Ficciones, don’t get me wrong, but with all the oldies available for free on YouTube and Archive.org, plus all those wonderful series on Netflix, a local video store was more of a nice idea than a regular shopping experience.

And it’s only now that I’m realizing how much I and everyone else screwed up.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: W.T. Ballard’s Bill Lennox

Monday, July 23rd, 2018 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Gat_DetectiveDragnet_BallardOne of the authors that I’ve ‘discovered’ while working on A (Black) Gat in the Hand is W.T. Ballard. I had read a story here and there in various anthologies, but nothing stuck with me. I knew he was a Black Masker and had been successful as a writer of westerns. But I’ve just read a couple stories of his Hollywood ‘fixer,’ Bill Lennox and I was sold!

Ballard, who wandered out west when the Depression hit, had been trying to sell to the New York pulps with minimal success. He saw a Detective Dragnet Magazine with one of his stories in a store window (December, 1930). As he walked away, a man called out his name: it was Harry Warner, who he had known a little back in Cleveland, where the family had been making movie trailers for local organizations.  Warner asked what Ballard was doing in Hollywood. A bit embarrassed, the latter exaggerated a bit, bought that magazine and gave it to Warner, saying he was a freelance writer.

Warner and his brothers had just taken over First National Studios, and impressed with Ballard, Harry W. hired him as a screenwriter at a good salary. That gig lasted eight months until Ballard made a crack about Warner, not knowing the man was standing behind him. Fired!

Ballard was picked up by Columbia Pictures, who hired him to produce B-films for $10,000 each. To hit that target, Ballard had to write the script, direct and produce, and even move scenery for shoots. He endured this exhausting assignment for six months – but the two studio jobs gave him an invaluable inside knowledge of the industry.

In 1931, Ballard was trying struggling trying to write and sell to Detective Story Magazine, which favored Agatha Christie/Mary Roberts Rinehart types of mysteries. At his uncle’s house (where he was living), he heard a radio ad for The Maltese Falcon, a movie starring Ricardo Cortez (Bogart hit gold in the third adaptation). He went to see the movie. As Ballard said in an excellent interview conducted by Stephen Mertz. “Hammett’s ear for words sounded the way I thought criminals and detectives should talk. It rang true, the way I wanted mine to do.”

The radio ad had mentioned Black Mask, which Ballard was unfamiliar with. After the movie he went around the corner, bought the latest issue and read it on the streetcar ride home. He was hooked.

Ballard didn’t want to write about the typical newspaper reporter. His friend Jim Lawson worked at Universal Studios and was often called on to get stars out of trouble. Ballard liked the idea, knowing he had the studio experience to write realistically.  Using the phone book to help with names, that very night, around midnight, he started writing. About five in the morning, he had a 10,000-word story featuring Bill Lennox. He mailed the manuscript off and went to bed.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Back Deck Pulp #1

Monday, July 16th, 2018 | Posted by Bob Byrne


“You’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 Chandlers’ The Big Sleep

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

Of course, we’re all friends here at Black Gate. But if you’re my friend on Facebook, you have probably seen at least one of my Back Deck Pulp posts (I mean; how could you miss them?). I am reading a TON of pulp stories and also reading info on pulpsters for A (Black) Gat in the Hand. And when the weather permits, I’ve been sitting on my very nice back deck and taking a picture with the story of the moment. I include a bit of info on the picture’s story or author or magazine issue. Thus, ‘Back Deck Pulp.’

I think they’re neat, myself. And most of the topics I cover will end up being A (Black) Gat in the Hand posts. Friend me on FB and see what I’ve been writing about.

Well, I started collecting all those posts and discovered that I’ve already done enough for at least two Black Gate essays. So, here’s the first. It’s very informal, and it doesn’t read like a normal post: think of it like an anthology of short stories. There’s no continual narrative – But there’s some good pulp info! I made very minimal changes and most read exactly as the original FB post did.


Today’s Back Deck Pulp is Norbert Davis’ “Red Goose,” the first of his two Black Mask stories featuring PI Ben Shaley.

When Raymond Chandler began writing for the pulps, he said that “Red Goose” impressed him more than any other tale he had read. Years later, he said he had not forgotten it.

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Exploring the Alcazaba of Málaga, Spain

Wednesday, July 4th, 2018 | Posted by Sean McLachlan


The Alcazaba with the ruins of a Roman theater in the foreground

Last week I had the pleasure of spending five days in Málaga, a historic port on Spain’s south coast. Founded by the Phoenicians around the 8th century BC, it continued to be important during Roman times and well into the modern era. While it was never one of the major ports like Barcelona, it always saw brisk trade.

The main attractions are two museums dedicated to local-boy-done-good Pablo Picasso and a pair of impressive medieval castles. The first is the Alcazaba, which loomed over the town and we’ll talk about today. Next week’s castle is further upslope and is called the Gibralfaro.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: D. L. Champion’s Rex Sackler

Monday, July 2nd, 2018 | Posted by Bob Byrne


“You’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)

Only T.T. Flynn (80), Frederick C. Davis (73) and Carroll John Daly (53) appeared in Dime Detective more often than D’arcy Lyndon Champion, who was in 47 issues. Twenty-nine of those were Inspector Allhoff stories (behind only Frederick Nebel’s Cardigan and John Lawrence’s the Marquis of Broadway).

Allhoff was an unpleasant, kind of psychotic, legless former cop who still worked with the police. Bill Pronzini wrote that Champion “took the Nero Wolfe formula and gave it a perverse twist.” You can find a collection with several of the Allhoff stories from Altus Press. A second volume will be released at PulpFest this summer.

The Phantom Detective was the second pulp hero magazine star, after The Shadow, appearing one month before Lester Dent’s/Kenneth Robeson’s Doc Savage. Champion was the primary writer of the early stories under the name Jack D’arcy. He had many other series characters, including hypochondriac Mexican PI Mariano Mercado (another Altus collection) and penny-pinching detective Rex Sackler.

I’ve only found one Rex Sackler tale, “Death Stops Payment,” which is included in the Black Lizard Big Book of Black Mask Stories. Sackler appeared in three issues of Detective Fiction Weekly before moving to Black Mask for twenty-six more. There haven’t been any Sackler collections at all; even in electronic format. Which is a SHAME! Sackler brings to mind the humorous stories of the vastly under-appreciated Norbert Davis (who, of course, you read about here…).

Sackler is so cheap he makes Scrooge look like philanthropist (the pre-ghosts Scrooge). He hates paying Joey Graham, his street-smart assistant, his hard-earned wages. And knowing Graham’s weakness for gambling, he entices his employee into losing part of his pay right back to him. Graham knows what’s happening, but he can’t resist the lure.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Norbert Davis’ Ben Shaley

Monday, June 25th, 2018 | Posted by Bob Byrne


“You’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 Chandlers’ The Big Sleep

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

Like many pulpsters, Norbert Davis wrote for several different markets, such as westerns, romance and war stories. But he was at his best in the private eye and mystery field. Davis could write standard hardboiled fare, but he excelled at mixing humor into the genre, and many argue he did it better than anyone else.

Joe ‘Cap’ Shaw, legendary editor of Black Mask, didn’t feel that Davis’ hardboiled humor fit in to the magazine and the writer only managed to break into Black Mask five times between 1932 and 1937.  Davis had success in other markets, however, with eighteen stories seeing print in 1936, for example. And several stories appeared in Black Mask after Shaw departed.

Ben Shaley appeared in the February and April, 1934 issues of Black Mask and represent two of the five Davis stories that Shaw chose to print.

Shaley was a Los Angeles PI introduced in “Red Goose.” I like Davis’ description: ‘Shaley was bonily tall. He had a thin, tanned face with bitterly heavy lines in it. He looked calm; but he looked like he was being calm on purpose – as though he was consciously holding himself in. He had an air of hardboiled confidence.’

The humor that Davis is best known for is pretty much absent from this story, but that proves he could hold his own writing ‘straight’ hardboiled. Though Shaley’s exasperation with the nerdy museum curator, as the detective tries to lay the groundwork for the case is amusing.

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A Bit of the Roman Empire in my Pocket

Wednesday, June 20th, 2018 | Posted by Sean McLachlan


As a writer, sometimes I get my inspiration in strange ways.

Going to art galleries is one. For some reason, enjoying fine art that isn’t writing fires up my writing. I also like to collect odd and interesting objects, although they have to be cheap because, you know, I’m a writer.

One of my favorites is this Roman coin that I snagged for 10 euros ($11.50) at a local coin shop. It was so cheap because the coin is in pretty bad condition. I didn’t care, because it’s cool to keep a piece of the empire in my pocket.

For a year I wasn’t able to identify it, but then at a party in Oxford I lucked out. I was showing it off and one of the people there knew a former numismatist for the British Museum. We took a couple of shots of it and sent it to her. An hour later I learned it was a coin of Magnentius, a usurper who ruled in the Western Roman Empire from AD 350-353.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Black Mask — January, 1935

Monday, June 18th, 2018 | Posted by Bob Byrne


“You’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 Chandlers’ The Big Sleep

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

Joseph ‘Cap’ Shaw was still at the helm of Black Mask in January of 1935, when Raymond Chandler’s “Killer in the Rain” scored the cover. But this issue also included stories by Frederick Nebel, Erle Stanley Gardner, George Harmon Coxe and Roger Torrey. All that for fifteen cents!

“Killer in the Rain” featured Carmady. I’m in the camp that feels all of Chandler’s PIs: Carmady, Ted Carmady, Ted Malvern and John Dalmas were all essentially Philip Marlowe with slight differences. Carmady appeared in six stories – all in Black Mask.

The story was heavily cannibalized for Chandler’s first novel, The Big Sleep. Carmen Dravec became Carmen Sternwood, played memorably by Martha Vickers in the HumphreyBogart film. Two other Carmady stories, “The Curtain” and “Finger Man,” were also used. I think that “Killer in the Rain” is a strong story on its own and is definitely worth reading. I’m tinkering with ideas for a separate post on this story.

Frederick Nebel, whose Tough Dick Donahue (subject of an earlier post in the series) would replace The Continental Op when Dashiell Hammett left the pulps, provided Black Mask readers with the twenty-eighth adventure featuring Captain Steve MacBride of the Richmond City Police and newsman Kennedy of the Free Press. MacBride is a tough, by-the-book cop, while Kennedy is a hard-drinking smart aleck reporter. However, both are committed to justice and cleaning up corrupt Richmond City.

Except for one story (“Hell on Wheels” – Dime Detective), the entire series appeared in Black Mask. The collection has been reprinted in a three-volume series from Altus Press.

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Burton in a Skirt, or What Are You Going to Do with Your Life when Game of Thrones Is Over?

Sunday, June 10th, 2018 | Posted by Thomas Parker

(1) Game of Thrones-small

Are you still trying to pull yourself out of the depression death-spiral you entered when you heard that the next season of Game of Thrones won’t appear until 2019? And do you find yourself going through every day in an ostrich-like endeavor to evade the knowledge that the next season of Game of Thrones will be the final season?

What will you do? What will you do?

Well, you could surrender to despair and binge-watch whatever the current iteration of CSI is (CSI Fresno? Arkadelphia? Mu?) until the foul odor of your sweaty, unwashed body drives away everyone you love and cherish.

Or you could do as your fathers’ fathers’… er… fathers (just old are you, kid?) did, yea, even as they wandered in the barren wilderness of the pre-internet, pre-fanboy, pre-CGI age: you could return to the source, the ancient fount from which Game of Thrones derives much of its overheated, multi-hued, melodramatic substance: the historical epics and biblical blockbusters and costume dramas that were Hollywood’s bread and butter from the silent era through the sixties, when the whole madcap caravan broke down by the side of the road, a victim of cultural change and economic vapor lock.

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