A (Black) Gat in the Hand: The Phantom Crook, Ed Jenkins (Erle Stanley Gardner)

Monday, August 6th, 2018 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Gat_GardnerPic“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)

Erle Stanley Gardner is well-remembered as the creator of Perry Mason, star of over eighty novels, radio and tv. The famed defense attorney (portrayed by Raymond Burr) started out as something of a hardboiled PI in the first ten or so novels before settling into ‘lawyer mode.’

And Gardner also wrote thirty novels featuring Bertha Cool and Donald Lam (who you know ALL about from reading this post and this post here at Black Gate!). Gardner was the definition of a prolific pulpster, writing over one million words a year for over a decade: while working as a lawyer!

After many rejections, Gardner finally made the pages of Black Mask (under the name of Charles M. Green). in the December 15, 1923 issue of Black Mask with “The Shrieking Skeleton.” His seventh story to make the magazine was “Beyond the Law” and it featured Ed Jenkins, ‘The Phantom Crook.’

Jenkins appeared seventy-two times from 1925 to 1943 and made Gardner one of the Black Mask mainstays, alongside Dashiell Hammett, Carroll John Daly and Raoul Whitfield. He brought Jenkins back in the sixties for the short novel The Blonde in Lower Six in Argosy, which was owned by his old friend, Harry Steeger.

Jenkins almost didn’t make it to print. In early drafts, Jenkins committed a cold-blooded murder. Assistant editor Harry C. North wrote to Gardner that heroizing such a man wasn’t the sort of thing that he felt the magazine should be publishing. The author responded accordingly.

“Hell’s Kettle” was the second of a linked trilogy and appeared in the June, 1930 issue of Black Mask. “The Crime Crusher” was included in the May issue and “Big Shot” wrapped things up in July. The June issue also included the fourth and final installment of what became Dashiell Hammet’s novel, The Glass Key, as well as Carroll John Day’s “Tainted Power,” which featured Race Williams and The Flame.

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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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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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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Dime Detective – August, 1939

Monday, July 9th, 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)

Dime Detective hit newsstands in November of 1931. The pulp would become Black Mask’s most enduring competition. In fact, Black Mask would be bought by Dime Detective’s publisher and the latter would outlast the legendary magazine. I’m a big fan of Dime Detective and I’m working on a post about the magazine for Todd Vick’s excellent pulp blog, On An Underwood #5 (I’m sure you deduced that it’s Robert E. Howard-centric!).

Editor Kenneth S. White was given marching orders to lure as many Black Mask writers as he could, offering an extra penny a word – a palpable pulp inducement! Most pulps paid one (or even less!) cent per word. Two cents was a desirable wage, which is why so many of the successful pulpsters turned out such prodigious word counts. They needed to just to make a living. Black Mask paid three cents a word, indicative of its status and quality. Dime Detective offering an extra penny a word was significant bait.

Many of Black Mask’s writers jumped ship: Erle Stanley Gardner, Frederick Nebel, Carroll John Daly, T.T. Flynn and Frederick C. Davis among them. Norbert Davis, whose hardboiled humor wasn’t to editor Cap Shaw’s taste, flourished at Dime Detective. Davis is one of my favorites, which you surely know because you read this A (Black) Gat in the Hand post a few weeks ago!

When Shaw was relieved of duties in 1936, Raymond Chandler would quit Black Mask and write for Dime Detective.

Billing itself as “twice as good for half the price” (Black Mask cost twenty cents), Dime Detective lasted until August, 1953, by which time the paperback revolution had killed the pulps. Black Mask had packed it in after the March, 1950 issue.

The August, 1939 issue of Dime Detective screams out ‘Quality!’ It included Raymond Chandler’s “Trouble is My Business,” featuring his Philip Marlowe-ish John Dalmas. It effectively marked the end of his writing detective stories for the pulps. There would be one more mystery in Detective Story, but with The Big Sleep coming out in 1939, followed by Farwell My Lovely in 1940, he worked the detective novel going forward. In the lexicon of hardboiled, it’s Hammett, Chandler and everyone else (Some are inclined to make it a threesome with Ross MacDonald, but I’m not in that camp). Chandler wanted to write literary hardboiled stories. He succeeded. Sometimes, his prose is beautiful. Other times, it is overly pretentious. His plotting is…complex. I used to dislike Chandler’s works, but I’m warming up to him.

Carroll John Daly’s Race Williams (present here in “Gangman’s Gallows”) was massively popular in the pages of Black Mask in the twenties and early thirties – even though editor Joseph Shaw did not like Daly’s writing. Williams came to Dime Detective with Daly and appeared in 21 stories; three more the author’s rather ridiculous Vee Brown  (I’m not a big fan of crusading employees of the District Attorney who write Brill Building-type smash hits in their off time, making them wealthy).

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If – Intelligent Robots Are Achieved

Wednesday, July 4th, 2018 | Posted by Steve Carper

Astonishing Stories February 1940 cover Jack Binder artist

Yanos Binder was born in central Hungary in the days of the Austro-Hungarian empire. An older sister Terez was born in 1901, Yanos in 1902, Earl in 1904, and Milahy in 1905. Their father moved to the U.S. in 1906, earning enough money to send for the rest of family in 1910. A final child, Otto, was born in 1911.

Earl and Otto started collaborating as science fiction writers in 1932, disguising themselves only slightly as E and O – Eando – Binder. Earl soon dropped out, but Otto kept the pseudonym for almost all his sf work, including the seminal Adam Link, Robot series, whose first story is the should-be-better-known “I, Robot” from 1939. He went on to write thousands of comic book stories, including most of the Captain Marvel family stories in the 1940s.

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Birthday Reviews: Lloyd Arthur Eshbach’s “The Valley of Titans”

Wednesday, June 20th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Leo Morey

Cover by Leo Morey

Lloyd Arthur Eshbach was born on June 20, 1910 and died on October 29, 2003.

Eshbach founded Fantasy Press in 1946 and ran it for 9 years, publishing nearly fifty books, including titles by Doc Smith, Stanley Weinbaum, Jack Williamson, A.E. van Vogt, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Sprague de Camp, and others.

Eshbach’s novel The Land Beyond the Gate was nominated for the Compton Crook Stephen Tall Memorial Award. In 1988, he received the Milford Award for Lifetime Achievement, the Gallun Award for contributions to science fiction, and the First Fandom Hall of Fame Award. In 1949, he was the pro Guest of Honor at the Cinvention, the 1949 Worldcon in Cincinnati and in 1995, he was the Publisher Guest of Honor at the World Fantasy Convention.

Originally published as by “L.A. Eshbach,” “The Valley of Titans” originally appeared in the March 1931 issue of Amazing Stories, edited by T. O’Conor Sloane. It was Eshbach’s fourth published story. Interestingly, underneath his byline, the magazine touted him as “Author of ‘A Voice from the Ether’,” which wouldn’t appear until the May issue of the magazine. In 1968, Ralph Adris reprinted the story in the March issue of Science Fiction Classics.

“The Valley of Titans” is less a story and more a travelogue. Eshbach’s narrator, James Newton, has been sent to fly over the Himalayas to discover what has happened to several missing airplanes. His own plane is forced down in an horrific storm and he discovers a lost valley high in the mountains. This valley has less in common with the Himalayan Shangri-La (and actually pre-dates Hilton’s novel by two years) and more in common with the Plateau of Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World.

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Birthday Reviews: Robert Moore Williams’s “Quest on Io”

Tuesday, June 19th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Albert Drake

Cover by Albert Drake

Robert Moore Williams was born on June 19, 1907 and died on May 12, 1977. He published under his own name as well as the pseudonyms Robert Moore, John S. Browning, H.H. Harmon, Russel Storm, and the house name E.K. Jarvis. He may have been best known for his Jongor series.

Moore’s story “Quest on Io” appeared in the Fall 1940 issue of Planet Stories, edited by Malcolm Reiss. The story was never picked up for publication elsewhere, but in 2011, that issue of Planet Stories was reprinted as a trade paperback anthology.

Despite the title of Williams’s “Quest on Io,” there isn’t really a quest. Andy Horn is a navigator who is spending some downtime while his spaceship is being repaired prospecting on Io with his talking Ganymedian honey bear companion, Oscar. The two come under attack from another prospector who believes they are claimjumpers and when Andy confronts the other prospector, he discovers it is a woman, Frieda Dahlem. While the two of them quickly straighten out their differences, it becomes apparent that there are three claimjumpers who are out to kill both of them (plus Oscar) in order to keep their activities secret.

The story is essentially a western, although the action has been moved to Io. It feels written for an audience of young boys who know women exist, but think there are gross, only around to get in the way. Andy’s relationship with Frieda is very basic. Frieda appears to be a competent woman until a man is around, whether Andy, who becomes her hero, or the three claimjumpers, who turn her into a puddle of incompetence. Oscar seems to exist in the story purely for comic relief, although the humor misfires repeatedly.

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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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Birthday Reviews: Murray Leinster’s “Pipeline to Pluto”

Saturday, June 16th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by William Timmins

Cover by William Timmins

Murray Leinster was born William F. Jenkins on June 16, 1896 and died on June 8, 1975.

Murray Leinster was one of many nom de plumes used by William Fitzgerald Jenkins. He won the Liberty Award in 1937 for “A Very Nice Family,” the 1956 Hugo Award for Best Novelette for “Exploration Team,” and a retro-Hugo in 1996 for Best Novelette for “First Contact.” Leinster was the Guest of Honor at the 21st Worldcon in 1963 and in 1969 was inducted into the First Fandom Hall of Fame. In 1995, the Sidewise Award for Alternate History was established, named after Leinster’s story “Sidewise in Time.”

Jenkins holds patent #2727427, issued on December 20, 1955 for an “Apparatus for Production of Light Effects in Composite Photography” and patent 2727429, issued the same day for an “Apparatus for Production of Composite Photographic Effects.”

Leinster first published “Pipeline to Pluto” in the August 1945 issue of Astounding, edited by John W. Campbell, Jr. Ten years later, Groff Conklin included it in his anthology Science Fiction Terror Tales. It appeared in both versions of The Best of Murray Leinster, the British volume edited by Brian Davis and the American volume edited by J.J. Pierce (each book had a completely different table of contents). The story most recently appeared in First Contacts: The Essential Murray Leinster. Over the years, it has been translated into Japanese, Croatian, German, Italian, and Russian.

“Pipeline to Pluto” is a slight story, focusing on Hill’s attempts to get from Earth to Pluto via a system of cargos shuttles. A bruiser, all that Leinster lets the reader know about him is that he has an urgent need to stowaway in the “pipeline” and he has bought another stowaway’s rights to a place. The majority of the action looks at Hill’s attempts to convince Crowder and Moore, who run the smuggling ring, to get him off Earth that evening.

Hill’s pleading and threats to the men are punctuated with exposition in which Leinster explains how the pipeline works. A series of cargo ships, one launched each day from Pluto and one launched from Earth, forming a long line carrying supplies to Pluto and ores mined on Pluto back to the home planet. Leinster not only describes the vessels and how they launch, but eventually describes the impact of being on board the vessels to humans.

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