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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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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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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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Thomas Walsh

Monday, June 11th, 2018 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Gat_WalshDiamonds“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)

Eighteen years after writing his first story, Thomas Walsh’s 1951 debut novel, Nightmare in Manhattan, won an Edgar Award. Twenty-seven years later in 1978, he picked up another Edgar for the short story “Chance After Chance.” That is impressive! Walsh wrote a half-dozen stories for Black Mask in the thirties and his “Best Man” was included by Joseph Shaw in his prestigious Hard-Boiled Omnibus.

“Double Check” appeared in the July, 1933 issue of Black Mask, which also included stories by Raoul Whitfield (Jo Gar), Erle Stanley Gardner (Ken Corning), Frederick Nebel (Tough Dick Donahue) and Carroll John Daly (Race Williams). How’s that for less than a quarter?!

It’s a buddy cop story – except the two men aren’t buddies. Flaherty is well-dressed, small and the smart detective. Mike Martin is big, rough, not the quickest thinker and looks rumpled. It’s brains and brawn.

A banker named Conrad Devine is being threatened, presumably with death, if he doesn’t pay out.

Flaherty constantly pokes at Martin, annoying the bigger man. More than once, Martin’s exasperation with his temporary partner is expressed as “I’m gonna lay you like a rug.”
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