Tuesday, April 13, 2010
Best from Manhunt
If you’re at all into this stuff, you’re probably familiar with Manhunt, a digest-size magazine from the ‘50’s and ‘60’s that featured some of the greatest writers ever to work in the field of crime fiction. It was a sort of descendant of the earlier pulps, like Black Mask or Dime Detective, but the roster of talent that surfaced regularly in Manhunt was far superior to those earlier mags.
Issues of Manhunt are hard to come by now; just as scarce is Best from Manhunt, a slim paperback that showcased some of the magazine’s best stuff. It came out in 1958, toward the end of what critics consider Manhunt’s best period. I was lucky enough to get my hands on a copy via Ebay, pretty cheap. Here’s a brief overview of the contents:
“On the Sidewalk Bleeding”, by Evan Hunter is a dire warning against the dangers of juvenile delinquency, ‘50’s-style. A young gang member has been knifed in an alley and, as his life bleeds out, he ponders the choices he made, and wants only to be remembered as who he is, not as a gang member. A decent story, but not Hunter’s best.
“Mugger Murder”, by Richard Denning. A clever number, about a guy who figures out the perfect way to commit murder: just lure someone into mugging you, then kill him in self-defense. What a rush, eh?
“Decision”, by Helen Nielson. Decent-hearted Ruth has had enough of her abusive and controlling father and makes the “decision” to end his life once and for all. But her attempt at murder may tie her to the old man even more. One of the better stories in this volume.
“The Collector Comes After Payday”, by Fletcher Flora. Meek, unlucky Frankie finally snaps and kills his monstrous Pop, and suddenly his whole life starts coming up roses. In no time at all, he’s a success in love and money—but when he turns heel the ghosts of his bad luck return. Flora is way overdue to be rediscovered.
“Try It My Way”, by Jack Ritchie. A tense story of three cons holding a guard hostage and trying to negotiate their way out of prison. But tempers flare, someone winds up dead, and there’s no way in hell they’re getting’ out… Great story.
“Movie Night”, by Robert Turner. Another J.D. story, as a night out at the drive-in for two couples turns ugly. A gang of J.D.’s irk one of the husbands, who refuses to back down—which has bigger repercussions than anyone could have guessed.
“In Memory of Judith Courtright”, by Erskine Caldwell. A young teacher becomes an object of infatuation for a student, until the student catches her in a compromising situation… which leads, of course, to at least one dead person. Caldwell’s usual melodrama, but you know, I never mind that so much with him.
“Day’s Work”, by Jonathon Lord. A short, snappy tale about two fellas who witness a horrible accident… and are only briefly distracted from their own equally ugly work.
“The Scrapbook”, by Jonathon Craig. A Robert Bloch-like story about an old guy who likes to spend his vacations killing pretty girls and then talking about the “gruesome murders” when he gets back to work. Except this time, everyone at work is too distracted by a deadly fire to think much of the sex crime. Much to our killer’s frustration. Another high point in the book.
“Quiet Day in the County Jail”, by Craig Rice. A gorgeous redhead is being held in the jail for her own protection against bad guys who want to keep her from testifying against them. She’s not too convinced they can keep her safe, though. Like the title implies, this is a quiet little story, nicely open-ended.
“The Set-Up”, by Stanley Colbert. A reporter needs some cash to keep his girl happy. Fortunately, a husband kills his wife and the reporter is first on the scene. Guess what? There’s some cash. But did the husband actually get the job done? Another short, tight story.
“The Double Take”, by Richard S. Prather. A Shell Scott story, and the longest one in the book. Seems someone’s been using our boy Shell’s name and office to pose as him and bilk innocent people out of their money. That doesn’t sit well with Shell. He aims to shut them down—but that won’t stop him from ogling the ladies along the way.
“The Man Who Found the Money”, by James E. Cronin. Probably my favorite. A hapless guy vacationing in Vegas finds a ton of money and after some soul searching contacts the police about it. He lives to regret his honesty, though, when the owner of the cash turns out to be a mobster—and some of the money is missing.
In the introduction, the editors insinuate that they’d planned several more volumes of “Best of’s”, but it seems it wasn’t to be. Shame, that. Thirteen stories barely scratch the surface. But in lieu of the actual magazines, it did very nicely.