RARA-AVIS: James Atlee Phillips

From: Moorich2@aol.com
Date: 26 Sep 2000

Juri was wondering how Chandler could have a blurb on a Philip Atlee novel when the first was published after Chandler's death.

James Atlee Phillips had several novels published before his Fawcett series as Philip Atlee and those were the ones that caught Raymond Chandler's eye. I recently reread SUITABLE FOR FRAMING (1949) and again relished scenes and dialog that capture perfectly what I love in a good HB story. Here is one sample:

    The tall man who had been tapped with the blackjack was sitting up. He was still on the floor, his back against the wall, and was feeling his head carefully. Mack, the bartender whistled at me through the uproar. He was holding out a glass of pink champagne, but I shook my head in refusal. With an impatient gesture, he indicated it was for the man on the floor, so I made the transfer. He took it and leaned back with a sigh. When I turned to go, he asked me to have a drink with him, so I sat down. There seemed to be legs all around us.

    "It's a bitch, ain't it?" he asked pleasantly.

    "What? That rap on the sconce?"

    He laughed out loud. "No I had that coming. I always start shouting about this time of night, and Mack usually has to feed me the persuader---" He felt his head again, like a man pawing through a nest for eggs. "One night they had to get four gendarmes."

    I smiled at a young lady on one of the bar stools, and she rearranged her skirts. "Is that all you do?" I asked. "Collect skull fractures in here?"

    He murmured into the bubbles of his champagne. "No, sir. I do a great many other things. Sometimes I fly horses."

To me, this is great stuff!

I also enjoy the Philip Atlee novels although the writing and plotting is generally not at the level of his earlier work. His brother David was a top CIA official who later wrote a memoir and a novel. I always wondered if
"Philip Atlee" was also a cover for intelligence work. Both E. Howard Hunt and Charles McCarry pursued writing careers while remaining on the CIA payroll. I am currently reading his Dell paperback original THE DEADLY MERMAIDS from the mid-50s, which features someone operating undercover in Haiti for a US intelligence agency.

James A. Philips died a few years ago. He married a wealthy Arkansas woman and lived the good life in his final years. Mike Nevins did a good interview with him years ago that was published in an issue of (I think) "Espionage."

Richard Moore

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