RARA-AVIS: Curt Cannon/Matt Cordell

From: Moorich2@aol.com
Date: 21 Jan 2001

A few days ago Evan Hunter's two Gold Medal books under the name Curt Cannon were discussed and James Reasoner said he thought the stories were originally published in the digest magazine "Manhunt" under another name, perhaps Matt Cordell. That sounded close but not quite right to me. Now that I am back on the same side of the Atlantic with my issues of the magazine, I was able to refresh my memory.

Turns out the stories were published under Evan Hunter's byline but the character's name in the magazine stories was Matt Cordell. I was surprised at how early the stories appeared. Matt Cordell debuted in the very first issue of "Manhunt" in the January 1953 issue. The story was "Die Hard" and the blurb read "Cordell was washed up. His license was gone, his wife was gone, and his self-respect was gone. All he had was a glass of whiskey and a dead man on the barroom floor."

That's a great blurb and also an accurate one. Looking over "Die Hard" again after many years, it reaffirms my memory that the Cordell stories (Cannon in the book publication) were the hardest of hard boiled. Here is the opening:

"The bar was the kind of dimly-lit outhouse you find in any rundown neighborhood, except it was a little more ragged around the edges. There were blue and white streamers crowding the ceiling, arranged in a criss-cross pattern strung up in celebration of some local hero's return a long time ago.
 The mirror behind the bar was cracked, and it lifted one half of my face higher than the other. A little to the right of the bar was a door with a sign that cutely said, "Little Boys." The odor steeping through the woodwork wasn't half as cute."

These stories may be Hunter's purest efforts in the hard boiled tradition. They retain a toughness that can, in one aspect at least, shock even today. Cordell is a private eye who lost his license after pistol-whipping his new bride's lover. The wife is gone but Cordell's interaction with women in this story (and I believe others in the series) is brutal even for the era.

Looking over the first issue of "Manhunt" again, it is very impressive. The lead story was the opening installment of Mickey Spillane's "Everybody's Watching Me." This was a time when no one sold more copies of a magazine or book than Spillane. But the issue also contains new stories by William Irish
(Woolrich), Kenneth Millar (Ross Macdonald), Richard S. Prather (a Shell Scott story), Frank Kane (a Johnny Liddell story), Hunter, and others less remembered today.

The magazine's references to this issue and upcoming issues listed both Millar and John Ross Macdonald separately as attractions. The second issue would contain a Lew Archer story. It is a reminder to me that Millar had a pre-Lew Archer reputation for this type story His back cover bio in this first issue of Manhunt calls his novel BLUE CITY "one of the finest, toughest most realistic novels ever to appear between covers."

While I have some issues of "Manhunt," I wish I had picked up more back when they were obtainable at reasonable prices.

Richard Moore

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