RARA-AVIS: Rex Stout & Dan Turner

From: Moorich2@aol.com
Date: 15 Nov 2002

Searching anthologies for more of the old-time hard-boiled, I was surprised to find several interesting examples in the anthology RUE MORGUE NO. 1 edited by Rex Stout and Louis Greenfield (Creative Age Press 1946) including a prime Robert Leslie Bellem story from a war time issue of "Speed Detective," a magazine that began life as "Spicy Detective." This is a Dan Turner yarn entitled "Gun From Gotham" with an apparently original title given in parenthesis of "Sleep for a Dreamer." The Gotham title is much more suitable for the story. While a lengthy Dan Turner story would become tedious, the Bellem kept this one to about 5000 words and the lines kept me chuckling with enjoyment. Such as:

"She raised the roscoe, slapped me on the side of the noggin. For a wren who didn't look hefty, she packed a terrific wallop. I staggered, felt my knees turning to jelly. She maced me another swat that put me down for the count with fells jangling in my think-tank."

Now it is hard for me to imagine Rex Stout as a Dan Turner fan but if the anthology is any indication, Stout had wide-ranging tastes. There are three stories from "Weird Tales," including a Ray Bradbury and a Jules de Grandin story from Seabury Quinn. This has to be one of Bradbury's first anthology sales. Stout in the introduction says the common thread is the emphasis on story which he contrasts with mainstream or literary stories. He wrote
"...if a writer once gets a murder in his mind it is next to impossible not to make up a story about it. The quality of the story will depend on many factors--inventiveness or imagination, ability to construct and organize, craftsmanship, and so forth--but in any case it is practically certain there will be a story."

In a hard-boiled vein there is a Johnny Liddell story by Frank Kane from
"Crack Detective." This is a better than average Liddell story although Kane annoyed me by always using the full name of his detective, perhaps because another character appears named Johnny.

The one story from "Black Mask" is "Dead as in Blonde" by D.L. Champion from the March 1945 issue. The story is one of 26 that appeared from 1940 to 1950 featuring Private Eye Rex Sackler and his assistent Joey Graham. Sackler is known as the "Shylock of Shamuses" in that he is only concerned about money. Although to judge from his appearance, he never spends any of it. ("He lives like a coolie who has never seen the reassuring gleam of a ten-cent piece.")

The narrator is the assistant Joey, who based on this one story can barely stand the sight of Sackler because he is so stingy. Joey must be a glutton for punishment as the story opens with him on date with his fiancee who has him on an allowance of $1.17 a day. "The seventeen cents was for a pack of cigarettes. The buck was for lunch, carfare, opium and any other reasonably priced flesh pot that I cared to wallow in." The plot is completely nuts. In fact there are two plots: a swindle involving the return of a kidnapped son of a millionaire after thirty years missing and the murder and maiming
(via acid throwing) of refugees from a certain Polish town.

I enjoyed bits and pieces of this yarn but it is hard to see how a series based on these characters could have sustained itself for a full decade.

I'll highlight a few other stories from the anthology:

"What More Can Fortune Do?" is by H. Bedford Jones in the Table of Contents but at the story the author is given as by Gordon Keyne. I'm familiar enough with his style to recognize Henry Jones' writing and it is from "Blue Book" a magazine that printed him regularly. In this story, a field agent for a worldwide agency called Quest Incorporated" seeks to solve the mystery of a British soldier who may or may not have died in Provence in the last months of the war. A good story.

"Slay-mates" by Charles Larson is from Popular Detective and is a psychological thriller with some nice Woolrichian touches. Of more interest to this list is the long novelette "I'll Slay You In My Dreams" by Bruno Fischer and published in the great pulp Dime Detective. This is a hitchhiker story as the first person narrator is a just discharged soldier trying to make his way to a town where he might find work. He accepts a ride from a drunk who flashes a lot money at him to perform an errand that seems harmless enough. Of course, as every reader expects he has climbed onto a sleigh ride to hell and it is a nice ride to the bottom. I must read more by Bruno Fischer. This was quite nice a story that calls to mind the movie "Detour."

RUE MORGUE NO. 1 is a fairly common anthology in used book stores and not that expensive. There are enough good stories in it to be worthwhile for the hard-boiled fan. If like me, you also enjoy the "Weird Tales" type story, there is even more value in the purchase.

Richard Moore

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