RARA-AVIS: Mystery Monthly June 1976

From: Richard Moore ( moorich2@aol.com)
Date: 16 Jan 2006

The earlier posts this week on "Lost Authors" including H. Edward Hunsburger sent me back to my files of Mystery Monthly magazine and at least some interest was expressed in the publication. For the first time I noticed that I had every issue published. It began with a June 1976 issue and ended with issue number 9--February 1977. My memory jogged, I recalled buying the last issue new off the stands. I also remember being disappointed when I heard (months later) that it had folded. A writer trying to sell short stories looks at every publication as a pearl beyond price and I had just resumed my attempt to sell fiction. It was certainly open to new writers as witness its publication of Hunsburger's story and two stories by Robert J. Randisi. I'm not sure but "Cop Without a Shield" in the August 1976 issue may have been Randisi's debut.

In an earlier post I mentioned a story it published by Jon A. Jackson, a very good writer not known for appearing in mystery digests. In fact "The Old Game" in the November 1976 issue of Mystery Monthly was the only story Jackson published in the mystery digests through 1980 (according to Cook's MONTHLY MURDERS).

Looking back over the nine issues I also note a Dave Brandstetter story by Joseph Hansen in the December 1976 issue. This was also Hansen's first appearance in a mystery digest. Remember the leading digest Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine would not at that time publish stories concerning the gay investigator Dave Brandstetter.

This is all by way of background of saying I decided it was worth the while to examine the issues of Mystery Monthly and report the results to the list.

The first issue is dated June 1976. It features stories by Harlan Ellison, Ed McBain, Jack Ritchie, Gil Brewer, Edward D. Hoch, August Derleth and Michael Croft. The cover story is "Killing Bernstein" by Harlan Ellison and the issue also contains an interview with Ellison. I've been a fan of Ellison's writing for nearly fifty years and this story still packs a punch despite the passage of three decades. The protagonist is an upwardly mobile executive in a toy company who is having an affair with the executive in charge of research. I had not read the story before and was delighted with the pure Ellison power it contains. The story was reprinted in Ellison's Harper collection STRANGE WINE and was adapted for television in the 1980s in the revival of "The Twilight Zone."

The Ed McBain story is entitled "Consolation" and it is even better than the Ellison story. It deals with the aftermath of a robbery gone wrong with one cop dead and another wounded and one of the three robbers seriously wounded. The protagonist is one of the robbers who takes his wounded accomplice back to his wife. As if the tension of a failed robbery isn't enough, sexual attraction flares up between the protagonist and his wounded companion's wife. This is very, very well handled. It may be thirty years old but it blows away any story I can remember reading in recent weeks. Pronzini. You can also find the story reprinted in a Bill Pronzini anthology entitled UNCOLLECTED MYSTERIES (Walker 1987).

Those two stories alone were more than worth the $1.00 cover price of the June 1976 issue. But readers also had the other stories including one by a favorite of mine Gil Brewer, who wrote so many wonderful "screw her and be damned" novels for Gold Medal and others in the 1950s. There was 13 FRENCH STREET ("His best friend's wife lusted for him in a house where evil lived"), LITTLE TRAMP ("She was jail bail with an angel's face--but he couldn't leave her alone"), WILD ("She was man-hungry, money mad, and too not not to handle"), SUGAR ("She had a child's face, a woman's body--and the key to a quarter of a million bucks"), THE GIRL FROM HATEVILLE ("They were all out to get him--even the doll with the hungry eyes"), THE BRAT
("She wanted out and she had the price--a lovely body and the will to use it"), THE HUNGRY ONE ("Goofballs and sex, goofballs and sex. After all, what else was there in life that was any good?")

Man oh Man. Brewer was absolutely one of the best at the hothouse,forbidden sex, a good man led astray novel. A generation of boys learned about sex and women by reading these novels in the 1950s. Thankfully, we were enlightened by the 1960s.

Mystery Monthly published three stories by Gil Brewer in its nine issues. We know from Pronzini's profile that Brewer was on hard times by the mid-1970s. He was beyond the point of his ghosting for Marv Albert's Al Conroy series. So these stories, along with others sold to Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine and others, were important grocery money for Brewer.

I would like to say "The Getaway" in the June issue is a fine story but it isn't. I hope the other two he placed with the magazine are good ones. The story does have some high points including a strong opening: "Vincenti lit a fat joint, took a big toke, then glanced sideways at the wheelman of the silver Continental Mark IV. Vincenti was loose. He was always loose. He had a job to do and would be paid well. He was a heavy and he only worked to contract."

Alas, Brewer's professional hitman smokes four, count them, four fat joints before carrying out his hit and then smokes another one during the getaway. All I can say is the hitman either had some bad, very bad pot or a tolerance for the stuff that is worthy of the record books. More likely, Brewer had no understanding of pot and thought a joint equalled a drink of whiskey. At least that is my theory.

Beyond this problem, I found the ending unconvincing and unsatisfactory.

The Ed Hoch story ("The Bank Job") is a reasonably good one. The August Derleth story is one of his Solar Pons stories--a Sherlock Holmes type story set a generation later in London. I admire many aspects of Derleth's remarkable career but I have never ranked the Solar Pons stories that high even while I have enjoyed them as light reading. Plus Derleth had been dead for five years by the time this magazine appeared--another indicator that this was not a top flight story.

Jack Ritchie was a talented writer who stayed at the short story length. Others like Ed Hoch at least try a novel or two but I don't know of a Ritchie novel. He wrote some very good stories indeed and I enjoyed his "To Kill a Man". The issue is rounded out by "Death Took the Call" by Michael Croft which I found rather slight.

The issue also have movie and television reviews. The review of the series Ellery Queen (starring Jim Hutton) was balanced although I liked the series more than the reviewer. The movie reviewer hated George Segal's "The Black Bird" where he played Sam Spade, Jr. Most reviewers hated this movie. For some reason I have had a soft spot for it--mostly because of the first half. Segal, playing Spade (as Bogart) son, goes to his father's office but it is now located in a black section of town. The African Americans on the street where the office is are vastly amused at this "Spade" in their block. The same actress who played Bogart's secretary plays a hectoring screw who gives Segal holy hell and Elisha Cook Jr. is very much a part of the new movie. I know...it sucks but I love some parts of it. All of the features are well done and brief as it was, I liked the interview with Ellison.

So that's the first issue of Mystery Monthly--June 1976. It's worth picking up if you spot a copy. As time permits I will go through the other eight issues.

Richard Moore

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