Monday, July 11, 2016

"He Wouldn’t Have Been Shocked at the Blast of a Pistol, the Sudden Pain of a Bullet Crashing into His Back"

Stewart Sterling was a pseudonym of Prentice Winchell (1895-1976), a major pulpster of the thirties through the fifties, who turned out an impressive number of stories for just about all of the important crime fiction pulps of the era (e.g., Black Mask, Detective Tales, G-Men Detective, etc.).

Much like Erle Stanley Gardner, Sterling created quite a few series characters starting in the '30s, some of which appeared in only a handful of stories, but others that he continued with throughout the rest of his career, among them Steve Koski, Gil Vine, Fire Marshal Ben Pedley, the Special Squad, Rod Keeney, "Demon" Ames, Keene Madden, Don Marko, Mal Varney, Dab Jenson, and even a one-shot with somebody named Leadflinger (see Fiction-Mags for the story lists).

Richard Moore, in his article for Mystery*File entitled "Stewart Sterling: King of the Specialty Detectives" (2003),  focuses on two of these characters, Gil Vine and Ben Pedley, and, in passing, a few more:
He did like his specialty detectives.  Aside from Vine and Pedley, there was another series published under the name Spencer Dean that featured a depart-ment store detective by the name of Don Cadee. An early one-shot novel with the wonderful title Down Among the Dead Men (Putnam, 1943) was about the harbor police. He also managed to work into his writing schedule two paperback originals for the great Gold Medal series published under the name Dexter St. Clair. I have seen little describing Winchell’s personal life. The bio in the Ace Double says "He lives aboard his Chesapeake Bay cruiser at the Municipal Yacht Basin in Daytona Beach, Florida."
Before he turned to novels, the Sterling Stewart by-line was used on a series of nine stories in the legendary magazine, Black Mask, which were labeled "Special Squad" stories. The 1939-1942 series highlighted different "special" squads from homicide to the bomb squad. I have yet to read any of the series but the descriptions make them sound like examples of early police procedurals. — Richard Moore, "Stewart Sterling: King of the Specialty Detectives" (HERE)
One of Sterling's "specialty detectives" not mentioned in the article is Don Rixey, a full-time radio repairman and part time sleuth, who, as far as we can determine at this time, appeared in only two adventures.

"Fit to Kill."
By Stewart Sterling (Prentice Winchell, 1895-1976).
First appearance: Popular Detective, March 1949.
Short story (10 pages).
Online at The Luminist Archives (HERE). (Note: First two text pages damaged but readable.)
"Don Rixey takes his radio kit along when he tunes in on the activities of Larry the Gong!"
With a vicious robber knocking over gas stations all over the place, Don Rixey can be forgiv-en for being concerned about his girlfriend Annnalou, who happens to work at one of them; when her place is robbed and she gets a death threat, Don decides that the police, who keep blowing him off, aren't doing enough fast enough and, using his radio repair skills, a ham-mer, and some nails, sets out to pin down the crooks. Unfortunately, one of them, a trigger-happy deranged drug addict, has a gun and the other, a hellcat in a negligee, knows how to use a sharp butcher knife for other than culinary purposes . . .

Main characters:
~ Annalou Kenyon, who works at the Outside Inn:
   "I hardly ever forget a face."
~ Don Rixey, who runs Regal Radio Repairs:
   ". . . it’s going to take another year before I can hold out enough from the payback on that GI loan to feather our cozy little nest. Meantime, the idea of your bein’ all alone way out here, nights, with that holdup artist runnin’ wild, is enough to drive me to drink."
~ The tall girl:
   "The tall girl was willowy and graceful. Like those models at the big stores in town, Anna-lou thought. The dress she was wearing helped the illusion along. It was something soft and fuzzy in a pink-and-gray mixture, cut way down to there in front. It had that New Look every-body was talking about."
~ Bill, attendant at the Outside Inn:
   "Icy Eyes, my foot! That’s the trouble with these creeps. They pull a gun on some guy with bad nerves, get away with a few bucks, and the papers start buildin’ ’em up like they was Jesse James the Second."
~ Eddie (a.k.a. Larry the Gong):
   "I’m givin’ you some friendly advice, babe. You talk all you want to, to those Little Boy Blues. But you’ll sleep better if you kind of forget to remember what I look like. You didn’t see me very good. Catch wise?"
~ Lieutenant Les Wiley:
   "So now you’re going to find it hard to remember, huh?"
~ Detective James O’Hare:
   "Still, you’d like for the police to stick their necks out by going around and arresting somebody, just on your guesswork? We’ve too much to do to’ go wildgoosin’ off at every crackbrain suggestion from amateur gumshoes, sonny."

Typo: "Bon dabbed at claw marks on his cheek"

~ ~ ~
"Shot with Luck."
By Stewart Sterling (Prentice Winchell, 1895-1976).
First appearance: Thrilling Detective, April 1950.
Short story (12 pages).
Online at The Luminist Archives (HERE).
"Don Rixey finds it takes a radio repair man to fix a murder frame!"
Don is just about to close up shop when he gets a phone call from someone claiming to have a radio on the fritz, and the prospect of a two-dollar service fee is irresistible; but almost as soon he walks into the place:

   "He took off his hat, marched in. He got two steps beyond the arch when the roof fell in on him! An overpowering screeching in his brain, as if some gigantic oscillator was vibrating out of control. A searing flare like a million flash bulbs exploding simultaneously. Then Voom! Blackout!"

When he comes to, however, Don finds he's not alone:

   ". . . the man on the floor behind him wasn’t going to be able to explain what had happen-ed. Three bright scarlet threads flowed from blackened holes in the white triangle of shirt which showed above his vest, down toward his right armpit, out of sight beneath his coat."

Yes, Don has walked into a gilt-edged murder frame, and it looks like the shortest path to clearing himself is out a window . . .

Principal characters:
~ Don Rixey:
   "Maybe, technically, he wasn’t escaping. They hadn’t actually arrested him. But even if he managed to get away now, he’d only be getting himself in deeper. On the other hand, the cops were pushing his head under, every chance they got, anyway. Wouldn’t listen to him, wouldn’t believe him when he tried to tell them what he knew."
~ Annalou Kenyon:
   "Every single word Don says is absolutely true!"
~ Eddie and Frank:
   "Keep on pourin’, Rixey. We’ll get all this stuff sooner or later, anyway. Just save yourself a lot of trouble if you spill it now."
~ Slenz:
   "This is the gun goof who shot that paymaster an’ got away with thirty yards this morning."
~ Mrs. Francine Garnet:
   "You’re such a perfect Patsy, pal!"
~ Lieutenant Les Wiley:
   "A dame says ‘Patsy’ and you decide she’s a killer. You see her out on Route 60—so you figure she lives here on Chestnut. You never saw her but that once—you don’t know what her name is—she’s gotta be this Mrs. Francine Garnet!"
~ Mike Brewer:
   "One those 14-tube contraptions, guaranteed to bring in such world-wide reception as Paris, Kentucky, London, Ontario an’ Moscow, Idaho. Condenser replacement, rectifier tube."
~ Templeton D. Yates:
   "The plump man with the mustache smiled at Don. He was wearing a light topcoat. He had his right hand bunched in the pocket. And it was not a nice smile."

Typos: "No! Noll" (transcription error); "the flashing red eye of the patrol coop"; "We’ll find of a way."

- Oddly enough, in "Fit to Kill" the New Look in fashion becomes a major clue; go (HERE) for more about what that was.
- A reprint of Dead Right (novel, 1955), Gil Vine's next-to-last story (probably in abridged form) appeared in the Mercury Mystery Book-Magazine, February 1956, and is online (HERE); what is possibly Fire Marshal Ben Pedley's last appearance, The Hinges of Hell (novel, 1955), was reprinted (again very likely abridged) in the Mercury Mystery Book-Magazine, February 1959, online (HERE).

The bottom line: "People say New Yorkers can't get along. Not true. I saw two New Yorkers, complete strangers, sharing a cab. One guy took the tires and the radio; the other guy took the engine."
David Letterman

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