Sunday, February 14, 2016

More Tales of the Defective Detective in the Pulps

More Tales of the Defective Detective in the Pulps
Edited by Gary Hoppenstand, Garyn G. Roberts, and Ray B. Browne
1985 Bowling Green State University State University Popular Press

The Defective Detectives refers to a fad in the late 30s for private detectives with a disability, largely in the titles Dime Mystery Magazine and Strange Detective.  The genre largely replace Weird Menace when it was clear they couldn't get away with it anymore, and was part of a larger movement of detectives becoming more gimmicky.  As the pulp magazines died out with the paper shortage in the 1940s, it looked to me that things were going in separate directions - either more gritty and hard-boiled, or cape-wearing comic book style.

But before this, we had detective pulps with a lot of outre elements.  The defective detectives ditched the amateur protagonist and (some) of the sexual sadism, but there was still plenty of gore, perhaps more.

The stories from More Tales are very formulaic, and it would have stood out then, as all the stories were taken from just four 1939 issues of Dime Mystery Magazine.  The detective has a disability that may or may not come in to play in the story.  Folks are getting killed off by mysterious and violent means, and a damsel in distress begs our hero for help.

The hero runs from murder to murder and doesn't do a whole ton of detecting, only uncovering the murderer because he's trying to kill him.

The defective detectives here are:

Ben Bryn (by Russell Gray) - childhood illness gave him short legs and upper body strength that allows him to snap necks one-handed.  His only handicap, if you could call it that, is that he's 5' 2".  If this was an RPG character I wouldn't re-roll him.  His height only comes up when the author mentions that women still think he's a hunk, and there's a titch of jealousy around taller men.

He appears in:

The Dead Hand Horrors - A gang of skeleton-handed cultist try to recruit Bryn.

Flesh for the Monster - someone is ripping bodies apart bare-handed, and Bryn is a suspect.

Prey for the Creeping Death - Blackmail victims are plagued by spreading acid burns

The Bleeder (stories by Edith & Eljer Jacobson) - Nat Perry is a hemophiliac who can bleed to death from the smallest injury - good thing nobody really tries cutting him or anything.  He knows a mysterious Eastern form of martial arts that involves studying anatomy (Judo, though not named here).  And he is a bit of a psycho, killing a thug in cold blood for talking smack about his foster dad.

The Bleeder doesn't bleed in:

Funerals - C.O.D. - An inventor uses the vacuums in air conditioners to induce suspended animation, which is not how vacuums or air conditioners work.

They Die on Schedule - Victims die from precisely timed poisons.

Peter Quest (by John Kobler).  My favorite of the bunch, and Kobler may be my new favorite writer.  He's a former crime writer and I get the vibe of him having a sick sense of humor.  Peter Quest has glaucoma and will eventually go blind.  Kobler plays this up to the hilt.  The glaucoma kicks in when he's under stress, and he has a bottle of eyedrops to restore his sight.  Unlike the Bleeder, Kobler uses this effectively to create suspenseful setups.  Quest is a bit of a lunatic drama queen about it, and he purposely puts himself in danger because he wants to die before he goes blind.  He goes so far as to stamp all of his solved casefiles "Failure" - because they failed to kill him.

Peter Quest is in two stories (published within three months) involving evil doctors replacing bodies with doubles:

Bubbles of Murder - The best piece in the book.  The killer uses floating soap bubbles filled with acid that dissolve bodies into black goo on contact.

Clinic For Killers - This one is messed up.  A clinic controls a sadistic lunatic.  Surgery is used to give the killer the body of the wealthy, who then proceed to steal their wealth, as well as rape and kill any witnesses.

Dan Holden (story by Leon Byrne) is a twofer - deaf and has a silver plate in his skull.  In Society of the Singing Death he seeks to protect socialite women who have joined a Hindu cult who have been exploding in graphic fashion.  His deafness is cured at the end, and I don't know if he made any other appearances.

Surprisingly for these kind of collections, it's in print and available in paperback at Amazon.

More on Defective Detectives at Thrilling Detective.

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