About a year ago, there was a column in this space called “Unrequired Reading”, which quickly summarized the lives of some nineteenth century authors whose books we had just had come in for sale. (Yes, this was back in the bad old days, when people still dropped off books after our cut-off date. This sort of thing never happens now.)
These women were all rivals for shelf space in bookstores, libraries, and glass-fronted bookcases. Some of them knew each other, some did not: bringing them together was the work of some collector who just happened to drop them off at the Newberry.
Well, we have another group of authors whose books arrived in quantity a few weeks ago, and who will be a feature of this year’s book binge. They are, um, a slightly different group. Again, some of them knew each other, because by the twentieth century there were support groups for authors who worked the same territory, making it possible for them to get together. Just the same, they were rivals for the attention of readers, as they will be again just two weeks from today. Some of the authors we will be offering in quantity include:
Brett Halliday: This was a Chicago-born author named Davis Dresser, who lived one of those humdrum, smalltown lives when his family moved to Texas. You know the sort of thing: plain boring routine stuff like running away to join the army when he was fourteen (they found out how old he was after two years and discharged him), losing an eye in a barbed wire accident so he wore an eyepatch all his life…that sort of thing. He wrote in bulk under eight or nine names, but ass Brett Halliday he wrote about private eye Mike Shayne, who became a radio series, a magazine, and eventually such a hot property that when he was 54, Halliday retired from writing him, and the publisher had a series of ghost writers do the books and short stories. Mike is frequently pursued by dangerous women, who appear in occasionally odd poses and flimsy gowns on the covers of the paperbacks.
M.E. Chaber: This pen name, I am told, comes from the Yiddish mechaber, meaning “author”. Kendall Crossen also had an uneventful young life, working as a carnival barker, boxing professional, and so on. He wrote under only about six different pen names, and is given credit for inventing the Green Lama, the first Buddhist superhero, in the 1940s. He wrote for several television series, especially detective shows, and as M.E. Chaber, wrote about investigator Milo March, whose paperbacks are most known today for their cover art, featuring femmes fatale suitably dressed for their work. (He also wrote a young adult novel under the name, warning about the dangers of LSD.)
Edward S. Aarons: Aarons wrote under only three pen names, but produced a goodly number of paperbacks, particularly those involving secret agent Sam Durell. He produced roughly two of these every year, and the adventures are set pretty much in the year they were published, so Sam was still working the same beat in 1976 that he was in 1955, which argues pretty good physical stamina, even if it doesn’t quite put him in James Bond’s league. All of his adventures begin with the word “Assignment” (Assignment: Moon Girl or Assignment: Manchurian Doll”) and the ladies in the titles and on the covers do not wear all that much more than the Chaber cover girls. (It was a theme started by paperback publishers, which liked something eye-catching, and encouraged by the Bond Girl).
Donald Hamilton: His family came to the U.S. from Sweden when he was a boy, and he took a degree at the University of Chicago. He seems to have written most of his books under his own name. An outdoorsman, he wrote articles on hunting and fishing for magazines while also composing westerns (two of which mere made into movies) and a series of adventures involving government assassin Matt Helm, which were touted for their gritty realism until they, too, were made into movies starring Dean Martin as a parody James Bond or Our Man Flint. His publisher took these books very seriously (until the movies came out) and the covers occasionally don’t involve women at all.
Most of these books will be found in Paperback Mystery. Two weeks to go.