Book Review: From Ghouls to Gangsters: The Career of Arthur B. Reeve Volume 1

Book Review: From Ghouls to Gangsters: The Career of Arthur B. Reeve Volume 1 edited by John Locke

Arthur B. Reeve (1880-1936) was a newspaper reporter who decided to try his hand at writing fiction.  As it happened, he turned out to be very good at it, making a huge hit with his most famous character, scientific detective Craig Kennedy.  He became America’s most popular detective story writer from 1910-1920, and continued to do pretty well thereafter (despite a bankruptcy when a man who’d commissioned a  bunch of work failed to pay) until his death.  Mr. Reeve also worked on films and radio, and did true crime reporting as well.

From Ghouls to Gangsters

This first volume is a collection of short stories; the second volume has non-fiction by and about Mr. Reeve.  The first story appears to be his first sale, “The Cat that Didn’t Come Back” (1907), a gruesome but comedic tale of a man attempting to dispose of a cat’s corpse.  The majority of stories are about Craig Kennedy, a professor of chemistry who decides to use his knowledge of science to solve crimes.  He’s assisted by newspaper reporter Walter Jameson, the Watson-like narrator.

We begin with the 1910 story “The Case of Helen Bond.”  A man has died of a heart attack, but the fact that his safe was burgled the same night casts a suspicion of foul play.  Mr. Kennedy uses a primitive type of lie detector (and his brain) to crack the case.   The professor owes a great deal to Sherlock Holmes, but is considerably less eccentric.  In the Holmes tradition, the reader is not given all the clues, but must wait for Mr. Kennedy to sum up the case and how the science plays in.

That story was published in Cosmopolitan, but Kennedy stories appeared in many places, including Boys’ Life (which introduced a young nephew for him) and Country Gentleman.  By the 1930s, Mr. Reeve’s stories mostly appeared in the detective pulps, and took on a more “gangbusters” feel.  He was also beginning to reuse plot beats from earlier, out of print stories.

The science in some of the stories is a bit dated, particularly the case that’s solved by Freudian dream analysis.   As well, period ethnic prejudice pops up from time to time.  Mr. Reeve appears to have been progressive in his views of women for 1910, but some bits look odd from a modern perspective.

Mr. Reeve wrote several stories with female protagonists as detectives, including medical Dr. Mary Mannix and “secret agent” Clare Kendall.  One of the latter’s stories closes out the volume, “The Royal Racket” (1935).  Clare helps identify two corpses, and is then asked to advise a young couple that suspects some of their new social crowd might be less than honest.   The two cases are of course connected.

The Boys’ Life story “The Polar Flight of the ZR-10” (1924) is notable for not being so much a mystery as a speculative fiction story.  The title dirigible is being used to test a transpolar flight route between America and Europe, and finds a long-lost colony of Vikings.  The mystery subplot arises from a “beat the Reds” race that feels more 1950s than 1920s.

Overall, the stories are good, if mostly dated, and demonstrate Mr. Reeve’s ability to write to a specific magazine’s intended audience.  Most of the earlier stories were heavily edited for book publication to make them pseudo-novels, and the later ones have never been reprinted before, which makes this a good collector’s item for detective story fans.

 

Comic Book Review: ‘Tain’t the Meat…It’s the Humanity!

Comic Book Review: ‘Tain’t the Meat…It’s the Humanity! art by Jack Davis

EC Comics was for a short time a brilliant publisher of crime, SF and especially horror comics in the early 1950s.  One of the things that made them so great was having some of the best artists working in the field at the time.  This book collects several stories artistically rendered by Jack Davis, particularly from the Tales From the Crypt series.

'Tain't the Meat, It's the Humanity

Mr. Davis had a great line in rotting corpses, feral rats and ugly-natured humans.  This is a black and white reprint, which allows his use of strong blacks to be shown to advantage.  (He went on to a long, successful career in other comics areas after horror comics were gutted by the Comics Code.)

EC’s horror titles were notorious for their twist endings, and horrible puns.  The title story is no exception, being about a World War Two-era butcher who gets tempted by the money of the black market.  Other standouts include “The Trophy!” about a hunter who only kills animals for bragging rights (two versions, one done originally for a 3-D comic!), “Gas-tly Prospects!’ about a murdered prospector that won’t stay buried, and “Lower Berth” with (at the time) the most unexpected twist of all.

There’s also some biographical material about Mr. Davis, whose life was thankfully nothing like the stories he illustrated.

This is classic stuff, and highly recommended for teenagers and up.  (Some scenes may be a little intense for preteens.)

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