Friday, 19 December 2014

Bullet Proof by Frank Kane, 1951

For Friday's Forgotten Books at Patti Abbott's blog Pattinase.

If you think being a walking shooting-gallery is my idea of a good clean night’s fun, you’re mistaken,” Liddell retorted hotly. “I don’t like cluttering up the sidewalks with corpses any better than you do. Especially when one of them is liable to be mine.”

My 1968 Dell copy
© Prashant C. Trikannad
Bullet Proof is the fourth book in the Johnny Liddell Mystery Series by Frank Kane (1912-1968), an American writer of short stories and novels and radio shows and television series. He wrote some four hundred short stories and thirty novels, most of them based on adventures of his popular New York detective Johnny Liddell, as well as screenplays for the Mike Hammer, Special Agent 7, and The Investigators television series. 

He also wrote the script for one of his novels, Key Witness (1960). It was directed by Phil Karlson, who specialised in gritty and violent crime films, and starring a young Dennis Hopper.

More than anything, Frank Kane was known for his pulp stories revolving around his private eye. These stories appeared in leading detective magazines of his era, like Manhunt, The Saint Detective Magazine, Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, Private Eye, and Pursuit. It was a matter of time before Kane successfully novelised the adventures of his hero. Frank Boyd was his only pen name.
 

© www.pulpcovers.com
Bullet Proof is my first trip into the hardboiled fiction of Frank Kane and into the crime-infested world of Johnny Liddell.

Liddell is fearless as hardboiled PIs are known to be; the kind of man who likes to take the fight right into enemy camp. When a bunch of hoods repeatedly use him for target practice, he turns the tables and instead uses them to prove just how deadly he can be with a .45. He takes out two gunmen right in the beginning and then goes after Frankie Cappola, the fat mobster who set him up. Cappola’s boss, Pete Velie, is cooling his heels in prison from where he's giving orders to his henchmen.

Liddell finds himself on the wrong side of the mob and the law the moment he accepts a $500 retainer from a beautiful socialite called Jean Merritt who hires him to find out the real truth behind her father Matt Merritt’s death. Jean, who mysteriously vanishes before their first meeting, is convinced that her father didn’t commit suicide and was, in fact, murdered. Liddell believes her and suspects that she has been kidnapped by the gangsters who probably killed her father and now want to silence him. They don’t want him to go sniffing around Merritt’s corpse and dig it out.

© www.occultnoir.com
Described as tall, broad shouldered, and ruggedly handsome, Johnny Liddell’s character reminded me of Mike Hammer who lets his trigger finger do the talking instead of his tongue, always in self-defence. The story and the style are a mixture of a Mickey Spillane yarn and a James Hadley Chase novel, while some of the characters, like District Attorney William Deats and Inspector Herlehy, sound like less civilised versions of Hamilton Burger and Lieutenant Tragg in the Perry Mason novels. Even Liddell’s redhead secretary, Pinky, is not unlike Mason’s Della Street although the detective has an occasional girlfriend called Muggsy Kiely, a lovely and know-it-all reporter who dreams of being an actress.

As the private eye piles up the corpses, Deats and Herlehy become more sceptical about his self-defence theory. The reason is they are after the mob and they know Liddell is on to something and they want in.


The fat man squinted at him, scowled, “Who are you and what’s the idea?”
“My name’s Liddell. Mean anything to you?”
“Not a thing.”
Liddell grinned tightly. “It must have the other night. You tried to part my hair with a tommy gun. I kept Scoda as a souvenir. Remember?”


Bullet Proof is an old-fashioned detective story written in a style reminiscent of mid-20th century pulp fiction: clean-cut and without fuss. The 191-page novel has a lot of gunplay, stakeouts at sordid bars and seedy joints, black suits and fedoras, guns and tommy guns, gangster’s molls and naked hookers, corpses and morgues, and beggars as informants. Kane knew how to tell an entertaining story. I was amused by his repeated use of words like “shamus,” referring to the private eye; and “torpedo,” a hired gun—both, a first for me, I should think.


Recommended, if you like crime thrillers with nonstop action.

Further reading
Maura Fox, the granddaughter of Frank Kane, has written a nice profile of the writer at Thrilling Detective where she quotes fellow crime writer and our blog friend Bill Crider as saying, if it's a Frank Kane book, chances are “it'll be a competent, straightforward P.I. story.” Bullet Proof is exactly that. In May 2012, author James Reasoner reviewed Frank Kane’s Stacked Deck at his blog, Rough Edges. It's a collection of novelettes and short stories starring Johnny Liddell and, I'd think, a good place to start reading about the adventures of the private eye from the Big Apple.

12 comments:

  1. Back in the late 1950s and early 1960s there were dozens of Private Eye paperback series. I remember reading Frank Kane's Johnny Liddell mysteries because I liked the covers! I'm sure all of these forgotten paperbacks will eventually be available as ebooks.

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    1. George, I'm surprised by the sheer number of private eye novels from the period you mention and I have only just scratched the surface. I was lucky to get my copy of BULLET PROOF.

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  2. I think I've read a bit of his stuff but don't really recognize the name. Pretty much a new writer to me. I'll have to check him out. great covers.

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    1. Charles, I liked Frank Kane's style and I'm hoping to find a few more in secondhand bookstores.

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  3. Sounds like my kind of book. Those are great covers.

    Ben

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    1. Ben, I think you'd like Frank Kane's pulp fiction. I can picture a review or two on your fine blog.

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  4. Been a long time since I read any Kane - really enjoyed your review Prashant - ta!

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    1. Sergio, thank you. I hadn't read pulp fiction in quite some time and this seemed like a good title to venture into that space.

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  5. I love those covers, Prashant. I have been reading about a lot of pulp fiction authors of this period lately, and this author sounds like one I should read. Thanks for the review.

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    1. Tracy, my Dell edition, reproduced above, almost looks like a comic-book cover. Frank Kane was very prolific and I'm sure you'll find many of his paperbacks at book sales or in secondhand bookstores at your end.

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  6. I don't think I have heard of this author. I'll keep an eye out for him, but in all honesty I doubt I'll find anything by him unless I get a bit more pro-active.

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    1. Col, I was lucky to lay my hands on the early Dell edition pictured right on top. I come across such paperbacks once or twice a year.

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