Bless the Stand-Alones

Unlike a lot of readers, I don’t tend to read series books. When I was a kid, I read most of the Tarzan and Pellucidar books by Burroughs, the Fu-Manchu mysteries from Rohmer, Dennis Wheatley’s Duke de Richleau historicals. These were series that had already been written—they had a beginning, middle and end. But for the most part, once I could see that a series was beginning to develop, I lost interest—too much information to remember from book to book, too many other authors to read. I’ve never read more than the first three Dune novels, the first two Ender books, the first Jack Reacher thriller, a handful of the Travis McGee and Lew Archer books, the first three Parker books, half the James Bond and Sherlock Holmes books…

Sure, I’ve made exceptions. The Philip Marlowe and Harry Potter books come to mind. But, really, I’m not even that crazy about trilogies.

That’s probably why I hold certain authors so dear to my heart: they didn’t write series. Authors like Jim Thompson, David Goodis, Gil Brewer, Charles Williams, Vin Packer, Elisabeth Sanxay Holding. Even when Peter Rabe wrote a series around ex-gangster Daniel Port, he did so in a way that you really don’t have to read them as a series. My kind of author; my kind of series.

So when I decided to tackle Frank Kane, I knew I could either read a bunch of the Johnny Liddell detective books—of which there are about 30 or so—or pick out some of the stand-alones. You can guess which direction I jumped. I started by reading The Living End, the story of a What-Makes-Sammy-Run kind of heel set loose in the radio business circa the late 1950s. It’s a great rise-and-fall story, filled with the kind of detail that smacked of insider knowledge. Turns out that Frank Kane had been a radio and TV producer, and knew just what he was talking about.

But when it came time to pick two Frank Kane books to pair together for Stark House, I loved the idea of matching Liz with Syndicate Girl, two novels about strong women operating in a “man’s” world of violence and crime. Granted that Mary Lister, the “syndicate girl,” is a minor character in her book, but she’s still a pivotal one. Both books are a couple of lean, mean reads.

On the other hand, just to prove what a true contradictorian I can be, I recently read the entire Hart Muldoon detective/agent series by John Flagg (yeah, all five of them; I went wild), some of which I hope to bring back in the near future. They’re great world-weary fun. But first things first. The initial John Flagg reprint will be the very first Flagg book, which was also the very first Gold Medal paperback original thriller (#103 from 1950), a book called The Persian Cat, coming soon as a Black Gat release. It’s a stand-alone novel of post-WWII espionage featuring a cynical special agent named Gil Denby who is sent on a mission to Teheran. And yes, you guessed it, Flagg wrote only one Denby book. Bless him.

This was actually Flagg’s second published book, though. His first, The Velvet Well, was written under his real name, John Gearon, and it’s a great miasmic story of distrust as a spy suffering from a mental breakdown tries to decide who is a friend, who is not, and what is really happening around him. Author Dorothy B. Hughes called it “a story told with gripping tension, with ever mounting suspense leading to a corrosive climax.” I read it recently, and it reminded me of one of Hughes’ own mysteries. Another writer who didn’t write any series. Bless her.

–Greg Shepard