Saturday, 24 November 2012

The Gutter and the Grave by Ed McBain (Evan Hunter)

Cover Painting by R B Farrell
Matt Cordell was a private detective until the day that he found one of his employees in bed with his wife and whipped him with a gun. Now his wife has gone, he’s lost his license as a result of the pistol-whipping, and spends most of his time in the Bowery in close communion with a bottle. At least that’s how it is until Johnny Bridges tracks him down and asks a favour. Johnny is a tailor and suspects that his new partner Dom Archese is dipping into the till. Won’t Matt at least take a look around the place for an old friend? But when Matt and Johnny visit the tailor’s shop, Dom is already there, shot dead.

Evan Hunter pictured 2001
a.k.a. Ed McBain
a.k.a. Curt Cannon
(1926 - 2005)
There are a lot of blondes in this one and they’re all trouble. Christine Archese is Dom’s widow, but Matt learns they’ve been separated six months. So who’s she sleeping with now? Larainne Marsh is Christine’s twenty-four year-old younger sister who works in a five and ten store but sings with a band and just could have the talent to make it to the top. And ever present for Matt is the phantom presence of Toni McAllister, his former wife.

When the police find that Matt is involved, Lieutenant Miskler puts a tail on him, the wonderfully named Albert de Ponce detective 3rd/Grade. Matt’s treatment of women here is rough even by the standards of the old Manhunt magazine (where Matt Cordell first appeared). Extra-marital relationships are rife in this book, and another murder is on the cards before the end. But what really causes the trouble is that everyone – everyone – is lying. This is real noir, great noir, the pace is breathtaking and I was hooked from the start. 

The first issue of Manhunt
including Die Hard by Curt Cannon
January 1953
The first Cordell short story Die Hard written under the pseudonym ‘Curt Cannon’ appeared in the first issue of Manhunt magazine, January 1953. The Gutter and the Grave was originally published as I’m Cannon – For Hire under that pseudonym (the title was one that Evan Hunter hated, according to Booklist). Charles Ardai, editor of Hard Case Crime writes of the character’s name “Cannon was a name foisted upon McBain by the editor’s at Gold Medal; the character’s original name in his magazine appearances was Matt Cordell. When McBain decided to let us reprint the book, he asked us to change the character’s name back to what it had originally been.”

Ardai’s – and Lawrence Block’s comments can be found here:
 Vintage Sleaze Paperbacks 
Gold Medal 1958 edition

Another useful page is: Thrilling Detective Website

Three episodes of Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer were based on Hunter’s stories (as Curt Cannon). Evan Hunter had just finished proofing the galleys of the Hard Case Crime reprint of The Gutter and the Grave when he died of laryngeal cancer July 6th, 2005.

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