Thursday, March 26, 2015

"...the avenger of an outraged Law!"

It was 1935 and the editor-in-chief of the Thrilling Publications was about to start a new pulp magazine. For a likely theme, one only had to look to the movies--where the James Cagney film G-Men was raking in big bucks--and to real life, where the FBI was locked in often mortal combat with gangsters such as Dillinger, Nelson and Machine-Gun Kelly.

(It is Kelly, by the way, who is said to have coined the term "G-Men" when he shouted "Don't shoot, G-Men" as he was arrested.)

So the new magazine would be called G-Men. The featured hero would be a dedicated agent named Dan Fowler, who would use both Tommy guns and brains to bring the worst public enemies to justice. Or to the morgue. Fowler was pretty okay with either result.

Actually, that makes Fowler seem a little bloodthirsty, doesn't it? And there are moments when he's in the middle of a fire fight with villains in which he does revel in the idea that the men he's mowing down are getting their just desserts. But he does take them alive when he can and he does follow the rule of law. 

Fowler had a good 20-year run in the pulps, becoming one of the mainstay heroes of the industry. Reading the first story--titled "Snatch" and published in the October 1935 issue of G-Men--it's easy to see why. It's a slam-bang and entertaining action tale.

It was written by George Fielding Eliot, though the pen name for all the Fowler stories would be C.K.M. Scanlon. Eliot was a pulp veteran who knew how to keep a story moving fast without sacrificing good plot construction. 

The plot of "Snatch" is inspired by the real-life Purple Gang. Here, it's the Grey Gang, led by the brutal Ray Norshire, who are on a crime spree in the Mid-West. They've robbed a bunch of banks, killing a number of people along the way, and have now moved on to kidnapping.

Dan Fowler is assigned to head up the effort to stop the Grey Gang. He grew up in the area and his dad is the sheriff of one of the small towns within the sphere of the gang's operations, so he seems the best man for the job. 

And he is. He manages to trap and catch several gang members, save a kidnapped baby and then catch most of the rest of the gang, though the wily Norshire keeps getting away. Dan is building up a suspicion that there's a mastermind working behind the scenes. Unfortunately, this mastermind might be one of several local law enforcement figures, which would explain why Norshire managed to be in just the right position at the right time to kill a weak-willed gang member who was about to talk.

Fowler suspects Norshire will try to bust one or more of his gang out of jail. So he comes up with a plan that the Feds will use again 14 years later in the Cagney film White Heat. He goes undercover as a prisoner to follow along during the escape.

This doesn't work out well, as the bad guys tumble to him not long after the jail break. He manages to get away, only to be arrested by local cops who don't believe he 's a Federal agent. This gives Norshire and his gang time to get away.

So it's time for yet another plan--one that will both trap the Grey Gang and get the secret mastermind to give himself away.

It's a fun story. There's a number of good action scenes, the best one involving Fowler trying to get away from the Grey Gang after they realize he's a Fed. The story itself is very well-told--Fowler follows up clues logically and pursues intelligent hunches based on the evidence. He definitely exists in a pulp universe rather than the real world, but good storytelling makes him believable all the same.

Kind of like Cagney in the movie G-Men. Gee whiz, now I gotta watch that again.

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