Peter McCurtin Checklist

ANYTHING GOES by Peter McCurtin – Midwood 34-930, 1968. Cover art by Paul Rader.  

 

Every writer has little tells and quirks that help identify his authorship, and ANYTHING GOES introduces one of McCurtin's. He almost always has as a character a mad Irishman (occasionally a Scot) whose name is MacC--- or McC---. It's as if McCurtin is inserting himself into each story. This one is told in first person by MacCullough, a tough airline pilot with five women on his hands.

SEX SERVICE – Midwood 35-214, 1969. Cover art by George Alvara. With GAMES by Greg Hamilton.

In PAPERBACK PARADE #36 in 1993, George Harmon Smith said he wrote this for Midwood as McCurtin.  The funny thing about George ghostwriting for McCurtin is they had wildly different styles, and SEX SERVICE is nothing like ANYTHING GOES. It is a calm, sedate, very professionally reasoned out novel by an obvious pro with no dirty words, no McC---, no “cowshit”, no drunken Irishmen, no incipient madness.  It is interesting to note that Smith started ghosting for McCurtin this early.

 

LASSITER Series by Jack Slade

LASSITER was a best-selling Western series published by Harry Shorten, written by several authors using the house name Jack Slade. The series was created by W.T. Ballard, who wrote the first four Lassiter books. Ballard's four manuscripts are now held by the University of Oregon Special Collections Library, and we learn there that Ballard planned a different character name and pen name in the first book. Both “Lassiter” and “Jack Slade” come from Shorten and his editor. In Ballard's papers donated to the University there is a 1968 letter from his agent August Lenniger explaining that Shorten had a “new editor, Pete McCurtin”, working on the Lassiter series.  Ballard's Lassiter was a Robin Hood type, but Shorten wanted something different. He was seeing movies like POINT BLANK where the protagonist was not a hero at all, he was a son of a bitch, a dirty thief who would lie, cheat and steal to get his hands on any available cash. McCurtin showed Shorten he could edit that series while simultaneously writing his first Lassiter, which was called HIGH LONESOME. McCurtin made Shorten very happy. The Lassiter of HIGH LONESOME is a genuine skunk, a foul-mouthed anti-hero.

One of the Lassiter books, A HELL OF A WAY TO DIE, was written by Ben Haas, and when I did the Ben Haas catalog in 2012 I was surprised to discover Ben's book listed on the website of a different Lassiter author, Peter Germano. (The website list reprinted information from the Germano papers, also at the University of Oregon.) In the course of proving that Haas not Germano was the author of A HELL OF A WAY TO DIE , I wound up discovering that other books credited to Germano on that website had been written by other writers including W.T. Ballard and Frank Castle. Trying to link Germano to Lassiter, I called one of the other editors who had worked for Shorten at that time. When I described thedirty” style of HIGH LONESOME, she said, “Oh yeah, that sounds just like Peter.”

Now I was getting somewhere. “Peter Germano?” I asked.

“Who?” she replied. “No, Peter. Peter McCurtin. He was the editor of the Lassiter series. But he wasn't just editing them, he was writing them too.”

Using the uniquely “dirty” style of HIGH LONESOME as my guide, I came to realize that at least six of the Lassiter books were written by the same writer, series editor McCurtin. I'm sure Peter Germano wrote later Lassiters, but letters from Germano's agent Kurt Singer – also housed at the University of Oregon – proved that he could not possibly have written any of the early Lassiters on the list. (My own theory is that somehow Germano's copies of those other author's books, used as reference guides as he wrote the later books, were somehow mixed in with his own books when, after his death, his family donated his books and papers to the University of Oregon.)

McCurtin might have written other Lassiters, and it is also possible that some of his ghostwriters may have contributed to the six I show here. Since all of these wonderful writers are dead now, we may never know. Trying to verify one book, I wound up creating a LASSITER Checklist, which is available here:

http://lynn-munroe-books.com/list63/Lassiter-Slade.htm

McCurtin was given the job to edit all their Western series, which put him on hand for the greatest series of them all, the FARGO books by Ben Haas writing as John Benteen.

 

 

On the plus side, McCurtin edited some great paperback originals at Tower and Belmont. Thousands of readers of genre fiction and pulp fiction have enjoyed his work. On the minus side, many of his books are rife with editorial errors. They start with promise but soon the consecutive numbering gets messed up or character's names change in the middle of the book due to editorial mistakes. Other editorial problems would surface in his other series. The irony today is we want to discount books rife with editorial mistakes, but we can't because otherwise the books are such fun, providing hours of reading enjoyment.

 

HIGH LONESOME – as by Jack Slade, Tower 43-250, 1969. #6 in the Lassiter series.

 

As John Hocking has noted on James Reasoner's great blog, this author's Lassiters are set apart by their unique terms for dalliance: bulling and straddling. He also wisely notes that this Lassiter has much in common with Richard Stark's Parker and Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer.

Leading lady's name is Ellen.

BT 50532, 1973. Second printing.

When Tower merged into Belmont Tower, the Lassiters were re-issued as BT books.

 

 

“Lassiter had straddled whores when he needed to… and he had bulled the most beautiful of ladies in canopied beds”.

Then in November 2014, something really magical for McCurtin fans appeared on Amazon: a new kindle edition from Piccadilly Publishing, headed up by two authors, Mike Stotter and Ben Bridges. For the first time, the author's real name appeared on one of his earliest books.  Fantastic!

THE MAN FROM DEL RIO – Tower T-060-2, 1969. #8 in the Lassiter series. Well-written but a bit cleaner and more descriptive than HIGH LONESOME, this might have been a collaboration with someone like George Harmon Smith. The strongest connection to McCurtin is the name of the leading lady here, Ellen Kinder. McCurtin's first wife's name was Ellen Kidd. 

 

BT 50572, 1973. Second printing.  Cover art by George Gross. 

 

“The captain's got steer shit for brains”, Lassiter yelled.

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Kindle edition from Piccadilly Publishing, 2014. Introducing McCurtin to a new generation of readers, these editions are a quick way to try one of these out.

 

THE MAN FROM LORDSBURG – Tower T-060-9, 1970. #9. Very clearly from the same author as HIGH LONESOME, THE MAN FROM LORDSBURG has a character named MacCord.

 

“Just as good as straddling a woman, ain't it?”

BT 50563, 1973. Second printing.  The British Flamingo edition shown here has the same cover art. The publisher inside is identified as Belmont Tower, not Flamingo.

 

McCurtin's Lassiter characters' favorite word is “cowshit”. On page 41, a character giving a speech to the townsfolk – men, women, and children of all ages - says “We're going to cover the state of Kansas in cowshit.”

 

 

 

BT 51296, no date (1978). Third printing. This cover art is also used on the fourth appearance of THE MAN FROM LORDSBURG, as part of a Double-Barrel Western reprint from Leisure Books in 1988.  There are numerous Double-Barrel Western reprints of Lassiter and Sundance. None of them are shown on this list.

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Kindle edition from Piccadilly Publishing in 2014 is the first time the author / editor's real name appears on the book.

 

 

 

GUNFIGHT AT RINGO JUNCTION – Belmont B60-2011, 1970. Cover art by John Duillo. #10 in the Lassiter series. As Harry Shorten's publishing empire changed, Lassiter readers found the books coming first from Tower, then Belmont, then BT Belmont Tower.

David Whitehead was the first to identify this book as McCurtin when he noticed it had the same setting as a McCurtin Sundance called DAY OF THE HALFBREEDS.  In both books our heroes become involved in an uprising against the Canadian government.

With an all-male cast of characters, there's no time for dalliance, so none of the sex-scene clues are here, except on p.24: “Lassiter told him to go bull himself.”

BT 50584, 1973. Second printing.

 

Lassiter gives his name as McCall.

The halfbreeds are led by McCain.

 

Paperback covers do not always match the book inside. Leisure wanted to sell this as a Western, but the cover looks like he is out in the southwestern desert. In the book, Lassiter is in British Columbia where everyone is bundled up fighting in the freezing cold. This cover has been recycled from the Tower edition of THE MAN FROM DEL RIO.

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Kindle edition from Piccadilly Publishing in September 2015 is the first time the author / editor's real name appears on the book.  

 

Piccadilly is also bringing out e-book editions of the Fargo and Sundance books, and more from Peter McCurtin.

  

FUNERAL BEND – Belmont B75-2070, 1970. #11 in the Lassiter series.

 

“It was hard to think of a banker straddling a woman. Maybe they did it, but he felt sorry for their women.”

 

“Ordinarily, he wouldn't give a stale cow-flop what they did.”

BT 50622, 1973. Second printing. Incorrectly identified as Lassiter #12. Peter McCurtin had many fine editorial attributes, but correctly numbering his series publications was not one of them.

 

Frank Castle then took over as the author of the Lassiter books, then John Flynn, then Peter Germano. The series continued into the 1980s and was a bestseller in Europe.

 

THE MAN FROM TOMBSTONE – Belmont B75-2014, 1971. #12 in the Lassiter series. There is a character named Macandrew and another named Captain MacDuffie.

 

 “Go and bull yourself, little man.”

“He wanted to straddle her until her pearly teeth popped.”

BT 50674, 1974. Incorrectly numbered as Lassiter #14.

 

The story told here is telegraphed by the cover. Lassiter gets hired as a bodyguard to a black prize fighter with a big match coming up. Lassiter plans to ride off with the money from the gate, so he needs to keep the fighter alive. Just in case nobody is paying attention to what story they are borrowing from here, the publisher has the capitalized words The Great White Hope in the back cover blurb.

 

SOUL ON FIRE as by Clarence Farmer, Belmont B95-1057, Nov 1969. One of Shorten's gimmicks was to sell paperbacks that at first glance seemed like something important. SOUL ON FIRE is one such book. It looks to be a book written by an African-American like SOUL ON ICE, but Clarence Farmer, “self-confessed murderer and rapist”, is a Peter McCurtin pen name.  Once again, we have David Whitehead to thank. He interviewed a member of McCurtin's family who found this manuscript in McCurtin's office after he died. His style is evident throughout, and there is even a white character named McCall. Hard to read in the 21st century, SOUL ON FIRE may set the record for most uses of the “n” word in one book.

 

CARMODY Series by Peter McCurtin

For the story on how the Carmody series came about, see my Lassiter checklist link above. Carmody started as Belmont's answer to Tower's Lassiter, but when Belmont and Tower were merging, McCurtin changed the character of Carmody. In the first two books he is a third-person Lassiter clone, from the third book on he is a first-person hardboiled wiseacre.  As we show elsewhere, McCurtin was truly a master of this breezy “dirty” first-person style. McCurtin wrote six Carmody books from 1970 to 1972, he then quickly re-released them (in different order) as Leisure Books in 1973.  He later recycled at least five of them. As I learned from David Whitehead's informative site, four of the Carmody books are reworked for McCurtin's Jim Saddler series in 1979. And another one is retold as one of McCurtin's Sundance series in 1980. 

 

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TALL MAN RIDING – Belmont B60-1079, 1970. Carmody #1.

 

Interchangeable with Lassiter: “Carmody started to bull the girl.” “Time to straddle one of those crotch-thumpers.”

 

It was common for paperback publishers to appropriate the familiar faces of movie stars to sell their unrelated books.

 

TALL MAN RIDING and the Jack Slade Lassiter HIGH LONESOME are very obviously written by the same author.

Leisure 139NK, second printing. As Carmody #4.

 

There is a character named McCargo, a name McCurtin will use again.

 

 

Distinctively McCurtin: “He'd give the dog-eating, piss-drinking, cootie-ridden, double herniad sons of bitches something to laugh at.”

November 2015: Kindle edition from Piccadilly Publishing.

 

 

 

If you are a paperback collector, I heartily suggest you seek out these vintage paperbacks. If you prefer to do your reading on Kindle, I recommend these fine new Piccadilly Publishing e-books.

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HANGTOWN – Belmont B60-1097, 1970. Carmody #2.

 

This book was published in UK hardcover by Robert Hale in 1972 as ARIZONA HANGTOWN. (not shown)

 

McCurtin recycled this as COLORADO CROSSING by Gene Curry in 1979.

 

 

Leisure 145NK, 1973. As Carmody #5. Cover art by George Alvara.

 

“…thinking about some of the women he'd straddled.” “A man couldn't drink and bull his brains out twenty-four hours a day.”

TOUGH BULLET – Belmont B60-2021, 1970. Carmody #3. Cover art by Ron Lesser.

 

McCurtin recycled this as A DIRTY WAY TO DIE by Gene Curry in 1979.

 

When the copyrights on these books were updated for the 1973 Leisure reprints, TALL MAN RIDING & HANGTOWN were noted “copyright Peter McCurtin”. But TOUGH BULLET said “copyright Belmont Productions.” For that reason, and because Carmody is coming from Arkansas here, I suspect this one was a collaboration with George Harmon Smith.

 

Leisure 136NK, 1973. Second printing. 

 

TOUGH BULLET is set in New Orleans, not the usual setting for a Western. I'm not suggesting every book set in New Orleans must have been written by Louisianan George Harmon Smith, just suggesting that George may have collaborated with McCurtin on this one.

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Kindle edition from Piccadilly Publishing, July 2015.

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THE SLAVERS – Belmont B75-2086, 1970.  Carmody #4.

 

The Unibook edition shown here uses the same cover. McCurtin recycled this story into the 1980 Sundance novel LOS OLVIDADOS.

 

Passing through Santa Fe, Carmody learns that the wife and daughter of a man who once saved his life have been abducted by slavers. The big ranchers like a man named McKim want cheap Indian labor, and even though slavery is now illegal, there are still crooks who take Indian slaves.

Leisure 127NK, 1973. Second printing. As Carmody #1.

 

 

This edition bills McCurtin as “Winner of the Mesquite Award”.  This award was invented by the editor to lend gravitas to the author.

  

Kindle edition, Dec 2014, from Piccadilly Publishing.  Great to see McCurtin back “in print” again!

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THE KILLERS – Belmont B75-2130, 1971. Carmody #5.

 

McCurtin recycled this story as HOT AS A PISTOL by Gene Curry in 1980.

 

Hiding from a posse, the thoroughly crooked Carmody runs into his cousin Luke, who makes Carmody the acting sheriff of Salter City Texas. What Carmody does not know is that two rival gangs are about to go to war in Salter City and he is now right in the middle, in the eye of the storm.

 

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Leisure 131NK, 1973. Second printing. As Carmody #2.

 

Carmody rides into town: “I got set for the same old questions and answers. ‘New in town, ain't you' – all that hosspiss'.

 

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Kindle edition, Feb 2015, from Piccadilly Publishing.

 

For the full line of all of these new e-book editions of paperback originals by Peter McCurtin, Ben Haas, Len Levinson and many more, go to www.piccadillypublishing.org

 

SCREAMING ON THE WIRE – BT 50232, 1972. Carmody #6. Photo cover.

 

 

McCurtin re-imagined this as WILDCAT WOMAN by Gene Curry in 1979.

 

 

Carmody rides into a range war in New Mexico and meets a killer named Tex McCarty, who turns out to be the son of Billy The Kid.

Leisure 153NK, 1973. Second printing.

 

“Trouble is my business”, Carmody tells us. Peter McCurtin smoothly adapted the tight plotting and fast-paced first person narration of hardboiled writers like Raymond Chandler and Mickey Spillane into his best pulp fiction paperbacks.

 

In this case the “McC---” character (Tex McCarty) has historical precedent, as most historians agree that William “Billy the Kid” Bonney's real name was Henry McCarty. His mother was an Irish immigrant.

 

 

MAFIOSO – Belmont B95-2029, 1970. Books on this theme came out in droves in the wake of THE GODFATHER (1969). McCurtin jumped on that bandwagon and wrote four of them, all unrelated except in general subject matter. MAFIOSO was nominated by the Mystery Writers of America for the Edgar for Best Paperback Original. The winner that year was FLASHPOINT by Dan J. Marlowe.

Note the word “Godfather” is capitalized to catch the buyer's eye.

 

Intensely solid crime novel about a mob hit man in Brooklyn. Very well-written, tightly plotted, not a single word of fluff.

BT 50259, 1972. Second printing. MAFIOSO was translated into several other languages and was a best seller in France. An Italian Eurocrime movie was made from the book called THE BOSS with Henry Silva.

 

Although MAFIOSO lost the Edgar Award competition to FLASHPOINT, somebody at Belmont Tower made the editorial decision that just being nominated was close enough.  The cover declares this the “Mystery Writers of America Special Award Winning Novel”.

 

 

 

 

NEL 450 00983 1, 1971. UK edition.

 

The word “Godfather” is front and center on this edition too.

THE SUN DANCE MURDERS – Belmont B75-2065, 1970. Cover art by Vic Prezio. Later to be a little confusing when McCurtin wrote the SUNDANCE series, this unrelated stand-alone thriller puts a tough guy magazine reporter into a war between a neo-Fascist rancher and modern-day Ghost Dance Raiders. One character's name is McCoy. Set in 1970 Arizona, THE SUN DANCE MURDERS is a modern Western, and at the same time a men's adventure story that borrows the plot from one of the author's Mafia books. It's an amalgam of several of his interests told in a tough first person breeze.  

 

 

UK Five Star edition (1972) flips the Prezio cover art.

 

McCurtin style:

“A bit like the late Ward Bond”, “She looked like a young France Nuyen”, “I suspect Jane Fonda”, “She smiled when she said it, just like Gary Cooper told John Huston to do in The Virginian” (a rare mistake from movie buff, McCurtin, that was Walter Huston), “Long and awkward, but nothing like the young Jimmy Stewart”, “An old movie fan, I recognized this as something Brian Donlevy always said…”, “sounds like Sidney Greenstreet to me”

As THE SUNDANCE MURDERS - BT 50608, 1973. Second printing.

 

 

 

“Peggy Chan took the bullhorn again. Why… couldn't a gorgeous chick like that stay out of politics? Or, if she couldn't do that, why couldn't she confine herself to the usual stuff – spitting on cops, saying oink to cops, waving her mons veneris at National Guard johnnies, sticking daisies into the muzzles of M1's carried uncertainly by Guard johnnies, burning the Widener Library? The usual stuff - like that.”

TOO MUCH IS NOT ENOUGH – Midwood M-195-39, 1971.

 

Peter McCurtin's personal stamp is all over this story of an alcoholic Irish writer named Finn McCool. TOO MUCH IS NOT ENOUGH got a very limited release. It is all but impossible to find today. McCurtin believed it deserved a better fate, so he retitled it and reissued it as a BT called McCOOL in 1973.

As McCOOL –BT 50511, 1973. Rare.

 

Proof of my theory that McCurtin often includes an alter ego named McC---- .

 

A wild and crazy romp through the Seventies, McCOOL is so thoroughly of its time it is hard to read today. The sexist, alcoholic, drug-addicted, totally reprehensible Irishman is supposed to be our hero. For example, in one painful chapter he deflowers the virginal editor of a feminist magazine.  Dylan Thomas and Brendan Behan are name-checked on the cover and are among the writers McCool talks about in the book.

 

COSA NOSTRA – Belmont B95-2158, Sept 1971. This Unibook reprint has the same cover as the Belmont first, although the title page says THE HIT.

Most “Godfather” books are set in places like New York or Las Vegas, but COSA NOSTRA is set in the fictional town of Chapmans Corners, Maine. The setting and style both identify Peter McCurtin as the actual author of this book. Greeley, “a cynical hard-drinking crooked cop”, kicked off the NYC police, now working in Chapmans Corners, takes on the Boston Mafia.   

 

This is the second of the “Godfather Mafia books” by Peter McCurtin.

 

  

NEL 450-01371-5, 1972. UK edition.

 

More evil than “The Godfather”.

 

 

First person tough guy, late at night at the police station, waiting for the Mafia: “The riot guns went back to the late forties and a strike at the mill, but they were never used. They would have been loaded with birdshot if they had been used. Drinking whisky and coffee, I cleaned and oiled the gun, then thumbed in cartridges of double-O buckshot".

ESCAPE FROM DEVIL'S ISLAND – Belmont B95-2168, 1971.

  If there was a huge bestseller, certain paperback houses would quickly come out with similar titles. PAPILLON was published in 1970, and is mentioned on the cover of this similar story. This appears to be a collaboration – the idea from editor McCurtin, the writing style is from a ghost, possibly George Harmon Smith.

When the copyright was renewed for the 1973 reprint, the application reads “copyright Belmont Productions.” This credit is used when the author's name is a pseudonym or house name.

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Leisure Book 167NK, 1974. Second printing.

 

The movie version of PAPILLON came out in 1973, and McCurtin reprinted this a year later. It's amazing the producers of PAPILLON did not sue, as the second printing has a new cover painting with PAPILLON! in big letters right above two men who look like the film's stars, Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman. Let the buyer beware, this is no movie tie-in and no sequel.

OMERTA – Leisure LB115NK, 1972.

The story of a Mafia hit man marked for death, OMERTA mixes brutality with sudden moments of stark beauty like this: “Yellow street lights filtered into the lot, making the planes and angles of their faces sharper than they were, almost like woodcuts on the dust jackets of gangster novels in the Twenties.”

The French edition L'OMERTA, copyrighted Peter McCurtin, was a bestseller in the Serie Noire paperback series.

For reasons that are unclear to me, the other three “Mafia” books by McCurtin are easily available today. But this one has disappeared.

 

THE SYNDICATE – BT 50211, 1972

 

“By the author of The Mystery Writers' of America award-winning MAFIOSO.”

 

When an Irish-American neo-fascist billionaire decides to “take over where Hitler left off”, the Mob sends a hit man named Broderick to kill the billionaire.

 

Fourth and final Mafia story by McCurtin.

 

 

BT 50650, 1974. Second printing.

 

THE SEXECUTIONER Series by Glen Chase

We know that Glen Chase was a pen name used by Gardner Fox and Rochelle Larkin, also used at least once by Leonard Levinson. Levinson said in an interview with Joe Kenney that he was offered this job by the editor, Peter McCurtin, who showed him the already completed cover art. According to the book SERIAL VIGILANTES OF PAPERBACK FICTION by Bradley Mengel, McCurtin also wrote for this series. But neither Mengel nor any other source tells us which ones McCurtin wrote.

 

Lynn Munroe Books