Guthrie Lamb
Created by Hunt Collins (Ed McBain)

Got milk?

The Robert Lowndes-edited pulps of the 1950s were certainly well down the publishing food chain, and yet he was always able to manage some quality on a shoe string budget. I've purchased a few copies recently of Famous Detective Stories from the early 1950s, including the February 1952 issue. All but one of the eight writers were unknown to me and I suspect most if not all were house names for Columbia Publications.

The one known byline made up for the others as the "Feature Novel" in the issue is by Hunt Collins, one of Evan Hunter's many pennames. The story (and at about 15,000 words it is hardly a novel) is "Dead Freight" and it is the cover story of the issue. I would not at all be surprised to learn that the nifty cover art came first and Hunter wrote the story to fit the illustration as was fairly common in the pulps.

It is a first person private eye story featuring GUTHRIE LAMB who carries a .45 in a shoulder holster and drives around New York City in a 1942 Ford with 1948 engine. He likes to drink milk. "I always keep three or four bottles in the office. Some guys I know keep rye instead. Milk is cheaper, and I see straighter when I'm not drinking rye. Not that I'm a teetotaler; far from it. I just think alcohol and guns don't mix well." He says he once smashed a man with the butt of his gun because he made fun of a grown man drinking milk.

Lamb is hired by a mortician to find a corpse in a coffin that was stolen from his funeral home. The dead man was killed by a hit and run driver and the mortician was quite proud of his work. But now the family wants its money back. There is a good description of the undertaker: "His eyes were sad, brown and deep, like two cavernous pockets of sorrow dug into his face."

The story is not an undiscovered masterpiece but I enjoyed it. The concept was a good one and there are some good turns of phrase. In fact, if anyone has (or if they have a Hunter bibliography) I am curious if there were other stories published in this series.

Not sure about other pulp appearances, Richard, but an old-school PI by the name of Guthrie Lamb shows up to help attorney Matthew Hope crack a tough case in McBain's Gladly the Cross-Eyed Bear (1996).

THE EVIDENCE

  • "The man's name was Guthrie Lamb... He was telling me he'd been a famous detective for more years than I had been on earth, having started his agency back in 1952, when he used to operate out of New York City."
    (from Gladly the Cross-Eyed Bear. Matthew Hope goes on to describe Lamb as very large and fit for a man in his 60s and "seemed to be carrying a very large gun in a highly visible shoulder holster." Which, although I have yet to read beyond this point, indicates that Guthrie may still be carrying his .45 Automatic. I have my late father-in-law's .45 Colt automatic and his shoulder holster and I can testify that it makes a pretty big bulge.)

SHORT STORIES

  • "Dead Freight" (February 1952, Famous Detective Stories)
  • "The Body Beautiful" (May 1952, Famous Detective Stories)

Report respectfully submitted by Richard Moore, with additional info supplied by Erin MacDonald.


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