Mike Lantry

Created by Mike Lantry (house pseudonym, used by E.C. Tubb & A.A. Glynn)

MIKE LANTRY is the tough, hard-bitten, New York-based chief of  World Wide Investigations, who slugged his way through at least two novels written in the first person by... Mike Lantry, evidently a house pseudonym for the UK publisher Spencer, who seemed to specialize in pseudo-American hard-boiled crime fiction in the late forties and fifties.

It gets even murkier... the first in the series, Assignment New York (1955), was evidently re-published as The Pay-Off by J. C. Barton, as part of the Badger crime line in 1960, and its been reprinted under its original title in 1995 by Gryphon Press as part of their Gryphon gangster Novel series, and in 2005 by Linford, a house specializing in large print editions. And then in 2013 someone called the Borgo Press released the second novel in POD and Kindle.

Either this is a great but obscure gem that deserves a wider audience, or nobody bothered copyrighting it.

ROVING REPORTER PAUL TOZER CHECKS IN

You're right -- Lantry appeared in just two novels, but only the first, Assignment New York, was written by Tubb. You also wondered if this novel "is a great but obscure gem that deserves a wider audience."

Well, I've just read it, and I thought it was pretty good. Not a great gem by any means -- a dim and dusty gem at best -- but in my humble opinion it doesn't deserve total obscurity.

Though it dates from 1956, the novel has the feel (and, at 40,000 words or so, the length) of a "featured novel" from a 1940s magazine. And because Tubb's style frequently verges on the lyrically visual, a whiff of B-movie atmosphere is never far away:

"I stood outside Delhany's and stared at the big sign the way I always do when I'm walking to the office. It was growing dark and, as I watched, the time-switch tripped the current so that it flamed with bright red neon. The light tinged the dusk with the colour of blood, and for some reason I felt all nostalgic inside."

E.C. Tubb was best known for his science fiction, and especially for his 33 novels featuring Dumarest of Terra. He started writing in the early 1950s. From the outset, he demonstrated an unusually bleak vision of humanity's future in space, along with a distinctly hard-boiled literary style - "cosmic noir" might be a fitting term. I've been a fan of his SF for more years than I care to think about. He wasn't a "great" writer by any means, but he knew how to tell an entertaining yarn, in a vivid and direct style.

Assignment New York was Tubb's only private eye novel. It was written at the request of his publisher, John Spencer Ltd., who had intentions of launching a new "Mystery Series" of American-style private eye novels. Certainly, the novel shows influences ranging from Chandler...

"I reached for the bottle and tried to keep warm. Far away the same clock struck and struck again and then again. Around me the apartment grew as frigid as an icebox, and the odour of the dead mingled with the stale scent of dust and the raw scent of the rye. I waited, and my nerves grew taut and as brittle as glass."

... to Spillane:

"I didn't kill him. That would have been too easy, too merciful, too generous a gesture for all that he'd done. Anyway, I'd promised to deliver him ready for the electric chair. So I shot his legs out from under him and sent him rolling into the gutter where he belonged."

A final point: If nothing else, Tubb deserves credit for not laying on the American slang as thick as cement, a trap which many of his British contemporaries fell into.

Shortly the publication of Assignment New York, however, Tubb left the publisher, having decided to concentrate on the wider (and more lucrative) genre of science fiction.

Not ones to miss a chance, the canny publishers quickly commissioned another of their writers, Anthony A. Glynn, to continue Lantry's adventures, and A Gunman Close Behind was published later that same year.

Unfortunately, I just checked it out on Amazon. The first six pages or so are available as a sampler, but I knew after reading about only three that it wasn't a worthy successor to the first book. Not even close. The style is generic and bland - not a trace of Tubb's skill at creating vivid atmosphere.

NOVELS

Also published as "The Pay-Off," as by J. C. Barton, 1960.

RELATED LINKS

Freely adapted from the original article I did for WARP, a Montreal-area sci-fi newsletter, way back in 1990 that was my first attempt to deal with the Vulcan mind-meld of the science fiction and P.I. genres. I was so much older then; I'm younger than that now...

Final report respectfully submitted by Paul Tozer. Initial report by Kevin Burton Smith, following a lead from Eric Chambers.


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