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Thursday, June 28, 2007

Michael Storme

(Mention of Michael Storm the other day reminded me that I had this unpublished piece on Michael Storme (with an 'e'), written... actually I can't remember when it was written. Probably for PBO (the magazine I edited for the British Association of Paperback Collectors) so maybe nine years ago. Anyway, it's nice to have the chance to give it an airing...)


There are two things that immediately spring to mind when I think about Michael Storme. Firstly, the covers—often drawn by the incomparable master of "good girl art" Heade. Heade’s artwork on the Storme novels would stop you in your tracks.

But once you’d raised your eyes from the gorgeous dame on the cover there are the titles: Make Mine A Virgin, Sucker For A Red-Head, Dame In My Bed and the uncompromising Hot Dames On Cold Slabs. Who could resist picking up a book Hot Dames On Cold Slabs? Why would you want to resist?

That one title is probably the only mark that Michael Storme has left on crime literature. The listing of his titles in Crime Fiction Bibliography is his epitaph; nobody, as far as I know, visits or tends his grave. It is now over fifty years since his last book was published. Time to raise a glass in memoriam to Michael Storme.

The Michael Storme novels are now collected for their Heade covers, but it is on the back of some of his books that we find the briefest of biographies:

"Michael Storme was born in England during the first world war. In the second world war he was a radio-engineer in the Royal Air Force and saw service in Egypt, Sudan, Tripoli, Italy, Sicily, Malta and Eritrea. He was also on the aircraft-carrier Indomitable when it made a last minute dash with replacement Hurricane fighter planes for the defence of Singapore. His 1939-45 Star, Africa Star and Clasp, Burma Star and Clasp and Italy Star are proof of his multifarius adventures. He was demobbed with the rank of sergeant."

How much of that is true is difficult to say. What we know for sure is that Michael Storme was the pen-name of George H. Dawson, and certainly a number of George H. Dawsons were born in 1914-18. George H. Dawson never published a novel under his own name but my proof is from correspondence with two authors who knew him. Both Thomas Martin and Lisle Willis linked Dawson to Storme. Hot Dames on Cold Slabs is dedicated to "Cathy and Lisle who like to go adventuring with me" and Tom further noted that Dawson was the co-founder of Tempest Publications, "which no doubt accounts for the name."

Michael Storme first appeared in the spring of 1949 with Make Mine A Shroud from Archer Press, after which Dawson teamed up with Thomas H. Lane to launch Tempest Publishing Company. Lane, then in his late thirties, had worked mostly in the cotton industry around his home town of Bolton. He was also a writer, contributing to the BBC’s In Britain Now programme in 1942 and had penned two short westerns (Chums Ride the Range and Two-Gun Shoots it Out) which were published by R. & L. Locker in 1945. Although there is no evidence that Lane was writing gangster yarns, he may have introduced Dawson to Raymond and Lilian Locker, the publishing partnership behind Archer Press.

With offices established at 120-124 Newport Street, Bolton, Tempest published their first novels in 1949, Ladies Sleep Alone by Lew Della (Dawson) and I’ll Hire the Hearse by Michael Lisle (Lisle Willis), soon followed by Dawson’s new creation, Nick Perrelli. A call for authors brought a response from Norman Lazenby, who contacted Tempest and was told "We require writers who can immitate the style of the tough gangster writers such as Michael Storme, Nick Perrelli, Hank Janson, Nick Carter, etc." at rates of £1 per thousand words, length approximately 45,000. Lazenby didn’t bite, but Thomas H. Martin certainly did.

After the first Nick Perrelli (Virgins Die Lonely, written by Dawson), Martin penned the rest of the series for Tempest, writing his first in under a week ("but I wouldn’t have cared to write one every week," he later told me). Martin had already established himself as an author, writing short occult tales for syndication through the Daily Mirror which appeared in 8 languages, and found the relentless pace of gangster yarns too much; bored by the gangster stereotypes and American backgrounds he was always asked for, he introduced a little variety in Terror in Tokyo. "When Dawson left Tempest I wrote Dope For Dolores for his partner Lane, a much less violent and sex novel in line with Lane’s new policy. But the firm soon went out of business altogether." One further novel—Gorbals Pick-Up—was written and paid for, but never published.

Something of a mystery is why Dawson never wrote more for Tempest than he did. As far as I can tell he wrote only two early novels, both published towards the end of 1949, and the rest of the Tempest’s output was written by Thomas Martin. Instead, Dawson concentrated his writing efforts on Michael Storme and the detective Nick Cranley. Cranley was a Chicago-based private eye straight out of the Lemmy Caution School for Tough Guys. He drives an Airflow (manufactured in the USA in the 1930s by De Soto and Chrysler), carried a luger and – unlike most of his contemporaries – was married to the beautiful Sheila Cranley. Although Sheila often got the spotlight, she was occasionally on vacation or left at home long enough for Nick to get involved with other dames during his adventures, most of which took place in the USA although some took him as far afield as South America and England.

The books were written in the same style as Peter Cheyney’s Lemmy Caution novels: present tense, the action moving insanely fast, the language peppered with Americanisms from the hardboiled school of writing. Guns were gats or rods, legs were gams. Phrases were yapped out in slang that was straight out of the mouths of Damon Runyan’s jazz-age guys and dolls (baller, as a for instance) or Hollywood gangster movies (yegg).

Nick Cranley is obsessed with making women and women who enjoy being made; in some instances the writing goes a little further than some contemporaries in descriptions of Nick’s conquests – he will cup a breast rather than simply describing the mysteries of milky white skin and refers to a woman’s breasts as her dairy more than once ("There’s more value than that in the dairy yuh got!" Cranley tells one blowsy tart in Make Mine Beautiful when she informs him she scratches around for a dollar here, a dollar there).

It was this concentration on breasts that probably earned Michael Storme one of the biggest fines handed out to gangster novels during the Home Office crackdown on obscene books in the early 1950s. Archer Press were taken to court in April 1951 and fined a total of £1,350 over the publication of three of their titles. Storme’s Make Mine A Corpse accounted for £650.

Given the size of the fine (usually in the £20-200 region), Archer Press immediately ceased publishing. Only four more titles appeared in 1951, all from another imprint of the Lockers, Harborough Publishing. Instead, the Lockers set up a deal with an American company and a number of Archer titles were distributed in the USA by Kaywin Publishers Inc.

In January 1952, publisher Bernard Kaye and distributor Kurt Reiter took over the Archer and Harborough imprints and relaunched them both. Michael Storme, whose name had disappeared for a full year since the publication of Satan Buys A Wreath in March 1951, returned with Elvira Digs A Grave and a slew of other Nick Cranley yarns.

The deal with Kaywin seemed to go sour in 1952, or was perhaps curtailed when the Lockers set up Leisure Library in New York and began issuing reprints of Archer and Harborough titles.

Dawson had no doubt learned not to keep all his eggs in one basket. The fine handed out to Archer Press had unnerved a number of other publishers, including Thomas Lane’s Tempest Publishing. Tempest closed down in 1951 and sold the name Nick Perrelli to Scion Ltd. who began issuing a new series with A Blonde For Burial (written by Thomas Martin) in 1952. According to Martin "When Tempest closed down, Dawson turned up at Scion to claim the pseudonym where I was continuing the Perrelli series. [Editors] Peter Dewhurst, Julian Franklyn and I had dinner at a club to sort out the problem of the two Nick Perrellis." During the summer of 1952, a number of new Nick Perrelli titles appeared from Scion (She Sure Slipped, Some Dames Don't, Blonde For Danger) which were almost certainly written by Dawson.

Unfortunately, Scion were having problems of their own. In April 1952, Scion had been fined as well over gangster obscenity and the constant issuing of destruction orders against gangster novels was causing orders to fall dramatically. Scion was unable to pay even the authors it had under contract and went into hiatus in the late summer of 1952. A group of Scion editors and writers decided to form their own company, Milestone Publications, headed by Peter Dewhurst, who issued their first titles in December. Amongst the early titles was A Dame Dies Greedy by Nick Perrelli and the Thomas Martin-penned The Frail’s A Phoney. "[Dawson] was willing to share [the Nick Perrelli name] with me, but that didn’t appeal to me," recalled Martin, "so when Milestone was launched I soon launched my own pseudonym, Max Risco, which soon overtook Perrelli in sales. Dawson sold the Perrelli name to Milestone and, I believe, it was used for the work of several authors."

Dawson, instead, was writing for Milestone under his old pen-name of Lew Della and, with Harborough Publishing now maintaining a regular schedule of Michael Storme yarns, Dawson kept up a steady output for both companies.

It was not to last. The publishers of Hank Janson, the best-seller of the gangster paperback boom, were tried and convicted of obscenity in January 1954, and Harborough immediataly ceased trading, leaving at least one Michael Storme novel (Annie Get Your Hearse) unpublished. After twenty-five novels, Michael Storme was laid to rest.

Milestone also allowed their gangster line-up to peter out. By September 1954, they had phased out the old bylines in favour of new names and a rather tamer outlook. The last Lew Della novel had appeared in May and I’m reasonably sure (given the scarcity of the books) that Dawson penned only one more title, Scared Stiff (as by Paul J. Rainier) for the new Merit imprint.

According to Thomas Martin, Dawson "got a job as a travelling salesman… I wasn’t very sorry when the gangster era ended. I think it had been Dawson’s chief or only interest, but Franklyn, Dewhurst and I regarded it as a rather low form of earning money. It was never my chief interest, because from 1950 I was writing and illustrating my own full-page weekly newspaper feature." Martin went on to write over twenty Sexton Blake novels in the sixties, but increasingly bad eyesight put an end to his professional writing career.

I’ve found no further trace of Dawson’s writing. Indeed, no further trace of Dawson. I have discovered that his writing career may have dated back to at least as early as 1941 – Storme was advertised as the author of a novel entitled When Passion Rules, a Paul Renin-esque romance which appeared from Archer under the byline Pierre FlammĂȘche. Two earlier FlammĂȘche novels had been published in 1941 by Gerald Swan, both reprinted by Archer alongside the early Michael Storm novels. Whether Dawson continued writing this kind of salacious material or switched publishers and pen-names unfortunately remains unknown.

Novels by George H. Dawson

Novels as Michael Storme (series: Nick Cranley in at least those marked)
Make Mine A Shroud. London, Archer, May 1949; New York, Leisure Library, 1952.
Unlucky Virgin. London, Archer, Sep 1949; Cleveland, Ohio, Kayewin, 1951.
Make Mine A Harlot (Cranley). London, Archer, Oct 1949; Cleveland, Ohio, Kayewin, 1951.
Make Mine Beautiful (Cranley). London, Archer, Nov 1949; as Curtains for Carla, New York, Leisure Library, 1952.
Make Mine A Virgin (Cranley). London, Archer, Jan 1950; ?as Carmen Was a Virgin, New York, Leisure Library, 1952.
Make Mine Dangerous. London, Archer, Feb 1950.
Make Mine A Corpse (Cranley). London, Archer, Jun 1950; ?as A Corpse Spells Danger, New York, Leisure Library, 1952.
"Sucker For A Red-Head" (Cranley). London, Archer, Aug 1950; ?as This Woman is Death, New York, Leisure Library, 1952.
Dame In My Bed. London, Archer, 1950; Cleveland, Ohio, Kayewin, 1951.
Hot Dames On Cold Slabs. London, Archer, Dec 1950; New York, Leisure Library, 1952.
Satan Buys A Wreath (Cranley). London, Archer, Mar 1951.
Elvira Digs A Grave (Cranley). London, Harborrough, Mar 1952.
Chicago Terror (Cranley). London, Harborough, Apr 1952.
Lovelies Are Never Lonely (Cranley). London, Harborough, Apr 1952.
Stella Buys A Shroud. London, Harborough, Apr 1952.
Make Mine A Redhead (Cranley). London, Harborough, Oct 1952.
Kiss The Corpse Goodbye (Cranley). London, Harborough, Nov 1952.
Baby Don’t Love Hoodlums. London, Harborough, Mar 1953.
Dragons Come Expensive. London, Harborough, Mar 1953.
You’ll Be Better Off Dead. London, Harborough, Mar 1953.
Sweetheart With A Wreath. London, Harborough, Jul 1953.
Me And My Ghoul (Cranley). London, Harborough, Aug 1953.
Tiptoe Thro’ A Graveyard. London, Harborough, Aug 1953.
Baby Don’t Say Goodbye (Cranley). London, Harborough, Oct 1953.
The Devil Has A Racket (Cranley). London, Harborough, Jan 1954.

Novels as Lew Della
Ladies Sleep Alone. Bolton, Tempest, 1949; Cleveland, Ohio, Kayewin, 1951.
Love Comes Lethal. London, Milestone (1034), Feb 1953.
Frenzy!. London, Milestone (1052), 1953.
Temptation. London, Milestone (1076), 1953.
Torment. London, Milestone, 1953.
Dark Angel. London, Milestone, Sep 1953.
Life Is Short. London, Milestone, Nov 1953.
Fast and Loose. London, Milestone, Dec 1953.
Shadows Sometimes Scream. London, Milestone, Jan 1954.
Risky!. London, Milestone, Feb 1954.
Touch And Go. London, Milestone, May 1954.

Novels as Pierre FlammĂȘche
Silken Lure. London, Gerald Swan, 1941; reprinted, R. & L. Locker, Aug 1949; Cleveland, Ohio, Kayewin, 1951.
Spoilt Lives. London, Gerald Swan, 1941; as Spoiled Lives, London, Archer, Mar 1950; Cleveland, Ohio, Kayewin, 1951.
When Passion Rules. London, Archer, Jul 1950.

Novels as Nick Perrelli (house name, titles by Dawson uncertain)
Virgin’s Die Lonely. Bolton, Tempest, Dec 1949.
She Sure Slipped. London, Scion, Jun 1952.
Some Dames Don't. London, Scion, Jul 1952.
Blonde For Danger. London, Scion, Jul 1952.
A Dame Dies Greedy. London, Milestone (1011), Jan 1953.
Who Told The Belle. London, Scion, 1953.
The Lady Is A Tiger. London, Milestone (1024), 1953.
Lady Come Clean. London, Milestone (1041), 1953.
Private Eyeful. London, Milestone (nn), 1953.
Step In, Sister. London, Milestone (1058), 1953.
Take It Easy. London, Milestone, Sep 1953.
Sweet And Low. London, Milestone, Jan 1954.
At Dead of Night. London, Milestone, Apr 1954.
Dead On Time. London, Milestone, May 1954.

Novels as Paul J. Rainier
Scared Stiff. London, Merit Books, Sep 1954.

(My thanks to Todd Gibson and Stephen James Walker for the scans.)

1 comment:

John said...

Great post, Steve. The Heade covers are marvelous. I have a sudden urge to run out and buy some milk duds.