Vintage Pulp Oct 18 2023
PAYMENT IN FULL
The cost is only everything she has.

As you know, we're fascinated by pseudonyms. Murder Is the Pay-Off came from the typewriter of Leslie Ford, whose real name was Zenith Jones Brown. We can't imagine why she decided not to publish this under her own name. After reading it, we think the book must represent something close to the zenith of her authorial output. It's an interesting and well written mystery originally published in 1951, with this Dell edition coming in 1954 fronted by Carl Bobertz cover art. The novel is set in the fictional New York City satellite burg of Smithville, where the murder of a slot machine magnate turns the close knit community upside down.

A lot happens in the book (in that upper crust, smalltown sort of way), but at its center is ambitious and egotistical Connie Maynard, whose behavior makes the police suspect her of being the killer, though she isn't. She has her reasons for keeping quiet. She's ostensibly the secondary villain in the narrative, but we liked her. It was easy to do because every major character is flawed. While Connie is trying to steal someone's husband and refuses to reveal her innocence, her rival Janey Blake is a chronic gambler who's lost her and her husband's life savings, and Gus Black, the hero of sorts, is work-driven, neglectful of Janey, and sometimes oblivious.

The identity of the killer is strongly hinted at about halfway through the book, at which point the multi-pov narrative expands to include that person's interior monologues. It's precise and highly intelligent work from Ford. In addition, there are interesting proto-feminist themes, specifically Janey dealing with presumptions of stupidity from the men around her when she's really one of the smartest people in the book, and Connie encountering sexism in her professional life. At one point Gus—the hero, remember—even tells Connie, “I wouldn't work for a dame anyway.” Literary protagonists aren't usually chauvinists to such an overt degree, even in 1951. Well, we'll work to find more Ford. We want to read her again.

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
July 24
1915—Ship Capsizes on Lake Michigan
During an outing arranged by Western Electric Co. for its employees and their families, the passenger ship Eastland capsizes in Lake Michigan due to unequal weight distribution. 844 people die, including all the members of 22 different families.
1980—Peter Sellers Dies
British movie star Peter Sellers, whose roles in Dr. Strangelove, Being There and the Pink Panther films established him as the greatest comedic actor of his generation, dies of a heart attack at age fifty-four.
July 23
1984—Miss America Resigns
Vanessa Williams, who had been crowned Miss America and was the first African American woman to win the prize, resigns her title after Penthouse magazine purchases and slates for publication a series of lesbian-themed nudes Williams had posed for when she was younger. After resigning she files a $500 million lawsuit against Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione but later drops the suit.
July 22
1992—Cocaine Baron Escapes Prison
Pablo Emilio Escobar Gaviria, imprisoned leader of the Medellin drug cartel, escapes from a posh Colombian jail known as La Catedral after he learns authorities intend to move him to a real prison. His taste of freedom doesn't last—he's killed in a shootout a year-and-a-half later.
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