Stark House’s anthology The Best of Manhunt celebrates the crime fiction magazine that replaced Black Mask and dominated the 1950s. Lawrence Block’s “Foreword” relates the circumstances that made Block a writer and how he got his first story published in Manhunt. Jeff Vorzimmer provides a detailed history of Manhunt with all its quirky aspects. Lawrence Block mentions that he consider’s Evan Hunter’s “The Last Spin” to be “a master class in the short story.” And, Block’s right!

Bill Crider’s favorite writer was Harry Whittington whose “Night of Crisis”–a story about a man who witnesses a murder and is then hunted by the killer–will have you on the edge of your seat. The Best of Manhunt collects 39 stories by the top genre writers of that era: Mickey Spillane, Fletcher Flora, David Goodis, Fredric Brown, John D. MacDonald, Gil Brewer, Donald E. Westlake, Richard S. Prather, Harlan Ellison, and Helen Nielsen.

For 14 years, 1952 to 1967, Manhunt published the best crime fiction in the United States. This excellent volume collects several of those classic Manhunter stories with their suspense, thrills, and menace. This wonderful anthology is the best anthology of the year! GRADE: A
Foreword / Lawrence Block — 3
The story selection / Jeff Vorzimmer — 6
An introduction to the tortured history of Manhunt / Jeff Vorzimmer — 7
Introduction from The best from Manhunt / Scott & Sidney Meredith — 16
On the sidewalk, bleeding / Evan Hunter — 19
Mugger murder / Richard Deming — 25
Decision / Helen Nielsen — 32
The collector comes after payday / Fletcher Flora — 42
Try it my way / Jack Ritchie — 55
Movie night / Robert Turner — 61
In memory of Judith Courtright / Erskine Caldwell — 68
Day’s work / Jonathan Lord — 75
The scrapbook / Jonathan Craig — 78
Quiet day in the county jail / Craig Rice — 85
The set-up / Sam Cobb — 95
The double take / Richard S. Prather — 98
The man who found the money / James E. Cronin — 122
Self-defense / Harold Q. Masur — 128
Bad word / David Alexander — 140
Return engagement / Frank Kane — 149
Graveyard shift / Steve Frazee — 166
The little lamb / Fredric Brown — 176
The girl behind the hedge / Mickey Spillane — 185
Professional man / David Goodis — 193
The quiet room / Jonathan Craig — 212
Pistol / Hal Ellson — 219
Hit and run / Richard Deming — 229
The killer / John D. MacDonald — 265
The day it began again / Fletcher Flora — 276
Moonshine / Gil Brewer — 282
Rat hater / Harlan Ellison — 290
The last spin / Evan Hunter — 299
Night of crisis / Harry Whittington — 306
Pigeon in an iron lung / Talmage Powell — 320
Cop for a day / Henry Slesar — 327
Somebody’s going to die / Talmage Powell — 332
Stranger in the house / Theodore Pratt — 341
Enough rope for two / Clark Howard — 345
Body on a white carpet / Al James — 355
A piece of ground / Helen Nielsen — 361
Say a prayer for the guy / Nelson Algren — 369
An empty threat / Donald E. Westlake — 373
Frozen stiff / Lawrence Block — 377
Afterword: The graveyard rats / Barry N. Malzberg — 383

34 thoughts on “FRIDAY’S FORGOTTEN BOOKS #567: THE BEST OF MANHUNT Edited by Jeff Vorzimmer

  1. wolf

    That was before my time …
    The America House near the university didn’t have that kind of magazine.
    The pictures remind me of the Carter Brown books, titillating women … 🙂
    Interesting for me:
    Saw several SF authors in that list – did they start with that kind of story?
    Brown, Malzberg, Ellison …

    1. george Post author

      Wolf, yes, those SF writers you recognize also wrote crime stories for magazines like MANHUNT. The 1950s were the Gold Age of digest fiction magazines…television killed the market in the 1960s.

      1. Todd Mason

        They didn’t Start with crime fiction, but certainly Fredric Brown wrote as much CF as he ever did fantastic fiction, Harlan Ellison and Barry Malzberg had always been likely in their career to write at least some, and not infrequently notable, CF. Malzberg started as a playwright, but had more professional success early on in SF and erotica; Ellison wrote almost as much CF as he did speculative fiction early on, and his first –and nearly only–novels were crime fiction or slightly fictionalized autobiographical accounts (WEB OF THE CITY, SPIDER KISS [aka ROCKABILLY], MEMOS FROM PURGATORY).

      2. george Post author

        Todd, I think Brown, Ellison, Salzburg, Westlake, and Block simply wrote for the markets that were receptive to their stories. Plus, as Jeff Vorzimmer points out in his detailed INTRODUCTION, MANHUNT paid pretty well compared to other magazines of the time.

      3. Todd Mason

        George, the digests did pretty well till the collapse of Publishers Clearing House…though Davis Publications messed itself over with them to some extent, but mostly because of the failure of SYLVIA PORTER’S personal finance magazine from them in every way, after heavy investment.

        Another crushing blow for a lot of ’50s digests was the closure of American News Co. distributors. There were still a notable number of ’60s digests, but that winnowed out a Whole Lot of the marginal publishers.

      4. Todd Mason

        All of those writers loved crime fiction, though (your spell-checker decided there was No Malzberg….)…Westlake particularly was indeed happy about the reception his work received from CF editors at first.

        MANHUNT paid Real Well in 1953. By 1963, I suspect not so much.

  2. Michael Padgett

    I’ve had this for months and am slowly working my way through it, as I generally do with anthologies, reading a few stories between novels, and I’ve really liked the ones I’ve read so far. What puzzles me about “Manhunt” is why I never noticed it when I was regularly buying sf magazines in the mid fifties through the mid sixties. I mostly bought the magazines at a huge newstand, the kind that doesn’t seem to exist any more, and I’m sure they must have stocked the crime magazines. Guess I was just locked in on the sf mags. Anyway, I hope this is selling well enough for Stark House to do a volume two.

    1. george Post author

      Michael, one of my great regrets involves MANHUNT. When I was working on my PhD. in Madison, Wisconsin in 1977 I entered my favorite used bookstore and saw a stack of MANHUNTS that had just come in. Perhaps a dozen MANHUNTS–in pristine condition–sat there on the counter waiting to be purchased. I knew I didn’t have enough money with me so I ran to my bank and made a withdrawal (this was before ATMs!). But, by the time I returned to the used bookstore, someone had bought all the MANHUNTS! I kicked myself for not asking the owner to hold the MANHUNTS for me until I did my bank run.

      1. Jeff Meyerson

        That is a tragic story to any book collector! It happened to me more than once too. The worst was when the Strand got a whole pile of John Dickson Carr and Carter Dickson books, as well as John Rhodes. I was only able to buy a few of them. Sometimes I would try and hide the book I wanted behind others in hopes that no one would notice it until I got the money. I did find the occasional Manhunt in used bookstores in England, of all places, and always bought them when I did.

      2. george Post author

        Jeff, some bookstore owners would not “hold” books for any reason. Others would hold books for 24-hours. I didn’t carry around much cash in those days (or now!) so I was occasionally caught short when confronted by an expensive book or a bunch of MANHUNTS. Now, I just whip out my VISA.

  3. Jerry House

    I don’t remember ever seeing MANHUNT on the stands either, but I would have only been looking during its later years when the magazine took a sharp dive in appearance, quality, and (I presume) sales. My copies came from used book stores. I loved the issues from the Fifties and had a special fondness for stories by Evan Hunter in all his guises. Jonathan Craig’s “The Bobby-Soxer” from 1953 was one story that has stayed with me.

    1. george Post author

      Jerry, I found some MANHUNTs in used bookstores, too. But, they were not plentiful like some SF magazines were. Like you, I loved Evan Hunter’s short stories under all his pseudonyms. Great writer!

    2. Todd Mason

      It was rather sad seeing the slightly shabby mid-’60s issues still carry the banner of THE WORLD’S BEST SELLING MYSTERY MAGAZINE…that sort of thing usually doesn’t fall to a slightly irregular bimonthly schedule, when EQMM, AHMM, and MSMM are cheerfully plugging along as clockwork monthlies.

      1. george Post author

        Todd, exactly! MANHUNT was once the World’s Best Selling Mystery Magazine, but as soon as it hit the 1960s it was on a slippy slope.

  4. Jeff Meyerson

    I agree. Just finished it a couple of weeks ago. I’ve read the two Hunter stories before, a couple of times each, but never mind revisiting them. But for me the must-read story – if you can take it dark – was Gil Brewer’s “Moonshine,” which I have not been able to forget since I read his Stark House collection (REDHEADS DIE QUICKLY) a few years ago. Man, that is dark!

  5. Rick Robinson

    I have this too, and have been – very slowly – working my way through it. I’m maybe a third through. There just always seems to be something else to pick up and read.

    I never saw an issue of this on the magazine racks at liquor stores or markets, which were the only places I saw magazines. There were no newsstands in southern California where I was growing up. I do remember seeing Argosy in it’s “sweat mag” days, but that was it. Mostly it was Post, Life, Redbook, Good Housekeeping and the like.

    Not liking dark/grim/gritty that much, maybe I should skip “Moonshine”?

  6. Todd Mason

    “For 14 years, 1952 to 1967, Manhunt published the best crime fiction in the United States.”

    Well, for about five or six years, MANHUNT published some of the best short fiction in the field, though the default feel of the magazine was a bit nihilistic, sometimes too-easily nihilistic, and after the Scott Meredith Literary Agency stepped back from the magazine, from the late ’50s onward, it was a fitfully good shadow of what it had been. But it sure did publish some of the best writers in the field in its glory days, and it did run longer, perhaps almost on inertia by the end, than all but three of the important digests in the US…two of them still with us.

      1. george Post author

        Todd, dire captures the dilemma of many of these magazines at the end of the 1950s and beginning of the 1960s. Television was starting to dominate leisure time and reading started to plummet. Sales of magazines dipped and the slide to bankruptcy for many publishing firms accelerated.

      2. Todd Mason

        Well, again, EQMM was still selling 100K or so copies an issue in 1960, a number they might consider killing for these days, when 20K is an excellent number. And some of the digests sell just a bit better than the most popular little magazines (though usually produced less expensively). ANALOG still had Conde Nast clout behind it, if little interest in it. The ANC collapse had cleared most of the field, and even the struggling distributors could pick and choose…when Acme sold off THE MAGAZINE OF HORROR and its stablemates, the distributor said, Bye, so the line folded in ’71.

        Nowadays, with the aging and attrition of the audience that looks to paper magazines for anything, much less fiction, and the contraction of newsstands, I’d suggest television doesn’t deserve so much of the blame…it’s well back in the pack…

      1. Todd Mason

        Under different “quietly” dependent not-quite-subsidiaries. HTICHCOCK’S HSM Publications I think took off on its own in a way that MANHUNT’s Flying Eagle didn’t, certainly not in terms of sustained success.

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