Friday, August 14, 2015

FFB: The Case of the Nervous Nude -- Jonathan Craig

Once upon a time, kiddies, there was a popular radio show called Dragnet.  It moved to television and became equally popular there.  A couple of novelizations appeared, but they weren't nearly as popular as the shows on radio and TV.  Crime writers also tried to capture something of the feel of the show in their own novels, and two of the best were Ed McBain (Evan Hunter), with his books about the 87th Precinct, and Jonathan Craig (Frank R. Smith), who wrote about the 6th Precinct.  We all know whose books were the most popular.  I love McBain's books, and I've mentioned them in my own work a number of times.  But I'm here to tell you that if you're looking for books that come the closest to capturing the Dragnet feeling in prose, Jonathan Craig is your man.  I've liked his books since reading the Gold Medal originals long ago, and in re-reading The Case of the Nervous Nude, I found that I still liked them just as much.

What inspired the reread was an eBay purchase.  While looking at the site not long ago, I saw a collection of 8 of Craig's books that had been reprinted by Belmont-Tower in the middle 1970s.  They were unread.  The batch was under $10, postage paid.  Now as I said, I have the Gold Medal editions.  I even have some of the BT editions.  But nobody was bidding on these great books.  I felt they needed a good home, and I was just the guy to give it to them.  And when I got them, I thought I should read one.

Craig's approach was a lot different from McBain's.  Whereas McBain set his novels in a fictional city (that we all knew was New York), Craig used the actual city.  Whereas McBain wanted to use the squad of different characters and have different protagonists now and then, Craig used Pete Selby as his first-person narrator.  Selby has a partner named Stan Rayder, and there are other recurring characters, but Selby is always the focus.  The emphasis on police procedure is heavy, just as it is on Dragnet, and the dialog between Selby and the other characters could often have been inserted in Dragnet without anybody knowing it hadn't been written for the show.  Or so it seems to me.

A big difference in Craig's books and Dragnet is the emphasis on sex.  Everything in the Selby stories seems connected to sex, of all kinds.  And in this particular book leprosy even plays a part.  So that makes two crime novels that I know of that bring leprosy into the story, Richard Sale's Lazarus #7 being the other.

In this story, Selby and Rayder see a naked woman on the street, but she disappears before they can catch up to her.  This leads to their discovery of a dead man, murdered by an unusual method.  That discovery leads to as sleazy a bunch of characters as you're ever likely to encounter in a novel.  I won't say anything about them other than to mention that if you think closing abortion clinics is going to stop abortions, then you don't remember the 1950s.

Let me give you a little sample of the dialogue so you can judge for yourself if it has that Dragnet feel, assuming you remember that show:

I reached for the knob, but she beat me to it.

"Thank you," I said.
"It's what I get paid for," she said. 
"How about eavesdropping? You get paid for that, too?"
"Only cops get paid for that. I do it for free."
"You got any free ideas about Nancy?"
"Sure I got ideas. You want one?"
"Why not?"
"I figure she shacked up with some guy, and now she's afraid to come home."
"Any man in particular?"
"Sure. This Greer you were jawing about.  Who else?"

I could just quote the whole book.  It's great stuff.  If you haven't read any books in the series, I recommend them all highly.


August West said...

Craig had the Midas touch when he was hitting the typewriter. I'm with you on the Selby/Rayder series. Two of my favorite non-series novels are "Come Night, Come Evil" about a slime-ball dirty parole officer and "Alley Girl" (which Berkley released later as "Renegade Cop.") This happens to be one of the best Rogue Cop novels in print. Good post Bill.

Jeff Meyerson said...

I remember one set in Greenwich Village, but maybe they all were. Isn't that where the Sixth Precinct is located? I see one of the Gold Medals and a couple of the Belmonts on the shelf unread, so maybe I should read another.


Kevin R. Tipple said...

Never have read these, but I have seen Dragnet. Don't mind me.....I forgot my place. Back to the kid's table.

Mel Odom said...

Yep, I remember these!

George said...

What a great score! I would have bought those books if I had known about them!

Todd Mason said...

When DRAGNET met MANHUNT...or, more explicitly, Spillane. That *must've* seemed about the most winning formula imaginable at the time. I've read some of "Craig"'s fiction and liked's a pity he took a byline already in use by an EC Comics artist. Excellent write-up, Bill...I think I'll need to read this, just to see how the leprosy/sex angle raises its ugly...head.

Todd Mason said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Todd Mason said...

And, as it turns out, there are seven million different Jonathan Craigs on the Naked Web...these have been just two of them...

Unknown said...

Todd, you can pick up any of the 6th Precinct books and find lots of different varieties of sex as part of the plot.

Don Coffin said...

Lots of them are also available for cheap ($0.99) as ebooks.

Unknown said...

A steal at that price.

Kevin R. Tipple said...

Not this one. I can't find any other 6th precinct ones at 99 cents either though I do see a few other novels of his listed at 99 cents,.