Sunday, November 11, 2018

PaperBack: “Die on Easy Street”

Part of a series honoring the late author and blogger Bill Crider.

Die on Easy Street, by James Howard (Popular Library/Eagle, 1957). Cover illustration by Raymond Johnson.

When I last wrote about author Howard, in relation to his 1955 novel, Murder Takes a Wife, I noted that I’d had scant success finding background information on the author (who also published as  “James A. Howard” and under the pseudonym Laine Fisher). Today, though, while searching the Internet, I came across a news service clipping that appeared in the February 26, 1956, edition of a Lima, Ohio, newspaper called The Lima News. It reads as follows:
James Howard, a University of California at Los Angeles graduate student, has a “novel” way of working his way through college. He writes them—novels, that is.

Howard, while working toward a Ph.D. in psychology, has found time to write four mystery novels, of which the first two have sold more than 625,000 copies. The third is in press, and he recently completed the fourth which he hopes will sell equally as well.

Howard sold his first story to [a] pulp magazine named “Black Mask” when he was in high school. He later became a reporter on the Peoria, Illinois, “Star.”

Howard, who has been a magnetic crane operator, a college professor, taxi driver, professional baseball player, night club entertainer, radio advertising salesman and a pilot during World War II, says that there is some connection between his study of psychology and his renewed success as a writer.

The young graduate declared:

“I took up writing again as a sort of self-administrated psychotherapy. At the time I was serving a psychological internship at the West Los Angeles Veterans Administration Hospital. After listening to other people’s troubles all day, I would come home at night all tensed up. I began writing to work off the steam.”

In general, Howard’s work follows the cult of violence established by Mickey Spillane. Howard’s novels center around a character named Steve Ashe, an itinerant newspaper man. However, he points out that his Ashe has never been as brutal as Spillane’s Mike Hammer.

Howard holds a membership card in the Mystery Writers of America Assn. He was tapped for this honor after publication of his first book.

Howard says that he is like Steve Ashe. “I’m inclined to be a bit itinerant myself.”
According to Pulp International, Howard’s first Steve Ashe novel was I Like It Tough (1955). However, that may be wrong, for as the same blog mentions in a later post, Howard had produced a previous entry in the series, 1954’s I’ll Get You Yet. The third Ashe book appears to be Blow Out My Torch (1956), with Die on Easy Street as the fourth.

It’s frustrating that I cannot find a list anywhere—not in my many crime-fiction reference books or online—of Howard’s novels in the order of their publication. But I did come across an interesting item in the 1956-1957 Register of University of California students, mentioning that a psychology student named James Arch Howard, from Fostoria, Ohio, was writing his doctoral thesis on “Violence in mystery fiction as an outlet for the aggressive tendencies of the authors.” Could this have been the same guy? My investigation continues …

FOLLOW-UP: After I posted this piece, Randal S. Brandt, a librarian at the University of California, Berkeley’s Bancroft Library, kindly e-mailed me a list of James Howard’s mysteries, taken from Allen Hubin’s Crime Fiction IV: A Comprehensive Bibliography, 1749-2000 (2005 edition) on CD-ROM. Hubin’s entry reads:
HOWARD, JAMES A(rch) (1922-2000); see pseudonym
Laine Fisher (books)

• I’ll Get You Yet (n.) Popular Library 1954 [Steve Ashe]
I Like It Tough (n.) Popular Library 1955 [Steve Ashe; Colorado]
• Blow Out My Torch (n.) Popular Library 1956 [Steve Ashe]
• Die on Easy Street (n.) Popular Library 1957 [Steve Ashe; Los Angeles, CA]
• Murder Takes a Wife (n.) Dutton 1958 [Texas]
• Murder in Mind (n.) Dutton 1960 [California]
• The Bullet-Proof Martyr (n.) Dutton 1961 [Illinois]
• Death Audit (n.) Raven 1981 [California]
• Friday Is a Killing Day (n.) Raven 1981

FISHER, LAINE; pseudonym of James A. Howard
(1922-2000) (books)

• Fare Prey (n.) Ace 1959 [Los Angeles, CA; Train]
Brandt adds, “I think it is safe to say that the James Arch Howard you found in the UC Register is your guy.” Hurrah!


Rick Robinson said...

Fascinating. Have you read any of these books?

J. Kingston Pierce said...

Not yet, but I hope to have the opportunity to read one or two of Howard's books soon. I'm interested in crime novels starring reporters.


Anonymous said...

I took several psychology courses from Dr. James Howard -- starting in 1967 -- from him at San Diego State; he taught several estension classes. He mentioned, as an aside, that he was a published mystery writer. However, the books he mentioned were out-of-print and I was never able to find them until the Internet came along.

Doc Howard was an amazing professor (he could quote Shakespeare at the drop of a hat) and entralled his students with his stories as a crime reporter mystery writer. He was one of the most brilliant men I've ever met; yet, down to earth and very kind hearted. He also wrote several non-fiction works, one of the about his most notable psychiatric patients -- The Ego Mill.

When I knew him, he had a part time pscyhology practice, worked at the Mesa Vista Clinic and did consulting for the California Dept. of Rehabilitation. In his spare time, he was building an addition to his house. He was a One!