In the mid-fifties erstwhile novelist Sanford Aday and Universalist minister Wallace de Ortega Maxey arrived in Fresno to publish paperbacks with sexual themes. In the next few years they published some five dozen “sleaze” titles under the imprint of Fabian Books and began another series, Saber Books, which eventually totaled more than 200 titles. They soon got into trouble with the authorities and were finally convicted of mailing pornography in 1963. Embarrassing as it may be, Aday and Maxey were probably the most prolific publishers of fiction in California history.
Sex Gantlet to Murder by Mark Shane. Fabian Books (1955), 156 pp.
Ex-cop Tony Carter returns to Sacramento after three years in prison on a phony rape charge. He's still smarting from the betrayal of his girlfriend, Darlene, and the recalcitrance of the prison psychiatrist, Dr. Fleming, who is also Darlene's father-in-law. Before he can settle old scores, Tony witnesses a hit-and-run incident in which the beautiful Janet Paige is struck but not seriously injured. Seeking protection, she asks Tony to move into the old motel run by her aunt Millie. There he finds Janet's best friend, the oddly attractive Johnnie, as well as Dr. Fleming, now a sex researcher, and a couple residents with grievances against the doctor. Tony must make sense of the situation, including his own confused sexual needs.
It's possible to take some of this novel seriously. Like all of paperback sleaze, the book focuses on sex. But a few of its qualities are unusual. One of the characters is openly gay, one is muddled about her sexual preferences, and a third is seeking to change sexes. Even the protagonist (and first-person narrator) is confused about some of his sexual activities. The episodes are not described in detail but sexual slang is used that seldom appears in mainstream novels. Although the writing is sometimes stilted, the story itself holds together as well as the average mystery. The book, of course, is mostly trying to titillate. Readers seeking a sympathetic look at issues of gender identification will need to go elsewhere. Those who have wanted to venture into 1950s sleaze, however, might well start here.