With so many interesting characters floating through California’s literary past, it’s at least curious that so much attention is being given to those from pulp fiction. You can understand the attraction of the Continental Op and Philip Marlowe -- good writing by famous authors. But what can we say for the Domino Lady? She shows up in only six stories, all published in 1936. The true identity of her nominal creator, Lars Anderson, is unknown. And she’s rendered in a subdued version of the saucy style, known more for its interest in clothing and anatomy than plot and characterization. Yet in the past decade not only have tales of the Domino Lady been collected and reprinted in this handsome book (top cover), but she’s been featured in a collection of new stories and inspired a comic book series.
Domino Lady: The Complete Collection by Lars Anderson. Vanguard Productions (2004), 111 pp.
The book contains all the original stories, the first five from Saucy Romantic Adventures, the sixth from Mystery Adventure Magazine (bottom cover). In addition, there are new illustrations and a new story by Jim Steranko and some short background essays. The stories run roughly from 10,000 to 20,000 words. Three are set in Los Angeles, two in San Francisco, and one on the high seas. Since the protagonist, Ellen Patrick, is a cat burglar, all the stories have descriptions of her crimes. There’s little violence in the early stories; the last and longest one, however, includes two shootings and a neck slashing. Although Ellen has a love interest in each episode (and seems ready to get something going), the stories contain no explicit sex scenes.
Clearly, the main appeal of the stories lies in the character of Ellen Patrick, the proto-feminist action hero who makes her living as a thief. As might be expected of any woman in Saucy Romantic Adventures, she’s beautiful, has a great body, and spends much of her time a flimsy outfit. Her work uniform consists of a backless sheath dress (sometimes black, sometimes white) with a plunging neckline, a cape of the other color, and a small black domino mask. She makes up for the non-functional ensemble with advantageous personality traits. She’s bold, clever, determined and decisive. Ellen dons her disguise and springs into action for reasons both expected -- to bring down the political machine that murdered her father, to help friends who need something stolen, to punish selfish rich people by redistributing their money to charities -- and a bit offbeat -- to satisfy her craving for adventure, to acquire enough cash to maintain her place among L. A.’s social elite. The stories may be tame by modern standards, but it’s easy to see why Domino Lady herself can still stir the imaginations of readers today.