book cover of Strange Embrace
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Strange Embrace

(Broadway Can Be Murder)
(Book 19 in the Classic Crime Library series)
A novel by

STRANGE EMBRACE started out to be a novel based on Johnny Midnight, a TV series which everyone has long since forgotten.

Except, of course, that nothing manages to be forgotten in the Internet Age. I, whose job it was to knock out 50,000 words of Johnny Midnightish prose and dialogue, had forgotten when it ran and who was in it, but Google took no time at all to remind me that the title role was played by Edmund O’Brien, and that the series ran during the first nine months of 1960. And if you want to know more about it, well, Google and Wikipedia are there to enlighten you.

I was in New York, newly married, living at 110 West 69th Street. I was writing short stories for crime fiction magazines, erotic novels for Midwood and Nightstand, and fielding assignments that my agent steered in my direction. Two of these were from paperback publishers who had acquired the book rights to a TV drama and wanted to hire someone to write a book.

First up for me was a show called Markham, which starred Ray Milland. Belmont was to be the publisher, and I had to write the damn book twice. My first effort turned out to be too good to waste its fragrance on Belmont’s desert air, and my agent had me change the title and the names of the characters and sold the thing to Gold Medal. So I had to write it again, and I did, and they liked it okay and published it.

Next up was Beacon Books, with “Johnny Midnight” as both the book’s inspiration and its title. I wrote it, but by the time Beacon was preparing it for publication, the series had been canceled. The publisher saw no reason to pay a licensing fee for a moribund show, and accordingly changed names: Johnny Midnight became Johnny Lane, and his trusty servant morphed from Uki to Ito.

And Lawrence Block became Ben Christopher for the occasion. I don’t know what kept me from using my own name, the book was crime fiction rather than the erotica that seemed to call for a pen name, but I do remember that my great friend Donald E. Westlake had recently done some sort of tie-in novel and hung the name Ben Christopher on it, telling me it would be his pen name for tie-ins he was anxious to forget. I horned in on the name, and if Don found this irksome he kept it to himself.

Someone at Beacon picked the title. STRANGE EMBRACE. Well, there’s a lesbian element in the book, and I guess they wanted to play it up, and “strange” was a useful code word toward that end. I could call it something else now that I’m republishing it as part of my Classic Crime Library, but it’s had enough transformations over the years.

Ray Milland I should add, had no better luck than Edmund O’Brien; his show Markham was canceled after a single season. Belmont evidently didn’t get the news in time to act on it, and they dutifully published the book as Markham: The Case of the Pornographic Photos. When I okayed a reissue years later by another publisher I changed the title to You Could Call It Murder—and it’s available now with that title, in paperback or ebook, as Classic Crime Library #12. (And the book it was written to replace, which Gold Medal called Death Pulls a Doublecross, is now #13 in the Classic Crime Library with my original title restored: Coward’s Kiss.)

And here’s CCL #19, Strange Embrace. Enjoy it!

Genre: Mystery

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