‘PHANTOM DETECTIVE’ BATTLES ‘NASTY GNOMES’

When last we met up with the Phantom Detective, he was serving up rough
justice in Redlands, Colton, San Bernardino and other locales in the
Inland Empire.

The action unfolded in “The Phantom’s Phantom,” a 2007 novel by
Robert Reginald, the pen name of Michael Burgess, who is librarian
emeritus at Cal State San Bernardino and a longtime friend of mine.

Now the Phantom Detective is back in a follow-up novel titled
“The Nasty Gnomes.” The story opens in Redlands, but the setting shifts
to New York City, where our hero is summoned to deal with a wave of
pint-sized troublemakers who spill out of the city’s sewers.

“This story is considerably darker, so I wanted a grittier
setting,” Burgess told me. “You can’t get any grittier than New York.”

Burgess is author of many novels and more than 100 works of
nonfiction, biography, bibliography and literary criticism. His latest
book is a sequel to a sequel of sorts.

The original Phantom Detective was the fictional hero of a
series of pulp mystery novels that were all the rage starting in the
1930s, before Burgess was born.

The Phantom Detective series (Thrilling Publications,
1933-1953) included 170 titles written by various writers, usually under
the pen name Robert Wallace. The tales, with outlandish


Advertisement

titles
like “Servants of Satan” and “The Black Ball of Death,” chronicled the
exploits of Richard Curtis Van Loan, a wealthy New York socialite by day
and masked crimefighter by night.

Now Burgess has revived the character, penning the first Phantom
Detective novels in more than a half-century. In his first, “The
Phantom’s Phantom,” set in the year 1953, Van Loan has retired, but he
is called back to active duty when his mentor meets an untimely end in
Redlands.

Van Loan not only solves the crime but falls in love with the
Inland Empire. He decides to stay and re-establish his detective agency
here.

In the new novel, though, Van Loan is compelled to return to
New York to battle the mysterious Nasty Gnomes who are terrorizing the
city. The tiny bad guys even kidnap Van Loan’s father-in-law, the former
police commissioner.

Burgess tells me he already is at work on a third Phantom
title, “The Zero Zombies,” and local readers can rejoice. The action,
Burgess says, will return “at least partly” to the Inland Empire.

Meanwhile, “The Nasty Gnomes” (Wildside Press, $15) can be
ordered at local bookstores or from online booksellers including
amazon.com.