‘PHANTOM DETECTIVE’ RETURNS TO RETRO INLAND EMPIRE

He’s a man of the world. He’s seen it all.

Done it all.

Finally, though, he discovers the one place on Earth that
speaks to his soul, and he knows immediately that this is where he will
settle down.

Ahhh, the Inland Empire.

“It was another glorious, gorgeous day in Southern California,
with a light Santa Ana breeze blowing down from the San Bernardino
Mountains, warming everything with its arid, zephyr-like breath. When we
stepped outside, the fresh air and the bright sunshine boosted both our
energy and our spirits.”

Meet the Phantom Detective. He’s the fictional hero of a
series of pulp mystery stories that were all the rage in the ’30s, ’40s
and ’50s.

Now, he’s back. He makes his return in “The Phantom’s Phantom,” the first Phantom Detective novel in more than 50 years.

The story is set almost entirely in San Bernardino, Colton and Redlands.

The setting, it turns out, is no mystery. The author of “The
Phantom’s Phantom” is Robert Reginald, the pen name of Michael Burgess,
longtime San Bernardino resident and librarian emeritus at Cal State San
Bernardino.

“I picked the Inland Empire as the setting for the book,”
Burgess said, “both because that’s what I know and could easily
research, and also because most of the original pulp detectives operated
within an Eastern metropolitan environment: dank, dark, dirty and
rather depressing. I thought the sunnier environment of Southern
California


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provided a nice counterpoint to the story and its characters.”

Burgess is to the writing game what the Phantom Detective is to the sleuthing game: a pro’s pro.

“The Phantom’s Phantom” is his 112th published book, and he
has many others in the works. He also is the author of 13,000 short
pieces.

His canon includes the “Nova Europa” fantasy trilogy, the
“Invasion!” science fiction trilogy and many other novels, as well as
works of nonfiction, biography, bibliography and literary criticism.

How he came to inherit the Phantom Detective franchise is itself a worthy tale.

“In the fall of 2005,” he said, “I had a series of
conversations with John Betancourt, publisher of Wildside Press,
regarding the line of pulp novel reprints they’d recently started. This
particular program was going well for them, and he was receptive to my
idea of penning an original continuation of one of the series. He
suggested the Phantom Detective. I wrote a brief proposal, which he
approved.”

The original Phantom Detective series (Thrilling Publications,
1933-1953) included 170 titles written by various authors, usually
under the pen name Robert Wallace. The tales, with sensational titles
like “Servants of Satan” and “The Black Ball of Death,” chronicled the
fictional adventures of Richard Curtis Van Loan, a wealthy New York
socialite by day and a masked crimefighter by night.

In the new book, set in 1953, Van Loan has retired, but he is
summoned back into action when his longtime friend and mentor, Frank
Havens, meets an untimely end in Redlands.

Van Loan travels cross-country to the Inland Empire, where he
proceeds not only to solve the crime, but to fall in love with the
place.

“I was really enjoying the balmy climate and the clear air of
Southern California,” Van Loan says, as the story nears its end. “I
could see that this area would be the next logical development of the
huge metropolis that was being created by the expansion of Los Angeles
out into the suburbs. The land here was very cheap now, but it wouldn’t
stay that way. A few judicious investments during the next few years
would pay dividends for decades to come, and would be more than
sufficient to establish The Phantom Detective Agency as a going concern
into the indefinite future.”

Oh, yes, there is “sequel” written all over this book. In
fact, Burgess already is banging out the first of them (working title:
“The Gnasty Gnomes”).

“The Phantom’s Phantom” (Wildside Press, $15), available
through Amazon.com and other booksellers, is a wildly entertaining romp
of a read. There are thrills, chills and chuckles, too.

It’s especially fun for Inland Empire readers. Every page is splashed with vintage local color.

The old Arrowhead Springs Hotel, the San Bernardino County
Court House, area rail stations and landmark restaurants are all on the
tour. We visit a mid-century Redlands mansion, a nudist colony in the
Cajon Pass and even a whorehouse on San Bernardino’s D Street.

We also meet no end of oddball characters, including one fellow who claims to be Emperor of the Inland Empire.

Oddball, indeed.