One of my favorite things about Dick Tracy research is shining a light on lesser known film, radio and stories. Today I want to shine that spotlight on the Big Little Book, Dick Tracy Encounters Facey. Big Little Books began in 1932 and were published through 1950. After a seventeen year break, Whitman Publishing attempted to revive the series and produced 35 more books between 1967 and 1969. The first book of this new “2000” series was Dick Tracy Encounters Facey, the only Tracy story in the 35 book collection.
Like the BLB’s of earlier decades, the Facey book is small in size so that it can be easily handled by young readers. Selling for 39 cents, it was printed in three runs, each currently valued in the $4/$8/$16 range for Fair/Near Mint/Mint condition. This book is by far the most common Dick Tracy BLB to be found by collectors. Inside is a brand new ten chapter adventure, written by Paul S. Newman and copyrighted by the Chicago Tribune. Accompanying each page of the youth novel is a color Dick Tracy panel. The story itself is accurate to Gould’s 60’s era Tracy cast and has well done and accurate illustrations.
The case begins inside the Jeffers Jewlery store where a very generic looking man named Facey Fredericks quietly knocks out a jewelry clerk with a gas pen. Names in this book will follow this repetitive naming technique throughout and is mildly distracting. Facey hides the unconscious man and then visits the store bathroom to apply make-up to perfectly match the clerk. The store owner is showing a necklace to Mrs. Gould fails to notice the switch and treats the disguised man as his employee. The two return the Gould necklace to the vault where Facey uses a karate strike to subdue the jeweler and steal close to a million dollars in bling.
The poor unfortunate clerk, Bob Crockton is accused by the owner of the robbery and Dick Tracy and Sam Catchem handle the interrogation. The clerk requests and passes a lie detector test but because of an eye-witness is still booked for the crime. Tracy and Sam both believe there is more to the case, but Tracy plays his cards close to his chest and doesn’t voice to his suspicions to Chief Patton.
Police procedure seems to be followed fairly closely as Sam and Dick return to Jeffers that same day to check for fingerprints and recreate the crime. Meanwhile, Facey strikes again. This time the criminal poses as an investor seeking a loan, gases and then doubles the Metropolitan Bank president, J. Dillingworth. Forging the president’s signature on release papers, Facey and a masked accomplice steal an armored car with $1.2 million in cash.
Dick and Sam note the case similarities and investigate the bank site and while they soon determine the bank president’s signature is a forgery, they find no other clues. Despite federal pressure on Chief Patton to book Dillingworth, the president is released and we move on to Facey’s activities. The make-up artist and a trio of mobsters are dividing their ill-gotten loot and planning their next crime. Showing us Facey’s dealings with the mob reveal his motives (money) but are perhaps detrimental to the story as there is very little mystery as to Facey’s methods, associates and capabilities.
The loot divided, Facey retires for the day and realizes in horror that he left his gas pen on the bank president’s desk. Knowing it contained his prints, he decides to return for it the next day, making himself up as Dillingworth and entering the bank just after the president leaves for lunch the next day. Mr. Fredericks quickly finds his pen among the other pens on Dillingworth’s desk but is surprised by the lobby guard who noticed the change in suit colors. Facey attempts to use his pen but the security guard avoids the gas and the two wrestle for a drawn pistol which discharges into the guard. After the noisy fight, Facey escapes out the office fire escape and the guards only words before falling unconscious are, “It was Dillingworth.”
The bank president is arrested and Tracy and Sam escalate their detective work. Using an Ultraviolet Shadow Scope Lantern developed by Diet Smith, they reveal all the footprints on the carpet of Dillingworth’s office. Comparing those shoe patterns to all employes they find one extra set of shoe prints. Tracy calls Junior with his two-way wrist radio and asks the skilled police sketch artist to sketch what the shoe might have looked like. When Junior finishes they determine the villain was wearing shoes with specialized heels.
In a buffoon move a bit reminiscent of his earlier detective days, Chief Patton reveals to the press the shoe print clue after he gets tired of their hounding. Facey reads about this news in the late edition of the paper and arrives early at the station the next day disguised as Dick Tracy. He enters into the evidence room and removes everything that can implicate him. While not recognizing the disguise, Sam tries to stop his friend from removing evidence and is knocked unconscious by Facey.
With their evidence gone, Dick and Sam start over trying to identify their foe and reach out to Junior once again. Using each face the criminal has doubled, Junior sketches a guess as to what Facey looks like and with a few tweaks both Dillingworth and Crockton agree the drawing is accurate. Using Junior’s work, Tracy finds a movie mogul who recognizes the man and identifies him as Freddy “Facey” Fredericks, a man well-known for his make-up skills.
The unnamed gangsters who have previously hired Facey for his skills have big plans and the story approaches its climax. A city-greeter named David Davis is tranquilized at home and Facey doubles as the man so that the gang can kidnap Princess Faida, a young woman who comes from a generic oil rich country. The kidnapping is almost movie worthy, armored cars crashing into police escorts, gun battles and a surprise gunman (Facey) in the limousine. One would think the gang could have come up with a better plan, but this was more exciting to be sure.
The gang demands a $5 million dollar ransom from the foreign country, deeply embarrassing the United States and Tracy’s team turn David Davis’s home upside down searching for evidence. They find sand with a high silicon concentration on the carpet and determine this sand matches that of sand in Crator Canyon outside of town.
Still, with a high-value hostage the police can’t risk a raid and instead Tracy and Sam parachute down into the Canyon the next night. Together they find a large cavern in the canyon, well lit with a dozen armed men inside. Tracy we are surprised to learn, has arrived disguised as Facey Fredericks and casually walks into the cavern. Luckily for Tracy, his double is not in the cave and the gang members fall for his impersonation and ask him to help get the defiant Princess Faida to eat something.
Tracy approaches the princess, whispers his identity and begins to move her towards the exit when the real Facey arrives. Tracy thinks fast and declares the newcomer an impostor. A dozen men swarm Facey and Dick and Faida escape out of the cave and race towards a hovering police helicopter. Sam covers their escape with a smoke bomb and trades fire with the gang members before the escaping trio are lifted away. With the hostage safe, the main body of the police force roll in, exchange fire and tear gas the canyon. When the smoke clears, the gang is arrested and Facey is not to be found. This causes a small amount of police concern until Tracy uses a steam bath to reveal that Facey has disguised himself as a gang member to escape identification. With that, the case is closed.
I must say I enjoyed Dick Tracy Encounters Facey more than I thought I would. It easily surpasses two Big Little Books, Voodoo Island and Ghost Ship, which I have previously reviewed. The historian in me appreciated that the author (Paul Newman) was identified on the title page and he seems to have done an acceptable job using police procedure and terms cirque 1967. It included most major characters from the Dick Tracy comic strip in the roles they held at the time, with the noted exception of any member of the female persuasion. There are no mentions made to Tess, Lizz or Moon Maid who was also active in 1967. Moon Maid’s science fiction themes would of course not fit with this type of story but Lizz could have made a useful addition. The book is not an adult book of course, it was obviously written for a juvenile reader and focuses more on action and events than actual dialog, a style I’ve seem before in youth books.
I liked Facey Fredericks as a multi-talented foe who seemed skilled enough to evade capture for the duration of the book. Facey’s impersonation powers were more believable than other doppelgänger creations, like Putty Puss. The story could have done with a good final boss fight between Tracy and the karate trained Facey and the final confrontation felt rushed with to much of the story spent on Facey’s various crimes. As I’ve said before, this is the easiest of the Dick Tracy BLB’s to find. My wife has seen random copies in an antique store and they cheaply available on either eBay or Amazon.
Until next time,
Jeremy @ the Depot