CUNNINGHAM, E. V. Pseudonym for Howard (Melvin) Fast; also writes as Walter Ericson. American. Born in New York City, 11 November 1914. Educated at George Washington High School, and the National Academy of Design, New York. Served with the Office of War Information, 1942-43, and the Army Film Project, 1944. Married Bette Cohen in 1937; two children. War Correspondent in the Far East for Esquire and Coronet magazines, New York, 1945. Taught at Indiana University, Bloomington, Summer 1947. Imprisoned for contempt of Congress, 1947. Founder of the World Peace Movement, and member of the World Peace Council, 1950-55. Operated Blue Heron Press, New York, 1952-57. Currently, Member of The Fellowship for Reconciliation. American-Labor Party candidate for Congress for the 23rd District of New York, 1952. Recipient: Bread Loaf Writers Conference Award, 1933; Schomburg Race Relations Award, 1944; Newspaper Guild Award, 1947; Jewish Book Council of America Award, 1948; Stalin International Peace Prize (now Soviet International Peace Prize), 1954; Screenwriters Award, 1960; National Association of Independent Schools Award, 1962. Agent: Paul Reynolds Inc., 599 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York 10017. Address: 1401 Laurel Way, Beverly Hills, California 90210, U.S.A.|
[List of works (as Cunningham and Fast)]
Between 1960 and 1968, E. V. Cunningham produced eleven mystery novels, each with the one-word title of its heroine's first name. These were followed by The Assassin Who Gave Up His Gun, then one last woman's mystery, Millie, before a new series was begun about Masao Masuto, a Japanese-American attached to the Beverly Hills Police Department. Cunningham's prolific and successful output is particularly impressive because he is actually Howard Fast, who has produced fifteen books under his own name during that same period of less than twenty years.
In the first few of his high-heeled thrillers, Cunningham's style resembled Ian Fleming's in some, and a cross between Dashiell Hammett's and Rex Stout's in others. The "given" conditions strained plausibility: in Sylvia a multi-millionaire hires a small-time investigator to find out, almost on the eve of the wedding, who his prospective bride really is; in Alice a stranger, just before jumping into the path of a subway train, slips a safe-deposit key into the narrator's pocket; Phyllis works the tired atom-bomb theme of guilt-ridden scientists and the desperate crisis of getting to the villain before he can blow up the world. In Sally a young woman, mistakenly told she has leukemia, hires a gunman to kill her without warning; when she discovers that she is really well, the chain of communication has been snapped and she is the unwilling prey in the "contract" she has purchased.
Cunningham's gimmick of building each novel around an "ordinary" woman violated both the private-eye tradition of male domination and the lesser genre of girl-detective. His women, usually the victims of bizarre situations, are pluckier, cleverer and more honest than the men they meet; perhaps by discovering deeper resources in themselves than they or others suspected, they foreshadowed the women's liberation novels of the 1960's. In about half of these thrillers (e.g., Penelope, Margie, Cynthia) the author's touch is light, with liberal use of "screwball comedy" heroines and situations reminiscent of the 1930's film comedies of Carole Lombard or Claudette Colbert. In others, such as Helen and Samantha, there is a somber, brooding quality in what are essentially mysteries of character and motivation rather than plot. These latter suggest the allegorical explorations of the "entertainments" of Graham Greene, a writer whom Cunningham has always admired. (Perhaps the most Greene-like of this author's mysteries, however, is Fallen Angel, written under the pseudonym of Walter Ericson.)
Nisei detective Masao Masuto first appeared as a character in Samantha and has "spun-off" into his own series. He is a Zen Buddhist (as is his creator), aloof in philosophy but socially involved as detective and family man. A karate expert, lover of roses, and possessor of caustic wit, Masuto moves coolly among the richly corrupt of Beverly Hills and Los Angeles. In The Case of the One-Penny Orange, he chases down the rare one-penny orange stamp that has occasioned murder, while in The Case of the Russian Diplomat an apparent drowning in the Beverly Glen hotel leads to a Russian diplomat, an East German spy, and Masuto's kidnapped daughter. In both, Masuto's personality and his relations with colleagues and family are as appealing as the plot; his Charlie Chan put-on before bigots is especially beguiling.