Friday, October 31, 2008

Thin Air by Howard Browne

Thin Air by Howard Browne
Dell 894, Copyright 1954

"Our street was as black as an account executive's tie."

In 1954, three years before Howard Browne started his career as a television script writer, he wrote "Thin Air." It involves a theme that others have covered may times - a missing wife, with the husband being the main suspect. Of course Browne being no slouch of a writer, took it a step further and put together a sharp piece of crime literature, which starts in a sterile setting and then takes us down a bleak road of violent danger.

"It was no way to die. Her face was bloated and the wrong color, her mouth wide and strained far back, her tongue enormous. Her eyes bulged out until they were no longer eyes but something out of the psychiatric ward at Bellevue."

Coryell finally pulls into his
Westchester County driveway after thirteen straight hours on the road from a Maine vacation. Sleeping in the back seat is his exhausted wife and three year old daughter. On arrival, his wife immediately leaves the car to open the house while Coryell gets his sleeping daughter out of the back. Once inside, Coryell can’t locate his wife. She has disappeared. After a frantic search, he combs the neighborhood streets with no luck. The police are notified and later a male neighbor that his wife knew is found unconscious, near death in the bushes. Suspicion quickly turns to Ames Coryell as a suspect in the assault on the neighbor and his wife’s disappearance. Feeling that the cops are inept, Coryell decides he must take action and get personally involved to find out what happen on that night.

What makes this missing persons story different than others is Coryell’s position as vice president of a major NYC advertising agency. The next morning he heads to work assembling all his business contacts, using their skills to construct a world-class campaign to get leads on his wife. He has some of the best marketers, commercial designers, and researchers at his disposal. He puts together his little private detective agency in one day and has his wife’s photo out in the streets, on radio and television in hours. Leads quickly come in and he personally investigates them, during which a couple of murders occur. At this point in the story, Coryell plays it like a hardboiled dick, hitting the streets with gun in hand and roughing it up with a few informants. Though an amateur, he’s no dummy – he finally pieces it together.

Howard Browne doesn’t hold anything back from the reader. The clues are there throughout the story, we just have to grab the right ones and place them accordingly. He sure had the wonderful talent of taking a storyline that has been covered before and building it into a dark, noir potboiler. The twist in using the advertising agency as a means to locate Coryell’s wife was surprisingly unique, even though I thought he got into a little too much detail on it's workings for my taste. But after Browne sails through that, he takes us on a hardboiled trail through shabby apartments, small-time hoods, a dark mysterious proprietor and finally to a hell of an ending. A first-rate mystery novel.

I’ll admit “Thin Air” is a bit far fetch and not his best novel, but Howard Browne’s writing is so good that anything he authored is well worth your time. In fact later when the author was working as a writer for television, he adapted this storyline for numerous television detective scripts. There was a high demand for his TV crime dramas, but he really excelled when writing mystery novels. His best work is undoubtedly the four detective novels, featuring Chicago P.I. Paul Pine. Definitely one of the best detective series ever written, all four novels are outstanding and they are personal favorites of mine.

Halo in Blood (1946, pseud. John Evans)
Halo for Satan (1948,
pseud. John Evans)
Halo in Brass (1949,
pseud. John Evans)
The Taste of Ashes (1957, Howard Browne)

And if you can find it, don’t miss the one Paul Pine short story that appeared
(under his pseud. John Evans) in the Feb. 1953 issue of Manhunt Detective Story, “So Dark for April.” In could be the best short story the prominent mystery magazine ever published.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Sands Of the Kalahari by William Mulvihill

The Sands of the Kalahari by William Mulvihill
HB ed., G.P. Putnam's Sons,
Copyright 1960

Take a plane crash in the remote reaches of the Kalahari desert and pit six people (five men and one woman) against each other, and you may have the best psychological survival novel since "Lord of the Flies."

"He found himself thinking of baboons constantly. A dead baboon was better than a live one. It was one less belly to fill. If all of them were dead there would be no competition for the meager food resources of the mountain. There was nothing he could do that was as important as killing baboons. The others could look for honey and lizards and melons. He would kill."

"The Sands of the Kalahari" throw the six strangers into an environment where for them the outside world has ceased. They are stripped bare "into the primitive," having to depend on their inner abilities and suspicious faith in their fellow man. Unable to unite to better the predicament, competition forces them to struggle for leadership, the meager food supplies, and the woman. Mulvihill provides no standout main character, instead all six play an equally important part in the story. The real protagonist is the harsh desert wasteland, an entity that we can't have sympathy for.

Survival is most important, so members cautiously align themselves. The girl, Grace Monckton, quickly attaches herself to O'Brien, the hunter of the group. Being a man of strength and instinct, O'Brien can provide and protect her from the others. Three venture (or are forced) out to trek through the desert to find salvation. Fate awaits them all. Grimmelmann, an old German war survivor, has desert living knowledge, but his turbulent conflicts with O'Brien come at a cost. Guilt and pity torment the failed pilot, Sturdevant. And possibly the most dramatic of them all is a black American scholar by the name of Jefferson Smith, who's black African history is slammed into him in this 20th century world. Last is Mike Bain, another American who is unprepared to meet the challenge and overcome his weakness in bravery.

Beside the struggles between themselves, they share the desert mountain area with a group of baboons, competing for the scarce available food. Eating baboon is a form of cannibalism to the group, so using them as a food source is out of the question. Instead O'Brien sets out to eliminate the primates. This changes the balance of things, because eons of evolution to adapt and endure make the baboons stronger than any rifle.

William Mulivhill's novel contains strong characters and a powerful survival narrative. Underneath it is a psychological thriller, where we wonder if you first have to be lost to find oneself. A fantastic ending, not one that the reader would expect. A novel that I thoroughly enjoyed. "The Sands of the Kalahari" was so successful for William Mulvihill, that all of his other novels were forever overshadowed by it.

"He found a place to sleep and lay looking up at the great sky. How far was this from a city with electric lights and automobiles? How many miles, how many years, how many centuries?"

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Star Trap by Robert Colby

The Star Trap by Robert Colby
Gold Medal 1043, Copyright 1960

Robert Colby was one of those authors that never got the fame and recognition that he deserved. His 1959 novel, “The Captain Must Die” was one of the first Gold Medal books that I ever read. I picked it up because I thought it was a war story, ‘course it turned out to be one of GM’s best novels - involving three men seeking violent revenge years after the war, towards a man who they thought wronged them. Two other Gold Medal entries from 1959, “Secret of the Second Door” and “The Deadly Desire” also captured the author’s ability to build a highly suspenseful noir story in just under 130 pages. All are quick page turners that will compel the reader to continue on until the end. The same could be said of Colby’s fourth Gold Medal novel “The Star Trap,” where after aiding a voluptuous beauty, a respectable young man gets caught in a dragnet of deception and murder.

She wore the same turquoise wool-knit suit in which I seen her last. And she managed to look just as beautiful in it, though her face was staining with tension. The sight of her gave me a moment of relief, disturbing the old longings. The feeling passed in an instant and I hated the bitch.

In the middle of the night, struggling B actor Glenn Harley gets a hysterical phone call from starlet Nancy Rhymer. She needs Harley to come over to her house immediately. Harley, who always has secretly longed for Nancy Rhymer, jumps out of bed and drives quickly to her home. Once there, he discovers she has knifed a semi-famous actor to death “in self defense” and needs Harley’s help to clean things up to protect her from scandal. His affection for the actress is too strong to refuse and he ends up burying the corpse along with it's belongings. Of course as he is digging the grave, we know he is actually digging himself deeper and deeper into a world of blackmail, disloyalty, and hunted persecution.

A few days later Nancy Rhymer flees from sight and Harley learns that the dead actor had $350,000 on him. The money belongs to a crooked independent film producer, who along with a couple of dirty cops, has been blackmailing Hollywood hotshots in a sex ring setup. Harley goes back to where he buried the man and finds the corpse gone. Suspecting that the Rhymer girl took the cash and is using him, he heads back to his apartment where the two dirty cops are waiting and play rough with him. Later, the two rogue cops conveniently find the dug up body in Harley’s car trunk. Thinking that he has the loot, the dirty cops pressure Harley to turn it over and if he does they will forget about finding the corpse. But he doesn't have it and escapes. This becomes a major headline story and now he is a fugitive, on the run for murder. Harley has to go it alone to get the evidence to clear his involvement and he does it by devising a sneaky little scheme.

Colby had a masterful way to developing a suspense filled plot, and doing it he created pockets of enriching text. It could be as simple as when Glenn Harley is describing his current position as an actor in the business, “I got parts. But I always felt they were handouts.” Or deeper, like his assertion of another actress who resorted to the casting-couch route, “She was one of the lost ones on the same road to oblivion all of us are traveling. But like so many escaping in the labyrinth of sensual amorality, she had more heart than guile, more warmth than a host of virtuous pretenders I have known.” Half the enjoyment of a Robert Colby story is the descriptive discourse between the protagonist and reader. And when he throws in an atmosphere of noir and unbridled tension, you have an exciting mystery/crime novel written by an author that will have you hunting down more of his work.

If you never read a Robert Colby novel, the Gold Medal books are the place to start. But don't overlook his other novels that were printed by many of the quality paperback publishers of the day. Even in the ACE Doubles, where many of their stories are below average for this genre, the four Colby novels are some of the best that the publishing company put out. And if you’re lucking enough to stumble on one of Robert Colby’s many short stories that appeared in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine in the 60s and 70s, I guarantee you will be rewarded if you check them out.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Whosis Kid by Dashiell Hammett

The Whosis Kid by Dashiell Hammett
Short Story, Copyright 1925
"The Return of the Continential OP"
Dell Mystery #154, Copyright 1945

"The idea in the detective business is to catch crooks, not to put on heroics."

This is definitely the rule that Dashiell Hammett's nameless, portly operative lives by. I honestly can say that I never read a Continental Op story that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy, and I believe they contain some of Hammett’s best writings. All were originally published in Black Mask Magazine between 1923 to 1930, and for seven solid years they became the standard for P.I. pulp stories. Scott D. Parker had a interesting posting on his excellent blog featuring the 1923 story “Bodies Piled Up,” which he found in a 2008 issue of EQMM. My favorite collection of the short stories is this paperback edition that Dell published in 1945. In it contains one of the Op’s best, “The Whosis Kid.”

"For myself, I counted on coming through all in one piece. Few men get killed. Most of those who meet sudden ends get themselves killed. I’ve had twenty years of experience at dodging that."

The Op starts his own case in this one, having seen the Whosis Kid on the San Francisco streets. The Kid is a name from the past, the Op knew of him as a punk criminal out of Boston. Following the Kid, he quickly concludes he’s up to no good. Our patient detective stakes out a few places, does a wonderful tail job and eventually gets involved in a sort of “car-jacking” - where a distraught foreign woman seeking safety, takes refuge through him. The Op convinces her to take him to her apartment where he hopes to find out what connection there is between the woman, the Whosis Kid, and a mysterious French man called Maurois. The Op knows the woman isn’t leveling with him, as he describes it: She was an actress. She was appealing, and pathetic, and anything else you like-including dangerous. Later the woman's “gorilla” man friend shows up and an entertaining fight erupts between him and the Op. Before you know it the French dude arrives packing heat and our detective devises a way to get the Kid to show up. There are plenty of guns in the room and all are pointing at the foreign woman and the Op, but he has all the key players together in one spot and this is where the detective excels. It’s all about stolen jewels with the three crooks trying to cross each other. The Op calmly waits it out, looking for his opportunity to bring the axe down. And Hammett masterfully delivers as usual, with an action filled ending and the woman having a similar fate as Brigid O'Shaughnessy had in The Maltese Falcon.

This one has always been my favorite Continental Op story. We get a bit of a history lesson on the acute detective's past, working in Boston, quitting as a detective to join up for the Great War, and then returning to the agency after the war. We learn he lived in Chicago, Buffalo and then settled in San Francisco. I found this story a fairly violent one for it’s time, the well described fist fight scene between the Op and the woman’s friend is a good example of that. Also there are plenty of guns blasting and the Kid gets pretty handy with his deadly knife. But it’s the way the Op cleverly gets them together and plays for time that makes this story shine. Plus even being a short pudgy fellow, he puts on some moves in the end, jumping around and plugging away with his revolver.

All five stories in this Dell paperback have the detective operating at peak form, and it contains his last case from 1930 called “Death & Company.” It’s a short work with the Operative a lot less active as in the other stories. My guess is that Hammett was winding down on the character, but it’s an excellent who-done–it. In the story the Old Man puts the Op on a kidnapping case and mysteriously the pickup money doesn’t get claimed. Infidelity is at play here and of course a murdered battered body gets stumbled upon. All I'll say is, the final Continental Op appearance is another good one.

The five pulp stories in "The Return of the Continental Op" are:

'The Whosis Kid" (1925)
"The Gutting of Couffignal" (1925)
"Death & Company" (1930)
"One Hour" (1924)
"The Tenth Clue" (1924)

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Mighty Blockhead by Frank Gruber

The Mighty Blockhead by Frank Gruber
Superior Reprint M655, Copyright 1941

The Johnny Fletcher - Sam Cragg "detective" novels by Frank Gruber may not be for everybody, but the series was popular enough to produce 14 books. For those who never heard of the two pals, Fletcher is the schemer, always coming up with a scam or two to put a few coins in their pockets. Cragg's the big lug, who gets to throw his muscle around, usually to protect Fletcher. At the start of most of the novels, the two are always on their last dime, planning a way to peddle copies of "Every Man A Samson." It's a how-to-book that Fletcher had printed and he looks for opportunities to pitch it (usually in NYC) with Cragg demonstrating his awesome strength. They usually get enough from that to get a diner meal in their bellies, but somehow a murder or two lands in their laps and that's when the adventure blooms.

Sam Cragg cut in sarcastically, "We're playing detective again. You know what that means; I get the hell knocked out of me and we wind up without a dime."

In this one, Fletcher and Cragg return to their favorite flophouse and find a body inside their trunk of books. Wanting no trouble, Fletcher has Cragg move the body, but they get tangled in the murder investigation. This one leads to a group of publishing people who are involved with a successful superhero pulp magazine/radio show titled, "The Blockhead." Johnny Fletcher smells money so he plays private detective, with Cragg ready to slap around anyone who gets in their way. The murdered man turns out to be a blackmailer and later the owner of the 'The Blockhead" series is found dead. The trail leads our two protagonists to Iowa, where they find the origin of "The Blockhead." The two get roughed up by some goons, but escape back to NYC with the evidence and a few bucks in their pockets. (Cragg had a run of luck at a roadhouse dice table) Fletcher wraps it up for the cops, who seem always to be one step behind. Our boys end up with smiles on their faces, with Fletcher chasing a girl and a wad of cash for the two to throw around.

If you like your mysteries tongue-in-cheek, this is good enjoyable stuff. Plenty of wise cracking and mild humor. Frank Gruber was an accomplished writer and he shines in this series. It's a decent mystery, with a great snapshot of pre-war NYC. Speeding cabs, obnoxious hotel managers, saps to the noggin' and two entertaining, difficult to handle amateur P.I. fellas-expertly put together, it makes a wonderful who-done-it novel.

Like I said above, it's not for everyone. But you can't help but be amused with those two characters, Johnny Fletcher and Sam Cragg. (They sure look out for each other)

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Long Saturday Night by Charles Williams

The Long Saturday Night by Charles Williams
Gold Medal 1200, Copyright 1962

My first experience with the novels of Charles Williams was reading his early crime noir stories. "Hell Hath No Fury" and "The Big Bite" were knockouts for me. Later the author's seafaring suspense novels caught my attention. I remember being captivated when reading "The Sailcloth Shroud," "Aground," and "Dead Calm," with that sneaky crime element always holding our protagonists down. I have never read anything mediocre by Charles Williams, all his novels are excellent steamy mystery fiction. "The Long Saturday Night" is a novel that fits into his crime noir category, about an innocent man on the run trying to find a way to clear his name.

I flicked the lighter on again. The blood was coming from a cut on the back of my left hand. I'd left a trail of it all the way from that apartment house that a Boy Scout could follow. I let the lighter go out and stood listening to the drip, drip, drip, as it fell and splattered in the darkness. Even if I could move on the streets now, there was nowhere else to go.

The wife of real estate man John Warren returns home from a New Orleans vacation, Warren couldn't go because of business dealings. While she was away an acquaintance of Warren's was killed while hunting alone and Warren then learns there was a connection between the dead man and his wife. Warren confounds his wife and an argument ensues. Later returning home that night, he finds his wife with her head bashed in and Warren becomes the prime suspect for both murders. Everything is going wrong for him so he runs, but later with more information and assistance from his secretary, he secretly returns to his hometown to seek out the real murderer.

I expected this one to be good and I wasn't disappointed. "The Long Saturday Night" is almost up there with the two Charles Williams crime noir books that I mentioned above. I liked the way Warren starts to use his noodle when he gets in the jam. He cleverly hires three P.I.s in different states (using the yellow pages) to get the lowdown on his wife. Of course, she has a past and wasn't the woman that Warren thought she was. After a series of risky exploits, Warren and his secretary figure out who the real murderer is, but struggle to find a way to get the goods on him. Eventually it's the secretary who devises a scheme to flush him out. I kept thinking there was a flaw as the story was ending, but I was wrong, Williams covered all the bases.

Very enjoyable, this story moves at a fast clip. If you read "A Touch of Death," which was recently published again by Hard Case Crime, this one is just as good. One thing I always liked about Charles Williams' novels was that he kept the story simple. The plots are never complicated and he doesn't overload the story with unnecessary characters. He had a way of getting you right there in the main character's shoes, and you become entrenched in the story-maybe that is what draws me to his novels. "The Long Saturday Night" might not be the author's most well-known novel, but it's one that should not be overlooked. I hope there is a renewed interest in his work, Charles Williams was one of the best crime/suspense authors that came out of the post-war era.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Tough Guys by Mickey Spillane

The Tough Guys by Mickey Spillane
Signet T4141, Copyright 1969

“The Tough Guys” contain three Spillane short stories that came out in men’s magazines in the early sixties. All are solid Spillane high caliber yarns , with a guy ready to tackle injustice with violence, always with a clip in the gun and a broad by his side. The last two stories, "The Seven Year Kill" and “The Bastard Bannerman" are excellent, but the first "Kick It or Kill" is exceptional.

“You ever kill anybody?”
I slammed the door shut and looked at him. He was completely serious.
Finally I nodded. “Yes. Six people.”
“I didn’t mean in the war, son.”
“I wasn’t talking about the war.”
“How’d you do it?”
“I shot them,” I said and let the clutch out.

The story "Kick It or Kill" starts with a man called Kelly Smith from New York City, arriving in the Adirondack town of Pinewood. Smith is recuperation from an operation and his doctor recommended the mountain air would be good for him. But the off-season quiet town isn’t what it seems to be, and Smith quickly notices some high-level crime punks walking the streets. His outsider appearance becomes known and instead of a chance to relax, he willingly seeks to find out what is going on. He learns that a man named Simpson owns a highly-secured estate near the lake that is a haven for well-known members of organized crime. Local town girls have been known to be invited up there and later return mentally damaged and hooked on drugs. After tough guy Kelly Smith gets into a few altercations with some of the hoods, we find out he is recuperating from a gunshot wound. The wound causes more problems for him and he gets some assistance from the local doctor and a voluptuous hotel manager. Some town people suspect him of being a crook or a drug addict, but we find out he is actually a federal agent. The full-breasted hotel manager ends up caught at Simpson’s private compound and Kelly Smith, realizing he will get no help from the local law, must take quick action to rescue her. Alone, he heads out to the fortified estate with his .45 and enough piss in him to explode Simpson's operation wide open.

As you can tell Kelly Smith is like many of Spillane’s creations, he possesses a .45 and plays the game hard. Written in 1961, there is a Cuba, Russia, and drug connection in the story and we know how Spillane characters feel about commies and drugs. The story is short enough that the pace is swift with plenty of “bullets and broads” action. Marvelous hardboiled dialog from the start, as Kelly Smith steps off the train with an altitude; And possibly my favorite ending in a Spillane short story, with Kelly and his .45 inside Simpson’s compound.

I always said if you need to read something where the bastards “get theirs”, no one does it better than the Mick.
Top-notched stuff from the Master.
If you are looking for three fast and lean Mickey Spillane short stories in one book, this one has them.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

When Hell Was In Session by Jeremiah A. Denton Jr.

When Hell Was In Session by Jeremiah A. Denton Jr.
Traditional Press, Copyright 1976

I took "When Hell Was In Session" off the bookshelf and started to read again the account of Navy pilot Jeremiah Denton's years imprisoned in North Vietnam. Denton spent over seven horrifying years as a POW in Hanoi. A powerful memoir, that was tough and disturbing for me to read. I still find myself having to put it down to take a breath, before continuing on.

Denton and fellow POWs (which included James Stockdale, James Robbie Risner, Larry Guarino, and others) endured years of brutal harsh treatment, which included extreme torture, starvation, solitary confinement, any possible way for their captors to break them. Some of the torture was so inhumane, that a few Viet Cong who had to deliver it had tears rolling down their cheeks. But these men held on with spiritual strength and they believed if they lose that, they would lose everything.

Denton himself was in solitary for over 4 years, the other time he was able to have some contact with fellow POWs. You wonder how he could mentally and physically deal with these conditions. Sitting in that dark damp cell with nothing, and able to tap communications with the others as the only means to maintain a frail grip with any form of human contact. Your eyes will water reading it. The only thing waiting for him is despair and pain. You may remember Denton as the POW that was forced to be questioned on camera and blinked his eyes in Morse code, spelling out the message T O R T U R E, informing Navy intelligence that American POWs are being tortured. Denton relives his days in hell and we get a picture of what it was like, but there is no way we could experience what it was like to go through this hell.

"A special rig was devised for me in my cell. I was placed in a sitting position on a pallet, with my hands tightly cuffed behind my back and my feet flat against the wall. Shackles were put on my ankles, with open ends down, and an iron bar was pushed through the eyelets of the shackles. The iron bar was tied to the pallet and the shackles in such a way that when the rope was drawn over a pulley arrangement, the bar would cut into the backs of my legs, gradually turning them into a swollen, bloody mess. The pulley was used daily to increase the pressure, and the iron bar began to eat through the Achilles tendons on the backs of my ankles. For five more days and nights I remained in the rig."

In the end, it's a story of the American spirit, love of family, and prayer. A man's belief in God, because he was in hell and was strong enough to get through it. And he got through it with courage, honor and love of country. Today we use the word "hero" loosely, you won't in this book. These are brave and honorable men, no doubt about it. At times when I'm looking in the mirror, I wonder if I could endure what these men went through. I'm sure it's a question all readers have when they read Jeremiah Denton's memoir.

Few men are tested like this, the door of pain and death was next to Jeremiah Denton for close to eight years. Through his inspirational memoir, the reader realizes we are fortunate to live in this country and the importance of the freedom we hold here.

"My principal battle with the North Vietnamese was a moral one, and prayer was my prime source of strength. Another source was my country; no sacrifice was too great on her behalf."

Denton's Major Military Decorations:

Navy Cross
Dept. of Defense Distinguished Service Medal
Navy Distinguished Service Medal
Three Silver Stars
Distinguished Flying Cross
Five Bronze Stars
Two Air Medals
Two Purple Hearts
Combat Action Ribbon
Numerous combat theatre, campaign, occupation awards.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Iron Gates by Margaret Millar

The Iron Gates By Margaret Millar
Dell 209, Copyright 1945

There was a blur in front of her eyes and beyond the blur words dangled and danced, and beyond the thickness that clothed her ears voices spoke, out of turn, out of time.

Set in Toronto during WWII, Lucille Morrow seems to have the perfect life. Married for 16 years to the successful Doctor Andrew Morrow, the affluent household consists of the doctor's two grown children and his elder sister. But things are not as they seem. A visitor stops one day and leaves a small package for Lucille, which sends her (and the story) into a chilling psychological tailspin.

Canadian born Margaret Millar was an author that got into your head. A grand master of mystery novels, her characters are sometimes odd, and built from complex emotional interwoven parts. This is definitely the case in "The Iron Gates."

After receiving her surprise package, Lucille flees the house in terror and goes into hiding. She is found in a hotel and mentally unresponsive. Committed to a mental institution, she feels someone is out to murder her and we wonder as readers if she is mentally ill or "faking it" to stay protected in the institution. The case interests Inspector Sands of the Toronto Homicide Department, who was involved in the investigation of the murder of Andrew's first wife 16 years earlier. The case was never solved. More deaths occur, including Lucille's roommate at the institution. Lucille descends deeper into insanity and another tragic event befalls her. Suspecting a member of the family as the root cause of all the calamitous events, composed Inspector Sands attempts to bring an end to the mystery and see that justice is served.

A monumental novel. Millar's story is full of hidden clues that when put together could solve the mystery. But we learn, stories can curve from where we think they are going and clues are sometimes not clues. And Lucille may not be all she seems. A strong psychological thriller, that takes you into a mind of a woman falling and us trying to find what would drive her into a state like this. As for Inspector Sands, a truly original compelling sleuth. Millar describes him as a tired-looking middle-aged man, with clothes that blended with the rest of him, "they were gray and rather battered and limp." When people are introduced to him they think the police "take just anybody on the force nowadays, with so many able-bodied men drafted." But of course that is not the case, he's highly respected, will drink a beer at the pub, and calmly will irritate people enough to get the information he needs. (Before there was Columbo, there was Inspector Sands.)

"Why do you want to hang me, anyway? Revenge? Punishment? To teach me a lesson or teach other people a lesson?"
"It's my job," Sands said wryly.

"Purely impersonal?"
"No, not quite."
"Why, then?"
"I think you might do it again."

If you never read a Margaret Millar novel, this early one of hers is a great start. She is not only one of my favorite female mystery authors, she is one of my favorite authors. Period....

It's a shame Inspector Sands was in only two novels and one short story by Margaret Millar.
A marvelous detective. The stories he appeared in:

The Wall of Eyes (1943)
The Iron Gates (1945)
The Couple Next Door (1954) Short Story in The Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine