Stories I’m Reading


ERLE STANLEY GARDNER “Cheating the Chair.” Sidney Zoom #14. Detective Fiction Weekly, 17 September 1932. [Added later:] Reprinted in The Casebook of Sidney Zoom, edited by Bill Pronzini. (Crippen & Landru, 2006).

   Alphabetically the last of the series detectives in the online Crime Fiction Index, I do not know if it is precisely correct to call Sidney Zoom a private eye. In this story, the only one of his adventures that I’ve read, he does not have a paying client, which would, I think, be one of the several criteria that must be satisfied to qualify.

   Zoom thinks of himself as a fighter for the underdog, and reads newspapers to find cases in which he believes justice is not being served. He appears to be independently wealthy. He has a devoted secretary named Vera Thurmond, and lives on a yacht with a captain on board to take him up and down the coast to wherever he needs to go.

   What attracts him to this current case, in which a disgruntled ex-convict is accused of killing the county attorney who sent him up, is that Zoom is convinced that the prosecutor’s version of what happened does not match the facts.

   In this regard, the detective work is fine, but the story gets muddled more than I’ve come to expect from Gardner. Zoom has to depend on bluffing the miscreants involved to secure the release of the accused man.

   As you can see from the list below, there were quite a few Sidney Zoom stories, but based on this one, while certainly readable, they may not be at the same level, quality-wise, as some of Gardner’s other series pulp heroes. I’ll have to investigate further.

       The Sidney Zoom stories —

The Higher Court (ss) Detective Fiction Weekly Mar 8 1930
(*) Willie the Weeper (ss) Detective Fiction Weekly Mar 29 1930
(*) My Name Is Zoom! (ss) Detective Fiction Weekly Apr 12 1930
The Purple Plume (ss) Detective Fiction Weekly May 24 1930
Time in for Tucker (ss) Detective Fiction Weekly Sep 13 1930
Strangler’s Silk (nv) Detective Fiction Weekly Jan 3 1931
The Death Penalty (nv) Detective Fiction Weekly Jan 17 1931
(*) Borrowed Bullets (nv) Detective Fiction Weekly Mar 21 1931
The Vanishing Corpse (nv) Detective Fiction Weekly Aug 15 1931
(*) Higher Up (nv) Detective Fiction Weekly Sep 19 1931
(*) The First Stone (nv) Detective Fiction Weekly Oct 24 1931
It Takes a Crook (nv) Detective Fiction Weekly Feb 6 1932
(*) The Green Door (nv) Detective Fiction Weekly Aug 20 1932
(*) Cheating the Chair (nv) Detective Fiction Weekly Sep 17 1932
(*) Inside Job (ss) Detective Fiction Weekly Jan 7 1933
(*) Lifted Bait (nv) Detective Fiction Weekly Oct 21 1933
(*) Stolen Thunder (nv) Detective Fiction Weekly May 19 1934

       (*) Included in The Casebook of Sidney Zoom.

A. E. APPLE “The Diamond Pirate.” Rafferty #2. Long novelette. First published in Detective Story Magazine, 22 October 1927. Reprinted in The Compleat Adventures of Mr. Chang and Mr. Rafferty, Battered Silicon Dispatch Box Press, hardcover, four volume set, 2010.

   I do not know whether the latter collection was ever published. “The Diamond Pirate” was the lead story of the October 22, 1927 issue of Detective Story Magazine, which is where I read it. It was preceded chronologically by “Rafferty, Master Rogue,” which appeared in the same magazine three weeks earlier.

   In that earlier story a master criminal named Rafferty outwitted a high-powered private eye by the name of Bradley and pulled off a bank robbery that netted him some twenty million dollars, a tidy sum, even today. In this second caper, Rafferty ups his game somewhat, intending to rob the diamond district en masse on a scale never seen before.

   The story opens in a mausoleum in a cemetery on a vicious rainswept night, as Rafferty’s closest lieutenants in crime meet in ear darkness to obtain the next step of instructions. In Act II, Rafferty obtains the services of a anarchic German scientist named Herr Heinie (…) but not before a long drawn-out confrontational scene between the two men takes place.

   Next, one of Rafferty’s assistants tries to defect to Bradley’s side, but the former gets wise, negates the loss and continues his plans. There is quite a bit of suspense that builds along way, but what may take the modern day reader by surprise — it did me — is that [PLOT ALERT!!] everything goes off smoothly. Rafferty and his gang make off with millions of dollars worth of diamonds, the last stage of their getaway accomplished by submarine. Bradley is a complete non-factor.

   There were over twenty tales told of Mr. Rafferty, at least two of them in conjunction with Mr. Chang, A. E. Apple’s equally long running version of a Chinese mastermind villain. I have no idea if Rafferty had the same amount of success in all of his ventures, but if all his schemes came off as easily as this one does, I have to wonder why the stories stayed as popular for as long as they did. A steady diet of tales such as this one would go nowhere quickly, as far as I am concerned.

SELECTED BY DAVID VINETARD:


BARRY PEROWNE “Raffles and the Death Rocket.” Popular Detective, March 1936. First published in The Thriller, UK, #249, 11 November 1933.

   Barry Perowne, nephew of Bertram Atkey, the creator of gentleman adventurer Smiler Bunn, began penning a series of short stories about E. W. Hornung’s famed amateur cracksman Raffles in the early 1930s. These stories appeared first in the British pulp Thriller, and later in hardcover and American pulps like this March 1936 issue of Popular Detective. In these tales Bunny Manders and A. J. Raffles pursued crime and justice much in the same manner as the Saint or Norman Conquest.

   As this one opens Bunny and Raffles have been summoned to a strange house in Mayfair where they are to observe an “experiment in the conquest of space” on of all nights November the 5th, Guy Fawkes night:

   Piccadilly Circus, with its roar and rumble of traffic, its glaring, winking, pulsating sky-signs, though a bare ten minutes away, seemed strangely remote from this singular house in this gloomy, aristocratic street.

   Muffled detonations came from the back streets, vivid flashes in the sky. November the fifth — night of fire works. Night of masks and shooting stars, but a night for the grotesque, the mysterious, the dramatic. A night through which ran a cruel, bright, eager motif — Flame!

   With a sense of adventure my friend, A. J. Raffles, cricketer, gentleman, and crook, and I, Bunny Manders, his partner in crime, passed beneath the arch and into the shadowy courtyard.

   Never let it be said Perowne hadn’t inherited a fine eye and ear for mystery and atmosphere. He was the author of many fine tales of suspense and adventure of his own aside from briefly continuing the adventures of cracksman Smiler Bunn and more extensively those of Raffles. Here we are in the popular gentleman adventurer mode of the between-the-Wars years, and Perowne handles the style with aplomb.

   Professor Louis Mendawe is to make the great experiment with a carefully chosen array of guests, but as Raffles and Bunny arrive at the costume ball to accompany the experiment they find only their hostess, the strikingly beautiful Lady Carla Mendawe and the other guests, including Grant Cardinal KC, who Bunny opines is much too familiar with the police in the form of their nemesis Inspector Duke Roth of the Yard, and a distinguished group of guests and the small fortune in jewels accompanying them, making Bunny more than a little nervous, especially when Raffles follows his restless nose to prowl around and they spy a silver haired girl in a crimson mask and follow her to a roof top observatory when …

   And that second, with a queer, muttering catch of his breath, Raffles hurled himself forward. I heard her low cry as they struggled. Then, sharp and clear through the humming of the machinery, the crack of an automatic, a crimson spurt of flame, brought me lunging to my feet!

   And we’re off, the suicidal young lady Lady Menshawe’s social secretary, Lesley Lorne, engaged to Lord Menshawe’s assistant Piers Armour, who was guarding the lab and saw the struggle. He claims to be as puzzled as Raffles, but reveals his employer has been nervous about this strange night.

   Then in short order Raffles and Bunny intercept a mysterious threatening phone message for Lady Menshawe , who insisted the experiment coincide with Guy Fawkes Night, and a prowler with a silenced weapon shoots at them while the rest of the guest are watching fireworks in the garden.

   What follows, all in the course of one incredible night involves a rival jewel thief, known as The Marquis, a crime of passion, one madman, the most incredible plot for disposing of a body I have ever encountered, a rocket launched to the moon (from the middle of Mayfair at that), and of course a victory, and profit, for Raffles sparing the lovers, young and older, embarrassing Inspector Roth, and some damn imaginative if hardly fair play detective work on Raffles’ part.

   No, it isn’t great literature, but is is great fun, this one as much in the American and the British thriller tradition, and it makes me wish I had read more of the earlier round of Perowne Raffles stories. This one is beautifully crafted and moves at a rapid pace, managing, just mind you, to cross all the t’s and dot all the i’s before the highly satisfying final image.

   “Remember I dropped my cigarette case when we were interviewing the Marquis? His wall-safe, Bunny, was wide open and close at hand.”

   I sat up abruptly. His lighter clicked. In the small flame I saw resting on his palm something that flashed and flickered with the cold light of diamonds.

   The Khaipore pendant!

   “A penny for the guy,” said Raffles as blithely as had the Guy Fawkes night urchins used the phrase in Piccadilly Circus. Dropping the pendant into the pocket of his white waistcoat, he tilted his silk hat over his eyes and composed himself for sleep.

   Salaam, Raffles!

   Salaam indeed.

HARRY LYNCH “The Ape.” John Jaffray #2. First published in Clues Detective Stories, May 1935.

   In spite of reading and collecting pulp magazines for about 40 years, there always seem to be new authors to come across that I’d never heard of before. And of course what that means as well is that I’ve never heard of the characters they wrote about, either. Harry Lynch is such an author, and his series character, private eye John J. Jaffrey, is brand new to me too.

   Jaffray is not in Lynch;s two dozen or so pulp stories; the list below of the ones he is known to be om comes from the online FictionMags Index, and may or may not be complete. (Identifying series characters in old and hard-to-find magazines such as Clues Detective Stories that are over 80 years old is not the easiest thing in the world to do.)

   And given its age, “The Ape,” which is tentatively numbered two in the series, is certainly a relic of its time, but I enjoyed it. If you ever happen to come across a copy, I think you may too, especially if you like mystery stories with murderous apes in them, just as this one does. (No surprise there.)

   It begins with Jaffrey on the trail of a wealthy businessman who has gone missing. Having been hired by the man’s partners, he has found someone to follow who may lead him to the man. But wouldn’t you just know it — the train they are on together derails and the man he is following is killed.

   Obviously what Jaffray does next — you guessed it — he changes clothes with the dead man and under these false pretenses he is picked up by members of the gang who have abducted the man he is searching for, and off they go to their hideout. Then begins the wildest series of events you can ever image. First a dead man om a bier attended to by a beautiful Asian woman. Then a mad man in shackles who wanders around shooting bent pins with a rubber band. Plus another beautiful woman who seems to have been a captive of the gang and who spends much of the story totally nude. Then at last the leader of the gang who is totally blind.

   And of course the ape, who fondly carries the head of a dead man around with him wherever he goes. What more could you want?


      The John Jaffray stories —

Rattlesnake! (nv) Clues Detective Stories Dec 1934
The Ape (na) Clues Detective Stories May 1935
One Hour to Live (nv) Clues Detective Stories Jun 1935
Prevue of Hell (nv) Clues Detective Stories Aug 1935
Fury (ss) Clues Detective Stories Dec 1935
The Hooded Men (nv) Clues Detective Stories Apr 1936
Blast (nv) Clues Detective Stories Jul 1936

$500 and a Dream
at the Manhattan County Clerk’s Office:
A Review of Author Kevin Egan’s Latest Courthouse Story
by Gilbert Colon


KEVIN EGAN “The Movie Lover.” Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, July-August 2018.

   Kevin Egan returns to the pages of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, contributing the eleventh story in his courthouse series, “The Movie Lover.” The July-August 2018 issue, on newsstands now, is devoted to film-themed fiction, so Egan makes his key character Nouri, sighted helper to the blind manager of the court’s lobby concession, an aspiring screenwriter.

   The most prominent feature of these tales is the iconic and historic courthouse building at 60 Centre Street, long famous even before being immortalized in the opening credits of the long-running television series Law & Order. Egan has used it as the location for all but one of his Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine stories to date.

   The series also features a recurring character, the enigmatic court officer Foxx. While the judges of the New York State Unified Court System balance the scales of justice, Foxx personally keeps them balanced in-house by anonymously operating in the building’s shadowy spaces and corners.

   Enlisting Foxx is Ray Dempsey, the crusty concessionaire of the on-site coffee shop serving the public through the New York State Commission for the Blind. Dempsey suspects someone in his employ is embezzling from the register of one of his stations. Foxx intimately knows the lay of the land, making his beat the circular court corridors that lead to the “dark, nameless door[s]” behind which lie secret rooms – or at least forgotten ones – that hold secrets only Foxx seems to know about.

   From a high vantage point above the fourth-floor pastry-and-coffee table Nouri tends, eagle-eyed Foxx spies “a quarter view sight line behind Nouri [and] watch[s] the money change hands, then retreat[s] around the back of the circle.” From here he can see “the way the cash is arranged in the till” and observe every transaction unnoticed…

   In no time, Nouri becomes the focus of Foxx’s investigation. Nouri’s background as a Middle-Eastern American, along with his housemates’, gives the story the opportunity to present the experience of regular immigrants in the early stages of assimilation, a normalized depiction not unlike that of the more established and even more ordinary Pakistani-American family in the 2016 HBO crime series The Night Of, scripted by crime author Richard Price (Clockers, Freedomland, five episodes of The Wire).

   Nouri is also the movie lover of the title, a would-be writer desperate – too desperate – to sell a Hollywood blockbuster script and hit it big. By day he works his job, learning dialogue by hearing everyday customer interactions that “no writing teacher or voice coach” could impart, artistically inspired by the courthouse every time he “walk[ed] up those front steps,” “carv[ing]out…quiet hours [to] write in his notebook” – “the hothouse for all his ideas.” (It bears noting that “The Movie Lover,” and all the stories of the courthouse series, are written by a man who works as a senior settlement coordinator in the same building – these lines could be Egan writing about himself.) By night Nouri types away on his “dilapidated laptop,” “hearing the dialog in his head and visualizing the camera angles with his mind’s eye” as he daydreams about his screenplays becoming “beautiful movie[s].”

   There, in those moments, and also on the terrazzo floor where he crouches in his downtime to scribble his inspirations, he lives inside his head creating, but he is also hopelessly over his head in trouble. The constant presence of production companies shooting big and small screen dramas that use the court interiors and exteriors as a backdrop, the production trailers and huge booms and cameras and film crews and PAs “wearing identical black tee shirts emblazoned with the name of the movie” only fuel what his realist roommate Asif regards as Nouri’s cockeyed delusions. There is a subtle contrast to be made here between the wide-eyed Nouri and his cynical blind boss Dempsey.

   Nouri’s innocent dreaming will leave readers dying to know the content of the “beautiful movie[s]” – ten screenplays in total – that he has recklessly sacrificed so much for, but alas the movie scripts remain a mystery, perhaps a casualty of the lean, clean short mystery story format. Perhaps these kinds of short fiction constraints are what led Egan to expand his Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine stories “Midnight” and “A Small Circle” into, respectively, the Centre Street courthouse novels Midnight and A Shattered Circle. The efficient crime narrative delivers the requisite resolution, action, and catharsis by the end, all in one fell swoop. But because Egan never overlooks the emotional notes, there is also bittersweet light and hope in the epilogue, qualities generally in short supply in the dark and jaded world of the crime genre.

   Besides being a solid and satisfying piece of crime fiction, “The Movie Lover” is a loving reminder of the glamorous Hollywood history surrounding the New York County Courthouse, storied in more than one sense of the word. Nouri wistfully reminds us of the many movies, some recent and others classic, that have filmed at the celebrated courthouse: “When I walk up those front steps, I see Charlie Sheen climbing to meet his fate at the end of Wall Street. When I wait for the elevator, I gaze up at the same WPA mural that loomed above Matt Damon in The Adjustment Bureau. When I get off the elevator, I pass the courtroom where John Payne proved Edmund Gwenn to be Santa Claus in Miracle on 34th Street.” Of course there are so many others – 12 Angry Men, The Godfather, and Carlito’s Way, to name a few – too many to list, in fact.

   In this way, “The Movie Lover” lets its readers appreciate anew the old building and its rich history which court staff, jurors, lawyers, litigants, and the general public take for granted, all through the “dreamy eyes” of Nouri, a starry-eyed romantic who, despite his many flaws, helps us to see it freshly as the thing of wonderment it is.

            FIN

   Other film-themed stories in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine’s July/August “Lights! Camera! Murder!” issue, include Robert S. Levinson’s “Nine Years Later” (set during the filming of a Hollywood gangster picture) and Rebecca Cantrell’s “Homework” (a jewelry heist caper involving acting).

            * * *

KEVIN EGAN’s latest novel, A Shattered Circle, earned an early Publishers Weekly review hailing it as “his best to date.” He has authored eight novels and numerous short stories, many published in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, not to mention an upcoming one in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. Visit him at www.kjeganfiction.com.

            * * *

GILBERT COLON has written for several print and online publications, including Filmfax, Cinema Retro, Crimespree, Crime Factory, and Strand Mystery Magazine. He is a contributor-at-large for both the St. Martin’s Press newsletter Tor.com and the Alfred Hitchcock Presents-heavy bare•bones e-zine. You may reach him at gcolon777@gmail.com.

CAROLINE WHEAT “Crime Scene.” First appeared in Sisters in Crime, edited by Marilyn Wallace, paperback original, May 1989. Reprinted in Carolyn Wheat’s story collection Tales Out of School, Crippen & Landru, November 2000.

   In its original appearance this story is only eight pages long, but what it does in those eight pages is show what a good writer can do in only a limited number of words.

   When a young police officer named Toni Ramirez is the first on the scene of a gory murder scene in an apartment building, her first instinct is to keep her composure at all costs while the lab guys are joking around while examining the body as part of their obviously usual routine. But when she sees the supervising officer wiping away his tears, she finds that she can no longer hold back her own.

   Telling her the story of his own first crime scene one in which he reacted much the same way, the older man helps clear the younger woman’s head enough that she is able to make some deductions from the evidence right there at the crime scene, and the killer is caught. Ellery Queen could not have done better!

   This is a story that you will have do some hunting in order to track it down. The reason I wanted to tell you about it, though, is to let you know that every once in a while you can find a detective story in which the heart — honestly and somehow not mawkishly — and the brain are of equal value in solving a case. It’s well told, as well.


[ADDED LATER]   Carolyn Wheat is a former criminal defense attorney who as an author is best known for her series of five books about Cass Jameson, a Brooklyn-based night court lawyer. According to her website, “[t]wo of the books were nominated for Edgar awards. She is also the author of numerous short stories which have won her an Agatha, an Anthony, a Shamus, and a Macavity award.”

ERLE STANLEY GARDNER “Lord of the High Places.” Speed Dash #12. Top-Notch Magazine, February 1, 1928.

   When I started reading this story, I was under the distinct impression that it was the very first appearance of Richard “Speed” Dash, since Gardner spent so much space explaining who he was and what skills he had. Not so. I was wrong about that. With the resources available to anyone on the Internet in today’s world, it was not difficult to learn that it came along well after the middle of the series. Speed Dash’s first adventure into crime-solving appeared in the February 1, 1925, issue of Top-Notch Magazine. There were twenty in all, all for the same magazine.

   In his early days Speed Dash worked in side shows and circuses as an acrobat, or in particular a so-called “human fly,” with the strength and ability to climb nearly perpendicular surfaces, using, we are told, only the tips of his fingers. But after doing a regime of experimental exercises prescribed by a noted psychiatrist, he developed what is called in the vernacular a photographic memory, and he decided to turn his talent to crime-solving.

   In “Lord of the High Places” he his hired by a rich debutante who is looking for adventure. She has been shown a map of hidden treasure on an island somewhere in the South Seas, and wanting some excitement in her otherwise boring life, she has agreed to finance the venture, but only if she can convince Speed Dash to come along.

   The map is a phony, of course, and Dash is prepared for that, but what he does not plan on is that all of his backup contingencies will fail, and he and the two women are quickly caught between the gang they came in with, another rival gang of pirates, and the savage natives already on the island. See the cover for the means that Dash finds of making his escape. It is quite accurate.

   This is the first adventure of Speed Dash I have read, and it will probably be the last, as I have sold off all my copies of Top-Notch Magazine in which his adventures were recorded. I do not think I am missing anything, however. Action-adventure is not typical Erle Stanley Gardner fare, and he is no better than average at it. Many pulp writers knew their exotic locales a whole better than I think Gardner did.

   An interesting change-of-pace, in other words, but far from essential, even for Gardner fans.

ROBERT SHECKLEY “Subsistence Level.” Galaxy Science Fiction, August 1954. Collected in Shards of Space (Bantam J2443, paperback original, July 1962) and The Collected Short Fiction of Robert Sheckley: Book Three (Pulphouse, hardcover/softcover, 1991).

   As a young writer Robert Sheckley was a perfect fit for the early days of Galaxy magazine. H. L. Gold, its agoraphobic editor, was looking for literary quality for the science fiction he published, not necessarily technical expertise, and the magazine was known for its emphasis on the effect that technology had on the human race, often with a satirical and/or ironic twist.

   Which was, of course, Robert Shckley’s forte. Although this story is not one of Sheckley’s better known ones — it’s never been reprinted except in two collections of his own work — it serves to show the point very well. “Subsistence Level” is the tale of a pioneer in the age of space, a man with a wanderlust and a fear of being crowded, and ready to move on when he runs out of elbow room.

   And his wife, determined to make their marriage a success against the advice of her mother, is forced to move along with him. When the Gobi Desert gets filled up, and so does the Southern Polar Cap, their next stop? The asteroid belt.

   Warning: I’m about to give the essence of the story away in the quote that follows, taken directly from the story, but it goes a long way in illustrating what I was saying there up above. The couple, man and wife, have been putting in hard five-hour days getting settled on their small rock in space, bossing robots around, and:

   After helping Amelia pile the dishes into the washer, Dirk set up a projector in their living room. As a double feature flicked across the screen, they sat in durable foam-ribber chairs, just as generation of pioneers before them had done. This continuity with the past touched Amelia sharply.

  SCOTT CAMPBELL “The Case of the Vanished Bonds.” Felix Boyd #1. The Popular Magazine, February 1904. Collected in Below the Dead-Line (Street & Smith, paperback; 1906; G. W. Dilingham Co., hardcover, March 2006). Currently available in various Print on Demand editions. Silent Film: Edison, 1915, with Robert Conness as Felix Boyd.

   The foreword to the hardcover edition credits New York City police inspector Thomas Byrne for creating the phrase “below the deadline” referring to “the immediate arrest of every crook found day or night in that part of the metropolis lying south of Fulton Street.” This includes (I am told) Wall Street and the location of the fabulous diamond houses of that era.

   Felix Boyd is something of a mystery man. He is hired by a distraught banker whose shipment by single messenger of valuable bonds has gone missing en route to the sub-treasury where they were being sent. But when the case is solved, he refuses payment for succeeding, remarking that he is paid by the year, not the job, evidently by some third party not yet identified.

   The messenger, quite trusted, it seems went straight from the banker’s office to the sub-treasury, but when he arrived, the bonds were gone from his bag, but the gold inside still there.

   Some investigation on Boyd’s part, however, reveals that he did stop once, to talk to an acquaintance on a doorstep with the bag on the ground. The solution from there is easy enough, but it does require Boyd, described as an American Sherlock Holmes, to disguise himself as a Jewish gentleman to elicit information from the foreman of the work crew inside the building where the messenger had stopped.

    Ordinarily this statement may fall into the category of too much information, but since you nor anyone else is likely to read this story any time soon, it is not likely for me to lose any sleep over it.

   I have not yet read any of the other stories in the book, of which there are eleven more, but I enjoyed this one enough that I will, even though the detection is, shall we say, rather rudimentary. But besides a mystery boss for Mr. Boyd, there is a mystery mastermind behind the theft of the bonds, but he gets away, only to be behind the scenes again in upcoming adventures.

ERLE STANLEY GARDNER “At Arm’s Length.” Detective Fiction Weekly, December 9, 1938. Included in the collection The Case of the Crimson Kiss (Morrow, hardcover, 1970).

   The reason I’ve chosen “At Arm’s Length” to talk about is not because it’s one of his better ones, for it isn’t, but because… Well, here’s how the blurb for the story on the contents page puts it:

  “Lester Leith, Perry Mason, Jax Keene (sic), Senor Lobo! Look to your laurels! Jerry Marr, toughest dick in captivity, is on the scene.” (Raise your hand if you know who Jax Keen was.)

   Or in other words, “At Arm’s Length” serves as the introduction of a brand new character in Mr. Gardner’s long list of same — as well as his only appearance. It’s not that it’s a terrible story, for it isn’t, but in 1939 career writing for the pulp magazines was winding down. He was making good money with the Perry Mason books, and the first Donald Lam & Bertha Cool novel also came out in 1939.

   There are overtones of Lester Leith in this tale. Jerry Marr is the kind of guy who reads a pair of unconnected stories in a newspaper, put two and two together and get five — and cash in his pocket. The lead story of the day is that of a murdered society girl, but what catches Jerry Marr’s eye is a story on page four about a man seen sweeping up large tacks on a street nearby.

   Marr is also a semi-hardboiled kind of PI. What his does is, to put it bluntly, blackmail a possible suspect in the murder case into hiring him. Or at least he would be a suspect if Marr told the police what he knows.

   Marr has a girl friend named Lorrain Dell, and not only do you get the idea that he and she are closer than Perry and Della ever were, but he allows her to do some of his legwork for him. This doesn’t work out all that well when he discovers that Lorrain has pushed someone’s buttons too far, and she ends up a captive. Not only that, but Jerry Marr pulls a Mannix, well before Mannix came along, and is knocked on the head at one point in the story by some unknown malefactor into a short oblivion

   It all works out fine, though, almost making Marr’s client-under-duress happy. The key word is almost, because Marr’s primary motivation, as stated above, is cash in hand.

   Reading back the last few paragraphs to myself, I see that I may have made the story sound better than it is. It isn’t, but nor is it terrible, either.

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