Stories I’m Reading


BRYNN BONNER “Jangle.” Novelette. Session Seabolt #1. First appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, May 2007.

   Many of you, and I’m willing to wage a majority of you, are collectors of one thing or another: books, magazines, records, DVDs, comic books, Lego sets, Star Wars toys, whatever. And even if you’re not, I think you can identify with those of us who do haunt library sales, old used book and record stores, tag sales (garage sales, perhaps, where you live), hoping that the next place you visit will be The One.

   Such is the case in this short tale. Session Seabolt is the owner of a used record store, and when she’s not in the shop, she loves to go browsing all of the garage sales in the area:

   But now in the gray light inside the garage I stood frozen — awestruck by what I was holding in my hand. The noxious smells of used motor oil, insecticides, and mildew flooded my nostrils and I willed myself not to hyperventilate.

      […]

   My hands shook as I tucked the album into the middle of the stack I had set aside and hugged them to my chest, hoping nobody had noticed my reaction.

      […]

   I nodded and stretched the smile wider, feeling a snake of guilt slithering up my spine. The man had no clue what he had.

   It’s happened to me. I know the feeling. The author (not her real name) has nailed it perfectly.

   What Session has found is almost irrelevant at this point, but since I’m sure you’d like to know — I know I was, and Ms Bonner puts off telling us for as long as she can. An early pressing of Bob Dylan’s first LP, the one containing several tracks that didn’t appear on the version finally released to the public. Some of the early ones did get into circulation, and they’re worth thousands of dollars.

   To assuage her guilt, Session also takes an old stereo set, complete with turntable and speakers. I might have done the same.

   The rest of the story is not nearly as good as the beginning — it gets a little too complicated, and I don’t think I need to go into it. Well, here’s a hint: it has more to do with the other stuff she bought than the Dylan LP. I’ve told all there is to know about the really good part.

      —

PostScript:   According the introductory notes, this was to be the first of series. It was, but the second known Session Seabolt story didn’t come along until “Final Vinyl,” which appeared in the Sept-Oct 2012 issue of EQMM.

CARROLL JOHN DALY “The Egyptian Lure.” Novelette. Race Williams #18. First published in Black Mask, March 1928. Reprinted in The Snarl of the Beast: The Collected Hard-Boiled Stories of Race Williams, Volume 2 (Altus Press, 2016).

   Race Williams doesn’t call himself a Private Eye. He’d rather be thought of as a Confidential Agent, and in fact that’s what it says in the lettering clients see on his office door. By the time this story appeared, Williams was already a long-time fixture at Black Mask magazine. Readers had been enjoying — and heartily approving — his adventures since the first June issue of 1923.

   In “The Egyptian Lane” he’s, well, lured to the dive / strip joint of the same name by an envelope stuffed with money, with no name attached to the brief note accompanying it. It’s a tawdry joint — the owner of the joint is a Greek by the name of Nick — and it takes Williams a short while to track down the beautiful dancing girl who once lived in a convent but who is now his new client.

   He takes her under his wing, but thanks to a clever ruse of the men who are after her, he loses her again. Calling himself a dunderhead, there’s no way in hell the thugs who’ve abducted her can escape his wrath. Nor do they! The hunt the follows, urged on by his anger and consuming desire for vengeance, is what readers of Black Mask were waiting for, and that’s exactly what they got.

   And so did I. Race Williams is correct is not thinking of himself as any kind of “detective.” His methods are crude but effective, and a gun is his constant companion. The story is well told, the settings (from the dirty streets of Manhattan to the barren wastes of New Jersey) are well described, and the pace? It never lets up.

RICHARD S. PRATHER “Sinner’s Alley.” Shell Scott. First published in Have Gat — Will Travel. Reprinted in The Young Punks, edited by Leo Margulies (Pyramid G271, paperback original, 1957).

   This story takes LA-based PI Shell Scott out of his usual milieu of young blonde and busty Hollywood starlets into the much edgier world of juvenile delinquency, or hoodlums on the loose. Even though the latter come straight from standard casting, they sure give Shell Scott Scott all he can handle, if not more.

   His client is a man whose daughter has been found murdered and raped, her face so badly damaged that Shell is the one who has to identify her in the morgue. His boiling point is so over the top that he makes the bad mistake of trying to confront the young hoods in their den. Not a good idea.

   The resulting couple of melees are well choreographed, I can tell you that. You needn’t worry that the equally tough Shell Scott will come out on top in this one or not, though, but in the telling, there’s not much humor in this one. Prather plays it straight and tense until the very end, when — well, I won’t tell you, but the ending does fit the pattern of most of his fiction after all.

Postscript:   The subject matter of The Young Punks, the anthology n which I read this one should be obvious from the title. Most of the stories come from Manhunt, written by such authors as Gil Brewer, Evan Hunter, Richard Deming, Jonathan Craig and so on. It’s well wortht he small amount of money it would take to obtain a copy today, if JD fiction has any kind of appeal to you at all.

ROBERT LESLIE BELLEM “Suicide Scenario.” Novelette. Nick Ransom #6 (*). First published in Thrilling Detective, February 1948. Collected in Nick Ransom, Confidential Investigator (UPDproductions, Kindle edition, 2018).

   If you thought this was going to be a review of one of Bellem’s “Dan Turner” stories, I can hardly blame you. After all, one source I found says that he wrote over 300 of them. But that’s only a small percentage of Bellem’s output, estimated by that same source to be in the 3000 range, almost all of it in the form of short fiction.

   After appearing in a run of five stories in the early 40s, Nick Ransom took up shop in the pages of Thrilling Detective in 1948 for a run of nine more tales, beginning with “Suicide Scenario” in the February 1948 issue. Previously a Hollywood stunt man with is own business called “Risks Incorporated,” Ransom has decided that business wasn’t good enough and has changed the sign on he door to “Nick Ransom, Investigations.” Hollywood being the town it is, not only have bit players come calling, but so have producers, directors, stars, and “assorted geniuses of every size and gender.

   He doesn’t have a client in this tale, however. While driving back to his office through the streets of Los Angeles, he stopped by a frantic woman who needs him to stop her husband from committing suicide. Which he does, cleanly and efficiently. It turns out (not surprisingly) that there’s more to the story. The man whom he stopped from shooting himself turns out to have been hired to play the part, and then the real husband is found, his face blown away.

   This is not all. There are more twists and turns ahead. This is a real detective story, with lots of clues and red herrings to follow and be sorted out. Plus Bellem’s usual skill with the English language, somewhat toned down from the Dan Turner stories, and no emphasis at all on various parts of the female anatomy which took up a lot of space to describe back in Turner’s Spicy Detective days.

   Well, not completely. Quoting from the first page:

   She came running through the rain, a tall and shapely muffin whose soaked dress plastered itself to her bountiful curves like Scotch tape. Her hair was long and unpent, a black cascade streaming back over her shoulders as she pelted up to me, and the frantic urgency on her mush was enough to give a man the fantods. If ever a tomato was in trouble, this one obviously was.

   —

       The Nick Ransom series —

Peril for Sale (ss) Detective Dime Novels Apr 1940
Danger’s Delegate (ss) Red Star Detective Jun 1940
Hazard’s Harvest (ss) Red Star Detective Aug 1940
Jeopardy’s Jackpot (ss) Red Star Detective Oct 1940
Risks Redoubled (nv) Double Detective Aug 1941
Suicide Scenario (nv) Thrilling Detective Feb 1948
Mahatma of Mayhem (nv) Thrilling Detective Apr 1948
The 9th Doll (nv) Thrilling Detective Aug 1948
Serenade with Slugs (nv) Thrilling Detective Dec 1948
Homicide Shaft (nv) Thrilling Detective Apr 1949
Preview of Murder (nv) Thrilling Detective Jun 1949
Puzzle in Peril (nv) Thrilling Detective Oct 1949
Blind Man’s Fluff (nv) Thrilling Detective Feb 1950
Murder Steals the Scene (nv) Thrilling Detective Aug 1950

(*) There is a Nick Ransom in the story “Short Cut to Vengeance” in the December 1939 issue of Variety Detective as by John Gregory, but the latter is known to be a house name and no one seems to have connected it up with Bellem.

FLETCHER FLORA “Loose Ends.” Novelette. Percival ‘Percy’ Hand. First published in Manhunt, August 1958. Reprinted in The Second Pulp Crime Megapack (Wildside Pres, Kindle edition, 2016).

   Fletcher Flora had one only series character in a long career of crime fiction writing, a policeman by the name of Lt Joseph Marcus, who appeared in six stories for the digest mystery magazines of the 1950s. He missed a bet, though, in not writing another story about Percy Hand. “Loose Ends” is a good one.

   He’s hired In this one by Faith Salem, a very good looking woman, especially while tanning herself outside on her terrace. It seems as though he’s thinking of becoming wife number four to man with whom she presently has an understanding. She is wondering, though, why wife number three just suddenly disappeared without a trace. The police didn’t work very hard on the case, though, since the man she presumably was having an affair with disappeared at exactly the same time.

   What Faith Salem wants Percy Hand to do is the obvious. Find out what really happened. And so he does, with adeptness and efficiency. Roots in the past are involved, as is true for a good percentage of all good PI stories.

   And not only is Hand very good at his job, but author Fletcher Flora is also very impressive as a wordsmith whose words I ought to have reading all this time, and I’m sorry to say that I haven’t.

   Some examples:

   Faith asks: “Do you remember what happened to Graham’s third wife?”

   “I seem to remember that she left him, which wasn’t surprising. So did number one. So did number two. Excuse me if I’m being offensive.”

   “Not at all. You’re not required to like Graham. Many people don’t. I confess that there are times when I don’t like him very much myself.”

   And:

   I went on out and back to my office and put my feet on the desk and thought about her lying there in the sun. There was no sun in my office. In front of me was a blank wall, and behind me was a narrow window, and outside the narrow window was a narrow alley. Whenever I got tired of looking at the wall I could get up and stand by the window and look down into the alley, and whenever I got tired of looking down into the alley I could sit down and look at the wall again, and whenever I got tired of looking at both the wall and the alley, which was frequently, I could go out somewhere and look at something else. Now I simply closed my eyes and saw clearly behind the lids a lean brown body interrupted in two places by the briefest of white hiatuses.

   One more. Percy has gone to see the missing man’s brother, a high class gangster. In the room is Robin Robbins (not her real name):

   Silas Lawler says: “The man you are trying to insult, honey, is Percy Hand, a fairly good private detective.”

   “He looks like Jack Palance.”

   “Jack Palance is ugly,” I said.”God, he’s ugly,”

   “So are you,” she said.

   “Thanks,” I said.

   “In a nice way,” she said. “Jack Palance is ugly in a nice way, and so are you. I don’t really care if you’re poor.”

VINCENT STARRETT “The Taggart Assignment.” Short story. Jimmy Lavender #6. First published in Short Stories, 10 August 1922. Reprinted in The Detective Megapack: 28 Tales by Modern and Classic Authors (Wildside Press, Kindle edition, January 2016).

   Although a number of his Jimmy Lavender stories were collected in book form during Vincent Starrett’s lifetime, this doesn’t doesn’t seem to have been one of them, and I think there may have been a reason for it. Before getting into that, however, let me say first of all that the resemblance of the Lavender tales to Conan Doyle’s stories about Sherlock Holmes is unmistakable. (Starrett was a noted Sherlockian of his day.)

   Simply move the stories from London in the late 1800s to Chicago in he 1920s, swap Watson for a narrator-assistant named “Gilly” Gilruth, and there you have it. Even the story itself, that of a young woman whose fiancé has gone missing only days before their wedding, is reminiscent of one of Holmes’s own adventures, that being “A Case of Identity.”

   The about-to-be-jilted woman — or has something more serious happened to the missing man? — wishes no publicity, and Lavender agrees. The trail leads, by sheer coincidence (Lavender thinks not) to a another missing man, this one the circulation manager of a local newspaper.

   The story is lively and fun to read, with Gilly more actively involved that Watson was, but (and I hate to have to say thus) it’s seriously marred by a final conclusive clue that unfortunately means nothing to the reader and everything to Jimmy Lavender. I was somewhat mollified by a very striking last line, however.

POUL ANDERSON “Sargasso of Lost Starships.” Novella. Technic History #1. Planet Stories, January 1952. Collected in Rise of the Terran Empire (Baen, trade paperback, 2009). Reprinted as Sargasso of Lost Starships (Armchair Sci-Fi & Horror Double Novels #92, trade paperback, 2013), with The Ice Queen by Don Wilcox.

   The story opens thusly:

   Basil Donovan was drunk again.

   He sat near the open door of the Golden Planet, boots on the table, chair tilted back, one arm resting on the broad shoulder of Wocha, who sprawled on the floor beside him, the other hand clutching a tankard of ale. The tunic was open above his stained gray shirt, the battered cap was askew on his close-cropped blond hair, and his insignia–the stars of a captain and the silver leaves of an earl on Ansa–were tarnished. There was a deepening flush over his pale gaunt cheeks, and his eyes smoldered with an old rage.

   Looking out across the cobbled street, he could see one of the tall, half-timbered houses of Lanstead. It had somehow survived the space bombardment, though its neighbors were rubble, but the tile roof was clumsily patched and there was oiled paper across the broken plastic of the windows. An anachronism, looming over the great bulldozer which was clearing the wreckage next door. The workmen there were mostly Ansans, big men in ragged clothes, but a well-dressed Terran was bossing the job. Donovan cursed wearily and lifted his tankard again.

   Donovan had been a leader of the Ansan forces in their defeat at the hands of the Terran Empire. He is naturally bitter and is surprised to e taken by force to an interview with Commander Helena Jansky from Earth:

   “Sit down, Captain Donovan,” said the woman.

   He lowered himself to a chair, raking her with deliberately insolent eyes. She was young to be wearing a commander’s twin planets–young and trim and nice looking. Tall body, sturdy but graceful, well filled out in the blue uniform and red cloak; raven-black hair falling to her shoulders; strong blunt-fingered hands, one of them resting close to her sidearm. Her face was interesting, broad and cleanly molded, high cheekbones, wide full mouth, stubborn chin, snub nose, storm-gray eyes set far apart under heavy dark brows. A superior peasant type, he decided, and felt more at ease in the armor of his inbred haughtiness. He leaned back and crossed his legs.

   “I am Helena Jansky, in command of this vessel,” she said. Her voice was low and resonant, the note of strength in it. “I need you for a certain purpose. Why did you resist the Imperial summons?”

   It seems that Donovan is only of only a handful of people who have ventured into the Black Nebula and returned. Jansky needs him to guide her forces there on a return visit:

   Space burned and blazed with a million bitter-bright suns, keen cold unwinking flames strewn across the utter dark of space, flashing and flashing over the hollow gulf of the leagues and the years. The Milky Way foamed in curdled silver around that enormous night, a shining girdle jeweled with the constellations. Far and far away wheeled the mysterious green and blue-white of the other galaxies, sparks of a guttering fire with a reeling immensity between. Looking toward the bows, one saw the great star-clusters of Sagittari, the thronging host of suns burning and thundering at the heart of the Galaxy. And what have we done? thought Basil Donovan. What is man and all his proud achievements? Our home star is a dwarf on the lonely fringe of the Galaxy, out where the stars thin away toward the great emptiness. We’ve ranged maybe two hundred light-years from it in all directions and it’s thirty thousand to the Center! Night and mystery and nameless immensities around us, our day of glory the briefest flicker on the edge of nowhere, then oblivion forever–and we won’t be forgotten, because we’ll never have been noticed. The Black Nebula is only the least and outermost of the great clouds which thicken toward the Center and hide its ultimate heart from us, it is nothing even as we, and yet it holds a power older than the human race and a terror that may whelm it.

   He felt again the old quailing funk, fear crawled along his spine and will drained out of his soul. He wanted to run, escape, huddle under the sky of Ansa to hide from the naked blaze of the universe, live out his day and forget that he had seen the scornful face of God. But there was no turning back, not now, the ship was already outpacing light on her secondary drive and he was half a prisoner aboard. He squared his shoulders and walked away from the viewplate, back toward his cabin.

   Wocha was sprawled on a heap of blankets, covering the floor with his bulk. He was turning the brightly colored pages of a child’s picture book. “Boss,” he asked, “when do we kill ’em?”

   Things do not go well on the voyage. Strange voices and apparitions begin appearing to the entire crew, including Donovan:

   Donovan had not watched the Black Nebula grow over the days, swell to a monstrous thing that blotted out half the sky, lightlessness fringed with the cold glory of the stars. Now that the ship was entering its tenuous outer fringes, the heavens on either side were blurring and dimming, and the blackness yawned before. Even the densest nebula is a hard vacuum; but tons upon incredible tons of cosmic dust and gas, reaching planetary and interstellar distances on every hand, will blot out the sky. It was like rushing into an endless, bottomless hole, the ship was falling and falling into the pit of Hell.

   Eventually Donovan comes face to face with Valduma, an old nemesis slash alien lover from his previous voyage:

   Valduma stood beside Morzach for an instant, and Donovan watched her with the old sick wildness rising and clamoring in him.

   You are the fairest thing which ever was between the stars, you are ice and flame and living fury, stronger and weaker than man, cruel and sweet as a child a thousand years old, and I love you. But you are not human, Valduma.

   She was tall, and her grace was a lithe rippling flow, wind and fire and music made flesh, a burning glory of hair rushing past her black-caped shoulders, hands slim and beautiful, the strange clean-molded face white as polished ivory, the mouth red and laughing, the eyes long and oblique and gold-flecked green. When she spoke, it was like singing in Heaven and laughter in Hell. Donovan looked at her, not moving.

   “Basil, you came back to me?”

   The Terran forces lose control of their ship:

   The engines cut off and the ship snapped into normal matter state. Helena Jansky saw blood-red sunlight through the viewport. There was no time to sound the alarm before the ship crashed.

   “A hundred men. No more than a hundred men alive.”

   She [Helena] wrapped her cloak tight about her against the wind and stood looking across the camp. The streaming firelight touched her face with red, limning it against the utter dark of the night heavens, sheening faintly in the hair that blew wildly around her strong bitter countenance. Beyond, other fires danced and flickered in the gloom, men huddled around them while the cold seeped slowly to their bones. Here and there an injured human moaned.

   Across the ragged spine of bare black hills they could still see the molten glow of the wreck. When it hit, the atomic converters had run wild and begun devouring the hull. There had barely been time for the survivors to drag themselves and some of the cripples free, and to put the rocky barrier between them and the mounting radioactivity. During the slow red sunset, they had gathered wood, hewing with knives at the distorted scrub trees reaching above the shale and snow of the valley. Now they sat waiting out the night.

   Takahashi shuddered. “God, it’s cold!”

   A battle begins, one of groundshaking ferocity:

   The others were there with her, men of Drogobych standing on the heights and howling their fury. They had chains in their hands, and suddenly the air was thick with flying links.

   One of them smashed against Donovan and curled itself snake-like around his waist. He dropped his sword and tugged at the cold iron, feeling the breath strained out of him, cursing with the pain of it. Wocha reached down a hand and peeled the chain off, snapping it in two and hurling it back at the Arzunians. It whipped in the air, lashing itself across his face, and he bellowed.

   The men of Sol were weltering in a fight with the flying chains, beating them off, stamping the writhing lengths underfoot, yelling as the things cracked against their heads. “Forward!” cried Helena. “Charge–get out of here–forward, Empire!”

   The stronghold of the dying alien race is entered:

   The Terrans slogged on down the street, filthy with dust and grease and blood, uncouth shamblers, apes in the somber ruin of the gods. Donovan thought he had a glimpse of Valduma standing on a rooftop, the clean lithe fire of her, silken flame of her hair and the green unhuman eyes which had lighted in the dark at his side. She had been a living blaze, an unending trumpet and challenge, and when she broke with him it had been quick and dean, no soddenness of age and custom and–and, damn it, all the little things which made humanness.

   All right, Valduma. We’re monkeys. We’re noisy and self-important, compromisers and trimmers and petty cheats, we huddle away from the greatness we could have, our edifices are laid brick by brick with endless futile squabbling over each one–and yet, Valduma, there is something in man which you don’t have. There’s something by which these men have fought their way through everything you could loose on them, helping each other, going forward under a ridiculous rag of colored cloth and singing as they went.

   This is a prime example of a subcategory of science fiction that might be called “swords and spaceships.” The pages of Planet Stories were filled with this kind of tale, and no one did it better than Poul Anderson.

   PS. The cover illustration is perfectly correct. It must have helped hundreds of copies of the magazine on the newsstands, if not more.

FRANK M. ROBINSON “The Girls from Earth.” Novelette. First published in Galaxy SF, January 1952. Illustrations by Emsh (Ed Emshwiller). Reprinted in The Best Science-Fiction Stories: 1953 edited by Everett F. Bleiler & T. E. Dikty (Frederick Fell, hardcover, 1953); and Stories for Tomorrow: An Anthology of Modern Science Fiction edited by William Sloane (Funk & Wagnalls, hardcover, 1954). Radio: Adapted for X Minus One by George Lefferts: NBC, 16 January 1957. Cast: Mandel Kramer, Bob Hastings, John Gibson, Jim Stevens, Dick Hamilton, Phil Sterling. Announcer: Fred Collins. Director: Daniel Sutter.

   This is mostly a story about how mail order brides helped civilize the Old West, only transposed in time and space to mining settlements barely managing to survive on worlds far from Earth. The ratio of men to women in such places is at least 5 to 3. Strangely enough, the ratio of women to men back on Earth also 5 to 3, in reverse.

   There is a problem here waiting to be solved, and the solution is easy. Except for one thing. How, and who, is going to implement it? And how will the contingent of men waiting for their new brides accept them, and vice versa? The details you may read for yourself online here, and probably elsewhere as well. (Follow the link.)

   At this much later date, while the story can still be enjoyed for its more humorous overtones, any larger appeal may only be of historical interest. In 1952 science fiction was just beginning to move away from scientific puzzles to be solved, if not out and out space opera. In their place were coming stories based on situations and dilemmas as they were expected to rise in the future, but on a more personal level. As is the case here.

   In the radio adaptation, streamlined to just over 20 minutes, the implementation of the plan to solve the problem described above is carried out by a couple of con men, hoping to make their fortune by taking off with the money put down of the miners working on Mars before the women from Earth actually arrive. The end result is the same. It’s just gotten to in a slightly different way.


PHILIP K. DICK “The Gun.” Short story. First published in Planet Stories, September 1952. First collected in Beyond Lies the Wub (Underwood Miller, hardcover, 1987; volume one of The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick, sold only as a five-volume set.) Also collected in The King of the Elves (Subterranean Press, hardcover, 2011), among others.

   This appears to have been Philip K. Dick’s second published SF story, not including some he had published in a college newspaper. The first also appeared in Planet Stories, that being “Beyond Lies the Wub” in the July 1952 issue. “The Gun” is a minor story, admittedly, a fact reflected by noting that all of its later reprint appearances gave been in collections of his early work and never picked up for a major anthology of any import.

   In 1952 the quality of the stories in Planet Stories was beginning to pick up. Authors like Ray Bradbury and Leigh Brackett had been appearing all through the 40s, but authors such as Poul Anderson, Gordon R. Dickson and Eric Frank Russell were beginning to be added to the mix. (Anderson, for example, had a story in this same issue; see below. Also among his early work, but still a sign of significant improvement.)

   It is not clear whether the devastated planet is Earth or the crew of the spaceship that comes to investigate is from Earth (my sense was it was the latter), but an atomic war had left the planet covered with bare earth or uninhabitable slag. And yet the investigating ship is shot down without warning, from a gun they could not see.

   A veteran SF reader will know right away that the gun is acting on it own, a remnant of two sides fighting each other to the bitter end. They manage to disable to gun so they can safely take off, but a twist in the end suggests that they have made a serious error.

   What adds a bit of poignancy to the story is the discovery of a hidden horde of material hidden away for safekeeping by one of the two warring sides about their culture. It is this single factor that makes this short take stand out, if only in a small way, hinting that the author may have had a future ahead of him. Which of course he did.


      Other stories in this issue (thanks to ISFDb) —

4 • Evil Out of Onzar • novella by Mark Ganes
30 • Zero Data • novelette by Charles Saphro
46 • The Gun • short story by Philip K. Dick
54 • The Star Plunderer • [Technic History] • novelette by Poul Anderson
70 • Thompson’s Cat • short story by Robert Moore Williams
78 • Big Pill • short story by Raymond Z. Gallun
90 • The Slaves of Venus • novelette by James E. Gunn [as by Edwin James]

GERALD TOMLINSON “Another Wandering Daughter Job.” Matt Coleridge #1. Published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, March 1978. Reprinted in Ellery Queen’s Anthology #52, 1985.

   The first job Gerald Tomlinson (1933-2006) had out out of college was as an English teacher, but he soon discovered that the world of publishing was a better fit for him, first at Harcourt Brace and then Holt, Rinehart and Winston. Between 1974 and 1999 he also wrote some three dozen short fiction crime stories, most of them for EQMM and AHMM.

   None of them seem to have used the same leading character more than once, though, including this one, and that’s a shame, since I for one think that Matt Coleridge deserved another outing. Colerdge is the sole proprietor of the World-Wide Detective Agency, based in Manhattan. His only employee is a 29-year-old secretary, who, in his own words, “thinks she loves me.”

   He’s hired in this case to find the wayward daughter (and ex-stripper) of a long-dead gangster and more recently his wife, who has just left her an estate worth eighty million dollars, if she can be found. Not surprisingly, the publicity brings several would-be Melva Dominic’s out from hiding, all of whom but one are quickly rubbed out or otherwise done away with — but why?

   The reason, once discovered, as sometimes happens, isn’t as interesting as the building up to it, but the story overall is nicely done and was certainly worth another. For whatever reason, Tomllnson never followed through. I wish he had.

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