A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Bill Pronzini:

H. PAUL JEFFERS – Murder on Mike. St. Martin’s Press, hardcover, 1984. Ballantine, reprint paperback, 1988. Júcar, Colección Etiqueta Negra nº21, 1987, Barcelona, as Muerte al micrófono.

   A small but persistent trend in recent years is the retrospective private-eye novel — the nostalgic adventures of PI’s operating in the Thirties and Forties, contemporary recreations of a bygone era.


   Andrew Bergman, Stuart Kaminsky, and Max Allan Collins have each done quite well with Chandleresque heroes of this sort; judging from the two Harry McNeil novels published to date — Rubout at the Onyx Club (1982) and Murder on Mike — H. Paul Jeffers will, too.

   McNeil is a very likable character, “an ex-cop who’s now a private investigator who’d prefer nothing better than to play clarinet with a top jazz band and leave the detective work to better guys,” a shamus who uses his head and his legs and his heart in lieu of violence. Harry McNeil, “the help of the hopeless.”

   It is a few days before Christmas, 1939. Harry is in his office above the Onyx Club on Fifty-Second Street, New York City. Enter Maggie Skeffington, a radio actress on “Detective Fitzroy’s Casebook” on the Blue Network (NBC).

   A few days earlier, Derek Worthington, the star of the show and a man heartily disliked by his co-workers, was shot to death in Studio 6B at Radio City; and Maggie’s boyfriend, announcer David Reed, has been arrested for the crime. Maggie is convinced that David is innocent, even though he is the only member of the cast and crew who does not have an airtight alibi for the time of the shooting.

   Harry takes the case, of course. And meets the various suspects: J. William Richards, owner of the Mellow-Gold Coffee Company and the show’s sponsor; Miles Flanagan, the producer; Veronica Blake, the head writer (with whom Harry later has an affair); Jason Patrick, Worthington’s costar; Rita DeLong, an aging musician; Guff Taylor, the engineer; and Jerry Nolan, the expert sound-effects man.

   Any of the lot might have killed Worthington — except for those alibis. The key to cracking the case lies with young Robby Miller, a Radio City tour guide, who heard the fatal shot fired through a studio mike someone inadvertently left open and who has turned up missing….

   The mystery here is lightweight but entertaining — until its resolution. The final unmasking, which Harry brings about in Studio 6B on Christmas day with the aid of a self-written radio script, is far-fetched and highly derivative of a famous novel by a certain popular Golden Age writer.

   That part of Murder on Mike is disappointing. Still, there is Harry. There is New York at Yuletide 1939, “a city for dreamers because it was a city that could make dreams come true,” a city full of fascinating real-life characters — Winchell, Woolcott, Ed Sullivan, and comedian Fred Allen (both of whom have speaking parts), dozens more.

   There is an equally fine evocation of the world of dramatic radio (a subject Jeffers knows intimately: He works for a Manhattan radio station). And there is a nice, old-fashioned flavor to the narrative, a feeling that you are reading a combination of whodunit and bittersweet private-eye romance written in 1939.

   Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.

H. PAUL JEFFERS, R. I. P. (1934-2009). According to a short online obituary in the Pottstown (PA) Mercury, H. Paul Jeffers died on Friday, December 4th, in Manhattan.

   Besides his fictional work (see below), in the 60s he was a Fulbright Scholar in the 1960s and reported from Vietnam with Peter Jennings. He later wrote news for WINS, WABC, WNBC, and WCBS, all in New York City. His non-fiction work included books on history, Westerns and biographies, including books on Theodore Roosevelt and Sherlock Holmes.

   The covers and titles of the books below may give you an idea of the wide range of his interests. If his non-fiction were to be included, the range would be even wider.

   The Harry MacNeil series:

      1. Rubout At the Onyx (1981)
      2. Murder On Mike (1984)
      3. The Rag Doll Murder (1987)

   The Morgan western series:

      1. Morgan (1989)
      2. Blood On the Nueces (1989)
      3. Texas Bounty (1989)

   The Sergeant John Bogdanovic series:

      1. A Grand Night For Murder (1995)
      2. Reader’s Guide to Murder (1996)


      3. Corpus Corpus (1998)

   The Arlene Flynn series:

      1. What Mommy Said (1997)


   The Nick Chase series, as by Harry Paul Lonsdale

      1. Where There’s Smoke, There’s Murder (1999)
      2. Smoking Out a Killer (2000)


      3. Up in Smoke (2001)

   The Kate Fallon series, as by M. T. Jefferson

      1. In the Mood for Murder (2000)


      2. The Victory Dance Murder (2000)
      3. Decorated for Murder (2002)

    Other Novels:

      Adventures of the Stalwart Companions (1981)


      Murder Most Irregular (1983)


      Portrait in Murder and Gay Colours (1985)
      Gods and Lovers (1989)
      Secret Orders (1989)
      Owlhoot Trail (1990)
      Tombstone Revenge (1991)
      The Forgotten Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (2005)
      The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: The Stalwart Companions (2010)