LOUIS TRIMBLE – Fit to Kill. Phoenix Press, hardcover, 1941.


   Trimble’s first book, or at least his first mystery — it’s possible that in his early days he started as a western writer — and the first appearance of dilettante detective Gerry Storm. And unless Al Hubin messed up, it seems to have been his only case worth mentioning. It’s the only book’s he’s appeared in.

   The book starts well, and ends well. The middle is not worth reading. I haven’t gotten around to writing my own first detective novel yet, but I’m convinced that that’s where the biggest hurdle lies. How do you make the process of investigating a murder interesting: finding clues, interrogating suspects, provide a little action and lively banter between the main characters, and keep the reader interested, all at the same time?

   This one lets us down on almost all of the above, but on the plus side, what Fit to Kill is, I am happy to say, is a locked room mystery. While there is a small gap in a partially opened window as a means for a murderer to have committed the crime, the flower box in the window has not been disturbed. More: the dead man was not shot or poisoned, but done in with the inevitable blunt instrument, more than 10 feet away from the window, and no sign of the weapon.

   The dead man, by the way, was a truly obnoxious creature — hence the title — and there is no dearth of suspects. Storm follows in the well-worn footsteps of Philo Vance and the early copy-cattish Ellery Queen. Nothing I’ve said, however, is enough for me to give this book more than a lukewarm recommendation. By 1941 maybe the Vancian charm was gone, or maybe Trimble was no S. S. Van Dine.

— Reprinted from Mystery*File 36,
     (slightly revised).

[UPDATE] 09-13-12.   Toward the end of his career, Trimble seemed to de-emphasize mysteries in favor of either science fiction and westerns. According to Al Hubin, though, he wrote nearly thirty mystery novels between 1941 and 1970, including several as by Stuart Brock and Gerry Travis.

   The vast majority of these were written for Phoenix Press or Mystery House, both lending-library publishers of no great distinction, or as paperback originals for Ace, including quite a few Ace Doubles. By the 1950s, Trimble’s mystery fiction had become much more hard-boiled in nature; based on the ones I’ve read, which in truth are not many, he was never a terrible writer, but he certainly never made it to the big time, either. Other than the fact that I wrote this review, I don’t remember Fit to Kill at all. You now know as much about it as I do.

   I discovered two copies for sale just now on abebooks.com. The cover of the one seen above is a facsimile, but it’s the cheaper of the two, with an asking price of $175.