Tue 13 Nov 2012
William F. Deeck
WILSON TUCKER – The Chinese Doll. Rinehart, hardcover, 1946. Detective Book Club, hardcover, 3-in-1 edition, May 1947. Dell #343, mapback edition, 1949.
While you might think that a private detective in Boone, Illinois, would be underemployed, you would be right. In this documentary novel — in the form of letters from Charles Horne to Louise, the woman he is in love with — Horne is in his office trying to keep warm and working on his book, Lost Atlantis, of which seven chapters have been completed.
Into the office comes Harry W. Evans, who gives Horne $500 to bail him out of jail since he claims he will inevitably be arrested for spitting on the sidewalk, or jaywalking, or shoplifting, or whatever.
Naturally, Home is somewhat nonplussed, for the authorities in Boone are not noted for monkey business. To coin a phrase — or is it a clause? — little does he know. Evans leaves Home’s office, and as Horne is watching, a Studebaker sedan with supercharger strikes Evans, killing him, and then speeds off. Later Horne is invited into another Studebaker with supercharger, this time a coupe, driven by a beautiful Chinese girl, and ends up at an illegal gambling club.
All of this and another “accidental” death tie in with Evans. Horne doggedly and intelligently — though not brilliantly — investigates, getting some idea of who Evans was through Evans’s membership in an amateur publishing association and discovering another beautiful Chinese girl.
Even after he’d metaphorically rubbed my nose in it, Tucker fooled me on the villain, for which I give him great credit. The novel is well-written, amusing, and believable, up to the point of revealing the villain.
While I probably won’t make myself clear here, I accept that the villain was who Tucker says it was — the facts, once Horne pointed them out, prove it — but I don’t accept that the villain was who Tucker says it was. You’ll have to read the book to see what I mean, and you ought to read it anyhow, for it’s an excellent private-eye novel.
NOTE: Wilson “Bob” Tucker, was much more well known as a Science Fiction fan and author than he was a mystery writer. His entry on Wikipedia can be found here.
The Charles Horne series:
The Chinese Doll.Rinehart, 1946.
To Keep or Kill. Rinehart, 1947.
The Dove. Rinehart, 1948.
The Stalking Man. Rinehart, 1949.
Red Herring. Rinehart, 1951.