Fri 13 Sep 2013
by Bill Pronzini
POUL ANDERSON – Murder Bound. Macmillan, hardcover, 1962. No paperback edition.
A celebrated writer of fantasy and science fiction for more than thirty-five years, Poul Anderson produced three mystery novels (and a handful of short stories) in the 1950s and 1960s featuring Trygve Yamamura, a half Norwegian, half Japanese/Hawaiian judo expert, samurai-sword connoisseur, and private investigator. Murder Bound is the last and in some ways best of the three — an eerie tale of murder and menace spiced with elements of the supernatural.
On board the Norwegian freighter Valborg bound for San Francisco, a Nazi fugitive named Benrud is discovered masquerading as chief steward. Benrud, armed with a red fire ax, vanishes during the struggle to capture him. He is presumed drowned, and yet doubts linger in the minds of the Valborg’s crew and only passenger, mathematician Conrad Lauring.
Those doubts prove prophetic: Later, in San Francisco, Lauring finds himself haunted by a faceless form-a man who whistles the Horst Wessel song, who drips seaweed, who carries a red fire ax. Is it the specter of one who died at sea, what the superstitious Norwegian sailors call a draug? Or is Benrud still alive and bent on further crimes?
Trygve Yamamura is called in to investigate and sleuths his way to the truth in “a truly chilling climax in the ill-lit hold of the Valborg, when natural and seemingly supernatural forces meet and lock in deadly embrace.”
Yamamura is much more a cerebral detective than a man of action, so the pace here tends to be rather slow. He is also rather colorless and sketchily drawn, despite his ethnic heritage and skills, and tends to hold some curious (and unappetizing) political and sociological opinions. Still, Murder Bound is entertaining, primarily because it is rich in the smell of sea and fog, and the flavor of Norse legends.
Anderson’s other two Trygve Yamamura novels are Perish by the Sword (1959), which deals with a stolen samurai sword; and Murder in Black Letter (1960), which is concerned with a valuable pre-Renaissance manuscript on witchcraft and the murder of a history professor at the University of California.
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.