ASA BAKER The Kissed Corpse

  ASA BAKER – The Kissed Corpse. Carlyle House, hardcover, 1939. Arrow Mystery #8, digest-sized paperback, 1944.

   The detective in The Kissed Corpse, and the earlier Mum’s the Word for Murder, is Jerry Burke, recently brought in to oversee the El Paso, Texas, police department.

   These are the only two books that Burke and Asa Baker (as narrator) appear in. Asa Baker the writer, is in reality Davis Dresser, of course, who is, as you all know (I’m sure), far better known as Brett Halliday, creator of PI Michael Shayne. The latter first appeared in Dividend on Death in 1939, the same year as this book, and either Shayne became instantly popular or else Halliday/Dresser found more possibilities in writing about a Miami-based PI than he did about an El Paso police detective.

   The style of writing in this last adventure of Jerry Burke, then, has the strong aroma of the pulps, at least in the beginning, but as the story goes on, and as some of the wilder activity dies down, it begins to resemble more and more the formal detective story A small houseful of suspects, that is to say, with the detective(s) trying to uncover the clue that will finally revela the killer’s identity.

ASA BAKER The Kissed Corpse

   Dead are the two participants in a scheme to gain expropriation fees for Americans after Mexico has taken over their oil lands — one a soldier of fortune violently opposed to the idea, the other the rich American behind the plot. Complicating matters is the tough female reporter that “Baker” finds himself falling in love with, but who may actually be the killer. (It is her lipstick that is found on the first body, as well as a strange symbol of a double-barred cross.)

   If I found Jerry Burke and Asa Baker rather bland, it’s no surprise, since I’ve generally found Mike Shayne to be in the same category. The plot and the several twists are interesting, however, and any pulp detective fan who can find this book should read it. I think Laura Yates had possibilities, too, and it’s too bad we’ll never hear about what kind of excitement she got into next. (That she simply settled down and married Asa Baker is a possibility, but it’s one I refuse to dwell upon.)

— Reprinted from Mystery*File 37, no date given, slightly revised.


Editorial Comment:   Mike Nevins reviewed Mum’s the Word for Murder in one of his columns for this blog not too long ago. Check it out here.