CHARLES L. CLIFFORD – While the Bells Rang. Doubleday Crime Club, hardcover, 1941. [Also published in novella form in The American Magazine, March 1941.]

   Except for one borderline item, according to Hubin, this book constitutes the extent of Clifford’s contribution to novel-length crime fiction. (According to the dust jacket, he was well known for his short stories, but if any of them were detective stories, I’m embarrassed to say I don’t know.)

   When the story begins, a great deal has already happened. A well-known columnist has been murdered on a polo-player’s ranch, and an army captain from the base adjoining has already been tried and convicted. Convinced of his innocence, however, his fiancee and his closest army buddy decide to become partners and do a little bit of undercover detective work to prove it.

   The delivery is fast and slangy — the combined effect, I imagine, of the army post background plus the presence of the fast-paced horsey set next door — while at times a little too much is left unsaid, making the whole affair seem to be taking place in another time and another place altogether. Through the faulty focus of this self-contained time-machine, it’s no great wonder the pieces of the puzzle seem continually blurred and fractionally out of place.

   And yet, before it was all over, the characters had started to show definite signs of life, and some of their romantic entanglements had begun to seem important to me as well as to them.

   If Clifford had been able to give his amateur sleuths a little more direction, if he had gathered his own material a little more tightly together, if he’d forced the plot to ramble a little less, I’m convinced he’d have had a winner.

   That’s a lot of “ifs,” I grant you. I was left in a good mood when it was over, though, and I really think he came closer than I thought for a while he was going to.

Rating:   B minus.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 5, No. 3, May/June 1981.


[UPDATE] 11-10-14.   I don’t remember this one at all, not even with the review itself to jog my memory. I have it to admit it. It’s time to start over.

   One other thing. In the comments that followed David Vineyard’s recent review of a novel by Charles Williams, there was a short discussion of pairs of authors with the same name. Here’s another one for you. The real name of Robert Ames, who wrote three paperback originals for Gold Medal in the 50s, was Charles Clifford. You could look it up.