William F. Deeck

GLENN M. BARNS – Murder Is a Gamble. Phoenix Press, hardcover, 1952. Bestseller Mystery #162, digest-sized paperback, no date [1953]. Wildside Press, softcover, 2010.

   This is a most surprising entry from the legendary Phoenix Press. It is a reasonably literate, reasonably entertaining private-eye novel with a sort of locked-room murder.

   Jonathan (Jonny) Marks is assigned by the agency he works for to be a bodyguard to Col. Alexander Smallwood. Part of the deal that the Colonel arranges with the agency is that, should he be murdered, the agency will make sure that the Colonel’s killer is apprehended and brought to justice.

   The Colonel, it turns out, is a card player of some ability and not a great deal of honesty. He has enemies because of this talent, but these apparently are not the people about whom he is worried.

   For reasons known only to himself, the Colonel dismisses Marks, and then is found dead in his hotel room, an apparent suicide. Marks, of course, is convinced that the Colonel was murdered, although no one came up on the elevator to the Colonel’s floor, the doors to the stairs are locked automatically each night, and the few other people on the floor appear to be innocent, at least of murder.

   The police sergeant, surprisingly intelligent in a novel of this type, is sure that it was suicide, but says he is willing to change his mind if Marks can come up with some proof.

   Marks’s investigation is somewhat haphazard, the motive of the murderer is somewhat untenable, and the solution to the “locked room” is a bit disappointing. Still, Marks is a rather interesting character, and the writing is way, way above average for a Phoenix Press book.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 9, No. 4, July-August 1987.

Bibliographic Note:   Of the seven criminous titles under Barns’s byline in Al Hubin’s Crime Fiction IV, one other is a case solved by Jonathan Marks, that being Murder Is Insane (Lippincott, 1956). I know nothing about this second book, but I cannot resist pointing out that Lippincott was ranked much more highly in publishing circles than Phoenix Press was, then and now.