DON VON ELSNER – Just Not Making Mayhem Like They Used To. Signet S2040, paperback original, 1961.

   It’s not often I review a book I haven’t actually finished but here goes. And I warn you at the outset that there may be SPOILERS lurking in the shadows here.

   I bought this because the title seemed clever, and as I got into it, it looked fast, fun and forgettable… well it turned out to be two out of three. In fact, it starts off pretty well, with a particularly nasty blackmail racket, run by a team of ruthless professionals. We get a terse opening as they ply their trade, and then…

   Then the scene shifts to our hero, Colonel David Danning, retired from the military and working, when he chooses, as a high-powered attorney-cum-investigator with a specialty in arrogance directed at those whose problems don’t interest him. Author Von Elsner surrounds Danning with the usual entourage: loyal and shapely secretary; brilliant and beautiful love-interest; bungling admirer…. Sort of like the Doc Savage Gang slanted a bit toward James Bond for the swinging ‘60s.

   Danning grudgingly agrees to look into a surprising spike in suicide claims for an insurance conglomerate, then becomes intrigued as he finds the common link among them, which of course is the nasty blackmailers.

   From this point on, Von Elsner runs the usual gamut of clichés: The unwilling witness withholds valuable information; someone figures it all out but gets knocked on the head and put in a coma; Danning is framed for theft and murder and fired by his client; and (my personal favorite) someone involved arranges to tell him everything “later” and ends up dead. And may I say I have often thought that if I ever want to end my life I will use the simple expedient of calling the Police to say I know the identity of the Real Murderer and arrange for them to come over for the information, secure in the knowledge that I will be dead when they get here, in the grand tradition of mystery books through the ages.

   Mayhem moves too fast for all this to get tiresome however, and I zipped easily through it until I got to the penultimate chapter, when Danning explains everything to the Bewildered Cops and sundry bystanders. But when he got to the part about Transvestite Acrobats I could take no more. I mean, really: Transvestite acrobats? Really?

   Von Elsner may have written something meaningful and significant in the last few pages, but I shall never know; I threw the book into my “Sell This Book” pile, sadly aware that I had squandered those hours of my precious youth. I recommend you save yourself the effort.