JOHN A. SAXON – Liability Limited. M. S. Mill, hardcover, 1947. Ace Double D-81, paperback reprint, 1954; published back-to-back with Too Many Sinners, by Sheldon Stark. Pulpville Press, trade paperback, 2009.

   This is the first of two recorded cases L.A.-based insurance investigator Sam Welpton happens to have been involved in. Both were published under Saxon’s name, but the second, Half-Past Mortem (Mill, also 1947), was ghost-written by famed pulp writer Robert Leslie Bellem after Saxon’s death that same year. (My guess is that they were friends, and Bellem stepped in to help fulfill a contract, but that is only a guess. I have no sources whatsoever to support this statement.)

   Whatever the circumstances, one could wish for a better book. It’s competently written, but the story is far too complicated and there’s no zip nor drive to it. What may keep you reading as it did me is the fact that there is an “impossible” crime aspect to it.

   Welpton is interviewing an interested party in a fatal accident when the fellow suddenly looks behind Welton, pulls out a gun, but before he can shoot, he dies with a bullet hole in the middle of his forehead. What the problem is, as far as Welpton is concerned, is that the door behind him is chained in such a way it can open a few inches, and the shooter would have had to have been a contortionist to shoot with such accuracy at an impossible angle.

   That’s the interesting part of the tale. Not so interesting is the local chief of police who has a solid grudge against Welpton from a previous encounter, and if there were a means of pinning the murder on him, he’d do it. Since he can’t, he beats him up anyway.

   This all happens in the first 22 or 23 pages. There must be a connection between the murder and the fatal accident, but what? Welpton encounters a long list of other characters as he tries to clear his name, none more than mildly interesting, gets shot at, finds another dead murder victim, this one female, and so on. This is all competently done, to repeat myself, but even if you like reading old paperback mysteries solved by PI’s, even of the Hollywood variety, you can definitely do better than this one.