BRUNO FISCHER – Murder in the Raw. Gold Medal #694, paperback original; 1st printing, August 1957. Cover art: James Meese. Reprinted as #1011, 1960.

   I don’t think it’s much of an exaggeration to say that Bruno Fischer wrote hundreds of pulp mystery stories, or if it is, it isn’t by much. (I’m counting stories under his own name as well as Russell Gray and Harrison Storm.) The first of these was “The Cat Woman” which appeared in the November 1936 issue of Dime Mystery Magazine under the Russell Gray byline.

   He wrote one hardcover mystery novel in 1939 (So Much Blood, for the obscure Greystone Press) but it wasn’t until the mid-1940s that he made the transition to novel length work for good. He was one of the early authors to sign up with Gold Medal when they began publishing, circa 1950, writing 11 novels for them throughout the first year they were in business.

   Obviously the most provocative thing about Murder in the Raw — well, make it two — are the title and the cover art, both designed to catch the eye of a would-be buyer (male, of course). I don’t know if the title was Fischer’s choice, but the scene shown is in the book.

   But even so, both the title and the cover art disguise the fact that this is a pretty good detective story and an even better character study. When newspaper reporter Clem Prosper tries to take a short vacation in a lodge along a lake, he finds his host missing and himself falling in love with a young woman living nearby who has been badly scarred by having been acquitted of killing her husband, a man she loved but did not know his secret life was that of a notorious gangster.

   Fischer does a good job of hiding the identity of the true killer, suggesting at one time it is one person, then another, and convincing the reader each time that it could have been him or her. I think that’s the sign of a good author, to flesh out and define his (or her) characters well enough to make what’s essentially a puzzle plot actually work.