A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Marvin Lachman:

PATRICIA McGERR – Pick Your Victim. Doubleday Crime Club, hardcover, 1946. Paperback reprints: Dell #307, mapback edition, 1949; Macfadden 75-306, 1970.


   While literally thousands of mysteries have been based on the attempt to discover a murderer, Patricia McGerr’s is unique in disclosing the killer at the beginning and challenging detectives (and readers) to select the victim.

   Not content to rely upon an original idea, she followed through, though this was only her first book, to create a mystery that was worthy of its conception. It is small wonder that Barzun and Taylor, who labeled this book a “whodunin,” also called it a masterpiece.

   Pick Your Victim starts in the Aleutians in 1944, where a group of U.S. marines are fighting the “Great Battle of Boredom.” Reading matter is in short supply, and the never-broken rule is that “if there was printing on it, you read it.”

   Thus, a torn piece of newspaper discloses to Pete Robbins, former publicity agent, that his previous boss in Washington, D.C., has been arrested for murder. The name of the victim is missing, although the item states that it was an officer at SUDS (Society for the Uplift of Domestic Service), where Robbins was employed.


   Pete and his fellow marines agree on a sweepstakes with the prize going to the first to guess who was murdered before the news arrives from back home. Playing the role of a GI Scheherazade, Robbins tells his barracks mates about SUDS and his colleagues during his four years at that philanthropic organization.

   McGerr knows Washington, D.C., and the political, economic, and social life of the nation’s capital come alive in her novel. This is an unusually good blend of realism and satire, with the leading characters limned in a manner that makes them believable.

   The story is well plotted, with clues adroitly inserted. Unlike many books that start with splendid gimmicks, Pick Your Victim has an ending that is not a letdown.

   Much of the authenticity in this book undoubtedly came from McGerr’ s employment, from 1937 to 1943, as director of public relations for the American Road Builders Association in Washington. Though never quite matching the success of Pick Your Victim, she has built a writing career in which originality has been the keynote.


   Thus, in her next book, The Seven Deadly Sisters (1947), she leaves the identities of both victim and culprit to be determined when she has her heroine learn, through a letter, that one of her seven aunts has murdered her husband.

   McGerr’s one series character is Selena Mead, a Washington, D.C., society woman who doubles as a counterespionage agent. In addition to appearances in two novels Is There a Traitor in the House? (1964) and Legacy of Danger (1970). Mead is featured in numerous short stories in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine.

   Some of her other non-series mysteries are Catch Me If You Can (1948), Murder Is Absurd (1967), and Dangerous Landing (1975).

   Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.