by Marvin Lachman

Cohen: Corpse That Walked

   Octavus Roy Cohen’s 1951 paperback original, The Corpse That Walked, is based on his 1942 novelet in Collierís “Masquerade in Miami.” It contains many surprises, but perhaps this is to be expected since it comes from an era when story-telling, without unnecessary descriptions or metaphors, was important. I found very quaint (yet imaginative) the devices Cohen used to avoid mentioning sex.

   Hesitancy about sex (or violence) is seldom found in current mystery fiction. Witness Bill Pronzini’s Games (1976). U.S. Senator David Jackman is trapped, with his mistress, on an island off the Maine coast. A killer, acting “in the name of Lucifer,” begins slaughtering animals and threatening the couple. Because the protagonists are so unsympathetic and uninteresting, I never really came to care about them. That’s a pity, because Pronzini can write so well Ė especially in his “Nameless” Private Eye series.

   I was about to ask for a moratorium on books about political figures in high places when I read two thrillers proving that Washington, D.C., can be an effective setting. Though a best seller, Robert J. Serling’s The President’s Plane Is Missing (1967) contains many elements of the detective story. Suspense and surprise are real in this much-imitated book, though the cast of characters is too large to keep effective track of, and the proceedings are a bit dragged out.

MEYER Capitol Crime

   In Lawrence Meyer’s equally readable A Capitol Crime (1977), the detective is that modern folk hero, the investigative reporter. Incidentally, when someone writes a history of that sub-genre, precedence should be given to Tony Hillerman’s The Fly on the Wall (1971) which pre-dated Watergate and Bernstein-Woodward.

   Meyer’s hero looks into the murder of a Drew Pearson-Jack Anderson type in the Capitol building itself. Like Serling, Meyer introduces too many characters, but he, too, is a fine story teller who provides a literally breath-taking end. Furthermore, his book is as current as today’s headlines, and he seamlessly weaves foreign ownership of U.S. corporations, limits on campaign contributions, and the right of police to a reporter’s notes into his plot.

Ė To be continued.

Books reviewed or discussed in this installment:

OCTAVUS ROY COHEN – The Corpse That Walked. Gold Medal 138, paperback original, 1951. Second printing: Gold Medal 650, 1957.

BILL PRONZINI – Games. G. P. Putnamís Sons, hardcover, 1976. Fawcett Crest 23484, paperback, date not stated. Combined with Snowbound: Stark House, trade ppbk, 2007.


ROBERT J. SERLING – The Presidentís Plane Is Missing. Doubleday, hardcover, 1967. Dell, paperback, many printings. TV movie: ABC, 1973 (scw: Ernest Kinoy, Mark Carliner; dir: Daryl Duke)

SERLING President's Plane Is Missing

LAWRENCE MEYER – A Capitol Crime. Viking, hardcover, 1977. Avon, paperback, 1978; several printings.

TONY HILLERMAN – The Fly on the Wall. Harper & Row, hardcover, 1971. Many paperback reprintings.

HILLERMAN Fly on the Wall

Reprinted from the The MYSTERY FANcier, Mar-Apr 1979.