JOHN NICHOLAS DATESH – The Janus Murder. Leisure Books, paperback original, 1979.

   One of the pleasures that comes from doing a regular column on mysteries like this one is that once in a while a book comes along that I can point out to that you might not have known about otherwise.


   While it’s not a book all of you are going to turn somersaults over, it is one you’re probably going to have to go out and do some hunting for if you want it.

   For example, who ever reads anything published by Leisure Books? And just look at that cover. I’m no expert, but that certainly looks like a double-barreled shotgun to me, suggesting a Mafia revenge novel, or if not that, then most certainly a crime novel crammed to the cranny with violence. Even the most dedicated private eye fan is going to think twice before opening this one up.

   Surprise. Believe it or no, this is a detective story. Not a bit of blood’n’guts in the book. The private eye’s name is Casey Carmichael. He may not be the most brilliant detective in the business, but he’s honest, he’s dedicated, and he tries hard. (He works out of Pittsburgh, by the way, and it’s been along time since anyone could say that about a detective story.)

   He’s hired in The Janus Murder by a female client to exonerate a man, her fiance, who’s been accused of killing her father. It seems he made the fatal mistake of committing the murder while being overheard on an open party line.

   That there’s no easier way of framing someone doesn’t seem to have occurred to anyone, and as I mentioned before, even Casey doesn’t seem always to have all his brain cells clicking at once.

   This is a novel that simply cries out for some substantial line-by-line editing, but there are some subtle clues in the midst of the telling. Remarkably, some of them are left for only the reader to catch the significance of, and as the title indicates, a number of the clues are two-faced as well, including the one of the little gray man from upstate New York who turns out to be the key to unraveling the entire case.

   This is definitely little more than raw material for the true connoisseur, but it could easily have been much more than it is. And with it all — this is the truth — I found it very much impossible to put down.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier,
   Vol. 3, No. 5, Sept-Oct 1979. Slightly revised.

[UPDATE] 01-29-11.   Leisure was indeed a small, obscure paperback publisher when this book came out, but until its recent financial problems came along, it had survived and was doing a fine business putting out westerns, historical romances, and even more importantly, the line of Hard Case Crime novels.

   The book is probably more easily found today than when I wrote this review, what with the ease you can buy most every book on the Internet. In fact, and this surprised me, you can download a copy almost immediately to your Kindle. That’s where I got the cover image, not from the original paperback.

   As for the book itself, I can add one other thing. The letter grade I gave it back in 1979 was a solid “B minus.” Unfortunately, while Datesh has two other books in Hubin, both written about the same time, neither one is a follow-up adventure for PI Casey Carmichael.