RICHARD WORMSER – The Body Looks Familiar. Dell First Edition A156; paperback original; 1st printing, March 1958. A shorter version previously appeared in the September 1957 issue of Cosmopolitan magazine as “The Frame.” Also: Stark House Press, trade paperback, 2017, combined with The Late Mrs. Five, also by Wormser; introduction by Bill Crider.

   After reading I don’t know how many thousands of mystery novels in my lifetime, it seems strange to say this, but all of them have been different in some way from the others. Sometimes in very minor ways, sometimes more. Sometimes a lot more. Like this one.

   In fact, I’m inclined to say that the story line in this one is unique. Absolutely. You can tell me if I’m wrong or not by keeping on reading.

   The problem is, if I tell you what the story line is, it may tell you more than you want to know. For once, the blurbs inside the front cover and on the back cover are rather vague about it. On the other hand, the factor that makes it unique takes place in Chapter One, so if you were to start reading the book yourself, you’d find out soon enough anyway.

   But maybe you’d like to learn what it is that I’m talking about on your own. Hence the following


   Reading any further will reveal essential plot elements that you may not wish to know about in advance.

   What happens in Chapter One? Well, now I’ll tell you. The assistant D.A. for an unnamed city kills the mistress girl friend of the city’s chief of police in the apartment he keeps for her and frames the murder on him. He shoots her right in front of him, taking the chief’s gun away from him by surprise and using it for the deed.

   What’s his motive? Revenge. James Latson, fast on his feet both in the political arena as well as in the bedroom, had taken Dave Corday’s wife away from him. She later committed suicide when she was dumped by Latson, and Corday could not bear the shame of taking her back.

   Whew! With an opening like that, you (the reader) have no way of knowing which way the story is going from there. Of course you’ve got to believe that Corday’s plan has any chance at all of working, and Richard Wormser as the author has his job cut out for him.

   For the most part he’s up to the task, but I have to admit that reading this particular work of crime fiction was like reading a science fiction novel, one for which the “willing suspension of disbelief” is a required element of what the reader has to bring along to the task.

   It’s not a classic, far from it, but it’s not as though reading this book really was a task. It only took a very enjoyable couple of hours, mostly spent in guessing which way the story was going to go next — and usually being wrong about it.

   Richard Wormser, by the way, was born in 1908 and wrote a couple of hardcover detective novels in the mid-1930s before switching to writing for the pulps and slick magazines through the 1940s. Westerns, adventure, mysteries, the whole gamut.

   Mostly he’s remembered, if at all, for the paperback originals, including movie tie-in’s, he did from the late 1950s on to early 1970s. He died in 1977.

[FOOTNOTE] Also shown are the covers for:

The Communist’s Corpse. Smith & Haas, hc, 1935. Series character: Sgt. Jocelyn “Joe” Dixon.

Argosy. April 6, 1940. Includes the story “Detour, Mr. Darwin,” by Richard Wormser. (His name should be discernible in the upper right corner.)

[UPDATE.]   This review was first posted on this blog on November 18, 2008. I’ve reposted it without any changes except for the information about the recent Stark House reprint. I started reading it today, and I said to myself, “This sounds familiar.” It was.