A REVIEW BY STEPHEN MERTZ:


W. T. BALLARD
– Murder Can’t Stop.

David McKay Co., hardcover, 1946. Paperback reprint: Graphic #26, 1950.

W. T. BALLARD Murder Can't Stop

   I had high hopes for this one. W. T. Ballard was a prominent Black Mask writer and a friend and contemporary of both Hammett and Chandler, and I found his first novel (Say Yes to Murder, 1942) to be a fine Hollywood tough guy mystery.

   Murder Can’t Stop was Ballard’s second book and, like the first, stars Bill Lennox, trouble shooter on call for General Consolidated Studios; a character Ballard had introduced in Black Mask in the early Thirties.

   Another promising feature was that this second Lennox adventure is a “corrupt town” novel, my favorite sub-genre of the hardboiled form (i.e., hero is in provincial community to unravel a murder and finds that the town is controlled from top to bottom by two or more criminal-political factions. Hero proceeds to solve the murder and almost incidentally clean up the town by the simple expedient of playing the various corrupt factions off against each other).

   But after all the high hopes, Murder Can’t Stop proved, unfortunately, to be a major disappointment. The book is just too busy to succeed.

W. T. BALLARD Murder Can't Stop

   The setting is right: Lennox is in a one horse mining burg in northern California, nursemaiding a Consolidated star who’s been ordered to sober up by the head office. There’s murder — the body is found in Lennox’s own bed — and more murder (five in all) and the more Bill investigates, the more layers of corruption and deceit he uncovers beneath the town’s outwardly sedate veneer.

   Indeed, there are more plots and subplots here than in a Lew Archer story. And that’s the problem.

   What should have been a novel of pace and characterization becomes so preoccupied with the detailing of treachery and doublecrossing between the principals of the overpopulated cast that there’s little space left for the character development necessary for any of it to mean very much.

   This is most disappointing in the case of Lennox, who in Say Yes to Murder emerged as a likeable, believably complex hero of the medium-to-hardboiled type.

   Murder Can’t Stop is, sad to say, recommended for Ballard completists only.

From The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 3, No. 4, July-August 1979.



[EDITORIAL COMMENT]   For a complete list of all of Ballard’s book-length mystery fiction, please see my review of Lights, Camera, Murder, a Bill Lennox novel that he wrote in 1960 as a paperback original by John Shepherd. It was posted here last year on the blog.    — Steve