FRANK KANE – A Real Gone Guy. Dell D226, paperback reprint, May 1958; reprinted: 1966 [#7267]. Original hardcover edition: Rinehart & Co., 1956.

FRANK KANE A Real Gone Guy

   This is an experiment of sorts. I’m going to quote all of page one. It’s lengthy, but I think it’s worth doing. What direction do you think the story is going to go from here?

    The Hotel Seymour was a dingy-fronted narrow stone building that nestled anonymously in a row of similarly dingy, narrow stone buildings ranging between Seventh and Eighth Avenues in the low Thirties. The two men pushed through the revolving door, crossed the napless knobby rug to the elevators in the rear. Neither spoke, neither paid any attention to the man behind the registration desk.

    They walked to the back of the cage, stared at the back of the elevator boy who was preoccupied with the absorbing task of digging a black crescent of the nail of his index finger with a toothpick.

    “Take us up,” the younger of the two men grunted. He was thick shouldered, heavy in the face. His fedora was pulled low over his eyes, its brim almost touching the top of his eyebrows. His companion was older, slight. He wore a baggy blue suit, a battered fedora pushed to the back of his head.

   The elevator operator pulled his eyes up from his nails languidly, prepared to argue. Upon seeing the man, he decided against it. He looked for support to where the starter leaned against the glass counter of the cigar stand in a perennially unsuccessful make the blonde who presided over it. The starter had his back turned.

FRANK KANE A Real Gone Guy

    “You don’t hear so good. I said take us up,” the big man growled.

    The operator licked at his lips, slammed the gates and pushed down the handle. “What floor?”

   What comes next? That’s exactly what you’ll be tested on in a minute. In the meantime, I’ll continue talking while you think about it. This is a Johnny Liddell private eye story, as most of Kane’s mystery novels were, and it’s the real goods.

   Here are some of the blurbs quoted inside the front cover, and all of them are true:

“If you like ’em tough, here’s your dish.”

“A racy, dangerous puzzler.”

“Never slackens its pace.”

“A tough, lively story by an expert writer.”

“Plenty of action in this hard-boiled, lurid story.”

   Back to page one. The two guys are cops — did you guess? — on their way up to what turns out to be a fatal shoot-out with a guy who starts firing first, and one of the policemen also ends up dead.

FRANK KANE A Real Gone Guy

   And here’s the next twist. Liddell is hired to prove that the guy in the room was murdered, which doesn’t get him in good graces with the police department, no matter how good his connections are. His client is a woman who he knows only from her voice on the phone, not to mention the $200 retainer.

   There is also a good-looking nightclub singer involved, as well as lots of gangsters and bodyguards and women down on their luck, having pushed it too far. There is a smart-talking newspaper reporter lady named Muggsy, who gives Liddell an alibi when he needs one, at the sacrifice of her honor.

   Which is about as lurid as it gets, when it comes down to it, but it takes some brainwork as well a brawn to solve the puzzle, which Liddell very smartly does, as soon as the page count starts working its way up to 192. (Which is, of course, all there are.)

   Not a book to be long remembered in the annals of mystery fiction, but it got me through a flight from Hartford to Chicago, and it pleasured me the entire way. And in just in case you were wondering, everyone smokes up a storm, with lots of fingernails flicking tiny bits of tobacco off of tongues, but nary a brand name in the lot, not even a Lucky.

— August 2003