by Marvin Lachman

STEPHEN WRIGHT – The Adventures of Sandy West, Private Eye. Self-published: Mystery Notebooks Editions, large softcover, 1986.

Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 9, No. 2, March/April 1987.

   A recent sub-genre of the mystery is the historical set in the recent past, not a century or more ago as were some of the non-series books of John Dickson Carr. Foremost exponents of this new sub-genre, which features actual people, are Andrew Bergman and Stuart Kaminsky, but there are others, including, now, Stephen Wright, who makes his debut with The Adventures of Sandy West, Private Eye.

   Try to imagine a mystery in which Dashiell Hammett, W. Somerset Maugham, Marilyn Monroe, and Humphrey Bogart play important roles. Since Sandy West is probably mystery fiction’s first bisexual detective, part of the suspense comes from trying to guess who’s going to bed with whom.

   A combination of serious murder mystery and spoof of this sub-genre, it doesn’t really succeed as either but will entertain the reader willing to suspend disbelief, enjoy very erotic passages, and have some fun following the adventures of a very inexperienced detective who meets Dashiell Hammett on a train to New York immediately after World War II.

   West is returning after being discharged from the U.S. Navy; Hammett is heading East to open a detective agency in New York, and he hires West. Soon West is on his first case and traveling around New York, and then Hollywood, in famous company to solve it.

   Because the author, like his hero, is relatively inexperienced, there are not enough real clues or detection to make this book appeal to lovers of classic detection. Also, there is occasional repetitiveness. Sandy West drinks enough Scotch during the book to float the British Navy (and fill several pages).

   Still, he is different from any other private eye I’ve read about, and it isn’t often that one can say that about a character.

Editorial Update. [09-26-09]   I’ve not been able to find a cover image for this book, it may not be surprising for you to learn. I’ve not even been able to find a copy of it for sale. Marv included information as to how to order the book directly from the author, but since he died in the year 2000, I deleted it, assuming that was not likely to have done you much good, assuming of course, that you were tempted by Marv’s review into wanting a copy.

    I did find an obituary for Mr. Wright online (follow the link), and in it, the following information caught my eye. “In the winter of 1984 he began yet another quarterly newsletter, Stephen Wright’s Mystery Notebook. It specialized in publishing book reviews and information on new publications in the genre, as well as original pieces by established and unknown authors.”

    Has anyone seen a copy of the newsletter? Or has anyone (besides Marv) seen a copy of the book?