A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Bill Pronzini:

GEOFFREY HOMES – Forty Whacks.   William Morrow, hardcover, 1941. Paperback reprint: Bantam #117, 1947, as Stiffs Don’t Vote. Filmed as Crime by Night, Warner Brothers, 1944 (with Jerome Cowan, Jane Wyman, Faye Emerson, Eleanor Parker).

   Homes/Mainwaring created three completely different series detectives for his other eleven novels, each of them with unorthodox abilities.


   The first was newspaperman, Robin Bishop, who is featured in Homes’s first five titles, among them The Man Who Didn’t Exist (1937), which deals with the baffling suicide of a famous writer named Zenophen Zwick who seems never to have existed in the. first place.

   The second sleuth was Humphrey Campbell; an unconventional private investigator who, with his fat, lazy, and corrupt partner, Oscar Morgan, appears in one of the Bishop novels (Then There Were Three, 1938) and in four of his own.

   The third series detective was Mexican cop Jose Manuel Madero, “knitter extraordinary — not only of socks but of mysterious loose ends,” who stars in a pair of titles: The Street of the Crying Woman (1942) and The Hill of the Terrified Monk (1943).

   Chubby Humphrey Campbell is probably the best realized of the three; certainly his cases are Homes’s most intricate and satisfying detective puzzles. Forty Whacks involves Humphrey and Oscar in an ax-murder in the California town of Joaquin — “the second Borden case,” as Campbell refers to it.

   Humphrey, with grumpy Oscar watching out for any illegal dollar that might be made, sets out to prove that Joe Borden wasn’t responsible for the grisly remains found under the seat of an overturned rowboat floating down the San Joaquin River.


   Along the way he gets mixed up with a female artist’s representative; a successful concert pianist who gave up his career to hunt for gold; a tough lady newspaper publisher; a couple of mayoralty candidates; and a lot more bloody murder.

   The action in Forty Whacks is fast and furious, but there is a good deal more than that to recommend it: clever plotting, witty and remarkably good dialogue, and a lean style made lyrical in places by some of the most vivid descriptive writing to be found in all of mystery fiction.

   The other three Campbell-Morgan adventures — No Hands on the Clock (1939), Finders Keepers (1940), and Six Silver Handles (1944) — share the same qualities.

   Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.