ROBERT KYLE – Blackmail, Inc.

Dell First Edition A155; 1st printing, February 1958. Cover art: Victor Kalin. Second printing: Dell 0577, March 1967.


   If it matters, and inquiring minds always need to know, Robert Kyle was in reality Robert Terrall, and the latter wrote nine books as Kyle, all paperback originals from Dell. Of the nine, five chronicled the adventures of New York City private eye Ben Gates, of which this was the first. The fifth and final one, Ben Gates Is Hot, appeared in 1964.

   Terrall wrote only a bare handful of books under his own name; starting in 1965, he essentially took over as the primary writer of Brett Halliday’s Mike Shayne books, beginning, with Nice Fillies Finish Last. (He’d also written one of the hardcover Shayne’s, Murder In Haste, back in 1961.)

   But Fillies was the first of the Mike Shayne books to be published as a paperback original, again by Dell, and except for reprints like Blackmail, Inc., Ben Gates was dropped, never to be heard from again.

   But as I say, this is the first Ben Gates book, and with it, there’s quite a bit of back story that needs to be filled in for him along the way.


   It seems he’s just lost his license, he’s out of work and he can’t find a job. He’s about to take a security position on some oil field along the Persian Gulf when he decides to take a last-minute offer to work for the publisher of Authentic, “the biggest and the meanest of all the scandal magazines.” The man and the magazines are both leery of lawsuits, and Gates is just the man to give them a hand.

   Roland Van Nuys does not seem to be the kind of man anyone would care to work for, but then again, three grand for one month’s work is not poultry feed. And add the fact that scummy private eye Rupert Weil is same guy who (a) submitted the story Van Nuys is worried about, and who (b) was pretty much the one single guy responsible for getting Gates’s license lost.

   But when a glamorous movie star like Sally Spaine comes along, who thinks Van Nuys is going to be doing a story on her next, and offers Gates $4000 to work for her instead, he turns her down. To me, it doesn’t make sense, but you figure Gates knows what he’s doing. On the other hand, page 23, he says, “Someone was being conned around here, and it could be me.”

   Or, if I may, here’s a longer quote from page 31:

     I reached for my hat. “If there were any saints in New York, they never found their way to my office. I took a chance on somebody once, and it cost me my license. Clients are pretty much alike, except that some pay better than others. That’s my new philosophy, and I intend to stick to it.”


    “Do you have to be a private detective, Ben?”

    “Yes,” I said. “God knows why.”

   The writing is sometimes phrased not as smoothly as I might have wished, but mixed in with it are some decent PI-style metaphors and similes. Gates is a dues-paying member of the hard-boiled school, telling his own story, and not much caring if anyone thinks he’s a knight in shining armor or not.

   If the plot becomes somewhat muddled, after a firecracker couple of opening chapters, it’s made up for, and then some, by some closing theatrics that make the long and rather ordinary middle section worth the slog it takes to get through it.

   There are also some subtle and later not-so-subtle homophobic nuances scattered throughout the book; I was going to say they were incidental and not relevant to the solution to the mystery — Rupert Weil is the one who’s murdered, if I didn’t mention it, and I don’t think I did, and Gates is the number one suspect — but on second thought, for what it’s worth, maybe Kyle (Terrall) did mean them be more than incidental.

   For the reprint edition, there’s also a very nice painting of a nearly nude seductress on the front cover, and I’m really really sorry that at the moment, I don’t have a scan of it to show you. It’s by McDermott (no first name given) and she does have her shoes on.

— June 2003

[UPDATE] 11-17-09. I don’t remember details of plots. Never have and I probably never will. I began writing reviews to amuse myself and to help me remember what I read. But when I started writing reviews for other venues, I couldn’t be as specific as to the finer details as I was before.

   Therefore, all I can tell you about the paragraph one before the last is exactly what’s there, nothing more and nothing less.

   As for the last paragraph, I have a copy of the second printing, and I know what box it’s in, but where the box is, I can narrow it down to a three mile radius. I’m as tantalized by what the cover might display as you are, and maybe even more so. (Anyone who can help me out on this, please do!)

   And as for Robert Terrall himself, I reviewed Sand Dollars, one of the mystery thrillers he wrote under his own name, several months ago here on this blog. I also added some additional bibliographic information about him, along with a few additional covers, which are always nice to have when I can find them.