A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Marcia Muller

DEREK MARLOWE – Somebody’s Sister. Viking, hardcover, 1974. Penguin, paperback, 1977. First published in the UK: Jonathan Cape, hardcover, 1974.

   Somebody’s Sister is an attempt by a British author to write an American hard-boiled private-eye novel — and quite a successful attempt it is.

DEREK MARLOWE Somebody's Sister

   The investigator, Walter Brackett, is a fifty-three-year-old Englishman operating in San Francisco. His wife has died, his business has nearly gone to ruin, and he has an emotionally crippled partner, Harry Kemble, in a rest home.

   Brackett visits Kemble every Saturday; otherwise he sits in his office above Fatty’s Delicatessen waiting for clients who seldom materialize. Brackett is likable and sympathetic but — in the tradition of the hard-boiled novel — he keeps his reader at a distance.

   On this particular Saturday, Brackett returns from his usual visit to find the police waiting: A young girl has been killed in an auto accident on the Golden Gate Bridge, and Brackett’s card was in the car; the police want him to make an identification.

   At the morgue, Brackett finds the girl is Mary Malewski, a prospective client who wanted him to find her father; Brackett never investigated for her, however, because she suddenly ran out of his office. Also at the morgue Brackett encounters a man named Loomis who apparently witnessed the accident.

   Later Loomis leaves a message asking Brackett to visit him at his Sausalito motel. Brackett goes, but before he can talk to the man, Loomis is fatally shot in the car wash across the street! The police tell Brackett to stay out of the investigation; Loomis was a drug informer, involved in something too big for a down-at-the-heels private eye. But Brackett can’t stay out of it; he senses Loomis’s death and that of the girl are connected.

   So he digs — in the lowly dives of North Beach where the girl lived; in an expensive home in Pacific Heights where her aging lover resides — until he finally must face a personally shattering truth.

   The book is well plotted, and just when the reader thinks he knows what is really going on, he encounters another unexpected twist. In fact, its only faults are minor: a clue that could have been better placed; geographical discrepancies that are more likely to bother San Franciscans than anyone else; the San Francisco police having jurisdiction over a crime which happens in Sausalito across the Bay. (The novel is dedicated to newspaper columnist Herb Caen, who is often referred to as “Mr. San Francisco”; perhaps if Marlowe had consulted Caen, these discrepancies wouldn’t have happened.)

   Unfortunately Marlowe — who has written a number of other suspense novels, including the well-received Dandy in Aspic (1966) — chose not to make Brackett a series character.

   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.