RICHARD DEMING’s Manville Moon Series,
by Jon L. Breen


   Richard Deming (1915-1983) was a solid and reliable pro whose crime-writing career extended from late 1940s pulps to early 1980s digests. He also wrote several volumes of popular non-fiction late in his life.

   He is most likely to be remembered as one of the most prolific contributors to Manhunt and the early days of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine and as a paperback original writer, sometimes of novels based on TV shows (Dragnet, The Mod Squad, and under the pseudonym Max Franklin, Starsky and Hutch). He was also a frequent ghost for the Ellery Queen team on paperback originals and for Brett Halliday on lead novelettes for Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine.

   The private-eye hero of Deming’s earliest pulp stories and a number of his Manhunt stories was Manville Moon, who lost a leg in World War II, a disability that slows him down occasionally but not much.


   The four full-length novels about Moon, all reissued as ebooks by Prologue Books and available at Amazon in the three-to-four dollar range, are notable for their uncharacteristic (for Deming) hard covers and (with one exception) their evocative titles. They reveal Deming to be, in common with Rex Stout, George Harmon Coxe, Erle Stanley Gardner, and quite a few others, a writer who drew on both classical and hardboiled conventions.

   In The Gallows in My Garden (1952), Moon tells his story in smooth, relaxed, somewhat Goodwinesque first person. The terrific title comes from G.K. Chesterton’s “A Ballade of Suicide.” The setting is an unnamed Midwestern city, and the author exhibits a comfortable postwar Midwestern sensibility. The book is dedicated as follows: “To my mother, who would prefer me to write innocuous tales about members of Dover Place Church.”


   Though he will go through all the tough-guy paces, Moon is not really such a hardass and certainly a gentleman in his dealings with women. There’s some good character drawing but the secondary regulars (girlfriend Fausta Moreni, an Italian war refugee turned restaurateur; annoying comic sidekick Mouldy Green, a Moon Army buddy; and irascible friendly enemy cop Warren Day) seem made for radio.

   The case is a classical whodunit setup, focused on an inheritance. Moon’s client, a 19-year-old heiress who will not collect her massive fortune until her twenty-first birthday, tells him a series of seemingly accidental close calls have convinced her someone is trying to kill her.

   But it is her brother who becomes a murder victim. Many will share my immediate suspicion that Deming had lifted the plot and its ultimate solution from a very famous Golden-Age detective novel, and even those who do not know the novel in question might see that solution coming.

   Does Deming have a surprise in store? Moon conducts a gathering of the suspects to reveal the generously-clued killer. The devotion to fair play puzzle spinning continues in all four novels, but this first is much the best of them.


   Tweak the Devil’s Nose (1953) begins with the shooting of the lieutenant governor of Illinois outside El Patio, Fausta Moreni’s nightclub and restaurant. Fausta is rich, which is a problem for Manny, a situation similar to those in many of William Campbell Gault’s novels. More of the obligatory gangsters and fight scenes are there to pay Deming’s hardboiled dues. It’s highly readable and entertaining, though not as good as its predecessor.

   Give the Girl a Gun was originally published as Whistle Past the Graveyard (1954), a much better title, though the new one at least fits the story. Central to the plot is a new invention designed to prevent hunters from accidentally shooting each other. Deming inserts fisticuffs and a standard girlfriend in danger suspense sequence not vital to the main plot before another gathering of the suspects clears things up.

   Juvenile Delinquent, published in Great Britain in 1958, apparently never appeared as a complete novel in the United States prior to the Prologue ebook, though it was published in Manhunt (July 1955) in a shorter version.


   It lacks the light touch of earlier books in the series, offering a serious look at the J.D. problem with much preachment and speechifying included. It has a kind of procedural feel early on, reflecting a change of style and fashion in the middle fifties. The serious intent may be admirable, and I would never go so far as to miss the comic relief, but the didacticism makes this generally less successful purely as entertainment.

   Fausta and the utterly unbelievable Mouldy finally appear in the second half, but the change to a lighter tone doesn’t help much. The cop contact is present but more subdued. The mystery plot is on the thin side, though the solution is typically well worked out.

   In sum, Deming is a consistently reliable performer, always readable and entertaining. And admirers of the classical puzzle might see through the fisticuffs to a refreshing adeptness at misdirection.

       The Manville Moon series —

   The Gallows in My Garden. Rinehart & Co., hardcover, 1952. Dell #682, paperback, 1963.
   Tweak the Devil’s Nose. Rinehart & Co., hardcover, 1953. Jonathan Press J-91, paperback, as Hand-Picked to Die, 1956 (abridged).


   Whistle Past the Graveyard. Rinehart & Co., hardcover, 1954. Jonathan Press J-83, paperback, as Give the Girl a Gun, 1955 (abridged).


   Juvenile Delinquent. Boardman, UK, hardcover, 1958. (No US print edition.)