WADE MILLER – Shoot to Kill. Hardcover: Farrar, Straus & Co., hardcover, 1951. Reprint paperbacks include Signet 1369, 1957; Perennial, 1993.

WADE MILLER Shoot to Kill

   This is the last of the six Max Thursday private eye novels that the writing team of Robert Wade and Bill Miller produced, and one can only wonder what might have been. Could they have found anything possibly more to say about their character after the way they left him at the end of this book?

   There is a pair of firsts that occur in this novel, unless someone can come up with some earlier instances of each: (1) This is quite possibly the first private eye novel in which the hero loses his girl friend (police beat reporter Merle Osborn) to his client (sporting goods chain store owner Bliss Weaver). (2) This is also quite possibly the first private eye novel in which the hero manipulates the evidence to make sure the police know that his own client is guilty in a murder case.

   Most fictional private eyes are in some great sense larger than life. Very few real world PI’s ever get anywhere near a murder case, go to bed with their beautiful female clients, or do more than routine routine.

   And that’s why it’s such a shocker to find Thursday essentially a loser, unable to keep his own woman and prone to such human emotions as jealousy and deceit — as human as you or I. His rationale is that he knows that Weaver is guilty, and if he gets himself mixed up in the case, then Merle gets hurt.

WADE MILLER Shoot to Kill

   Of course Thursday messes that up as well, and when he’s called on it by his friend on the police force, Lt. Clapp, he confesses right away, and in his sense of guilt and shame, starts to realize that Weaver is very likely not the killer after all.

   I can think of no other mystery novel with a story line anything like this one. If you believe I have told you too much of the plot already, you should note that there are at least two Really Great plot twists yet to come, and I am not going to tell you about those. If you have not come to know what High Intensity means before now, after reading this book, you will know — and I do not mean only “action,” which of course there is. I mean Personal Anguish without letting it show. I mean Tough Decisions to Be Made. I mean, as I said up in the first paragraph above, Where Does He Go From Here?

   Here are the last couple of paragraphs. I believe Wade and Miller were correct to leave Max Thursday at this point, never to write about him again:

    Later, himself in a hospital bed, Thursday would find out about Bliss Weaver, about his time in hiding, the confused and desperate and soul-searching time. […] But now Thursday thought simply of the two of them united, Bliss and Merle. He scowled wistfully. That seemed to be what he had fought for; that seemed to be what he had won, his Grand Prize. Why? he wondered. But then he remembered the grim alternative he had conquered.

    “Clapp,” he croaked again. “He’ll have to tell me I made up for it, after all. I did, didn’t I?”

    He sat spraddle-legged in the ashes and debris, leaning the elbow of his broken arm on the tool kit, stubbornly keeping himself conscious. He heard the cry of a siren in the distance and he waited for the law to come and relieve him of his responsibility.

— February 2004 (slightly revised)

PostScript:   For as much information on “Wade Miller” as I could put together at the time, including an interview with Robert Wade himself, check out this page on the main Mystery*File website:   THE AUTHORS WHO WERE WADE MILLER: Robert Wade and Bill Miller.