ROYCE HOWES – The Case of the Copy-Hook Killing. E. P. Dutton, hardcover, 1945.

   Howes started out with a bang as a mystery writer. In the five years between 1935 and 1939 he wrote seven novels, all published by Doubleday and the Crime Club. Then the war came along, and Howes, a newspaperman, did any further writing in the ETO for the Army News Service — information provided, incidentally, by the back flap on the dust jacket. (If you’re like me, you’ll read anything.)


   Both Howes and his leading character, Captain Ben Lucias of the Homicide Squad, returned from the war in 1945. Lucias had been in five of the Crime Club books, but this was the last outing for both of them. Why it was done for Dutton instead of Doubleday, I don’t know, but I can guess. As a mystery, it’s Not Very Good.

   But, a copy-hook? I hear someone asking. A copy-hook is what one of those sharp steel spikes are called that reporters used to use to file their stories on. The scene, naturally enough, is a newspaper office, and it’s the reception clerk who’s been murdered. He was the guy whose job it was to keep the nuts coming in from the street from off the editors’ backs.

   And so Lucias’ ensuing investigation has him busily checking out the crackpots and all the other assorted creeps who saw the dead man last. It’s obvious that Howes knew the type well. He laughs at them, and if his characters reflect his own opinions at all, he despises them as much as they do.

   What is equally obvious is that the solution to the murder has nothing to do with this list of weirdos that Lucias has to work his way through. But downright distasteful, however, is Captain Lucias’ interrogation technique. Slugging a prisoner around in police headquarters is not likely to have been a remarkable occurrence back during the forties, long before today’s attempt at enlightened police procedures had begun to make some headway.

   It’s just that it’s difficult for me to recall it being done by a series character in police uniform before, one supposedly functioning as a competent detective, as well as one trying to maintain the respect of the reader.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier,
       Vol. 4, No. 4, July-August 1980 (slightly revised).

     The Captain Ben Lucias series —

Death Dupes a Lady. Doubleday, 1937.


Night of the Garter Murder. Doubleday, 1937.
Murder at Maneuvers, Doubleday, 1938.
Death Rides a Hobby. Doubleday, 1939.
The Nasty Name Murders. Doubleday, 1939.
The Case of the Copy-Hook Killing. Dutton 1945.

   Howes was also the author of two non-series mysteries, Death on the Bridge (Doubleday, 1935) and The Callao Clue (Doubleday, 1936).

PostScript:  From Wikipedia: “Royce Bucknam Howes (January 3, 1901 – March 18, 1973) was a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist and author who also published a biography of Edgar Guest and a number of crime novels. He worked for the Detroit Free Press from 1927–1966 and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1955 for an editorial on the cause of an unauthorized strike by an autoworkers local that idled 45,000 Chrysler workers.”