William F. Deeck

ASA BAKER – Mum’s the Word for Murder. Stokes, hardcover, 1938. De11 #743, paperback, 1953, as by Brett Halliday; several other Dell printings likely, including Dell #5918, 1964.


   Asa Baker — the narrator, not the pseudonymous author — writes Westerns when he doesn’t have writer’s block. Thinking of branching out into the mystery field, he accompanies his friend Jerry Burke, co-ordinator of law enforcement in El Paso, Texas, while he investigates several murders that had been advertised beforehand in the newspaper. Three unconnected killings take place, each announced in advance, with the primary suspects all having unimpeachable alibis.

   The plot is a good one. While contending something is a “first” is folly without having read every mystery published, I will say it is the earliest example known to me of this device. The most well-known use of it didn’t appear until 1950.

   That having been said, I cannot otherwise recommend the novel. Baker fancies himself the superior of the El Paso Chief of Detectives, but is just as much a nitwit. Jerry Burke is colorless. The writing is little above hack.

   In addition, the paperback edition also has the flaw, or so I would contend, of having been updated. For example, pay phones cost a dime in the edition I read [from 1964] , whereas they were only a nickel in 1938.

— From The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 13, No. 2, Spring 1991.

Editorial Note: Mike Nevins reviewed this same book in one of his columns late last year, while you can find my comments on The Kissed Corpse, the other “Asa Baker” title, posted here on this blog earlier this year.