WILSON TUCKER – To Keep or Kill. Rinehart & Co., hardcover, 1947. Lion #21, paperback, 1950; Lion Library LL84, 1956.

   Tucker, who is probably better known today for his science fiction, wrote a total of five Charles Horne mysteries for Rinehart back between 1946 and 1951. After that he apparently decided he was better off not trying to write detective fiction, even as a sideline.

   Not that he left the field completely, but I think he probably made the right decision.

   Horne is a private eye. Most of his work is done for insurance companies. He quite vehemently does not do divorce work. The small metropolis of Boone, Illinois, where he has his office, is a figment of Tucker’s imagination, although there is a Boone County (up near Rockford).

   This is the second Horne book. As it begins, he is witness to an explosion. He thinks it’s a practical joke at first, but when it goes off it takes part of a city block and a couple of victims with it. Later, Horne is kidnapped and kept a prisoner in the home of the girl who planted the bomb. She’s a redhead, tall, beautiful, and as loopy as a loon.

   She is in love with Horne, she has been stalking him for months, and now that she “owns” him, so to speak, she expects — well, this was written before such explicit intentions could be stated, but those are the kinds of intentions she has. Viewed from today’s more permissive perspective, Horne’s brave resistance to temptation seems both admirable and refreshingly naive.

   Tucker’s style in this book is a burbling, slap-happy one, somewhat reminiscent of Fredric Brown in nature. In all, however, it hardly manages to disguise a total apparent lick of respect for logical thought processes. Or let me put it another way: the sort of logic that is used by all concerned would make sense only to the well-confined inmates of a lunatic asylum.

   It wouldn’t be hard to enjoy this quirky excuse for a detective story immensely. There is a thin line, it is said, between genius and lunacy. If I’d been able to follow the plot at all, I’d have said this was the work of the former.

   As for a letter grade, I’m not too sure of this one at all, but if it means anything to you, what I’m going to do, if I don’t change my mind tomorrow, is give this book a definite (C plus?).

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 5, No. 3, May/June 1981.

The Charles Horne series —

The Chinese Doll. Rinehart, 1946. Dell Mapback #343, 1949.

To Keep or Kill. Rinehart, 1947. Lion #21, 1950.
The Dove. Rinehart, 1948.
The Stalking Man. Rinehart, 1949. Mercury Mystery #150, no date.
Red Herring. Rinehart, 1951.