William F. Deeck

JOHN MERSEREAU – Murder Loves Company. Lippincott, hardcover, 1940. Rue Morgue Press, softcover, 2004.

   James Yeats Biddle, professor of horticulture, University of California at Berkeley, accompanied by Kay Ritchie, not a girl reporter but a newspaper woman, is on his way to give a rather dull speech, although he doesn’t think it will be so, on “The Flora of the Golden Gate International Exposition.”

   They encounter death on the San Francisco Bay Bridge as a careering car narrowly misses them and then crashes into the bridge, causing the bodies of two Japanese men to be thrown from the car. One of the Japanese had already been dead before the accident, but the other dies as a result of the inhalation of cyanide gas rather than the crash.

   If this information had not come to light, a naive reader might think it was all Biddle’s fault. After all, he made an illegal U-turn on the bridge and his attention to his driving was such that he could see Miss Ritchie’s eyes shining up at him, her lips slightly parted. Either she was in his lap facing him or he had his head turned at a rather uncomfortable angle. Whichever, it was certainly failure to pay full time and attention to driving.

   The police are convinced that there was only one murder victim and that his murderer died in the crash. Professor Biddle himself is not very curious about the murder, or murders, even though he discovers — and, of course, keeps to himself — a rubber band in the crashed car that probably was attached to the choke to keep the car moving. It is not until he discovers that someone had been messing about with the olive trees he had had transplanted on Treasure Island for the San Francisco Exposition that he becomes involved in the case.

   The novel is not well clued and the murder motive seems far-fetched. Biddle, however, is an engaging character and would have been a great deal more engaging if half the novel did not dwell on the joys and sorrows brought about by his having fallen in love at first sight with Kay Ritchie.

   Among his other quirks are a distaste for mystery novels, even though he had read some because of his great admiration for Woodrow Wilson, whose favorite relaxation was reading mysteries, and an abhorrence of split infinitives, that hobgoblin of small minds. Kay splits infinitives invariably in her writings, but for Biddle these have a peculiar charm. Indeed, at one point this habit saves his life.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 9, No. 4, July-August 1987.

Bio-Bibliographic Notes:   John Mersereau (1898-1989) was the author of one other bone fida detective novel, that being The Corpse Comes Ashore (Lippincott, 1941), but according to Hubin, Professor Biddle is not in it. Mersereau wrote one other novel that is included in Hubin, but that only marginally: The Whispering Canyon (Clode, 1926), which was made into a silent film of the same title.

   Says the AFI page for the latter: “Returning from the war to his father’s California sawmill, Bob Cameron takes up with Hinky Dink, a cocky Englishman and man of the road. Ignoring a ‘no trespassing’ sign on Cameron’s property, Hinky is caught in a steel trap; Cameron, seeking aid, is threatened by Eben Beauregard, an old southerner, but the appearance of Antonia (Tony) Lee, Bob’s childhood friend, quells his temper. Bob learns that Lew Selby, an unscrupulous timber baron, is trying to buy Tony’s land and that his father has been murdered. At the suggestion of Hinky (who has innocently fallen asleep on the riverbank), Bob and Tony pool their interests against Selby; he attempts to prevent their passage through land belonging to Medbrook, an eccentric; and Gonzales, Selby’s henchman, kidnaps Tony. Medbrook blows up the dam, and Selby tries to buy out the couple; but the plot is thwarted by the timely intervention of Hinky Dink.”

   Much more on the author himself, also the writer of a large number of pulp stories, can be found on the Rue Morgue Press website. Briefly, from the online FictionMags Index: “Born in Manistique, Michigan; family moved to California in 1907; lived variously in California until enlisting in the Navy in 1941; edited a navy recruitment magazine in Washington D.C. after the war; moved to Santa Barbara, then to Mexico, and finally to Forsythe, Missouri, where he died; pulp writer, novelist and screenwriter.”