RICHARD MARSTEN – Vanishing Ladies. Permabooks, paperback original, 1957. Reprinted as by Ed McBain: Signet, US, paperback, 1976; Penguin, UK, paperback, 1982.

   I’ve owned the Permabook edition for a long time, but I’ve never read it, which has been my mistake for going on 50 years now, but I’ve made up for it by (as it happened) reading the British paperback from Penguin. (It’s a long story and a not very interesting one.)

   Once begun, at last, for a while I thought I was reading a small unknown gem. Well, not that unknown, since Ed McBain is a fairly big name as far as mystery fiction writers go, but a gem nonetheless. The ending doesn’t match the beginning, though, but Marsten/McBain (Evan Hunter) gives it his best shot, and he almost — but not quite — makes good on it.

   The story is told by Phil Colby, a cop from the city (presumably New York), who goes with his girl on a vacation the next state over. (I assumed it was New Jersey, but I may have been wrong.) First thing that happens is that he’s pulled over in a speed trap and is taken by a local motorcycle cop to an obviously crooked justice of the peace to pay a fine. He manages to keep his cool, but it’s an effort.

   Then he and his girl find a tourist camp of semi-attached cabins to spend the night. They are engaged, but since this is the 50s, they take separate cabins. He leaves his cabin later, only to come back to find a girl (not his girl) waiting for him. She’s young and pretty and she’s a hooker. And he can’t get rid of her. Fourteen pages of some tough unpersuasive conversation (on his part), he discovers blood seeping through the floor boards from the adjoining cabin.

   The door to the cabin next door is locked, and when Phil looks in the cabin where he left his girl, the cabin is empty. The manager says he (Phil) arrived alone, registered for one, and that another couple in in her cabin. (There is.)

   Eventually, after a lot of excited talk going on, mostly by Phil, they get around to checking out the bloodstains coming from the cabin next to Phil’s. Gone. Unable to have anyone believe him, Phil ends up in jail.

   This is about half way through the book, and I wish I could have told the story so far as well as Marsten-McBain did. He was a master on dialogue that can go on for a page or more with one line sentences going back and forth the way people really do talk, without a lot of he-said’s and he-replied, and you can never get lost as to who is saying what and when as you can easily do with a lot of other authors.

   I think that over half the book is dialogue, if you exclude an every-once-in-a-while six-page digression, such as the one about how life in the city differs from that in the country, the one that comes just before Phil’s friend Tony Mitchell (also a cop from the city) is bitten by a snake in a swamp.

   There is more than one missing lady, and that is the key to the plot that is being pulled on Phil. Unraveling it turns out to be a letdown when all is said and done, but the fun is in the reading, this time at the hand of a writer who really knew how to write.