JOHN B. WEST – Death on the Rocks. Signet S1883; paperback original, 1st printing, January 1961.

   I mentioned in the comments to Steve Mertz’s recent review of a Carter Brown book that I was in the process of reading this one, very much in the same tough hardboiled private eye genre, and that I would report back on it when I finished.

   I’m a little late — I finished it a couple of nights ago — but finish it I did, and here’s my report: I enjoyed it.

   Assuming I should say more, I will continue. In that previous conversation, it was pointed out by someone, perhaps it was me, that West’s PI character, Rocky Steele, was one of the few (if not only) PI characters created by a black author.

   Here’s what Max Allan Collin’ review, reprinted on this blog, said about the author: “John B. West was a man of many talents and achievements: A doctor, he was both a general practitioner and a specialist in tropical diseases; he was also the owner of a broadcasting company, manufacturing firm, and hotel/restaurant corporation. He lived in Liberia, was black, and late in his life — as a pastime, apparently — wrote novels about white private eye Rocky Steele, of New York City.”

   This is the last of six such novels, this one published posthumously, and while the fact that West was trying to channel Mickey Spillane in writing these books, it was a long time coming in this one before I saw the connection.

   The plot has something to do with a fabulously valuable diamond, and as you know, when fabulously wealthy diamonds come up in mystery stories, a lot of dead bodies always ensue. And so it is in Death on the Rocks.

   The story plays out in four stages: First, in New York City where Rocky is about to set sail to Liberia for a long-awaited vacation. Three people die, two at Rocky’s hand. Then a long, mostly uneventful cruise across the Atlantic, during which Rocky meets a ravishing platinum blonde diamond dealer, whom Rocky must keep company with overnight every night after a woman is killed in Miss Stark’s cabin, most likely thinking the victim was Miss Stark.

   Then comes a picturesque stay in Liberia, in which the author show that he has more skills as a writer than he tries not to let on during the rest of the book. I’m not sure, but all of the dead bodies occurred before Rocky arrived.

   The fourth part of the book is when the fireworks are unleashed, as Rocky goes on a hot trail of revenge (Lisbon and Majorca) on the killer who almost succeeded in bringing down Rocky and an equally unlucky passenger in a small plane in which the fuel supply was tampered with. There’s a moderately obvious twist to the tale, but all the stops really come out at the end, crudely written, perhaps, but very effectively so.

   As I said, I enjoyed this one.