HELEN REILLY – Not Me, Inspector. Random House, hardcover, 1959. Ace Double G-531, paperback, 1963 (packaged with the author’s The Canvas Dagger). Macfadden-Bartell, paperback, 1971.

   Puzzle plots were beginning to make their way out in the late 50s, as far as mystery fiction was concerned, but the authors who’d been writing them since the 30s and 40s were still holding on. Helen Reilly is an author who fits the bill. By 1959, she’d been writing mysteries since 1930 (The Thirty-First Bullfinch, a standalone novel), with this one the 25th of 28 Inspector McKee mysteries.

   Not Me is not a sudden throwback to a period some 15 or 20 years earlier, but rather a continuation of good but not outstanding detective novels by Reilly. The not-so-good news is that while the intricately worked out puzzle works to perfection — it really does — there is a huge problem with the telling of it, and I’ll talk about that shortly.

   It’s not entirely because Inspector McKee has such a small role to play in it, but in a way, it is, because that leaves the characters themselves, innocents and suspects alike, to carry the load, and for a long portion of the book, they don’t.

   To specifics: Mercedes “Dace” Allert’s somewhat weak and definitely bad-tempered husband Harvey disappears soon after it is discovered that he cashed a forged check written on his stepmother’s account. When she dies a lingering death after an automobile accident in a car that Harvey worked on shortly she left the city for upstate New York, he is only spotted here and there, apparently afraid to come home to face the questions that he will be asked and avoiding the consequences. The only thing keeping Dace going is that he does not know that his stepmother died and will not be pressing charges. Not only that, but he has inherited all of her money.

   Reilly was usually very good at pacing her novels, but even the best of authors would find some difficulty in keeping the reader’s attention focused on Dace’s tortured mind, thinking this about her missing husband, then that. In the meantime, though, as a small bonus, we also get a picture of upper middle class society as it was in Manhattan in the 50s, or least one version of it.

   The reason that Inspector McKee is seldom seen in this novel is that there is no obvious homicide victim whose murder needs to be solved, not until page 121 of a 176 page paperback, and that of a woman in Danbury, Connecticut, who has no possible connection to Harvey Allert, other than that a man who called himself Harold Allen had just checked in there, and it was from his room from the dead woman was pushed.

   It seems well nigh impossible for Reilly to tie everything up as neatly as she does, but she does, and no, McKee never has a lot to do with everything but to explain it all up at the end. It’s an ending worth waiting for, and I don’t think the story could have been told any other way, but if there had been, I’d say that this one could have been a contender.