JOHN ESTEVEN – Graveyard Watch. First appeared in Detective Story Magazine, October 1936. First published in book form by Modern Age as a digest-sized paperback (with dust jacket), 1938.

   I listed the pulp magazine edition first because that’s the one I read, only to discover that the story came out later in a rather hard to find PBO (paperback original) all the way back in 1938. In the magazine version it takes up 79 pages of two columns of small print. It reads as though it’s complete, but I don’t have a copy of the paperback, so I can’t tell for sure you whether that’s true or not.

    “Graveyard Watch” is the first case given to a young Irish cop named Patrick Connelly to handle on his own. He’s asked by his superior to work undercover in a rich man’s house as a phoney PI to ostensibly guard some jewelry, but in reality to intercept a shipment of cocaine that word on the street says will be coming through the manor, which is located somewhere along Chesapeake Bay.

   The house has its share of various people and household staff living there, and they all become suspects when its owner is found dead in the coffin in which his recently deceased brother was last seen occupying. Questions include: who killed him, what happened to the brother, where’s the cocaine (you will not be surprised how it was introduced into the house), and who’s after the jewels?

   John Esteven was the pen name of a academic named Samuel Shellabarger, who went on to become quite famous as a writer of historical fiction, at least two of which went on to be blockbuster movies. It will come as no surprise, therefore, when I tell you the writing is quite good — better than average — for one of these potboiler detective mysteries of the 1930s, of which this is a prime example. All the ingredients are there, but in an amateurish way, in the original sense of the word.

   There are lots of clues and skulking around by all of the possible suspects, but the ending, I thought, could have been written a lot more tightly. As is, while effective enough, it’s also a trifle muddled.

   All in all, while it has its moments and is perhaps as good as some of the other Golden Age of Detection mysteries by obscure authors today, Graveyard Watch is probably not worth your effort (or cash in hand) to track down. For completists only.