JOHN SPAIN – The Evil Star. E. P. Dutton, hardcover, 1944. Detective Novel Classics #44, digest-sized paperback, no date stated [1940s]. Popular Library #239, paperback, 1950.

   John Spain was an alias for a hard-boiled pulp writer named Cleve F. Adams, who wrote mostly tough PI stories, of which this is not one. Instead its the only book appearance pf homicide detective Steve McCord, who gets mixed up with triplets in this one.

   Their names? Faith, Hope and Charity. Yes. Hope seems to be the bad one. Charity is the one McCord falls for, but the ending is why you should read this one. The twist I spotted on page 125 is pointed out by Faith’s lawyer on page 137, but I never saw the second one coming.

  PostScript:   The Golden Age of Mysteries was really Golden if even a rather ordinary book such as this has an ending that will make your head swivel as much as this one does. Plotting a decent puzzle type mystery is something too many of today’s wriyers seem to think is old hat and old-fashioned.

   If what you’ve been reading lately seems to be missing something, ask yourself if the ending knocked your socks off or not. (Sometimes you can even ask yourself if it made sense.) Too many of today’s mystery writers just don’t have it, in comparison to Agatha, Ellery or the master of them all, Mr. John Dickson Carr, and nobody can tell me they do.

   What’s worse, too many of them don’t have it in comparison to John Spain, who — there’s no two ways about it — was hardly one of the biggest names that the world of mystery fiction ever produced.

–Reprinted in slightly revised form from Mystery*File #16, October 1989.