ROBERT CAMPBELL – Red Cent. Jake Hatch #2. Pocket paperback original; 1st printing, January 1989.

   Robert Campbell, in this second mystery solved by railroad detective Jake Hatch, has a nice effortless talking-to-the reader style of writing, but in terms of what he has to say, what can you say about a story in which the first chapter is the most interesting?

   A man is killed in a railroad car nu a gang of drunken Indians riding in pickups along the tracks, and Jake thinks there is more than misadventure involved. There is: Indian agencies, lawyers and mistresses, squabbles over jurisdiction, changes of venue, and so on.

   In Red Cent Campbell begins with a decent premise, and while he seems to have a solution in mind, he really doesn’t have a very solid idea of how to write up the detective part of the mystery and make it interesting, Hatch is beginning to have women trouble in this second book — all of the lonely windows he’s been seeing are starting to talk of marriage, and probably high time too — and you know you’ve got a less than stimulating detective story on your hands when matters like this are more gripping than the mystery.

   I think I’ll talk about the cover, too, while I’m at it. Iy’s strikingly done, too, with a view of the victim slumped in his seat with a bullet in his temple. But besides having the color of his shirt wrong, in the book the man’s head was blown pretty nearly clear away. Blood all over. His widow has to identify him from his hands. They didn’t show this on the cover.

–Reprinted and somewhat revised from Mystery*File #14, July 1989.

Bibliographic Note:   The one earlier book in the series was Plugged Nickel (Pocket, 1988). Red Cent was Jake Hatch’s final appearance.