PAUL AYRES – Dead Heat. Bell, hardcover, 1950. No paperback edition.

   I am always very hesitant in saying that any book is the first and/or only one in a particular category, but off the top of my head, I don’t know of any other mystery novel that was based on a radio series, that being Casey Crime Photographer, which was of course based on the character created by George Harmon Coxe.

   I don’t know how this book happened to come about. Perhaps Randy Cox, our resident expert on all things Casey, will leave a comment to tell us more. As for the author, one supposedly Paul Ayres, he was in real life writer Edward S. Aarons, of Gold Medal’s “Assignment” series fame. In 1950, however, he’d written only one book under his own name; before then he was always Edward Ronns.

   You have to be of a certain age to have listened to the radio when the program was on the air. It ended in 1955 — after having started in 1943 — but since we did not have a local CBS outlet nearby when I was young, I never heard it until I started collecting OTR shows on tape in the mid-70s. Nonetheless, the book brought back quite a few memories from that later time and era:

   The characters were Casey, of course; his girl friend Ann Williams, who also worked for the Morning Express; and Captain Logan of Homicide. Every so often the action stops and they all find their way to the Blue Note cafe, where Ethelbert was the bartender and Herman played the piano.

   From the title and cover image above you might possibly guess that Dead Heat takes place in the world of horse racing, and it does, but it also takes place i the dead of summer, and the whole city of Boston is sweltering in the heat. Murdered is a jockey who has made a mess of his two currently overlapping love affairs, but who is also known for being scrupulously honest. This makes the timing of his death very suspicious: it’s before a race that if he were riding, he’d be a cinch to win.

   Aarons’ prose is clean and uncluttered, very descriptive, and since the plot is not all that complicated, the book takes no time at all to read. It probably isn’t as rewarding as one of Coxe’s own stories about Casey, but I enjoyed it immensely.