VECHEL HOWARD – Murder with Love. Johnny Church #1. Gold Medal #854, paperback original, 1959.

   Vechel Howard is not, I strongly suspect, that mystery readers will ever have at the tip of their tongues, and even if I tell that his real name was Howard Rigsby, and that he wrote nine mysteries under that name, it would not bring any of their titles to mind. As Vechel Howard he wrote two PI novels for Gold Medal, along with three or four westerns, This is the first recorded adventure of one Johnny Church, and it’s one of those cases that gets him so personally involved that you wonder when it’s over whether there will ever be another one. (But there was, that being Murder on Her Mind, a book that was published later that same year by Gold Medal.)

   The scene in this one is Las Vegas, where his client wants him to find a woman. He’s not the only one, either. Mira, as Church soon discovers, has had an uncontrollable habit of getting men to fall in love with her and then taking off with all the money and expensive gifts that had been bestowed upon her, disappearing as mysteriously as she had suddenly appeared.

   This time, however, Church finds that blackmail, never part of her game before, has been added to her repertoire – and can murder be far behind? Church also stumbles across a pair of delectable twin sisters – but he’s really the kind of guy who gets hit over the head a lot and goes to bed with almost nobody. Almost.

   The action is standard enough. It’s the ending that’s unusual. A bit maudlin as well, perhaps, but it’s the kind that lingers on. Longer, in fact, than the story itself.

Rating: B minus.

–Somewhat abridged from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 5, No. 6, Nov/Dec 1981.