H. PAUL JEFFERS – Rubout at the Onyx. Harry McNeil #1. Ticknor & Fields, hardcover, 1981. Ballantine, paperback, 1987.

   Here is a private eye story, but by no means is it your common, everyday sort of private eye story. Instead, it’s a swinging trip into the past, an excursion by make-believe time machine into the history book of yesterday, back to the post-Prohibition jazz-era days of the Big Apple’s “Cradle of Jazz” — Fifty-Second Street, that is, between Fifth and Sixth. The year, 1935.

   The private eye is Harry MacNeil. His office is located upstairs over the Onyx Club, the heart of the jazz district. His client is a lately bereaved widow. Her husband was a two-bit gambler who was rubbed out downstairs on New Year’s Eve. She brings Harry a message in code that may lead them to a three million dollar fortune in stolen diamonds. She is also a little lonely.

   Balancing the two rather nicely, Jeffers never really seems to commit himself all the way to whether he’s writing a history first, or a mystery. Whatever it is, in the end, there’s no doubt whatsoever that it’s a lot more fun to puzzle through than any classroom textbook anyone’s ever been assigned to read. Strictly as a mystery, though … well, sad to say, there’s no great revelation that comes at the end. MacNeil uncovers the truth by just plain diligence, and the culprit is fairly obvious from a long way off.

Rating: B minus.

–Slightly revised from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 5, No. 6, Nov/Dec 1981.

   The Harry MacNeil series –

The Rubout at the Onyx. Ticknor 1981 [New York City, NY; 1935]

Murder on Mike. St. Martin’s 1984 [New York City, NY; 1939]
The Rag Doll Murder, Ballantine 1987 [New York City, NY; 1935]