RICHARD POWELL – Say It with Bullets. Simon & Schuster, hardcover, 1953. Graphic #93, paperback, 1954; Hard Case Crime, paperback, 2006.

   Imagine my astonishment when I read this book and found nothing inside it that even vaguely alluded to the image on the cover of the Graphic edition. No wonder my generation grew up mistrustful of authority.

   What I did find was a well-crafted road mystery, in retrospect full of improbabilities, but so well papered-over I didn’t notice.

   Powell starts things off with ex-cargo pilot Bill Wayne on a bus, heading West on a guided tour that stops at Cheyenne, Reno, San Francisco and LA. It seems he has an old wound in his back from when he and five war buddies in China fell out over what sort of cargo they should be piloting, and one of them settled it with a .45. He has a new wound in his side from when word got out that he was back in the states, and now he wants to find out which one of his old buddies decided that was much too close for comfort.

   Okay, improbability #1: He found a tour that stops at the cities where his ex-partners live, and he figures this is the best way to get close to them without leaving a trail. Which leads to

   Improbability #2: The tour is guided by the girl who had a crush on him, back when he was a football star in college, and she was just the coach’s gangly daughter.

   But like I say, Powell rolls over these so smoothly I didn’t even feel the bumps, and before I could stop and think it over, Bill was meeting up with the first old buddy on his list — who turns up dead shortly thereafter.

   At this point Powell rings in a horn-dog deputy, supposedly out to solve the murder, but apparently more interested in romancing the woman in the case. Or is he?

   Powell keeps us guessing, even as he rings in complications that somehow don’t slow things down. We get fights, foot-chases, frame-ups, narrow escapes, and enough bullets flying through the air to satisfy even the most discriminating tastes.

   And one thing I especially enjoyed. There’s a hefty chunk of this book spent driving into Yosemite National Park through the back entrance, over the Tioga pass. Anyone who has ever driven this road will never forget it. I’ve done it, and it was like hanging onto a Brahma Bull. Powell does it justice and even throws in a gunfight on the way.

   You just can’t beat writing like that!