A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Susan Dunlap & Marcia Muller


GEORGE HARMON COXE – Fenner. Alfred A. Knopf, hardcover, 1971. Manor Books, paperback, 1974.

   George Harmon Coxe was an extremely prolific writer whose early work appeared in such pulp magazines as Black Mask, Dime Detective, and Detective Fiction Weekly. His news-photographer hero, Flash Casey, first appeared in Black Mask in the early  1930s, and later Coxe used him in a number of novels, among them Silent Are the Dead (1942) and Error in Judgment (1961).

   His other news-photographer sleuth, Kent Murdock, appears in many more novels than Casey, and is a more fully realized character than the creation of Coxe’s pulp-writing days. Coxe also created series characters Paul Standish (a medical examiner), Sam Crombie (a plodding detective), Max Hale (a reluctant detective), and Jack Fenner (Kent Murdock’s private-eye sidekick who starred in several novels of his own).

   Many consider Fenner the most entertaining of Coxc’s later novels. Although published in 1971, it has the feel of the Forties. (Indeed, the hippie reference seems an anachronism.) Coxe has a simple formal style; he describes his characters but seldom invites the reader to identify with them. Action-oriented readers may find Coxe’s work dull; there is virtually no violence, but rather a charming concern for decorum (another hint of bygone days).

   In Fenner, Coxe begins with heiress Carol Browning’s escape from a state mental institution. (Her husband committed her.) The scene shifts to Fenner’s office, where the husband, George Browning, hires the detective to find his wife. Why, with all her money, did he send her to a state hospital rather than a more tolerable private one? Fenner asks. Browning’s answer is unconvincing. Before Fenner can get to the bottom of this, Browning is murdered-in his wife’s apartment. There’s the hook; expect some good twists and a plausible conclusion. No more, no less.

   Jack Fenner reappears in The Silent Witness (1973) and No Place for Murder ( 1975), as well as playing a role in many of the Kent Murdock novels.

   Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.