A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Bill Crider


JONATHAN CRAIG – Morgue for Venus. Pete Selby #2. Gold Medal #582, paperback original, 1956. Cover by Barye Phillips. Belmont Tower, paperback, 1973.

   The popularity of the radio and television series Dragnet was responsible for the publication of several series of police procedurals in the middle 1950s. The best-known of these, and certainly the longest-lived, is Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct series, but another, almost equally good, came from Jonathan Craig. Craig’s work has now faded into undeserved obscurity, possibly because he chose to tell his stories through a first-person narrator, Pete Selby, and thus did not. develop the gallery of characters that McBain did.

   All the cases handled by Selby and his partner, Stan Rayder, have strong overtones of kinky sex, and Morgue for Venus is no exception. The squeal begins when a body is fished from the East River. The body is that of a young woman wearing stockings and a dress, but no underwear. The case is immediately complicated by the fact that the girl has no known enemies but has apparently been associated with criminals, specifically burglars who attempted to rob the photography studio where she was working.

   The robbery and the murder are tied together, but just how is not clear to Rayder and Selby. Eventually, however, the crime is solved by painstaking police work. Craig has a good narrative sense; the story’s pace never lags, even when Craig is working in the details of police routine and procedure that form an integral part of the novel. His dialogue is crisp, and the characters encountered by the detectives in the course of their investigation are interesting and convincing.

   All the books in the Selby series are worth looking for, including The Dead Darling (1955), Case of the Cold Coquette (1957), Case of the Beautiful Body (1957), Case of the Petticoat Murder (1958), and Case of the Nervous Nude— “all she wore was a terrified expression” (1959).

   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.