WILL OURSLER – Departure Delayed. Simon & Schuster, hardcover, 1947. Ace Double D-37, paperback, 1953. Also reprinted as Bullets for a Blonde (Bestseller B110, digest paperback, 1949).

   The subway train lurched. My head spun like a pinwheel. I was afraid I’d pitch forward. The train jolted to a stop. “Thirty-Third-Street-Pennsylvania-Station.” I could read it through the window.. People got off and on. Doors closed. We moved on again.

   Questions came. Grotesque, impossible questions normal people didn’t have to ask. What was I doing here? Where was I going? They tumbled over in my brain. Why are you here? Why are you riding this subway? It was as if I was just returning to consciousness…

   The voice belongs to Roy Marshall, a former U.S. Ranger and combat veteran, but beyond that memories are disjointed or blank. He’s bleeding through his shirt and his memory of the last four months is gone. It’s not long before he realizes he has bigger problems, the police and the FBI want him for the murder of British Captain Everett Curtis of Naval Intelligence and worse.

   Fairly standard noir country, though despite the elements and voice this is only noir in subject and voice, which quickly gets worse when Roy is arrested, but then new elements shows up: such as  suspicious Lt. McCormack of the NYPD, Richard Farr of the FBI who was a friend of Curtis, and Nisei Lt. George “Spike” Yamada of G2. From the moment Sgt. Roy Marshall meets the New York accented Lt. Yamada the action moves forward at a pace.

   Will Oursler was a well known name. Aside from the dozen or so mystery novels he wrote, he had appeared in the pulps, but he was far better known for his religious and nonfiction writing which had appeared in Reader’s Digest and the Saturday Evening Post among other places.

   With his famous father, Fulton Oursler, author of the Thatcher Colt mysteries as A. Abbot, he co-wrote Father Flannagan of Boys Town, his best known work. He came to the genre second generation, and his books tended to be polished and highly readable, soft boiled, but well done.

   Departure Delayed, published by Bestseller Mystery as Bullets for a Blonde, is a solid entry in fifties-style spy suspense fiction, with Roy Marshall a likable protagonist in a fairly typical amnesia plot that plays out with familiarity, but also skill and a little energy thanks to the introduction of Spike Yamada, the man from G2. The attractive cover of the Ace Double edition has often been reprinted, and was teamed with a solid mystery titled The Drowning Wire, by Marvin Clare.

   Go and catch yourself a missing fragment. We don’t know what it might be. We don’t have any idea where to start looking. But it might help. It might provide the answers.

   As you can see, Oursler has a punchy style born out of the mystery pulps, and if not exactly hard-boiled, he had the voice and pace down pat.

   There is a mystery man named Downes, and everything turns on Marshall remembering his past in China where he met Curtis and Downes and putting it altogether in time before Downes gets to him and silences him. The plot winds down to a fast and satisfying conclusion.

   This kind of competent, fast paced, well written entry seems better today than it likely did then, though reviews were good, simply because then it had so much it had to compete with. Today there are flashier and better written books, but too often they lack the professionalism and confident competence of a book like this.

   Departure Delayed is nothing new. It was nothing new then. What it has going for it is good writing, sheer competence, intelligence, and readability, something I used to take for granted in the genre, and find all too rare lately.

   Yes, it’s a little old hat and shop worn today, but it is hard not to admire the very real skills involved and how compelling old fashioned storytelling can be.