HENRY KANE. “Suicide Is Scandalous.” Novelette. Peter Chambers. First appeared in Esquire, June 1948. Collected in Report for a Corpse (Simon & Schuster, 1948). Reprinted in The Mammoth Book of Private Eye Stories, edited by Bill Pronzini and Martin H. Greenberg (Carrol & Graf, 1988).

   It’s only my opinion – I have no stats to back this up – but as an author of any number of crime novels, and in particular, the creator of New York City-based PI Peter Chamber, Henry Kane has largely been forgotten in recent years. One exception is, of course, Mike Nevins’ covered his early years in one of the monthly columns he does for this blog. One of the stories covered, in fact, is this very one. Go here.

   This is one of the longest excerpts I’ve ever inflicted upon readers of this blog. Bear with me. A little old lady is sitting in Peter Chambers’ office on the other side of his desk. Bear with me. Here goes:

   She put the handkerchief away.  “The Lieutenant sent us.”

   “What Lieutenant?”

   “The man downtown. The Detective-lieutenant.”


   “Yes, sir. Lieutenant Parker.”

   “A real policeman.”

   “A fine, good man.”

   “The best.”

   “He said this was where to throw it.”

   “I beg your pardon.”

   “That’s what he said.”

   “Throw what?”

   “My money. That is, if I insisted on throwing it away.”

   “I beg your pardon.”

   The smile came back, very tired among the faint wrinkles on her face, and it did something to you, no matter you’re a cynical wiseguy private richard battened down behind a desk over which too much evil has spewed. It got to you, in a corner inside of you, like “Stardust” on strings in a sawdust saloon after a good many brandies. I grunted.

   “How much?”

   Her eyebrows peaked. “How much?”

   “How much do you insist on throwing away?”

   “Oh. He said you were expensive. He also said you were a crook.”

   “Look, lady– ”

   “He was joking, of course. A thousand dollars, perhaps fifteen hundred … ”

   “Oh.” Good-bye Stardust, because business is business, and you have got to have the pretzels for your beer. On the other side of the. desk sits your sucker — always; they wouldn’t be on the other side of that desk if they didn’t need you badly. Either you squeeze them, or they squeeze you: you learn that early, Always, on one side of the desk sits a sucker. Could be me.

   “Two thousand,” I said.

   Now either you find that an extraordinarily fine piece of writing, or you don’t. Kane’s prose, at least in this story, I’d place on the spectrum somewhere between Raymond Chandler and the Dan Turner stories by Robert Leslie Bellem, but closer to Chandler than the out-and-out wackiness of a Dan Turner story:

   “Don’t know nothing from absolutely nothing.” He put a wide hand on my chest and he shoved with relish and sharp determination, and the door slapped shut in my face. Mr. Gino Stark got filed away as a handsome young man with a tough-guy complex that needed treatment. Something psychiatric. Like a haymaker.

   I took a cab, still rankling along the chest and rumbling around the stomach and trying to engage reasons for administering the treatment for our Gino’s complex, all of which is good for the passage of time, because before I knew it I was paying off the hackie in front of Two Ninety Park.

   I pushed my hat back and I looked up at the narrow four sandstone stories of a very svelte little pigmy amongst the flat-faced monsters that go to make up our canyon of Park. No doorman. No nothing. Just a silver-grilled ninon-backed glass door with an ivory boundary and a horse’s head for a phony knocker and a shining lock. I stuck the key in that Williams had given me and I was in a hallway with enough plush for a lupanar, and a curlicue stairway. Very dandy, but a walk-up, nevertheless. Ah, me, and the rasp of a sigh: your detective trudged, grudgingly, bending over to study nameplates. On the second floor front it said BENTLEY.

   So, OK. What’s the story about? Chambers’ client, the little old lady from the first except above, does not believe her daughter committed suicide. The police are convinced; that’s why she’s hired Chambers. But besides suicide being scandalous, there is a small matter of a will. The dead girl was rich. Her will leaves half to her mother, half to her sister. If it was murder, and the sister did it, who gets all the money?

   Besides being an above average PI story in and of itself, “Suicide Is Scandalous” ends with a lot of detective work going on. There was, in fact, so much detective work going on that I found it confusing. Oh well. You can’t have everything.