CLIFFORD RAYMOND – The Men on the Dead Man’s Chest. Bobbs-Merrill, hardcover, 1930.

   Most mystery fans surely know what a tontine is by now, but if not, what it is is a special kind of annuity that provides for a certain regular amount to be shared among several beneficiaries over a period of time, but with the principal held in trust for the final survivor.

   The implications are obvious, are they not? In fact, revenge can be made to reach from beyond the grave, as six former friends of an unsavory gentleman named Turner quickly discover.

   According to Who Done It?, this was the last 1nystery novel that Clifford Raymond wrote. While he did write three earlier during the period 1917-21, the influence of the new Black Mask style on his later work is obvious. The Chicago police lieutenant named Stanton who investigates the curious string of deaths caused by Turner’s will is cool and crisp, and incisively sardonic without ever actually being hard-boiled. This is the Chicago of prohibition and Al Capone, and the reader is never allowed to forget it.

   Numerous footnotes give an unusual air of documentary authenticity to the whole affair, but I have to confess that I didn’t understand the last one at all. The last page of a book is an awfully strange place to completely unexplain what until then had seemed a fairly straightforward tale of over-stimulated greed.

   Nevertheless, the. combination of tough gangster fiction with a hint of underlying amusement makes the author’s final bow decidedly above average. The episode of the Vermont lawyer in itself makes this book worth hunting down. Why Raymond never wrote another mystery someone else will have to say.

Rating: B

– Slightly revised from The MYSTERY FANcier, September/October 1978.

UPDATE: The last line may not be entirely true. One additional title is now listed in Hubin with a dash, suggesting that it is marginally criminous, that being Our Very Best People (Bobbs-Merrill, 1931).