MIKE ROSCOE – One Tear for My Grave. Johnny April #4. Crown, hardcover, 1955. Signet #1358, paperback, 1956.

   If you’re a hard-boiled detective fan, you’ve surely already seen the recently released take-off of the form perpetrated by Ross H. Spencer in The Dada Caper (Avon, 1978), the first recorded case of one Chance Purdue, and written entir6ly 1n the punchy style of one-sentence paragraphs.

   It’s very effectively done, and the temptation is overwhelming to open it at random and start reading aloud to whoever happens to be so unfortunate as to be in the same with you at the time. Take p. 126, for example:

   Two shadowy figures came at me out of the darkness.

   I didn’t hesitate.

   I hit the first shadowy figure right between the eyes.

   I stepped over him.

   I hit the second shadowy figure right between the eyes.

   I stepped over him.

   I looked for the scrawny guy.

   I wanted to hit him right between the eyes.

   The scrawny guy wasn’t there.

   He was out on California Avenue.

   He was hollering help police and any number of ridiculous things.

   Notice how the last line sort of blunts the rhythm.


   This happens to be a review of another private eye story, however [the one by Mike Roscoe], and one written much earlier, and to satisfy equal time requirements, try this from p. 67:

   The boys began backing out. I moved forward, inch by inch, half pushing, half-carrying my load.

   Then we were out in the other room.

   I stopped. “I’m tired of hauling this lard-ass around. Out you go or I blow his head off.”

   I turned my glance to the gun. Their eyes followed.  I began to squeeze the trigger.

   Christ, I almost had to shoot the guy.

   Then Tommy hollered.

   Okay, you win again. Come’n. He nudged the other boy.

   The door closed behind them.

   I removed the gun from his throat, then pushed with all I had, at the same time giving his neck a half twist. He spun away from me and fell to the rug.

   Allow for a bit of exaggeration and a not-so-subtle counterbeat of ridicule. The tough private eye yarn is a pretty clearly an easy target.

   Johnny April is the name of Roscoe’s detective, and the scene Kansas City. This particular case begins with a gambling deadbeat who’s found murdered and continues with a subsequent sequence of dead bookies. Gamblers and high society prove to be a volatile mixture.

   The short staccato sentences do keep things cool and crisp, but maybe you’ve never heard of Mike Roscoe. That’s because style is hardly ever a satisfactory substitute for content. What you end up reading this for is for whatever pleasure is obtained from the individual ingredients, not for any great desire to see how it all comes out.


Rating: C

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

         The Johnny April series —

Death Is a Round Black Ball. Crown 1952.
Riddle Me This. Crown 1952.
Slice of Hell. Crown 1954.
One Tear for My Grave. Crown 1955.
The Midnight Eye. Ace 1958