DAVID ALEXANDER – Paint the Town Black.  Bart Hardin #2. Random House, hardcover, 1954. Bantam #1534, paperback, 1956.

   In this second adventure of Bart Hardin, managing editor of the Broadway Times, a missing pre-Columbian portrait jar (and a known fake, at that) stirs as much interest as the Maltese Falcon. The jar is actually  a burial artifact sculpted to resemble  the dead warrior with whom it was to be buried.

   It appears as the center of attraction  upon its disappearance shortly after Bart gets a needed part-time job as publicist for Latin American Trade Alliance,Ltd., importers of pre-Columbian art and supposed front for a South American union of nations for peace.

   The first victim in Bart’s own well-known apartment is his wartime buddy and now T.V. “crime stopper,” Mike Ainslie, whose wife Dorothy has long been Bart’s ideal woman from afar. Bart and other friends mourn  Ainslie’s death as the title suggests, but Bart soon  sees red when his near blind bulldog Old Bones is senselessly beaten  to death in the apartment as well.

   The fast-paced plot takes Bart to New Jersey and to various areas of Manhattan which are mourned in turn as they sadly reflect the changing times. The Town once again becomes a main character, and lovers of New York will find it easy to relate to and empathize with Alexander’s narrative.

   All the series regulars come to the fore at one point or another — Lt. Romano, Detective Grierson, the Irish bartender Maclaren, Old Top Sarge, turf editor Popa Taylor, down-and-out old actor James Lennox, loan shark Moe Selig, and Bart’s landlord Bromberg who runs the Fun Arcade and Flea Circus below his apartment.

   Add some highly unlikable adversaries including a chinless psycho named Teeth with a love  of sadism and you can be sure that the action will be  nonstop. You will probably spot the whereabouts and importance of the jar early, but the two-way chase retains its tension as Hardin hunts down the hunters.

– Reprinted from The Poison Pen, Volume 2, Number 5 (Sept-Oct 1979).