MICHAEL AVALLONE – Dead Game. Ed Noon #3. Henry Holt & Co., hardcover, 1954. Permabook M-3012, paperback, August 1955; James Meese cover art.

   This one starts quietly enough. Manhattan-based PI Ed Noon is hired by a woman to follow her husband, an antiques dealer by profession, whom she suspects is cheating on her. But where does he go? To a baseball game. The Polo Grounds, as a matter of fact, the home of the New York Giants before they absconded off to San Francisco. They’re playing a pre-season exhibition game with a makeshift (semi-pro?) team called the Providence Ravens.

   Where Mr. Arongio (Noon’s prey) has eyes only on that other team’s third baseman. If ever one guy could wish another guy dead just staring at him, that first guy would be Mr. Arongio. And guess what? Before the game is over, while it’s still being played, the other guy, the third baseman, is in fact dead, face down on the ground. And the first guy to reach him? No guesses. Mr. Arongio.

   The baseball setting may or may not be unique in the annals of PI fiction, but the action simply does not let up from this point on. Suspects include Mrs. Arongio (who is a looker), Mr. Arongio and his girl friend (Mrs. Arongio was right, and she’s another looker), and several other members of the Ravens. (The dead man was no pal of the rest of the team.) And somewhere along the way a diary supposedly having belonged to Edgar Allan Poe comes into play, along with a missing $20,000 that Mr. Arongio paid for it.

   It is easy to picture Ed Noon, who tells his own story, to have been played the movies by none other than Mike Avallone himself, just as Mickey Spillane once took the leading role in one the Mike Hammer movies. And in a way Dead Game reads somewhat like a Hammer novel, but without the higher intensity and crudeness, and the prose a tad more polished. A more family-friendly sort of PI, you might say. Noon is simply a nice guy who’s playing a slightly dirty – but definitely dangerous – game.

   Those of us who knew Mike Avallone in real life will find a lot to like in this one. Even though Ed Noon is just another member of a long list of now-forgotten PI’s who began their careers in the the 1950s, I’d like to think others might too.