WILSON TUCKER – The Chinese Doll. Charles Horne #1. Rinehart, hardcover, 1946. Detective Book Club, hardcover, 3-in-1 edition, May 1947. Dell #343, mapback edition, 1949.

WILSON TUCKER The Chinese Doll

   Charles Horne is a mediocre PI in a one horse town in Illinois. Just sitting around.

   Then a snazzy large dude named Evans bursts in, hands him $500 cash and says it’s for bail because he’s about to be arrested. He immediately bursts out of the office, getting flattened by a cute Chinese girl in a supercharged Studebaker who doesn’t bother to touch her brakes.

   The car’s later found trashed on the side of the road. It belongs to Evans, the guy that just got run over.

   Later that night the same Chinese chick picks our detective up in a brand new supercharged Studebaker and takes him to a secret casino hidden in a barn in the countryside run by the mob.

   Departing the casino that eve, he sees the Chinese doll skating on the frozen pond. It’s the last he sees of her alive as she shows up in the morning morgue, drowned. In tap water.

   It turns out the doll and Evans were in love, she his mistress, she with child, he remained with wife. So kablammo.

   But things are not always what they seem, as the mob was pulling all the strings. And wrapping up with bow and string, they drowned her, the Chinese doll.

   Horne is bound and determined to earn the $500 from his dead client and get to the bottom of things. He does, after a time, and in the nick of time too.

   Horne is not particularly hard or tough or smart or brave. He starts shaking when in danger. He makes witless decisions putting himself and his clients in harm’s way. He lets the bad guys push him around. Sometimes you wish Mike Hammer would show up and slap the meshuggenah out of him.

   And worst of all he writes every single thing to his wife by letter. Every confidence. Every move. Every thought. The entire book is in fact a book of letters from Mr. to Mrs. Horne, during the pendency of their trial separation.

   I thought I was going to complain about this affectation. But I can’t. Because this affectation is the plot device upon which the entire novel turns.

   It’s a bit like the Fredric Brown’s surprise in his short story “Don’t Look Behind You” in that the medium is vital to the message.

   It’s a good detective novel. It kept my attention and the ending was unique and surprising.

   It’s also nice to know that the device could only be used once because frankly I detest books of letters.

NOTE: Previously reviewed on this blog by William Deeck here.