LEE HERRINGTON – Carry My Coffin Slowly. Simon & Schuster, hardcover, 1951. Dell #641, paperback, date?

   Barney Moffat is an investigator out of the DA’s office. A mother comes to see him. A mother of a dead young man. A dead, drunk young man, body mangled in a crashed-up Packard, a young woman’s corpse crumpled in his lap.

   Barney just got the crash photos. And he doesn’t know what to tell the lady. In our only glimpse into Barney’s head, we hear his stream of consciousness: “Your son. Your son had a bellyful of gin and he’s behind the wheel dead and the girl is dead there under the dash and your son had the wheel in his hands and it’s like a gun and you have to shoot it and there’s a loud noise and people coming running and there’s blood and tears and even the boys on the accident squad still gag in their throats when it happens…….”

   The balance of the book is that rarest of detective novel forms: third-person objective. Like The Maltese Falcon and Interface. That is to say that you don’t get in anyone’s head. All that you see is limited to the action within the four corners of the frame. And it must be so as one of the bad guys is masquerading as a good guy. But you yourself, dear reader, aren’t sure who it is until the end.

   It turns out that there are two sets of accident photos. One set as described above. Involving nobody that matters. Another set is incriminating to all the people in town that matter: the DA, the cops, the upper crust and their pocket politicos (whose positions hang in the balance). And blackmail starts to happen. And violent death. Lots and lots of death.

   It’s a tightly told procedural, doggedly investigated by the hardboiled, wise-cracking Moffat. It’s everything you want in a hardboiled detective story. Thanks again to James Sandoe, who pretty much never steers me wrong.

   According to Jim Doherty, there was one prior Barney Moffat story in Black Mask, but this was the author’s only novel, the author passing on from this world the year following publication.