M. E. KNERR – Travis

Pike Book #214; paperback original. First printing, April 1962.

   I seem to be specializing in obscure books this month, and this one is about as obscure as you can get. Even though it is a private eye novel – and I’ll get back to that in a minute – it was published by one of those small sleazy paperback outfits in the early 1960s that promised more than they could possibly deliver at the time. And even so, if you happened to have purchased this one in 1962 for its sexy parts, you’d be sadly disappointed, since in that regard, it’s really rather tame. If sexy passages were what you were looking for back then, you’d have been far better off buying a copy of Peyton Place than this.

    This book does not even appear in Al Hubin’s Crime Fiction IV, but it will, or at least in the Addenda. The author does appear, however, and to show you something of his track record, here’s his present entry:

KNERR, MICHAEL E. (1908?-1984?)
* Operation: Lust (Epic, 1962, hc) as by M. E. Knerr.
* The Violent Lady (Monarch, 1963, pb)

   Listed below are other titles by Knerr (under either byline) which I found listed for sale at various places on the Internet, but not included in CFIV, and probably for good reason. I do not have descriptions of the story lines for any of these first three, so your guess is as good as mine:

* Brazen Broad (Pike #206, pbo, 1961)
* Heavy Weather (Belmont/Tower, pbo, 1979)   [** -See UPDATE below.]
* Port of Passion (Imperial #737, pbo, n.d.)

These I found descriptions for:

* Night in Guyana (Belmont/Tower, pbo, 1978) A non-fiction account of the of the mass suicide of the Jim Jones cult.

* Sasquatch: Monster of the Northwest Woods (Belmont/Tower, pbo, 1977) Quoting from the cover: “Though based upon factual research, this is a fictional tale of what could conceivably happen in the Pacific Northwest: a chain of events that could create a monster out of a normally timid and gentle giant.”

* The Sex Life of the Gods (Uptown Books #703, pbo, 1962) “Science Fiction erotica.”

   [** UPDATE 02-27-07] At first I was doubtful, but now that I’ve found a cover scan of Heavy Weather, I’d say that it’s also a prime candidate for inclusion in Crime Fiction IV. If you can’t make out the small print on the bottom of the cover, it says, and I quote: “On the Mexico run the Pandora carried a cargo of drugs, danger and death!” LATER THE SAME DAY: Al Hubin agrees. In it goes. (The book pictured below is described as a Horwitz edition published in Hong Kong.)


   But let’s get on with things and to the book Travis itself. There’s only one copy offered for sale on the Internet, making it not only obscure but scarce. I mention this even though I’m sure you know that the two are usually, but not always, one and the same.

   Telling the story, though, in his debut and probably his only appearance in print, is Mike Travis, a “sailor of fortune, who loves life, and woman, especially women.” It is not difficult to deduce what other reasonably well-known character was the inspiration for Mike Travis. Travis in this book had previously been in the charter boat business in Florida, but when times went bad, he went to California to accept an offer made by one of his former customers, a multi-millionaire named Del Houston, to look him up if and when Travis headed out that way.

    And Del does indeed have a job for him. After some quick string-pulling and the greasing of certain political hands, Del hands Travis a PI license and a gun, and a three-fold request: to find his son; get him off narcotics; and break up the gang who’s been supplying them.

    It’s not a bad opening for a PI yarn, and the story maintains its way reasonably well for about half of its just under 160 pages: the usual PI stuff, the things that PI’s do, and the usual bad things happen to some of the people who just happen to get in the way, with all of the coincidences that make one or more aspects of one PI investigation dovetail nicely into another.

    Even though it goes without saying, I’ll say it anyway. Travis himself is one of those guys who is irresistible to beautiful women. In this book that includes both his employer’s foster daughter, from page 20 …

   She had a body to make dead men come to life and dead women come back to haunt their living husbands. With a skin tone tanned to an almost artistic hue, hair the color of a burnished copper skillet, eyes as blue as an ocean trough and lips as soft and warm looking as an afternoon at the beach, Abby Houston was a woman to set pulses racing and libidos leaping. Mine was right up there too.

   … and a stripper who the first time they met, tripped him into a pool at Houston’s house. From page 68:

   Marcia, if that was her real name, was rigged up in the getup of an Indian squaw, but the way she filled out the tan buckskin and beads of her ensemble would have made Pocohontas whirl in her grave. If this was an example of the way that Indian women of a hundred years ago, I could see why the west had been wild.

    I think you can tell a lot of about a story by looking closely at how the author describes his characters, don’t you? With an ending that doesn’t directly address the clues that have been set up for it, though, the tale does two things simultaneously and hence the apparent impossible. The action-packed finale (a) goes all but out of control, and (b) withers away from lack of interest, as if there were a deadline set that had to be met, and it didn’t matter precisely how.


    Although overall not without flashes of acceptable writing, and every once in a while better than acceptable, the overall impact of this novel is still rather like a third-rate Carter Brown or a tenth-rate John D. MacDonald, either of whom, if you’re a fan, you know what I’m talking about and whom you’re far better off pursuing.

    Or let’s put it this way. One of the reasons for collecting and reading unknown and long-neglected works of mystery fiction is the hope that never dies of discovering an unknown and long-neglected classic of mystery fiction. Sometimes you have to settle for unknown and long-neglected.

— written in December 2006

UPDATE [02-26-07] If you were to google “M. E. Knerr” on the Internet, you would find, as I did, that there was a Michael E. Knerr who was a friend of SF and (occasional) mystery writer H. Beam Piper, who committed suicide in 1964 when he ran into financial troubles. I’ve not been able to confirm that the two Knerr’s are one and same, nor have the birth and death years for either one been verified. Accounts vary on the latter. Knerr may have also written under the name of “Brent Hart,” but that’s another loose end not yet tied down.

    But the Knerr who was a friend of Piper apparently wrote a hitherto unpublished biography of him, and upon Piper’s death, went through his manuscripts and salvaged, among other things, the “lost” third Fuzzy novel, Fuzzies and Other People.

    If and when I know more, I will as always, let you know.

[UPDATE #3] Postdated 03-29-07 on 08-16-07. Thanks to Google, I discovered that SF writer John F. Carr knew Mike Knerr, and after a small amount of effort, I was able to get in touch with him by email. As a consequence of this contact, John has posted a long article about his friendship with him here on the M*F blog. I should pointed this out more clearly before now, instead of leaving it hidden as one of the comments.

   In this article about Mike Knerr, Carr has his correct date of birth, along with the year he died, plus a lot more about him on both a professional and a personal level.