Dead Man’s Tale
1961 (Stephen Marlowe)Barney Street’s will left everything to Milo Hacha—including a death sentence, for Barney’s calculating widow wouldn’t rest until she got back everything that was rightfully hers. And she had the right tool to get the furtune, Steve Longacre, right where she wanted him—and that was executing Hacha. So Hacha was on the run, fleeing love, money, and a velvet-lined coffin...
It begins with some promise, but quickly sinks into the seamy world of criminal types engaged in a boring hunt (in between sex scenes) where almost everyone ends up dead. Not even a cursory attempt at any sort of mystery element; there would be more like it among the ‘paperback originals’.
Death Spins the Platter
1962 (Richard Deming)Disc jockey Tutter King thought he had the world dancing to his tune, but suddenly the music stopped and he was dead. No one knew who killed him, but the suspect list didn’t skip a beat. Was it dazzling Lola, tired of playing second fiddle? Or wife Nancy, his lonely queen? Perhaps silent-screen star Hathaway quieted by the talkies. Or even Board Chairman Stander, who wanted a cut of King’s action. All of them had something to gain, but one of them had nothing to lose...
A fair but uncomplicated whodunit plot, a smart-aleck reporter hounding a homicide cop...the sort of thing you might find in a 1940s B-movie mystery. Enjoyable for what it is. The first of many ‘originals’ to include a helpful ‘cast of characters’; these featured biting descriptions and adroit turns of phrase: Nancy King—Svelte, expensive brunette, King’s beautiful wife was already out of the castle—but didn’t intend to abdicate the throne.
Murder with a Past
1963 (Talmage Powell)Who killed Cox, the robber? Was it Ruth Tully, who visited Crandall Cox on the night of his death, and who might have decided to quench a torrid past with a spray of bullets? What about Sandra Jean, the knock-‘em-dead beauty, who knew more than she was telling about the sudden demise of blackmailer Cox? Or had some past scandal driven lawyer Ollie Hurst and his mad wife, Norma, to claim the blackmailer’s life? Dave Tully didn’t know who the killer was, but if he didn’t find out fast, the price of failure could be death...!
There’s a decent plot here, but despite some vivid character studies the mystery isn’t that complex—it would’ve made a good radio episode. Maudie Blake—A sex pot who boiled too long and then spilled over; she heard too much and talked to the wrong people.
Kill as Directed
1963 (Henry Kane)Competent, respectable practitioner of the time-honored art of medicine, Dr Harry Brown—failure! Until the day old man Gresham, with his bum ticker, his millions, and his voluptuous young spouse, hired Harry as his doctor. Then it was money, luxury—and love. But what happens to a doctor when someone slips a corpse into his locked apartment? What can a man say when he finds himself a member of an organized crime ring? How can Harry tell his richest patient he’s having an affair with a man’s wife? It’s enough to give a man a heart attack. But which man?
A noirish yarn with a boatload of unlikable characters, and one twist that isn’t as surprising as it wants to be. Franklin Gregory Archibald Smith—The mortician who arranged for the disposal of ‘Uncle Joe’s brother’s ashes’; he knew how to urn a fast buck.
Wife or Death
1963 (Richard Deming)Angel was a voluptuous child-woman, bouncing in and out of every bed in town, until she landed in the wrong one and found death was her lover. Then the town that had played voyeur to her indiscretions pounced upon Angel's husband Jim, branding him cuckold and killer and screaming for blood. But what could Jim do when even the DA, last in a parade of Angel's lovers, was out to pin the murder on him? He had to find the one who had played Angel false or let an avenging Angel cheat him again. Only this time he would pay with his life...!
This isn’t a bad story but it’s a little too long for its own good. What’s supposed to be a surprise twist only occurs to Jim when he checks something every reader would have thought of way earlier. The police investigator isn’t much help either since he’s slower to pick up on clues than Jim is! Corinne Guest—the perfect wife and the past imperfect widow.
The Golden Goose
1964 (Fletcher Fora)Old Slater O'Shea, the golden goose, was ruler of a peculiar roost. A gaggle of free-loading O'Sheas were lazing around the mansion, letting Slater foot the bills, while they waited for him to die and leave them his money. But someone got tired of waiting, and when Slater went upstairs for a little nip before his nap, his bottle of bourbon was labeled Rest in Peace! It was up to Cibola City's finest to find out who'd cooked Uncle Slater's goose, before the charming O'Sheas could play any more gruesome games in their battle for the goose's gold.
The O’Shea family is a gaggle of weird eccentrics, literary descendants of the Potts clan and the mad Hatters. But everything about this book is over the top, from the preposterous situations to the overly-clever writing and acerbic, snarky dialogue. It finally dawned on me that it’s all a deliberate, twisted parody, right down to the surrealistic exposure of the killer, and then it became fun. The whodunit aspect is weakened by one character who does something suspicious early on that’s promptly ignored until it’s needed—but maybe that was parody too. Cousin Peet—An enchanting exhibitionist who is full of beans, but manages never to spill them.
The Four Johns
1964 (Jack Vance)The four of them had only two things in common—their name and a love for the ladies. John Boce was a no-account accountant who lusted after food, drink, cars, and women. John Thompson was a secretive librarian who liked his books and his women well-stacked. John Viviano was a fashion photographer with a great feel for a body—any body! And John Pilgrim was a poetic bum who had the girls hanging on his every stanza. All of them wanted the same woman, but which one wanted her enough to kill...?
This is one of those stories that depends on the hero acting stupidly for there to be a story...and he does. There are a few twists but they depend on surprise rather than playing fair. Mary Hazelwood—One of the busiest bodies on the campus, she had more Johns in her life than Polly Adler.
Blow Hot, Blow Cold
1964 (Fletcher Flora)There was an epidemic of death in the town. Lila Connor, neighborhood flirt and sex goddess, lay dead in her home, victim of an ill-placed letter opener. Larry Connor, successful accountant and distraught husband, lay dead in his office, slain by the giant Mickey Finn. And at Shady Acres, Nancy Howell was crazy wondering who killed Lila and Larry. Was a killer even now hidden in Shady Acres, waiting for a chance to slay again...?
The police are stuck on several minor details (like why the air conditioner wasn’t turned on during a hot summer day) and sure enough they lead to the solution. There are enough clues for the reader to guess whodunit, but not enough to rule out the others, so it’s semi-fair play. Some elements of the reveal echo a well-regarded EQ novel. Mae Walters—A battle ax no one wants to grind.
The Last Score
1964 (Charles W Runyon)Leslie Gibson was a wealthy, beautiful, seventeen-year-old brat—out for kicks at any price! And Leslie had decided that Reid Rance, adventurer and travel guide extraordinaire, was just the man to show her the hot spots of Mexico. But touring led to trouble with a capital T, and Reid was soon minus one debutante, but plus several unwanted corpses, and desperately wanted by the Mexican and American police as well as the Mexican underground. Could Reid evade the cops and rescue Leslie from her underground abductors before time ran out for them both...?
The ‘paperback originals’ had previously delivered the sex; this entry tosses in the drugs (in excrutiating detail) and rock-and-roll. A hard-boiled kidnapping yarn that seems to go on forever; the only surprise is that it was published under the EQ byline. (But here’s a different view
.) Karen Frankel—A cold cookie, but Reid crumbled her.
Beware the Young Stranger
1965 (Talmage Powell)John Vallancourt, the cool, calm diplomat, was worried stiff. A dear friend was dead and his daughter Nancy was missing. John feared the worst and the worst was Nancy’s sweetheart Keith Rollins. Keith was the prime suspect in the case and he was running scared, dragging Nancy into danger with him. If Keith was a murderer, John was certain of one thing. He had to catch Keith before the cops did, or he might find himself with one very dead daughter...!
Take the running and the searching, condense all that down to something more reasonable than 90% of the story, and you’d have a fair little mystery. As it stands, the ultimate reveal in dispensed with in a few rushed pages at the end. Howard Conway—Married into the country club, he resented any tremor that might affect his money-in-law.
The Copper Frame
1965 (Richard Deming)‘POLICE CHIEF ACCUSED OF RAPE!’ The headlines screamed the news of Ted Saxon’s crime. But Ted was innocent, the victim of gangster Larry Cutter’s expert frame-up. Ted was sure it was Cutter’s doing, as he was sure that Cutter’s gunmen had killed Iroquois’s former police chief. But how to prove it? Suspended from the force, facing trial, the whole town against him, how could Ted hope to beat Cutter’s hands?
One of the more interesting of this series, it’s more of a howdhedoit, in the manner of The King Is Dead
. But a whodunit angle does turn up at the last minute, almost out of thin air. It’s a decent read, but experienced mystery buffs may be a step ahead of the hero most of the time. Ann Lowry—A sexpuss who becomes a cat’s-paw.
A Room to Die In
1965 (Jack Vance)A corpse, a gun, and a partly burned blackmail threat in a room locked and bolted from the inside provided a pretty good scenario for suicide and an almost impossible to beat case against murder. But Ann Nelson was positive her admittedly eccentric father would never take his own life. It took the uncovering of several more bodies before the cops would listen, and then it was almost too late. Ann had put her finger on some dangerous clues, and if she didn’t add them up fast enough a deadly murderer would put the finger on her...
A smartly conceived, equally well executed locked-room mystery, with a complex but not implausible plot. The characters are vividly drawn, and there are several nods to mystery traditions, including an implicit Challenge to the Reader. There’s even a ‘gathering of the suspects’ for the final reveal. A Room to Die In
is probably the best of the ‘paperback originals’ and one that genuinely merits the EQ moniker. Alexander Cypriano—A living stalemate whose best bet was never laid.
The Killer Touch
1965 (Charles W Runyon)All Police Sergeant Burt March wanted was a chance to recover from a recent brush with the Grim Reaper. Sun, fun, and a willing broad, that was all he needed. But the broad had along a sugar daddy with his own private squad of goons with guns. And when the fun began, Burt found himself the gunmen’s number-one bull’s eye...
A vacationing cop stumbles into a criminal gang. Guns, violence, drugs—everything you’d expect from an Ellery Queen novel...not. The only mystery is why it was published. Joss Leeds—The tippling landlady of an island purgatory who disappears into her bottle as magically as a genie.
The Devil’s Cook
1966 (Fletcher Flora)Beautiful Terry Miles’s last extramarital bed was a slab in the town morgue—and Police Captain Bartholdi longed to pull the covers over her case. But, faced with a constantly outraged husband, a multitude of abandoned lovers and vengeful wives, disappearing neighbors, a local gangster, and an inheritance large enough to tempt any kidnapper, Bartholdi wasn’t sure he could catch the killer before the killer caught him.
After the previous entry, this is a breath of fresh air. Intriguing, well-drawn characters in a fair-play whodunit, with an implicit Challenge to the Reader that even reminds you of the most important clues (as Jim Hutton did on television). If only the ‘paperback originals’ were all this good (the next one is). Ardis Bowers—To her, marriage was an institution and she intended to make Otis serve his full term, but no time off for bad behavior.
The Madman Theory
1966 (Jack Vance)Madman or murderer? That was the question and it was Police Inspector Omar Collins who had to come up with the answer. All he had to go on was: the victim—Earl Genneman, wealthy president of Genneman Labs; the scene—right in the middle of a busy state park; the murder weapon—a shotgun that was still missing; the witnesses—Myron Retwig, Red Kershaw, Bob Vega, and Buck James, all friends or employees of the deceased; the motive—unknown; the suspects—everyone! Then he got a lukewarm tip from a reel cool corpse, and a few clues started to click into place. But it wasn’t till the third body turned up that the inspector was sure he was hot on the killer’s trail. And by then, Collins knew he had very little time left to stop this madman from murdering again...
Inspector Collins is a methodical type, digging out every possible fact about a confusing murder case through dogged police work. It’s like a procedural until he puts the facts together and realizes who the killer is. There are a few plausibility issues, and the whodunit pieces don’t fit together with the cleverness of A Room to Die In
. But Madman
is another bright spot in an uneven series. Bob Vega—The manager of one of Genneman’s subsidiary companies. He was too busy juggling wives, ex-wives, and wives-to-be to have time to juggle the books.
1966 (Richard Deming)A one hundred thousand dollar misunderstanding. Some men retire one a hundred grand—or buy their wives mink coats with days of the week sewn in the lining... or fly to Rio for a good cup of coffee—but not Jim Morgan. Jim had a hundred thousand all right—neatly packed in stacks of fifties—only someone had made an expensive mistake. A mistake that put him on the run for his money—as well as his life...
Another noir-type setup involving illegal money and a bit of avarice getting a poor schlub in a pickle. A twist in the last few pages emerges out of left field and yet isn’t all that surprising...or credible.
Shoot the Scene
1966 (Richard Deming)‘Come on baby. This has to look real’, Casey said. ‘Relax.’ Immediately Sally’s body went stiff. ‘Do I have to?’ ‘You’ve got to. Now loosen up, get into the spirit of the thing before—‘ She slid her arms around his neck. Suddenly they were kissing wildly, clinging to each other as if it were a matter of life or death—because it was...
Um, no it wasn’t. It was a matter of Casey faking a romance to discourage another woman. A kidnapping consumes nearly half the pages, then the faux romance subplot takes over. Eventually we learn who’s behind the kidnapping and the resultant death, along with its real purpose. A technically fair but nearly unguessable whodunit twist spices up the final few pages. ‘Kidnappers’, spelled that way in most other ‘paperback originals’, is here ‘kidnapers’. One of several spelling inconsistencies in this series that seem odd given Manfred Lee’s purported role in closely editing the stories.
Guess Who’s Coming to Kill You?
1968 (Walt Sheldon)Let’s face it, Alex: you were the KGB’s top assassin, and they paid you off. Just as we might. A cushy lieutenant-colonelcy in Tokyo; riding pour le sport, a yacht, your pick of Eurasian dolls...Like? We can do you better in the USA, Alex—come on over, and bring your secrets with you... That was FACE's pitch to the would-be defector, and it got results. Witness one hell of a nice courier slashed and dumped in a Tokyo alley. Maybe agent Pete Brook could make jolly Alex's dream come true. Except what did Krylov really long for in America—wine, women, and song...or a dramatic return to the murderer's trade?
Guess Who’s Trying to Cash In on Bond Mania? Spies, counter-spies, crosses, double-crosses, and of course a bevy of bed-partners. Several people turn out to be something other than what they seem, though there’s hardly any way to figure that out before the reveals.
Kiss and Kill
1969 (Charles W Runyon)The nice mild man named Edward Tollman had a problem. His lovely wife was missing, and he wanted her back—fast. So he went to a fellow whose specialty was solving problems like that—a very private detective called Barney Burgess. Burgess’s methods were not pleasant—but they got results. Burgess was used to sordid scenes and secrets. But after four quick corpses, a wild ride to Mexico, and a blonde sex bomb who threatened to blow the case wide open at the first wrong move, Barney began to wonder how such a nice guy got him into something this nasty...
Just what the series needed: another kidnapping tale! Hunters track kidnappers back and forth across two countries following a trail of corpses. It begins well enough but is increasingly unpleasant and implausible. A small twist in the tale seems like a desperation sop to readers who wanted to be surprised by something
Tim Corrigan Series:
Where Is Bianca?
1966 (Talmage Powell)Is the lovely young heiress hiding somewhere among the shiny steel towers of Manhattan? Or is she the horribly mutilated corpse hauled up from the sewers of the city? Captain Timothy Corrigan, the cool cop with the eye-patch, sets out to solve the puzzle—and finds himself playing a fantastic game of hide-and-seek in a glittering world where everything is make-believe, except sudden, shocking death.
A missing woman and an unidentified body link two investigations; undistinguished but passable procedural, with a few scraps of deduction tossed in at the last minute. As for the title question...it sort of never gets actually answered.
Who Spies, Who Kills?
1966 (Talmage Powell)The horribly crushed body which crashed on the Manhattan pavement had at least two names, several passports, and an address book full if important friends—among them, a millionaire rouré; his exotic, deadly mistress; and his coolly beautiful wife—all of whom seemed to forget him very abruptly when he became a corpse. No one was talking, and it was up to Captain Corrigan, the man with the eye-patch and the way with crime, to solve a violent puzzle of lust, greed, high espionage—and the worst kind of murder.
Mostly another procedural, padded out with unpleasant digressions into various characters’ sex lives and fears of impotence. A not-so-surprising revelation involving a stereotypical ‘least likely suspect’ is partly via an oft-used plot device dating back to the 19th century.
Why So Dead?
1966 (Richard Deming)Tim Corrigan, the eye-patched detective with the knack for murderous situations, plunges into the wildest, farthest out caper of his career. His assignment leads him to a splendid but terrified harem of veiled beauties, a millionaire sultan with a roving eye, a gang of turbaned mystery men with a lust for violance. Corrigan’s job: protect a priceless ruby as red as the color of murder.
A lengthy procedural hunt for a missing gem consumes most of the pages. There’s a gathering of the suspects to reveal who was behind it all, but since the only clue dropped to the reader comes just before the gathering, and it only implicates one person, none of it’s very mysterious.
How Goes the Murder?
1967 (Richard Deming)The banners waved; the crowd cheered; the reporters rushed toward the candidate as he made his way to the spaker’s platform. And then a shot rang out, the candidate clutched at his chest, screamed and fell dead. It was a pretty kettle of fish for Tim Corrigan, the crime solver with the eye-patch and the stainless steel nervous system. The suspects included the candidate’s voluptuous widow, his handsome bodyguard, and a breathtaking young thing with every reason to want the candidate dead. And pretty soon Corrigan himself was a candidate—for murder.
If Corrigan was himself a candidate for murder, it must have been left on the cutting-room floor. Padded out with a lengthy investigation of neo-Nazis, one a little too archly named John Tower (the name of a real-life then-sitting US Senator from Texas). A few bits of dialogue and turns of phrase from Why So Dead?
were re-used almost verbatim.
Which Way to Die?
1967 (Richard Deming)They are two brilliant madmen who think killing is fun. A freak of the law has set them free, and now some hidden killer, acting as judge, jury, and executioner, threatens. Enter Tim Corrigan, assigned to protect the pair against the fatal harvest of their own violence. Very soon, Corrigan takes their place on the deadly spot.
Much of the setup is straight from The King Is Dead
. After the murder Corrigan quickly finds a key clue. The fact that he’s not skeptical about it, given its implausibility, immediately alerts the reader to its true purpose and the killer’s identity. It takes Corrigan 50 pages to catch on.
What’s in the Dark?
1968 (Richard Deming)This killer is an expert. He has climbed ten stories in the Manhattan blackout, found and dispatched his victim amidst the men and women trapped in the building. The night drags on. Nerves wear thin and inhibitions disappear. Anyone, including a beautiful secretary with a yen for eye-patched Tim Corrigan, could be the lurking killer. Suddenly, out of the dark, a deadly hand strikes at Corrigan....
Probably the best of the Corrigans, even though it uses the lazy, hoary cliché of the witness who knows all but doesn’t want to tell over the phone...and in this case is calling from a room just down the hall! The padded plot is reasonably fair; the back-cover blurb is more misleading and inaccurate than usual.
The Campus Murders
1969 (Gil Brewer)The co-ed missing from Tisquanto State was the daughter of Governor Sam Holland's rival for re-election—and best friend. She was Laura Thornton, a human being—somehow the pawn and victim of angry student upheavals not even the governor understood. Who was behind the terror that had found a focus in Laura's disappearance? It was a case for the governor's special assistant, a two-fisted troubleshooter ... Mike McCall!
The Black Hearts Murder
1970 (Richard Deming)Where is Harlan James? The leader of the militant Black Hearts whose rage, still heard on tape, was edging the city towards interracial terror. Harlan James called for violence—for black protests, demonstrations, drastic political action against the city's white leaders. But did he also call for—or commit—murder? It was a top priority job for Mike McCall, a new breed of crime-fighter, whose cases plunge him into the crises of modern America... A prominent white official is shot to death and Mike Mc Call must find the Killer—or face open racial warfare!
Simplistic plot padded out with lengthy digressions into racial tensions via dated stereotypes and loaded situations. It takes 160 pages for anyone to think of checking something that should’ve raised red flags in the second chapter.
The Blue Movie Murders
1972 (Edward D Hoch)All Hollywood producer Ben Sloane had wanted was to find Sol Dahlman, the mysterious film genius who had made The Wild Nymph—and now Sloane was dead. The governor told Mike McCall to, 'Go up to Rockview and get me the killer!' But it wasn't quite that easy. The Mann Photo Service, long rumored to be a center of the blue movie industry, was torn by a strike, and nobody was talking to strangers not Xavier Mann, not Major Jordan, not beautiful April Evans, who refused even to tell who she was or why she, too, was investigating the murder. Then, just to make the job a little harder, Cynthia Rhodes and her fem lib Raiders hit town and a man named Carry Tanner decided McCall had lived too long...
Edward D Hoch was a highly regarded mystery writer, yet this is his only entry among the ‘originals’. True to his reputation, he plays fair with the reader—all necessary clues are presented, though they are expertly disguised. The attempts at 70s social relevance are a bit forced but do add color to the story. Definitely in the upper tier of ‘paperback originals’; at least the series didn’t go out with a whimper.