extraordinarily influential on my reading life, as the ghost editor of most of the Alfred Hitchcock Presents: anthologies and the "Hitchcock" anthologies aimed at younger readers published in the latter 1950s through his death in 1969 (he didn't quite make it to 60, though he left a fair amount of work behind him, having first published in sf magazines with an entry in Wonder Stories in 1931 and perhaps having published professionally even earlier). These were among the most eclectic and engaging anthologies I read in my youth, augmented by the occasional anthology Arthur would edit under his own name (he also ghosted one for Red Skelton, of all people).
His collections Ghosts and More Ghosts and Mysteries and More Mysteries were also early favorites (particularly the first), and while drawn from such magazines as Argosy and Bluebook (and EQMM and F&SF) were marketed as kids' books, which was fine by me at the time...but it remains a pity they have been only such collections of his work published. And while I've been enjoying his various radio and television and film scripting over the years since reading those two collections in my first decade, this novella is the first new-to-me fiction I've read by him for quite some time. Several years after the publication in Mercury Mystery, a slightly longer version was published as half of an Ace Double Novel as Somebody's Walking Over My Grave (1961), and this stands as the only novel aimed at adults he would publish that I'm aware of. (I never did much care for the Three Investigators novels for young readers, which he either wrote or eventually had ghosted from his outlines; yet more were written completely by others after his death.)
Since it's a Robert Arthur fiction, it's slickly written, playful and witty for the most part...he was clearly having some fun writing a post-Jonathan Latimer/Mickey Spillane sort of relatively explicit, if not so much as to get too many blue noses out of joint, hardboiled story, with cocksure private detective Max London as heedless of consequences of tangling with crooked police chiefs and well-connected mafiosi as anyone this side of the Destroyer, the Lone Wolf, and other later vigilante antiheroes. Nonetheless, at least in first form, it's sadly relatively minor work, dependent on even more coincidence than the story itself mocks in other similar stories (London eventually sees through some reported coincidences in the testimony of others that strain credulity, but the eventual truth he uncovers doesn't strike me as any more plausible), and the sexual politics of the story, not altogether atypically for its field or era, seem also to straddle the line between knowing parody and blithe exploitation of the prevalent stereotypes...not only do the manful characters occasionally express their confusion in the face of women's inscrutability, but one technician, noting that the cigaret butt of a woman suspect lacks any trace of lipstick, wonders what kind of woman is she, anyway? (Meanwhile, there are certainly implications that one of the two apparent virgins in the novella might be a lesbian, but a round of manful kisses soon puts that woman straight.)
I have to wonder if the later version of the novel doesn't improve on this draft (Kevin Burton Smith says no), but I would certainly send the curious reader onto a good episode of The Mysterious Traveler or Murder By Experts, or the short fiction, or one of his entries in the Thriller or Alfred Hitchcock tv series, before recommending this novel...which is nonetheless a smooth and relatively diverting read. You certainly aren't going to find too many other hardboiled novels where the motivating factors include patents on color television broadcasting technology.
For more of this week's books, please see Patti Abbott's blog.
the balance of this issue's contents (at this point, I think Mercury Mystery was constrained from potentially "stealing" too many short stories from EQMM, so concentrated on shorter true-crime essays and you-solve-it puzzle games for its shorter content):
Cover: Photo by Bill Stone. Model, alas, uncredited.
"Mystery Puzzle: Miami Murder" by J. A. Kripper
(which is a very poor choice of minute mystery to immediately follow the Arthur novella, as it depends on a gimmick that was much the topic of opening-pages discussion in "Epitaph")
"The Knockout Bullet" by Erle Stanley Gardner (not bad if not too compelling account of an early 20th Century boxer and his murder)
"Memo from the Underground" by André Maurois (amusing account from his memoirs of his service as potential counterespionage mail censor)
"Proof Negative" by Paul Steiner (slight puzzle story)
"Once Aboard the Lugger" by Stuart Palmer (a rather interesting premise, particularly in an historical article...a married couple of tramp sailors who book adventure tours supposedly in search of various sorts of loot, in a set of circumstances that wouldn't've been out of place in a B. Traven story...sadly, told in a most windy and redundant fashion, by a retired newspaper guy as well as a popular crime-fiction writer who really should've known better...)
This issue can be read at Unz.org.
The fine cover of the Mercury Mystery issue recycled from an earlier cover for Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, and some Bettie Page covers for EQMM, among other matters...