Harlequin has decided to re-release their Vintage collection of crime novels with the original cover art. I had no idea that Harlequin, which is synonymous with romance, published hard boiled mysteries.
Anyway, the covers are all quite arresting to look at and made me salivate to read one. I didn’t know who to start with first so I just picked the title that sounded interesting to me and dug in.
I enjoy my fair share of hardboiled mysteries and was looking forward to tackling this one. The story follows self-made businessman and inventor, Nick English. A man who dabbles in a little of everything and thus has that “magic touch” that seems to turn a major investment into a pot of gold for himself and others. His secretary, Lois Marshall, has been right there beside him, from the start.
The story opens with the celebration of winning the Light Heavyweight Championship for one of Nick’s fighters. It is during this party that he receives some bad news. His brother, Roy, has been found dead in his office. The two brothers had been estranged. Nick got him started with doing private detective work before cutting him off financially.
The police suspect suicide since Roy was about to lose his license among other things. Nick is shocked and somewhat disgruntled by these turns of events. You see, the hospital he’s been financing will take a vote on whether to name the hospital after him and he doesn’t need the stink of a scandal right now.
Nick is not a popular guy with a lot of important people like the police commissioner and the DA for starters. Even the people on the commission at the hospital don’t care for him even though they need his money. Nick has a “undefeatable spirit” and is ruthless; and more significantly, he has money to invest. He even supports a Senator who is helping him with getting him what he wants: his legacy. It’s important to Nick to show the world at large that he’s become successful. Especially in a world where reputation has more weight than money.
His brother’s death kind of throws a wrench into those plans. As the police dig deeper, more details emerge that makes Nick shell out the bucks to keep a certain police lieutenant quiet. Turns out Nick’s brother, who is described as being a loser who was always begging Nick for money, was also blackmailing his clients. So where there’s motive, there’s murder, right? Seems that way since Roy’s secretary turns up dead as well. Another apparent suicide, that is until a certain police lieutenant leaves out crucial evidence to the contrary in order to save Mr. English any more stink. As the plot moves forward, so does the body count.
So how did I like this novel? I didn’t. This story was a chore to read. I tried in vain to engage myself but it just wasn’t happening. Why wasn’t I hooked into the story? Can’t answer that. Weren’t the characters engaging? Not really. I read hardboiled mysteries all the time and this one bored me to tears. I’ve even read some of Ed McBain’s stuff from the same era and his books hold up much better than this.
While the cover was arresting, the story was not. So I will have to grade this one a D. It’s not a flat out F because I did finish it at least. It’s not a flat out F because it was written 56 years ago. Too bad there was nothing hook worthy to keep me reading with some interest. Mainly, I pushed myself to finish it.
The prose took some getting used to with odd, dated phrases used to describe women as “frilly” or “dames.” And the main protagonist? While I admired his hard work and his single-minded determination to make something of himself, he was curt and cold. He mostly barked out orders and threw around cash while he was chauffeured around town. As I kept reading, I started to care less and less about who killed his brother. I was more anxious for closure.
As for the romance – there was a hint of one with Nick being completely oblivious to Lois’s feelings for him for the past five years. It takes her getting kidnapped for him to realize that he’d loved her all along. As for the ending, it reminded me a bit of the movie, “Cape Fear” where the hero and the villain battle it out on a yacht except in this one the yacht goes down in flames.
Overall, this story was a D read for me. I don’t think I want to try another one. This will be it for me from the HQN Vintage collection. I’m starting to realize that maybe some books shouldn’t be reprinted again. This would be one of them.