Friday, October 28, 2016

The Camera Clue: Review

George Harmon Coxe was an American writer of crime fiction who used several series characters including Jack "Flashgun" Casey, Kent Murdock, Leon Morley, Sam Crombie, Max Hale and Jack Fenner as well as writing stand-alone detective novels. Casey and Murdock are both photographers whose camera skills often land them in the middle of events that force them to don a detective's cap as well. The Camera Clue (1937) is the third such case to feature Kent Murdock. In this particular outing it's not Murdock's job that plunges him into murder and mayhem, but his wife. 

Joyce's friend, Nora Pendleton, is waiting the in Murdock apartment when Kent gets home. She's obviously shaken and possibly in shock and she reveals that she has just shot a man. Jerry Carter who was a sleazy gossip columnist who ran a nice sideline in blackmail. Murdock is sympathetic to her motive but not sure he should get involved...then his wife comes home. And her response to Kent when she hears Nora's story? "You've got to help her." So, Kent, who through his fair and honest dealings with the police has earned their respect, goes off to snatch whatever evidence Nora may have left behind when she exited Carter's office. Like the murder weapon.

But even rescuing a damsel in distress can't prevent Kent's photographic instincts from kicking in and when he sees the murder scene (no one's called the cops yet) he starts snapping photos ('cuz a cameraman always has his equipment with him...even when on a mission to interfere with evidence). And even outside the office building he stops on his way in to take few shots of a sandwich board man on stilts with a trail of small boys behind him (always good for a human interest angle).

Habit, the photographer's habit, was strong. As an incident, the sandwich man and his troop of smutty-nosed urchins, who trailed at his heels uttering catcalls of delight and derision, were not news; but it was interesting, it was human, and it appealed to Murdock because photography was his hobby as well as his business.

He notices several people well-known to him milling about on the street in the background. Lew Novak and Hazel Jaffe...and watching his wife and the other man was Roy Jaffe. And also another man he recognized as Gordon Thorndike. Quite a congregation.

And then things get really interesting for Kent. It seems that everybody who was on that street that afternoon want to make sure those pictures never see the light of day. They all seem to have reasons unrelated to Carter's murder, but is one of them covering the more serious crime? Soon his office at the newspaper is like the Grand Central Station of photography deals--with people begging, threatening, and offering money to guarantee that Kent either won't print the photos or will hand them over. Once it's proven that Nora actually didn't kill Carter, Kent is ready to forget the entire thing. But somebody won't let him. That somebody is desperate enough to get their hands on the photos and/or plates to kill for them--Kent's assistant, who develops the plates, is slugged over the head and dies. From that point on, Kent is determined to find out who the killer is and he's convinced that one person is responsible for both deaths.

Coxe provides tough guy crime with a very light touch. There are dames and dolls and men on the make; gamblers and gossips and guys on the take. There are hired goons to sent to rough Kent up. But Kent, for all his tough exterior, is a softie when it comes to a lady in tight spot. The novel is fairly clued, but I have to say he still fooled me. I probably should have spotted the culprit, but I didn't. Excellent novel from the 1930s. ★★★★

This counts for the "Camera" category on the Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt card. 


fredamans said...

Sounds like a wonderful read! I really should give more older books a try.

J F Norris said...

I like to use the term soft-boiled for the Kent Murdock books. I've also seen semi-tough used to described these books. Did you ever read the first one (MURDER WITH PICTURES) where he hides in the woman's shower in the first chapter? Yes, she's still using it when he pops in. Very racy stuff for the time, I thought. THE BAROTIQUE MYSTERY is also a very good one.

J F Norris said...

Aw nuts. It's the other way around. He's in the shower naked and a woman pops in to hide there. It's even on the Dell Mapback cover. ugh. How did I mix that up? Anyway, I like Murdock. Flash Casey is OK, too. They seem to be the same character to me.

Bev Hankins said...

John, yes, I've enjoyed all of the Murdock books I've read so far. Haven't yet tried any of the Casey stories. I've got Murder with Pictures (with that exact cover...)--but haven't gotten to it. I read this one first because I needed a camera for my scavenger hunt. {Which you're not doing, by the way. :-( }

J F Norris said...

I promised myself to limit my involvement with the blogging memes. Your cover illustration scavenger hunt would've driven me crazy because I want to read a book based on the story not on the pictures on the cover. I can manage Rich's Crime of the Century because it involves only the year of publication which has nothing to do with content whether it be inside or outside the book.

Bev Hankins said...

John, I miss you in my vintage mystery challenge--but I understand. I'm probably going to do another round of scavenger hunting for 2017 and then I'll change things up again. I've got a couple of ideas perking--but I've also considered going back to one that I've done before. Have to see what I think at the end of next year.