Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Search for a Scientist: Review

Search for a Scientist (1947) by Charles L. Leonard. Leonard was a pseudonym for M. (Mary) V. (Violet) Heberden who was also one of the few women mentioned in mystery critic James Sandoe's oft-reprinted and anthologized personal checklist of favorite hardboiled authors. Heberden's protagonist under the Leonard name is Paul Kerrigan, a private eye who spends a fair amount of work operating as a spy for the government. She was responsible for two other private eyes, Rick Vanner and Desmond Shannon. She was born in England and besides writing was known as a world traveler; office manager and timber importer.*

"Every time you lose a scientist do you have to send me chasing after him?" 

Search for a Scientist is the seventh in the Paul Kilgerrin series. The U.S. Army once again needs his particular brand of tough-guy spying--this time he is in search of a German scientist who has gone hiding in France. Dr. Fanz Neubrunn was one of three German scientists working on nuclear fission during the war. The Americans had managed to smuggle out two of them, but "lost" Neubrunn and it was rumored that he was dead. Now intelligence has suggested that Neubrunn is alive and well and hiding in Marseille. The Americans aren't the only ones after the scientists. Russian agents have been spotted in France as well and now the body of the government man who was on the job has just been pulled out of the Marseille harbor. Colonel Mathewson wants to send Paul in as an unknown.  

Another American agent--hard on the track of a counterfeiting ring passing particularly good fake U.S. bills--goes missing just shortly after making contact with Paul (to let him know what his colleague had shared on progress) and Paul will have to follow a convoluted trail through night-clubs, black marketeering, and a deserted house on the coast before he can find the answer to what has become of the American agent and the German scientist. But he'll have to use all his wits to escape the watery fate of his predecessor. As with all good spies, Paul has an eye for the ladies and makes a conquest or two along the way. 

Kilgerrin is a particularly personable private eye/spy. He has wry sense of humor and, even though he's in a ruthless and rather amoral game, he has some very human moments with those he comes in contact with. He sometimes questions the game he's participating, but never backs down from his commitment to the government. Not a true mystery--it's quite obvious who is behind the counterfeiting and how it connects to Kilgerrin's scientist. It's also fairly obvious who the scientist is once you meet all the characters--but there's plenty of action/adventure and it's definitely worth the read for the scenes where Kilgerrin hooks up with a master burglar for bit of late-night breaking and entering. At the end of the escapade, the expert expresses dismay that Kilgerring will not be staying much longer in France: "A pity. With training, I could make Monsieur into a really first-class professional." Good entertainment. ★★ and a half.

This was one novel in a three-in-one Detective Book Club edition. It had no cover photo--so I have used the cover above to claim the "Shadowy Figure" (dead) category on the Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt card.

*Biographical information courtesy of Kevin Burton Smith posted at The Thrilling Detective Web Site

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