Wednesday, May 3, 2023

The Gentle Hangman

 The Gentle Hangman (1950) by James M. Fox (Johannes Knipscheer)

A pretty young blonde is a contestant on one of those gimmicky post-WWII game shows. In this case, she's given a $1,000 diamond ring and told to go out on the street and sell it for $10. If she can make the sale without telling the buyer that she's doing it for a game show and brings the buyer back to the studio, then both parties will get a genuine diamond ring for the $10. So, Helen Cooper walks out of the studio, manages to lose her program escort, and disappears. The game show execs and sponsor get a bit worried about liability and hire John Marshall, private eye, to track the girl down. They don't even care much about the diamond; they just want her to sign a release form. It isn't difficult--the trail leads straight to a motor court room. The only problem? Someone has strangled the girl and the diamond is missing. 

Marshall figures his job is done. Can't get a release signed by dead girl. But "the little woman" (that would be his wife Suzy) manages to wangle it so he's still in the middle of it all. By the time he's done--he'll have more clients than he needs and more interactions with unsavory characters than he wants. There are union busters and feds and pushy brunettes with talking parrots. There's more than one blonde in the picture and a missing briefcase in addition to the diamond. And it all spells trouble with a capital "T" for Marshall and his relationship with the local law enforcement. Luckily, he's able to find the diamond and the briefcase and hand the boys in blue a murderer all before the Chief decides he's really going to revoke Marshall's license this time.

So, this was a pretty good, mildly boiled private eye story. I need to find the first one so I can find out how our college-educated Marshall wound up as a detective. He's an interesting character--mixing his college background (and quoting Robert Burns frequently) with standard hard-boiled descriptions

She offered us a smile that you could have bottled and sold for weedkiller.

And, for the most part, I enjoyed his relationship with his wife. What I could have done without was his constant references to Suzy as "the little woman." Once would have been enough--but putting it on constant repeat was about as pleasant as nails on a chalkboard. His detective methods are decent as is the plot--though it does get a bit convoluted with the feds and the union busters. I'm still not clear on why we needed them in there. A fun little read. ★★

First line: The pretty girl's face was chalk white.

The human mind is an amazing product. Confront it with a nasty corpse on Monday morning, a couple of thugs on Monday night, and a disgruntled cop for breakfast on Tuesday, then supply the proprietor with a kiss and a pat on the back from the right party and he winds up feeling fine. (p. 55)

Last lines: "Don't worry about this ring, sweet, it's bad for you. They're used to giving them away..."


Deaths = 2 (one strangled; one shot)

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