Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, February 15, 2013


Pawns of Death by Bill Pronzini and Jeffrey M. Wallman (writing as "Robert Hart Davis") (2003)

Marcia Muller once said that the only book that her husband, Bill Pronzini, wrote that she refused to read was a paperback western titled Dual at Gold Buttes.  The book was actually written by Pronzini and Jeffrey Wallman and was published under the name "William Jeffries" and -- if I remember correctly -- was a pretty servicable western.  Pronzini and Wallman often collaborated early in their careers and their combined efforts nearly always produced interesting, though often minor, reads.

In 1974, the two collaborated on this lead novella for the short-lived Charlie Chan Mystery Magazine and Wildside Press/Borgo Press reprinted it in book form in 2003.  CCMM, a companion magazine to Mike Shayne's Mystery Magazine, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Magazine, The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. Magazine and others, lasted only four issues, each with a new story featuring Earl Derr Biggers' famous detective.

This time Charlie is in Paris to watch a championship chess match.  Tempers flare between the current champion's camp and that of the upstart challenger.  The challenger and his wife decide to switch their hotel room with a friend and that friend is then shot in a locked room, no less!  Charlie is asked to help in the investigation and we get to meet the various suspects and red herrings.

Pawns of Death is a quick read and was certainly quickly written.  On reflection, the clue that Charlie used to narrow the list of suspects did not hold water, nor did accusations of cheating during the chess match.  Chess afficionados may be disappointed to learn that the game is merely a backdrop to the action and chess strategy is not part of the narrative.  And, for me, at least, the story does not have much of the flavor of Biggers' novels about the Chinese-Hawaiian detective.  Despite all this, Pawns of Death is a fast-moving pulpish mystery well worth an hour or so of your time.

Another novella from the magazine was also released from the same publisher:  The Temple of the Golden Horde by "Michael Collins" (Dennis Lynds), again writing as the all-encompassing "Robert Hart Davis."


  1. PAWNS OF DEATH sounds like my kind of story. I'm a big fan of Bill Pronzini so I'll be looking for this. Nice review!

  2. I wondered about that 2003 publication date...CCMM was in fact the last attempt, iinm, at a new Renown Publication, after the folding of the U.N.C.L.E. magazines, ZANE GREY WESTERN, and WEIRD TALES...did Margulies attempt any other fiction magazines after MICHAEL/MIKE SHAYNE? If so, that's slipping my mind...

  3. As far as I know, CCMM was the last Renown magazine other than MSMM. Leo died in '75, and I don't think Cylvia had any interest in starting anything new.