Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, May 16, 2014


Mask of Glass by Holly Roth (1954)

Jimmy Kennemore, a young private in the Army's Counter Intelligence Corps, is assigned the task of finding John Viola, Ja disaffected army deserter.  It's a difficult job because the deserter had no family, no place he could call home, no work history, and not even a library card.  Although Viola had dropped out of high school some fifteen years before, this was the only possible lead Jimmy could find.  A clerk in the school's office told Jimmy that there was only one teacher on staff that had been there fifteen years before, but there was no record of whether she had ever taught Viola.  The teacher, a Mrs. Clark, remembered Viola, a "Hulking boy.  No Brains.  No Manners.  No interests."  But he did have one friend, a boy named William Smith.

There were a lot of Williams Smiths in New York and a lot of William Smiths who had moved out of the city or had died in the previous fifteen years but, by going over the school's records, Jimmy found two possibles -- a William Ramirez Smith and a William Pershing Smith.  A check of the city directory gave Jimmy the business address of William Pershing Smith, a small camera shop on Canal Street.  Going to the shop, Jimmy show his identification and asks to see Smith.

That's when things went south.

Jimmy, you see, has a somewhat unique talent.  He is able to identify telephone numbers by the sound of dialing.  He hears Smith dialing a number -- the number of Jimmy's CIC office.  Jimmy is told that he accidently stumbled on the secret headquarters of the CIC.  Smith then orders Jimmy to come with him to an abandoned warehouse, where Smith and his henchmen suddenly overpower Jimmy, tie him to a chair, and leave him with a ticking bomb.  Jimmy manages to loosen his bonds but the bomb explodes before he is able to escape.  Horribly wounded and unsure of who to trust, Jimmy manages to make it to an old friend, Doc Steinfeld.  Steinfeld treats Jimmy secretly and becomes his ally in his search to uncover a plot that eventually reaches to high positions in the military, the FBI, and the Congress.  The conspiracy also comes close to home for Jimmy; his unknown adversary has murdered everyone who knew Jimmy had been searching for a William Smith, and Jimmy's childhood sweetheart is now being threatened.

Mask of Glass is a fast-paced, rather short novel (the copy I read -- the 1955 Berkley paperback --  is a mere 128 pages) that is clearly a product of its time.  Russia is bad.  Communism is bad.  And an unnamed J. Edgar Hoover has a significant heroic role toward the end of the story.   Despite its age, Mask of Glass remains a effective suspense story.

The author, Holly Roth, was a former model and a popular mid-list mystery writer in the 1950s through the early-Sixties, until her death at age 48 in 1964.  Today, she is best remembered for her mysterious death -- she presumably fell off a small yacht in the Mediterranean; her body was never found.  Her books are ripe for rediscovery.

Mask of Glass was, I believe, Roth's second novel.  Her published books in the field were:
  • The Content Assignment (apa, The Shocking Secret), 1954
  • Mask of Glass, 1954
  • The Sleeper, 1955
  • The Crimson in the Purple, 1956
  • The Coast of Fear, 1957, as "K. G. Ballard" (apa Five Roads to S'Agaro, 1958)
  • Shadow of a Lady, 1957, the first of two novels featuring CID Inspector Richard Medford
  • The Silent Thread, 1958, as "P. J. Merrill"
  • The Van Dreisen Affair, 1960
  • Bar Sinister, 1960, as "K. G. Ballard"
  • Trial by Desire, 1960, as "K. G. Ballard"
  • Operation Doctors, 1962 (apa, Too Many Doctors, 1963), the second Richard Medford novel
  • Gauge of Deception, 1963
  • Button, Button, 1966 (completed by Roth's editor after her death)

This is Fifties mystery week for the Forgotten Books gang.  For links to other "Forgotten Fifties," check the blog of Patti Abbott, our fearless leader, at  You'll also find reviews of some great non-Fifties Forgotten Books there.


  1. Jerry, her books are ripe for discovery by me. Thanks for reviewing this novel.

  2. I have some Holly Roth novels, but haven't read one yet. MASK OF GLASS goes to the top of the Read Real Soon stack. Nice review!

  3. Just like George I have a couple of her books sitting in a box, still unread. Supposedly, THE SLEEPER is one of her best. Her life story seemed so much more interestng to me especially her mysterious disappearance and supposed death at sea. Reminds me of what happened to Ambrose Bierce.

  4. Wow, this sounds like something that could be a 500 page political thriller in 2014, as opposed to the paperback it was then. The plot sounds great, I'd like to find and read it. Nice review, Jerry.