Murder Will Out by "Murray Leinster" (1932)
Leinster (real name, William Fitzgerald Jenkins, 1896-1975) is probably best known for his science fiction, which he began publishing in 1919, giving him the sobriquet of the Dean of Science Fiction. His long career Leinster produced works in many genres and was a stable in the western, adventure, detective, romance and SF pulps, as well as the slicks. Murder Will Out, Leinster's third mystery novel, was only published in England by London's John Hamilton Ltd. To my knowledge it has never been reprinted.
Which may be a good thing. Unlike Leinster's first two mysteries, Scalps and Murder Madness, Murder Will Out falls a little flat.
Leonard Staunton receives a strange request from Fitzhugh, an acquaintance from Staunton's New York City club. Fitzhugh want's Staunton's company for dinner that evening. Staunton does not want to spend part of the night alone because (he said) he was going to be murdered at midnight. He had refused to pay a hundred thousand dollar blackmail demand from a mysterious Chinese gang who communicated only by cards stamped with a purple hieroglphy. These cards appear by seemingly magical means and have convinced Fitzhugh that he will die at midnight no matter what. Sure enough, at midnight Fitshugh disappears. His body is discovered the next day in the river.
A second man is threatened and given a deadly poison at a party hosted by Senator Baldwin, the father of Staunton's fiance, Jeanne. The rare poison can only be counteracted by an antidote at the victim's lab. In a race against time, Staunton mangages to get the victim to his lab with minutes to spare and administer the antidote. Or so he thought. The antidote had been replaced with common water and the victim dies. Shortly afterward, the body disappears.
Now Staunton is threatened. Half a million dollars or his fiance will be killed. Although aided by a New York police captain, a London secret service agent on holiday, and vast resources of Senator Baldwin, Staunton cannot stop the approaching danger. The mysterious gang reaches out invisibly to foil any move made by Staunton. The fight against this powerful gang seems hopeless.
First off, I understand that a callous xenophobia was accepted in stories of that decade, but in this case it somehow grated more than normal. Probably because the book was deficient in so many other areas the xenophobic attitude against the Chinese stuck out. (Not even Staunton's loyal Chinese valet is exempt.) Jeanne Baldwin (not beautiful but somewhat attractive) comes across as a whining simpleton. Staunton is dumb and un-heroic -- even when he appears to be acting heroic. When the two "canoodle," Leinster describes it as acting foolishly; "canoodle" in this case means a few stolen kisses. Condon, the Secret Service agent, manages to be an idealized and fatuous character at the same time, often being enigmatic for now reason. The Chinese gang's actions -- albeit mysterious and seemingly impossible -- are easily explained. Their motives other than monetary appear non-existant. The ending is disappointing.
All in all, Murder Will Out is a jumbled mess. A shame, really, because it could have been a much better novel with a little bit of work. As it stands. I'd rate it as fodder for a very low standard pulp magazine of the time.
File this under: I read so you won'r have to.
For Leinster completists only.