The Murder of Ann Avery by Henry Kuttner (1956)
In the two years before his death (at age 42, dammit!) in 1958, Henry Kuttner wrote four mystery novels about psychoanalyst Michael Gray. These four paperback books from Pocket Books remained out of reach for most of Kuttner fans for over half a century (wwith the exception of one hardcover reprint of the final novel, Murder of a Wife, from Garland in 1983) until Haffner Press released all four in an omnibus volume, The Michael Gray Mysteries this year. (Well, not really. An outfit called Diversion Books books released The Michael Gray Novels in an e-Book format last year.) The Haffner edition also credits Kuttner's wife and often uncredited collaborator, Catherine L. Moore, as co-author.
I came across The Murder of Ann Avery (the second in the series) in one of a gazillion boxes of books I moved into our new house and decided it was past time that I read it. The paperback was issued under Pocket Books' "Permabooks" line. Don't believe it. There was nothing permanent about this book -- the physical copy anyway. The old glue gave way and the book book fell to pieces before I got to chapter 5. The remainder of the novel was read carefully -- very carefully.
Ann Avery, a beautiful housewife in her thirties, has been brutally murdered, Eddie Udall, a teenage delinquent accused of the murder, went on the run but was soon caught. According to the police, Eddie, thinking noone was at the Avery home, entered the house intent on robbery and was surprised by Ann Avery. Eddie has a record of violence and is currently on probation. He worked part-time at her husband's movie theatre tand had an opportunity to make a copy of his house keys. He was seen leaving the house on the night of the murder. When caught, he had one of Ann's rings in his posession. The switchblade he was known to have carried was missing and Ann's fatal wounds seemed to have been inflicted by a switchblade. (When the switchblade is finally found, it has type B blood on it -- Ann's blood type. A muck-raking newspaper columnist is proclaiming Eddie guilty and public pressure is on city officials to act quickly on the case.
Michael Gray is unexpectedly thrust into the case. The psychiatrist originally named by the Court has taken ill and the Court wants a professional opinion as to whether Eddie should be tried as a juvenile. Against his better judgment, Michael agrees to interview Eddie.
Eddie is uncooperative and defiant. Michael honestly does not know whether Eddie is guilty so he begins to dig further. Key people in the case appear to be withholding evidence. Eddie's foster parents seem convinced of his guilt but are ready to forgive him. Eddie's former girlfriend, now a drug addict, tried to contact him about something important on the night of the murder. Eddie's birth mother, a hopeless drunk, is trying to sell information so she can leave the coutry. Ann's husband (ad Eddie's boss) is a mean-spirited and possessive bully. Eddie's favorite teacher is suddenly spending money well beyond a teacher's salary. Eddie's former friend is now the leader of a teen-age gang. Juvenile delinquency, drug trafficking, violence, and adultery swirl around the case and Michael finds himself threatened by a mysterious person with an unknown agenda.
A good psychological mystery that, despite telegraphing a major plot point, satisfies. Michael Gray is an interesting and unusual character.
Check out the Haffner omnibus for this and the other three mysteries in the series. You won't be disappointed.