Somebody's Walking Over My Grave by Robert Arthur (1961)
A few people may recognize Robert Arthur as the creator of the boys' book series The Three Investigators. Others may know him as the ghost-editor of some of the best Alfred Hitchcock anthologies of the 1960s. Or he may be remembered for the slew of pulp stories he published in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. Perhaps some know him primary as an old-time radio writer or the producer of The Mysterious Traveler radio program. Sadly, I fear, most people do not recognize the name Robert Arthur at all. Which is a shame.
Certainly one reason many would not recognize the name is that he published only one adult novel -- Somebody's Walking Over My Grave -- and that was published only as half of an Ace Double (D-489) and has never been reprinted. (An earlier version of the story, "Epitaph for a Virgin," appeared in Mercury Mystery Book-Magazine, in September 1956; five years later, the Ace Double produce the "First Book Publication" of the novel.)
The novel stars Vista Beach P.I. Max London, a tough guy with a hidden secret and a thirst for vengeance. London, we learn, also researches and takes photographs for true crime articles written by his brother Peter. (Strangely, Peter does not appear in the book, for a reason we learn later.) When the book opens, Max is on the beach, photographing a 21-year-old nude model, for an upcoming article scheduled for the twentieth anniversary of the murder of Millicent, Pete's fiance. Millicent's body had washed ashore from a boat belonging to noted racketeer Tony Reiner. An accident? Max and Peter do not think so, although they were unable to prove Reiner's guilt. Flashforward to the present (circa 1959) and Reiner has supposedly put his past behind him and moved to Vista Beach (which, also described as a town, is really a small California City).
Max is hired by John Grigsby, and inventor and owner of a successful electronics company soon to be worth hundreds of millions with the advent of color television. Rigsby's first wife was one week from getting a divorce when she was killed in a car crash in Reno two years earlier. She evidently had gambled a lot and lost a lot while in Reno -- a crooked gambler is holding promissory notes from her totaling $20,000 and is now demanding that Grigsby honor them. Grigsby wants Max to verify that the notes are genuine.
That case soon involves a murder. Then another. Then another. There's a missing 410,00 dollars And the prime suspect is Max.
This is prime pulp. As the noose tightens for Max, the mystery gets more convoluted and the case against Max builds.
The cast of characters, suspects, and victims grows larger and larger in this short (140 pages) novel. Among them are the nude model (a virgin) we first meet on the beach, a beautiful but scarred electronics genius (another virgin), a second-rate but slightly pudgy (we soon learn the pudge is all the right places) chanteuse who is definitely not a virgin, Grigsby (who may or may not be trying to do the right thing), Grigsbys second wife (his self-serving former secretary), a crooked police chief with a hate out for Max, an ineffective Acting D.A., Reiner (the so-called reformed gangster who is hoping to open Vista Beach to the rackets, Righty and Lefty (twins who serve as muscle for Reiner), a small-time gambler and con-man, Grigsby's unethical business rival, and (surprise! surprise!) and honest cop.
Although the story is pure pulp, it is not great pulp. But, then, most pulp wasn't. However, it is a well-written story with fast-moving twists and turns and with most of the inconsistencies ironed out by the tale's end.
For those who are interested, the magazine version, "Epitaph for a Virgin," is available to read on-line at unz.org.
I reviewed the earlier form some years back, and, given Arthur's talent, it is a disappointment...fwiw, he edited almost all the "Hitchcock" anthologies of the '60s, with the best-of ALFRED HITCHCOCK'S MYSTERY MAGAZINE volumes relatively late in the decade though there were several, and only one of the YA "Hitchcock" books not Arthur's work...ReplyDelete