The End of Violence by Ben Benson (1959)
Ralph Lindsey is 24 and has been a Massachusetts State Trooper for two years. He is still considered a rookie by many although he has had several successes in his brief career. Currently stationed at the Stafford barracks, he had been partnered occasionally with Joe Sewell, a veteran trooper some eleven years older than Lindsey. Sewell probably never should have become a trooper; he is unruly, crass, unfriendly, unwilling to learn, and prone to anger. He has years of watching those who entered the force with him and many younger than him promoted, yet he has never been. Disliked by virtually all his superiors, Sewell has been transferred to every barracks in the Commonwealth and none really wanted him there. With a chip on his shoulder and refusing to blame his shortcomings on himself, Sewell stubbornly refuses to quit the force.
Lindsey and Sewell are called to a scene on the Stafford River where a body had been found among the weeds. The body had probably been in the river for a month and was decomposed beyond recognition. Sewell believes that if could solve this murder it would be his ticket to promotion. The body is eventually identified as Walter Lade,who worked at a shoe factory in a nearby town. Lade was last seen on February 27, although he had been reported missing by his father some five days later. Although married, Lade's wife never reported him missing.
It turns out that Lade was a mean-spirited bully who was apt to go off on his own for days. He had made a lot of enemies. Lade was similar to Joe Sewell but was Sewell squared or cubed, and likely to use his fists.
Sewell did not come up with the clue that solved the case. Lindsey did. And Sewell began building up resentment against Lindsey.
The two were at the barracks when Frank Reeve came in and wanted two of the area's post prominent young men charged with assaulting his daughter. Wilma Reeve had just turned sixteen and was filled with sixteen-year-old romantic fantasies, so when a good-looking, mature man of twenty-two offered a lift in her car she agreed. Earl Guthrie was the son of one of the most powerful men in Stafford and Stuart McCann was the son of a wealthy farmer in the next town. The two pulled over with Wilma in the car and tried to assault her. Wilma managed to get away before she was actually raped. She appeared home with her clothes disheveled and visibly upset. Her father insists that charges be brought, although the crime was only a misdemeanor.
Sewell goes to pick up Guthrie and Lindsey drive to the town of Dryden to arrest McCann. Both young men turn out to be belligerent, each resisting arrest. McCann strikes out at Lindsey and Lindsey strikes back, subduing the suspect. Much the same happens to Sewell with Guthrie. Back at the barracks, McCann becomes cooperative and blames Guthrie. Guthrie attacks McCann and the two are separated. Sewell is ordered to take Guthrie to a room in the basement to be interviewed. Guthrie continues to resist and Sewell handcuffs him to a water pipe. Lindsey soon hears screams coming from the basement and calls down to Sewell who tells him that everything is all right and that he can handle it. Both suspects refuse to be bailed and are then locked up for the night.
The following morning Lindsey and Sewell pick up the suspects and bring them to court where they meet Guthrie's father and lawyer, who confer with the boys before entering the courtroom. While there, the lawyer lifts up Guthrie's shirt and shows the judge that the boy's back is covered with violent welts. After the hearing, the boys are bailed and they go over to a local newspaper office with the lawyer and have Earl Guthrie's back photographed, while claiming the boy was beaten by Sewell.
Headlines are made, investigations are launched, and Lindsey and Guthrie are accused of conspiracy. Witnesses, including the local police chief, swear that Guthrie did not have those marks on him when he was arrested. (Guthrie had changed his shirt before being brought to the barracks and there were no welts on his back.) From that point on Guthrie had been closely watched by reliable witnesses, except for the time Sewell was interrogating him. Clearly Sewell had been the one who had beaten the boy, but Sewell proclaimed his innocence. If Sewell was being truthful, the attack on Guthrie was an "impossible crime."
An eager, politically-aware district attorney soon becomes involved. A grand jury is called. And both Lindsey and Sewell find their careers on the line. And Lindsey secretly believes that Sewell is guilty. He also has an unproven suspicion that this case is somehow linked to the murder of Walter Lade.
Ben Benson (1915-1959), in his brief career wrote eighteen popular mystery novels about the Massachusetts State Police. Ten of the books featured Detective Inspector Wade Paris, seven were about Ralph Lindsey, and one was a stand-alone that might have involved into a third series if Benson had lived. Benson had been a machine-gunner in World War II and was severely injured during the Battle of the Bulge. During his long recovery, he began to write as therapy. His books were thoroughly researched police procedurals, having spent much time interviewing officers and riding along with the Massachusetts State Police, who later honored the author. Benson's books were a fairly accurate depiction of how the State Police worked at that time. Although times and methods have changed considerably, I have found all of Benson's novels that I have read to be fast-moving, character-driven, entertaining reads.
Benson's war wounds were with him all his life. He was forced to use a can when he walked and his injuries may have contributed to his early death by heart attack when he was 44.
Benson is an unjustly forgotten author. Several of his novels are available from Wildside Press but most have been out of print for years. During the Fifties and Sixties, they had been reprinted by Bantam Books in paperback during that glorious age when Bantam offered such classic authors as Rex Stout and John Dickson Carr as well as lesser-known writers such as Benson, Fredric Brown, David Alexander, and Richard Ellington. Those were the days. **sigh**
Let men this post with a plea. The St. James Guide to Crime and Mystery Writers lists an early book of his, Hoboes of America: Sensational Life Story and Epic of Life on the Road, by Hobo Benson (New York, Hobo News, 1942). Was this a real book? If so, it was probably written before Benson entered the military. Or could this be a phantom book? Any information would be appreciated.
In the meantime, give Ben Benson a try. You won't regret it.