|Vintage Pulp||Sep 13 2022|
Gunman goes to club to murder mob boss but changes mind and shoots terrible singer instead.
Sometimes you win with these obscure old novels, and sometimes you lose. Since there's so little info on many of them, for us the most important reason whether to buy one is its price. We often pay more for ones we really want, but if it's cheap and the cover art is interesting, we pull the trigger. Hal Braham's 1957's mystery Call Me Deadly was eight dollars, which is a nice bracket, and as a bonus it has an excellent cover by Walter Popp. His dramatic nightclub tableau doesn't correspond to any scene in the story, but purely as an illustration we love it.
What we don't love is that, literarily, there's nothing special here. Ex-cop and recent widow Jim Dillon has been off the L.A. beat for two years and is now an insurance investigator with American Reporting Service. He's ordered to look into the death of a man named John Jasnich who had a large double-indemnity policy with a company—National Casualty—that doubts their client really went over the rail of a ferry into the Pacific Ocean to drown. His corpse hasn't turned up, and as you'll start to suspect early on in the proceedings, it never will.
Close calls with vicious thugs, interludes with three women of very different types, and hard-boiled repartee with various police ex-colleagues and current insurance industry competitors bring Dillon, long and windingly, to a twist ending that pushes into similar territory Chinatown would use seventeen years later. Despite that, the appropriate word for Braham's work here is, we think, perfunctory. There's plenty of mystery, but far less plot impetus than we'd have liked. He published seven other books under his name and the pseudonym Mel Colton, but Call Me Deadly had nothing to encourage us to buy again. Unless it's eight dollars or less.