Sunday, March 3, 2019

Bill Crider, We'll Always Have Murder

Bill Crider, We’ll Always Have Murder
iBooks Inc. 2001
© Bogart, Inc. 2001
ISBN  07434-7505-4
Available in paperback (ISBN-13: 978-0743492966
Available from used booksellers

Terry Scott is a free-lance PI in port-war Hollywood; his principal clients are in the movie business (and he has particular ties to Warner Bros.), with the intent of keeping people in the business out of the spotlight when they might have committed an indiscretion.  He’s called to Jack Warner’s office where he finds Warner—and Humphrey Bogart.  It seems someone has tried to blackmail Bogie.  And Scott’s assignment is to put an end to it.  As it happens, the blackmailer is another PI Frank Burleson (whom Scott knows, and has no use for).  His job is to put an end to the blackmail attempt.

He and Bogart find, when they arrive at Burleson’s seedy house, that any problems they might have with Burleson have been attended to—he’s dead.  And a pistol belonging to Bogart is next to the body.  Scott gets Bogart to leave—and also gets him not to take the gun—shortly before the cops, in the persons of Lt. Congreve and Officer Garton (not LA’s finest) arrive.  Now Scott has two objectives—handle the blackmail scheme (because there’s no assurance that it ended with Burleson’s death) and keep Bogart from being arrested for murder.

Much of his investigation centers on a low-rent studio (Superior Pictures) that specializes in knockoffs of other studios’ movies and at Charlie O’s casino.  Bogart, for reasons best known to himself, gets involved in the investigation as well.  And it turns into a fairly difficult—and dangerous—undertaking.

Crider is best known for his Dan Rhodes mysteries, set in contemporary small-town Texas.  Here, he shows that he was also up to the task of re-creating a plausible Hollywood setting as well.  And if Scott gets beaten up perhaps a little more than seems plausible, then you should re-read some of Raymond Chandler’s books, in which Marlowe’s survival seems to be something of an afterthought.  Crider also does an excellent job with Bogart, and if the character as presented seems to owe a lot to his movie persona, then we should remember that he is, in a very real sense, playing a role here—the role of Humphrey Bogart tough-guy actor who won’t be pushed around.

When we get to the resolution (there’s more violence, a difficult encounter with the cops, a trip to a lesbian night club, adventures on the set of a Superior movie, Scott’s recurring dreams of Rita Hayworth, and more), Crider handles the resolution quite well.  In a relatively brief 220 pages, we get quite a ride and quite a good mystery.  I’ve always been sorry that Crider did not re-visit Terry Scott (but given the copyright information, I also suspect he did not own the character).  Just an excellent piece of work by a truly professional writer.

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