Created by Ellery Queen (house pseudonym of Charles Runyon, 1928-87)
The nice mild man named Edward Tollman had a problem. His lovely wife was missing, and he wanted her back -- fast. So he went to a fellow whose specialty was solving problems like that -- a very private detective called Barney Burgess.
-- from the back cover blurb.
Okay, a little bit of background: during the sixties Ellery Queen (aka cousins Dannay and Lee) suffered from two problems -- a shortage of money and writer's block. To solve this problem they did what Leslie Charteris did when he "retired" from writing about The Saint, hiring ghost writers for a series of original paperback novels that Lee would edit and polish up before publishing under the name Ellery Queen.
BARNEY BURGESS was the private eye hero featured in the one of the last such novels done during this period, Kiss and Kill in 1969. It was actually written by Charlers Runyon.
We're given a brief description of how real life private detectives are usually retired police officers who are overweight, married with kids, and struggle to pay off a morgage while working mundane cases involving cheating spouses or runaway teenagers that rarely required any gunplay and then, of course, we're told none of that applies to Barney. Patterning himself after his hero Humphrey Bogart, Burgess was a rugged and tough man who gave as good as he got, but was constantly annoyed by a sentimental streak that pops up from time to time. A smart businessman whose clients were usually less than savory, Burgess operates an office out of his own apartment.
The plot of the novel involves the disappearance of a man's wife. Ed Tollman hires Barney to find his wife Liz, who disappeared while going to the grocery store. A quick investigation shows that the only thing unusual from her life was a trip to Mexico she had won and just recently returned from. During the trip one of the members of the tour group was killed in a car accident. And soon enough most of the other members of the group beginning showing up dead, as well, mostly under rather questionable circumstances. Barney, with Ed in tow, continues to investigate, and becomes involved with professional photographer Claire English, who is was also a member of the group.
I didn't really care for the book overall. It had a good beginning, with an interesting mystery at first. Barney's introduction was a little spoofy, like they were making fun of Mickey Spillane's over the top tough guys, but he demonstrated a decent investigative talent in the early chapters, and it was creepy how they would continue to find dead bodies at every place they stopped to question people.
After hooking up with the female photographer, it became more like a John D. MacDonald non-Travis McGee book, long passages would veer from the main character. Instead of Barney figuring things out, a lot of the latter half of the story would be flashbacks shown from a different character's point of view, deadening the impact of the detective's eventual solution of the case. And I felt that the revelation of the identity of the killer was too sudden and lacked credibility.
Respectfully submitted by Todd Gault.
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