Joe Gaylord

Created by M.S. Marble (1913 -- ; pseudonym of Margaret Strauss)

"There were only five palms in front of the Seven Palms Hotel, along with a few fairly fresh stumps."

If your name is Gaylord, you better be one tough joe.

And JOE GAYLORD is just tough enough to make the cut in Die By Night (1947), his sole appearance.

Don't get me wrong -- even if it was eventually reprinted as a Graphic Mystery in 1955 and was presented in its artwork and back cover blurb as a hard-boiled romp, this one owes at least as much to Agatha Christie (and romance novels and possibly a few mind-altering substances) as it does to the hard-boiled school.

The set-up is pure Christie at first glance -- a private investigator for Gaylord Research in San Francisco is visiting his wealthy, eccentric Aunt Hattie in Hollywood, who runs a sort of rooming house for assorted screwballs she's befriended. But that's nothing compared to Olympus, the estate next door, where "girls frolick in the gauzy costumes of nymphs and goddesses" and "men cavort... in the robes of Jupiter, Mars and Pluto."

Suffice it to say that Aunt Hattie disapproves of the neighbours.

Of course, everyone here -- in both houses -- is a "type," drawn in sometimes very broad strokes, and everyone has a deep, dark secret tucked away. And eventually murder rears its ugly head, leaving good nephew Joe to try to make sense of it all.

Fortunately, our man Joe's up to the task. Although he tries to pass himself off as a mere researcher who doesn't even tote a gun and spends most of his time in libraries, he displays a suitable amount of sang-froid when things turn nasty.

And of course there's a girl. This one's called Stevie, and Joe describes her as "a hell of a good-looking girl with plenty of it." She in turn thinks he has a "stern and stormy soul " but that she's "madly in love" with him anyway. As the book opens, Joe and Steve meet "cute" on the train to Los Angeles, unaware that they will soon be neighbours, with Steve staying next door at Olympus. In fact, she's the one who discovers the first body and comes running to Joe for help. In true hard-boiled, red-blooded he-man tradition, Joe kisses her to calm her down. I mean, gee, what else can a guy do?

And it's those little eyeball-rolling touches of hokum, plus a few shrewd observations and some deft passages that make this book such a pleasant way to kill a few hours.

Not much is known about M.S. Marble, except that it was a pseudonym of Margaret Sharp (or is it Strauss?). She evidently wrote at least two other detective novels, including Everybody Makes Mistakes, featuring P.I. Craig McKenzie.

THE EVIDENCE

  • "People must do what they feel. Otherwise they are no good for anything at all. If they want to dress differently and dance around, it's all right with me. Your aunt doesn't like it though."

-- Stevie displays some surprising open-mindedness for the time. Then again, she's wearing a toga.

NOVELS

Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.


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