Walter James

Created by Wade Miller (Bob Wade [1920-2012 ] and Bill Miller [1920-1961])

Deadly Weapon was Wade Miller's first book. You can tell. Published in 1946 when the authors, Bill Miller and Bob Wade, were just26 (they were born a month apart), it introduces Atlanta P.I. WALTER JAMES, in his only appearance.

James claims he's "resting" for a while in San Diego, but it transpires, after a murder in a burlesque house where he's a member of the audience, that he's following a lead in the shooting of his erstwhile partner, Hal Lantz. It soon becomes apparent that a drug cartel is to blame, and James embarks on the daunting task of discovering the identity of the mysterious Dr Boone.

This isn't one of Wade Miller's best. Not by some distance. However, there are glimpses of what the authors were capable of. For example, the main love interest is between James and Laura Gilbert. Subtly, Wade Miller gives James feminine characterstics ("Walter James put his hand next to Laura Gilbert's on the desk. It was just as white and almost as small") and just as unsubtly does the reverse with Laura by giving her the male nickname, Kevin (we're told it's her middle name, although it's never explained why). It spices up their relationship, as does the fact that her father might be a crook -- he might even be Dr Boone.

However, Deadly Weapon is perhaps most interesting for it's similarity in style to The Maltese Falcon. Wade Miller uses the same minimalist technique: few emotions or thoughts are supplied by Walter James, the main viewpoint character. Also, I have to confess, I found the final revelation genuinely surprising.

The writing isn't that good. I've mentioned before that Wade Miller has a fondness for juicy verbs. Not so here. And when they do go for it, they often clumsily supply intransitive verbs with objects. Which I found a bit annoying. The ending is confusing and I felt I'd need to re-read the book to get exactly who was who and why they did what they did. But it doesn't deserve a second reading. Not when there are so many books I haven't read.

I'd recommend Miller's next novel, Guilty Bystander (1947), which introduced series character, Max Thursday, PI. It is a better example of what Wade Miller can do. It's a better story, too.

TRIVIA

  • Austin Clapp, the cop in the Max Thursday novels, also appears in Deadly Weapon.

UNDER OATH

  • "...too little known today (with) an ending unique in the private eye genre"

-- Ed Hoch, in The St. James Guide

NOVEL

RELATED LINKS

Some great private eyes who've appeared in only one novel.

Respectfully submitted by Al Guthrie. Adapted from a post on Rara-Avis, used with permission.


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