Mark Wonder
Created by
Charles E. Fritch (pseuds. include Eric Thomas;1927 --)

Recently I got back in touch with an old friend, author and editor Charles E. Fritch. Chuck was my editor at Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine for several years and was the one who asked me to take over writing all the Mike Shayne novellas. This was the first regular writing job I ever had, and I've always been grateful to Chuck for the opportunity.

Trading e-mails with him inspired me to dig out one of his old novels and read it. Negative of a Nude is half of an Ace Double (Till Death Do Us Part by Louis Trimble which features P.I. Tom Blane is on the other side) and as far as I know the only book Chuck did for Ace. It features private eye MARK WONDER, who is hired to recover some blackmail photos and along the way finds himself trying to solve the murder of an old enemy of his so that the killing won't be pinned on him. At first the story is told in a light, breezy style reminiscent of Richard S. Prather, and Fritch does light and breezy just fine. But then he springs some surprises that put a much darker face on things and elevate this book from a romp to something richer and deeper. The plot also becomes surprisingly complex for a book that probably clocks in at 40,000 words or less.

All in all, an excellent novel. Fritch wrote at least one other Mark Wonder novel, but it’s just a fluke that I ever found it. Some years ago while browsing through a used bookstore, I picked up Psycho Sinner by Eric Thomas, which appeared to be a typical early Sixties sleaze novel published in 1961 by an outfit in California called Athena Books. But the front cover copy mentioned Hollywood private eye Mark Wonder, and I immediately recognized that as the name of the character from Negative of a Nude.

I bought the book, of course, and now that I’ve read it, I can say without any question that Eric Thomas was a pseudonym for Charles E. Fritch, and that Psycho Sinner is a direct sequel to Negative of a Nude, featuring not only Wonder but also Dody Dutton, his girlfriend from the previous book.

Despite its soft-core porn appearance, there’s really not much sex in this Sinner, and what there is isn’t much more graphic than what would have appeared in a Gold Medal or a Dell book from the same era. It's a straightforward private eye novel in which Wonder is hired by beautiful starlet Silvi McClair to find out who’s trying to kill her. Wonder’s search for the truth leads him to a nudist colony, a beatnik nightclub, the office of a powerful Hollywood movie producer, and the apartment of a female psychiatrist who’s as stunning as any starlet. Once again there are echoes of Prather and Robert Leslie Bellem here, but Fritch has his own voice, and it’s a fast-paced, entertaining one. This book lacks the dark edges that made Negative a more powerful novel, but it’s still great fun and I’m certainly glad I came across it and bought it years ago.

Charles Fritch served for several years, beginning in 1979, as editor of Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, and was also a science fiction writer. Negative of a Nude was later re-written as Strip for Murder, featuring private eye Christopher Sly.

NOVEL

Report respectfully submitted by James M. Reasoner. A slightly different version of this appeared on his blog Rough Edges.


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