Max London

Created by Robert Arthur, Jr. (1909-69; pseudonyms include Andrew Benedict, Andrew Fell, A. A. Fleming, Robert Forbes, Anthony Morton, The Mysterious Traveler, Jay Norman, Andrew Saxon, Pauline C. Smith, Andrew West & Mark Williams)

Robert Arthur, Jr. was a prolific writer and editor, who worked primarily in mystery and sci-fi writer and was perhaps best known for The Mysterious Traveler radio show and Alfred Hitchcock and The Three Investigators series of YA mysteries, which he created.

But he was also prolific writer of short stories (under a multitude of pseudonyms) for various magazines, including Amazing Stories, Argosy, Black Mask, Collier's, Detective Fiction Weekly, Detective Tales, The Shadow, Startling Stories, Street & Smith's Detective Story Magazine, Thrilling Detective, Unknown Worlds and a slew of others.

So it's a bit of a surprise that he wrote only one adult mystery novel. Although he did manage to publish it under two different titles.

Originally titled Epitaph For A Virgin, it was featured in the September 1956 edition of Mercury Mystery Book-Magazine, a long-running series of digest-sized magazines that presented full-length (and condensed) mystery novels alongside shorter stories.

In the book, we meet MAX LONDON, a typically tough private eye of the era, an ex-boxer with "square battered features," who's "kind of attractive in a rugged way" who gets involved with "a nude model who's a virgin and the voluptuous Meg Phillips, who isn't."

But it's no lost classic. Sure, it's good pulpy fun, but the increasingly convoluted plot relies on too many coincidences and creaky contrivances to truly satisfy. Granted, I've only read the 1961 version -- perhaps the shorter version reads better.

Still, Arthur displays a deft knack for the shamus game: spit-out descriptions that hit their mark, some quite effective action scenes, some characterizations sharp enough to shave with, some pretty terse dialogue and a real way with a simile (ie: "as blonde as a pitcher of cream").

It's too bad Arthur didn't do more novels, although at this point he was probably too busy pretending to be Alfred Hitchcock, posing as the film director while editing -- and writing the intros -- to the long-running and very lucrative series of short story collections put out under the film director's name.

Arthur did, however, find the time to re-write and expand Epitaph For A Virgin, tossing in an additional subplot and tweaking the ending, although the new version, now titled Somebody's Walking Over My Grave, still only clocked in at 135 pages, which may explain why it was published as half of an Ace Double (the other half contained John Miles' Dally With A Deadly Doll).

NOVELS

  • Epitaph for a Virgin (September 1956, Mercury Mystery Book-Magazine)...Buy this book
  • Somebody's Walking Over My Grave (1961)...Buy this book

Expanded version of Epitaph for a Virgin.

Report respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.


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