Thursday, November 13, 2008

Case of the Village Tramp by Jonathan Craig

Case of the Village Tramp by Jonathan Craig
Gold Medal 930, Copyright 1959

Jonathan Craig was a damn good mystery writer. Unfortunately, he became lost in the shadows of the more popular Gold Medal authors from the 1950s. Most of his paperbacks were published by Gold Medal, with the bulk involving murder investigations by NYPD Detective Pete Selby. Selby and his partner Stan Rayder work out of the Sixth Precinct, and mix it up with the oddball inhabitants of Greenwich Village. During that time, Craig wasn’t afraid to push the envelope a bit. You’ll find characters in the stories on the kinky side, with a few perverts (1950s style) popping up in the plots. But hold on, these are exciting detective dramas. Packing .38s and kicking down doors, Selby and Rayder perform old fashion police legwork to solve each whodunit case.

I holstered my gun and walked to the window. Blondie Miller's body was impaled on the swordlike points of an ornamental iron fence that ran across the brick courtyard five floors below. It was hard to be sure from that angle and at that distance, but he seemed to have been disemboweled.

Beautiful seventeen year old Sharon Ramey is found murdered in her apartment, wearing nothing but a medieval chastity belt. Selby discovers that Sharon was famous as a child classical concert pianist, but also learns that sweet little old Sharon wasn’t so sweet after all. For the past year, a trail of men have been lead into her bedroom and the detectives suspect one is the murderer. Lurking in the story is a syndicate rat who is being hunted by a psycho hitman who performs his work using an ice pick. As leads come in, Selby struggles to find a link between these two men and the murder. There is a wonderful scene where a lesbian enters the precinct to offer up a possible suspect for the detectives. The exchange is so unorthodox, that you wonder who is running the investigation, the detectives or her. As we near the end of the story, we seem no closer than in the beginning on finding the identity of the murderer. But after a brutal torture scene and some gunplay, things start falling in place for Selby. And as the detectives head out to nab the murderer, we are treated to an excellent ending by Jonathan Craig.

You'll find no complains by me on this novel, this is solid hardnosed crime fiction. 1950s police detectives doing their jobs, tackling the challenges thrown at them. From the offbeat characters they meet during the investigation, to the perverted police captain who gets his kicks hearing Selby reporting on the naked victim and her unusual lifestyle -all make this novel (and the whole Pete Selby series) a wonderment in this definitive genre from a bygone crime writing era.

As I said, It's ashame that Jonathan Craig has faded in popularity. The man could write a mystery story, and you won't find a bad novel in his bibliography. Also, he wrote a slew of excellent short stories that appeared in all the major mystery periodicals, including Manhunt, Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, and Mike Shayne's Mystery Magazine. But don't overlook his non-Pete Selby novels, to me they contain his best work. And if you ever come across his paperback "Renegade Cop" (also published as "Alley Girl") you'll be introduced to the nastiest S.O.B. rogue cop ever found in any novel.


Frank Loose said...

I have not read any of Craig's police procedurals, but i echo your take on Renegade Cop. I found it to be the best "bad cop" novel out there. Period. A solid read. If someone is going to read only one Jonathan Craig book, make it that one. Another stand-alone of his, So Young So Wicked, is worth checking out, too, if one chooses to delve further into his books. I guess once Mr. Craig started the police series, his stand-alone work dropped by the wayside. Your fine article has whetted my appetite; I'll pick up a Selby story soon.
--- Frank

Juri said...

So Young So Wicked is excellent.

Juri said...

I seem to remember a reference work that has an article on Craig is a bit too negative, maybe the article has caused him some harm. (Emphasis on "harm", I don't harbor any illusions of any lasting impact of reference works in the reading public.)

Damn these word verification: now it's "dizest", someone ought to publish a new kind of a magazine - the dizest mag!