Saturday, March 27, 2010

Delayed Verdict by R. C. Tuttle

Delayed Verdict by R. C. Tuttle
Short Story in Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine,
May 1981

Mysteries that take place in the World War II era have always been a favorite of mine. This one actually takes place in the middle of WWII at Guadalcanal. It's a flashback story, told by an ex-Marine Corporal named Lennie Bullard who arrives on the island in a tour boat. It's 1981 and 39 years ago Bullard was assisting in a murder investigation. He relives the questioning of five Marines by Lieutenant Milo Cannon. The victim was a Captain John Vinson, who was shot in the back with a .45 while leaving the Officer's Club. It seems that Capt. Vinson was a major SOB and all five Marines has a reason to kill him, making them prime suspects.

What is a bit strange is that the investigation takes place on the beach front lines. The five suspects, Lieutenant Cannon, and our story teller Bullard are "holding the line" while receiving a series of attacks by Jap Zeros and beach assaults. As we learn of each suspect's gripe with the dead Capt. Vinson, one of them is killed by the enemy. Little by little, the group gets smaller until only Bullard is left alive. We as readers have plenty of information, but the mystery remains unsolved. That is until Bullard returns 39 years later.

"Delayed Verdict" is a well written little thriller that mixes a good whodunit with wartime infantry action. The flashback adds drama to the story and the author R.C. Tuttle created an engaging and believable group of characters. The five Marine suspects come from a wide range of social backgrounds, one is even a Hollywood actor. This is another fine example of the quality stories that were published in the early 80s, found in the Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine publications. You'll always find good ones in them.

But the best entry in this issue is the Mike Shayne novelette titled, "The Stalker of Biscayne Bay." Having read many of these Shayne stories, I found a good percentage of them being very generic. That is definitely not the case here. This is a bang, bang noir-ish tale that takes our Miami based P.I. from dark alleyways to churches, with pimps and hookers to babes in lounge chairs around swimming pools. And Mike gets a good dose of slugs to the head in this one. Three parts I found outstanding in this mystery story. First is the opening pages where the victim is stalked and murdered. It's eerie and frightening, highlighted by lines like when the murderer tells his victim, "You should have thought about what might happen to you when you took up this life." The author creates a compelling start to the story that ropes in the reader. Second is the addition of the New Orleans undercover cop, Terry (Theresa) Denton. Shayne and her develop a wonderful working relationship that charges up the entire story. The third and best is the ending. It's how I like them, adrenalin filled with plenty of trigger action. (and it takes place in a chapel) This is one of the best Mike Shayne short stories that I have read in a long time.

Here is what is in this issue from May 1981:

"The Stalker of Biscayne Bay" by Brett Halliday (Ghostwritten by?)
"Assassination-Middle East" by Joseph Cummings
"In The Key of Murder" by Hal Charles
"Whistle" by Mignon Glass
"Don't Dare Reject the Manuscript" by William Schoell
"Animal Sounds" by Don Wall
"Delayed Verdict" by R. C. Tuttle
"Saturday Night Special" by Terry Black
Plus: Plenty of extra features

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Soldato! by Al Conroy

Soldato! by Al Conroy
Magnum Book #75370

Copyright 1972

Al Conroy was just one name used by Marvin Albert during his brilliant writing career. I was quickly hooked on the author's work when I started reading his early Gold Medal books, especially the Private eye Jake Barrow novels written under the pseudo Nick Quarry. In the 70s, I was blown away by the four high adventure novels published by Fawcett that he wrote as Ian MacAlister. Around that same time he created the Soldato! series, which had it's run in a total of five books. (two of the later ones were written by the author Gil Brewer) I guess you would put them in the "vengeance against the Mob" category which was popular during that period. I held off reading the series because I never had a copy of the first book. Well, I finally got a hold of one and as expected, (Hey, it is written by Marvin Albert) this one is damn good.

Johnny did not intend to go back to just waiting for it to happen. Which left only one thing to do. Something that came to him naturally, out of his past. The answer was in his upbringing, his heritage, his blood.

There was a man who was trying to kill him. He had to get that man first.
The law of fang and claw, city slum style.

Private eye Charlie Moran is an ex-cop and he specializes in finding people who don't want to be found. A year ago, Brooklyn Mafia boss Renzo Cappellani hired him to find Johnny Morini and now Moran is closing in. Loyal Johnny Morini worked his way up in the Mafia and was a high ranking soldato or soldier. After two members of Morini's adopted family were murdered, Morini turned rat and testified against Don Cappellani. The Federal witness protection program gave him a new identity and a new life in a small quiet Utah town. After spotting the stranger Moran, the little hairs on the back of Morini's neck start springing up. But it's too late, Moran makes the call and two professional hired killers arrive to payback Morini for what he did to Don Cappellani.

Along with his new wife, who knows nothing about his criminal past, Morini is chased into the high canyons of Utah. Outgunned, he is forced to take a stand. He knows the terrain and after an action-filled sequence of events, he eliminates the two killers. But he knows there will be no end to it, if they found him once they will find him again. With his wife in tow, he heads east to settle it back in NYC. And there is only one way he knows how to do it. He has to get the boss of the Brooklyn Mafia, Don Renzo Cappellani.

The first half of the book takes place in Utah and it's terrific. It starts immediately with the Private eye Moran finally finding his quarry in the placid town. No stopping for rest, the story explodes in the next enthralling chapters. These involve the chase in the canyons, as Morini is hunted by the killers who are armed with long distance hunting rifles. Not to take anything away from the rousing ending, but this was the best part of the novel for me. It was so good that I thought I was reading one of Marvin Albert's Ian MacAlister adventure thrillers. The second half takes place in the Big City where Morini knows the streets. We get the essence of his past criminal personality here, how he got started and what made him tick in those days. It's in this half of the novel that we discover the dark and solitary Johnny Morini. The story has a good dose of violence and bloodshed, and it is definitely clicking on all cylinders.

Besides the strong character of Johnny Morini, I really enjoyed Albert's depiction of the antagonist Renzo Cappellani and P.I. Moran. Though not in the novel as much as the other two, Moran is quite compelling and likable. He even shows up in the end, and it's like putting a stamp on the novel. As for Morini's wife and the others in the story, they are insignificant. Morini, Cappellani, and Moran make this one standout and it's good stuff all around.

After finishing this one, the well-written ending didn't leave me with the feeling that the exploits of Johnny Morini would be continuing. But of course, the publishers had plans and they spat out more. Here are the titles of the five in the series:

Soldato! 1972
Death Grip! 1972
Strangle Hold! 1973
Murder Mission! 1973
Blood Run! 1973