Monday, July 7, 2008

Kiss and Kill by Ellery Queen (Charles Runyon)

Kiss and Kill by Charles Runyon
Dell 4567, Copyright 1969

In the 60s, a couple of dozen mystery novels under the name of Ellery Queen were ghost written by a handful of authors. Writers like Richard Deming, Talmage Powell, Jack Vance and others contributed with some excellent offerings. Charles Runyon was another and I believe he authored three novels under the Ellery Queen title name. "Kiss and Kill" is one of them and though a bit uneven, I still enjoyed the read.

"The stench billowed out in waves. A balloon of a man was slumped in the fetal position on the closet floor, so swollen that the seams of his dark blue uniform had split open. Barney tried to drag the body out; it was too heavy."

Edward Tollman's wife has disappeared and progress by the police force has been slow. Tollman hires P.I. Barney Burgess, and together they head out to find her. Quickly, Burgess suspects that there may be a link between her disappearance and a Mexican vacation she was on months ago. Hunting down other members of the vacation tour, they discover the members are being killed off. They follow the tail, but it leads to more bodies. They eventually locate a surviving member, the beautiful Claire English. She joins the hunt for protection reasons and the three head for Mexico where they hope to find Tollman's wife and solve the mystery of the deaths.

You usually don't see a big city P.I. taking his client and a woman who is being pursed by killers, along on the case; but it seems to work.(if you let it) Runyon describes Barney Burgess as tough, gun ready Bogart-type P.I., which as the novel develops doesn't ring true. He's not timid though, and will comes up with some hardboiled dialog :

Barney said, "You get nothing. Not even death. Pain is what you get. Hours of it. Days, if necessary. Until you tell me where Mrs. Tollman is."

Drugs and money are the root cause here. The step by step trail to the missing wife works well, if you just overlook a couple of incidences where you know a person in a specific situation in the story wouldn't really react that way. The killers are psychopaths, and they provide just the right amount of violence to the story. Enjoyable enough to hold my interest and it's a quick mystery read. Also to Charles Runyon's credit, the ending does have a neat twist that I didn't see coming.

One of my favorite Charles Runyon short stories is in the March1962 Mike Shayne Magazine, titled "The Death Gimmick." It's set in the West Indies and involves vile people taking us down stinking, dark alleyways. Also, the cover of this issue is a hardboiled beaut.......

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