Sunday, August 10, 2008

A Stone Around Her Neck by Bob McKnight

A Stone Around Her Neck by Bob McKnight
ACE F-143, Copyright 1962

I have always admired the work of Bob McKnight. He put together a string of excellent crime stories that gave the reader a suspenseful tour of Florida in the late 50s/early 60s. McKnight was one of many authors, who moved to Florida with ambitions of writing mystery novels. Though not as well known as Day Keene, John D. MacDonald, William Fuller, or others that located to the "Sunshine State" after the war, his novels are worthy to be included in any discussion on the topic of post-war Florida authors.

"A Stone Around Her Neck" is one of McKnight's last novels and features his P.I. Nathan Hawk. Hawk is not a native of Florida, he located a few years back to reap in the climate. He has a keen sense of humor especially around his cop pal, Lt. Tobey Duane -who the P.I. calls "Florida cracker" or "damn rebel" and Hawk will throw in the hardboiled slang. (woman are 'babes" or "stacked skirts", cars are "heaps") He's not a sympathetic guy, he'll go right in and rough up his knuckles if needed. Anyway, the P.I. looks into a murder of a "babe" pulled out of the Gulf after being weighed down for a few days. The investigation leads Hawk into the world of bookie joints and horse-betting gambling schemes. Along the way, someone is framed for the murder and Hawk, knowing the ways of the track circuit, makes progress quickly. The P.I. moves swiftly, takes his lumps, raps it up, and leaves a couple of bodies along the way for the police to clean up.

"Anyhow, I didn't care if I killed him. I wasn't wasting any sympathy on a guy, who, in a few more minutes would have fastened weights to me and dropped me over the side. He could drown in his own vomit for all of me."

If you're looking for a quality Florida P.I., Nathan Hawk is your man. There is nothing special here, just a good quick (100 pgs) nicely packed mystery detective story. If you happen to give this one a try, you won't be disappointed with chapters 6 & 7; where a couple of "mugs" take Hawk on a one-way boat ride and a little gale comes in, effecting their plans. Those chapters are full of action and are queasingly written.

Bob McKnight was a track and horse racing fan, so it is understandable that he incorporates that setting in many of his novels. He even wrote a popular "how to" book called "Eliminate the Loser$, Pick the Winner$." Ironically, two of his novels that I like best, don't involve the horse track or feature P.I. Nathan Hawk; they are "Swamp Sanctuary" and "Kiss the Babe Goodbye," both published by ACE. They spin fast, with plenty of action-just the way I like them.

The "flip" novel of this ACE Double is "End of a Big Wheel" by Clayton Fox. It's a story of a city cop investigating the murder of an union leader. (I didn't read this one yet. )

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