Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Mighty Blockhead by Frank Gruber

The Mighty Blockhead by Frank Gruber
Superior Reprint M655, Copyright 1941

The Johnny Fletcher - Sam Cragg "detective" novels by Frank Gruber may not be for everybody, but the series was popular enough to produce 14 books. For those who never heard of the two pals, Fletcher is the schemer, always coming up with a scam or two to put a few coins in their pockets. Cragg's the big lug, who gets to throw his muscle around, usually to protect Fletcher. At the start of most of the novels, the two are always on their last dime, planning a way to peddle copies of "Every Man A Samson." It's a how-to-book that Fletcher had printed and he looks for opportunities to pitch it (usually in NYC) with Cragg demonstrating his awesome strength. They usually get enough from that to get a diner meal in their bellies, but somehow a murder or two lands in their laps and that's when the adventure blooms.

Sam Cragg cut in sarcastically, "We're playing detective again. You know what that means; I get the hell knocked out of me and we wind up without a dime."

In this one, Fletcher and Cragg return to their favorite flophouse and find a body inside their trunk of books. Wanting no trouble, Fletcher has Cragg move the body, but they get tangled in the murder investigation. This one leads to a group of publishing people who are involved with a successful superhero pulp magazine/radio show titled, "The Blockhead." Johnny Fletcher smells money so he plays private detective, with Cragg ready to slap around anyone who gets in their way. The murdered man turns out to be a blackmailer and later the owner of the 'The Blockhead" series is found dead. The trail leads our two protagonists to Iowa, where they find the origin of "The Blockhead." The two get roughed up by some goons, but escape back to NYC with the evidence and a few bucks in their pockets. (Cragg had a run of luck at a roadhouse dice table) Fletcher wraps it up for the cops, who seem always to be one step behind. Our boys end up with smiles on their faces, with Fletcher chasing a girl and a wad of cash for the two to throw around.

If you like your mysteries tongue-in-cheek, this is good enjoyable stuff. Plenty of wise cracking and mild humor. Frank Gruber was an accomplished writer and he shines in this series. It's a decent mystery, with a great snapshot of pre-war NYC. Speeding cabs, obnoxious hotel managers, saps to the noggin' and two entertaining, difficult to handle amateur P.I. fellas-expertly put together, it makes a wonderful who-done-it novel.

Like I said above, it's not for everyone. But you can't help but be amused with those two characters, Johnny Fletcher and Sam Cragg. (They sure look out for each other)


Scott D. Parker said...


Man, this novel sounds right up my alley. It's got the Depression-era setting, two goons who seem to laugh more than they grimace, and superhero stuff. As a trained historian, I really appreciate books that can evoke (or help you remember something you never experienced) a past time and pre-war America is always ripe for a journey. As you described Johnny and Sam, I couldn't help but think of Lenny and George from "Of Mice and Men." Wonder if Gruber internalized those Steinbeck characters when he wrote this book. And the Cover! Fantastic. Thanks for the review

David Cranmer said...

Yeah, I'm with Scott. This sounds great and that cover is really sharp.