Friday, December 26, 2008

Dame in Danger by Thomas B. Dewey

Dame in Danger by Thomas B. Dewey
Signet 1538, Copyright 1947

From 1947 until 1970, Thomas Dewey wrote 16 crime novels featuring the Chicago P.I. simply called Mac. Mac honed his detective skills working for the Chicago PD, until he got fired for shooting his mouth off to the commissioner. Since being a cop was all he knew, he got his private license with help from Lt. Donovan. Donovan is a hard veteran Homicide cop and he took Mac under his wing when Mac was on the force. The two remain close friends and throughout the novels they help one another during Mac's cases. "Dame in Danger" is Signet's seconding printing of Mac's first case. The original hardcover title is "Draw the Curtain Close" and in 1949 the first paperback (Signet 736) was printed with the original title. But I've always preferred this second paperback edition because of the sultry Robert Maguire cover.

They had just leaned over to pick up the corpse of Herman Losche when Donovan and I walked in. He looked even skinner and more moth-eaten dead than he had alive. There was a funny little twist to his lips, as if he'd been trying to figure out which was the bigger sucker, he or his murderer. I guessed it would probably come out even in the end.

The novel opens with Chicago's leading racketeer hiring Mac to keep an eye on his younger wife who may be in danger. Murders start quick in this one, as the racketeers bodyguard is killed delivering a package to Mac and then the cops find the racketeer himself murdered at his estate. The schooled puritan wife, Cynthia Warfield, becomes the prime suspect. Being a compassionate man, Mac believes she had nothing to do with the murder and hides her while he looks into things. A valuable family Bible and a stolen gem are at play here, and along for the ride are some ruthless tough guys and a redheaded bitch. The story gets complex as more murders mount up and a restrained sensual relationship develops between Cynthia and our P.I. As Mac battles through this one, he gets busted up a lot. Early on the hoods smack his face but good and he takes some serious slugs on the noggin all through the story. But he protects Cynthia, and has enough brain matter left to figure out why these murders are happening. And there is a pretty neat ending that takes place on the estate grounds, that is full of action.

I haven't found a Mac novel that I didn't enjoy. You'll find the early Mac stories more hardboiled than later ones. Authors were laying it down heavy on gunplay and rough stuff, during the time "Draw the Curtain Close" was written. Not long after, Thomas Dewey toned it down a bit and developed Mac into a formidable fictional character. The Mac character grew as the novels rolled on. He showed more sympathy and felt even pity for other characters, (good and bad) and with Mac being a more profound character the stories have more depth in the later novels. One of my favorites will always be "You've Got Him Cold." (1958) In the novel, we see Mac confronting his flaws, which causes some conflicts in how he interacts with others. Along with "The Mean Streets," (1954) it may be one of Dewey's most compelling mystery dramas. But don't overlook how the Chicago P.I. got started, his debut appearance is a damn good hard-knuckle detective story.

Thomas Dewey was a talented author who wrote many quality crime novels. But I lean to the Mac P.I. series, it contains his best work.

1st paperback edition of "Draw the Curtain Close"
Signet 736 (1949)


Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

The only problem with this blog is that it keeps adding to my wants list.

Anonymous said...

Dewey's a writer who really ought to be better known than he is. Shamefully I haven't read any of his work in a long time. Not only do want lists get longer, but what's worse, so does the "To Be Read" pile!

--- Steve