Roger Torrey was one of the leading authors of hardboiled detective fiction for the pulps during the Thirties and Forties, starting out in BLACK MASK and writing for a number of other pulps as well, including SPICY DETECTIVE, PRIVATE DETECTIVE, and Street & Smith’s DETECTIVE STORY. This new volume from Black Dog Books, BODYGUARD, is the first major collection of his work.
Torrey’s work has two major strengths. One is the easy-going, conversational style in which the stories are told. According to Black Dog Books’ editor and publisher, Tom Roberts, reading a story by Roger Torrey is like sitting in a bar somewhere and listening to a guy spin an exciting yarn about something that happened to him. The fact that the guy is usually a private eye, and the story concerns some bizarre case mixed up with murder and beautiful babes, is a real plus.
The colorful characterization of the narrators in most of Torrey’s stories is their other strong point. Despite the fact that they all have different names, those narrators are basically the same person: a private detective, often an ex-cop and a lone operative, smart but not infallible, tough but no superman, basically a decent sort but not above a little chicanery and lechery. He’ll get beaten up when the odds are against him, he’ll be fooled by an attractive woman from time to time, and he’ll muddle his way through cases with dogged determination as much as anything else. But in the end, he comes up with the killer every time, of course.
Torrey’s background included stints as a piano player in nightclubs and an organist in movie theaters, and his stories often have some sort of show business background. He was a heavy drinker, and so are many of his characters. Despite their sometimes oddball plot elements, the stories have an air of authenticity about them, including a fatalism that foreshadows Torrey’s early death. (He wasn’t even 40 yet when he passed away, probably from alcoholism.)
BODYGUARD reprints eleven stories, several of them long novellas. While not all of them are what you’d call rigorously plotted, they’re all very entertaining and enjoyable. The book also includes an informative introduction by long-time author and editor Ron Goulart, as well as the first-ever bibliography of Torrey’s work. Torrey hasn’t actually been forgotten – reprints of his stories have popped up in anthologies over the years – but he’s certainly been neglected. BODYGUARD is the first step in remedying that situation. I had a great time reading it, and if you’re a fan of hardboiled pulp fiction, I highly recommend it.
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