Fletcher Flora is one of those writers whose books I’ve seen around for decades without ever reading any of them. I have read some of his short stories in various crime and mystery digests and recall enjoying them. Stark House has just reprinted three of Flora’s novels in one volume, so LEAVE HER TO HELL isn’t, strictly speaking, forgotten, but I’m sure it hasn’t been widely read in recent years, either.
Originally published by Avon in 1958, this is pure, 1950s-era private eye fiction. The narrator, Percy Hand, works as a private detective in a fairly large but unidentified city. He’s hired by the mistress of a rich financier to find out what happened to the guy’s previous wife, who disappeared a couple of years earlier. Everybody seems to think she ran off with her lover, who happened to be the brother of a local “restaurant owner” (actually a mobster, of course). A few other questions pop up in Hand’s investigation: an unsolved hit-and-run death; 75 grand that may or may not be missing; one of Hand’s sleazier competitors in the PI game who keeps tailing him; and assorted beautiful women who wind up kissing him. Needless to say, there’s a lot of snappy banter, Hand gets hit on the head and knocked out, and multiple corpses turn up.
I had a wonderful time reading this book. Flora’s dialogue is great, the plot is suitably complex without being hard to follow (with a very nice twist at the end, by the way), the tone is light and breezy for the most part but has some darker undertones here and there, and most importantly to me, while I was reading it I felt like I was back in high school again, devouring all the private eye novels I could get my hands on. That’s enough reason right there for me to give it a high recommendation.
Fletcher Flora didn’t write just private eye novels but other types of mysteries as well, and I have several of them on hand to read, now that I know what a fine writer he was. I’m pretty happy about this.