Friday, April 20, 2007

Markham -- Lawrence Block

This is a book I’ve had on my shelves for many years, and I’ve finally gotten around to reading it. It’s a tie-in novel, based on a short-lived series that ran on NBC in 1959 and 1960, starring Ray Milland as New York-based private eye Roy Markham. Now, if Ray Milland isn’t exactly your idea of a hardboiled private eye, well, I feel pretty much the same way. Maybe a lot of other people did, too, and that’s why the series didn’t last long. This novel didn’t come out until 1961, after the TV series was over. I guess Belmont had it in inventory already and decided to go ahead and throw it out there. Lawrence Block wasn’t a big name at the time, so that wasn’t the reason (as it probably was a few years ago when this novel was reissued under the title YOU COULD CALL IT MURDER, with no mention of the TV series or its original Belmont edition).

As for the book itself, it’s pretty standard PI stuff. As a favor to a friend, Markham takes on a wandering daughter job. The girl has disappeared from the fancy private university she attends in New Hampshire. Markham starts investigating and then gets roped into what seems to be a completely different case – but you know the jobs will wind up being connected, and sure enough they are. There’s a lot of small-town college scenes, some late Fifties/early Sixties hipster stuff, a suicide that might be murder, some other deaths that are definitely murder, blackmail, gangsters, and lots of drinking and smoking. Everybody in this book spends a lot of time taking out cigarettes, lighting up cigarettes, putting out cigarettes, etc. Markham gets hit on the head and knocked out. Eventually he untangles everything and exposes the killer, of course.

Not surprisingly, despite the generic plot Block’s use of language is excellent, as always. Even though this book came early in his career, he could already put sentences together in a consistently interesting and entertaining fashion. I didn’t really see anything in this book that was a precursor for, say, the Matt Scudder books. (There is a minor character named Keller, however.) It’s worth reading, although it’s not on the same level as his other early books that have been reissued by Hard Case Crime.

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