I’ve been reading Frank Kane’s novels and stories about private eye Johnny Liddell for close to 50 years now, and I still enjoy them. Kane’s short novel THE DEAD STAND-IN, which originally appeared in the January 1956 issue of the iconic hardboiled crime digest magazine MANHUNT, was reprinted in the double volume from Armchair Fiction that also contains Richard Deming’s top-notch noir yarn KISS AND KILL. It’s never been reprinted elsewhere, as far as I know.Liddell is in fine form in this one, hired by a mystery client to investigate a shooting in which the police cornered and killed a fugitive who had previously murdered a man in a mugging. Liddell’s client, who is only a female voice on the phone to him, as well as a $200 retainer sent in the mail, believes there’s more to the case than that. In fact, she claims that the fugitive was actually murdered and wants Liddell to prove it.
Well, of course in a private eye story, no case that appears cut-and-dried really is, and in no time at all, Liddell is up to his neck in trouble involving gangsters, a sultry torch singer, a hired killer imported from Detroit, and a second killing, this time an obvious murder which somebody fashions into a neat frame for Liddell, so that he has to find the real killer to save himself from the electric chair. Helping him out is beautiful redheaded reporter Muggsy Kiely, my all-time favorite sidekick/girlfriend for a fictional private eye. (Yes, I like her even better than Lucy Hamilton.)
This is the pure quill, full of snappy patter, beautiful babes, and gimlet-eyed bad guys. Everybody smokes and drinks constantly, Liddell gets hit on the head not once but twice, and I grinned from first page to last. The plot’s nothing special, but reading it made me feel like that kid again, you know, the one sitting in a lawn chair on his parents’ front porch on a summer day with a transistor radio playing rock and roll while he flips the pages of a paperback as fast as he can.
I’ll take that feeling any day of the week.