Friday, May 01, 2020

Forgotten Novellas: The Juarez Knife (Manville Moon #1) - Richard Deming

Richard Deming was one of the top crime/suspense paperbackers during the Fifties and Sixties, wrote many TV tie-in novels and novelizations under his own name and as Max Franklin (probably the first books I read by him were tie-in novels based on the series THE MOD SQUAD), and contributed frequently to the mystery and detective digest magazines and the pulps before that. His best known original series featured private detective Manville Moon, who appeared in quite a few stories and novels.

The Moon series begins with “The Juarez Knife”, a novella published in the January 1948 issue of POPULAR DETECTIVE. Like a lot of other late Forties PIs, Moon is a veteran of World War II. He lost his right leg in the fighting in Europe, having it amputated just below the knee because of wounds he suffered. He wears a prosthetic leg that slows him down some, but in this story, at least, he seems to have adjusted pretty well.

As this yarn opens, Moon gets a phone call from a lawyer who wants to hire him for what may be a dangerous job. We all know how those turn out. But this one goes south even faster than usual, because right after Moon arrives at the lawyer’s office to discuss the case, the guy is murdered before Moon even gets to talk to him, with the knife of the title, a souvenir of Juarez, buried in his chest. The only possible suspect is a beautiful young woman, but Moon believes she’s innocent, so even though he doesn’t really have a client, he sets out to find the real killer, leading to run-ins with shady gamblers, brutal thugs, good-looking dames, and suspicious cops. All the things we love about private eye yarns, in other words.

To be honest, “The Juarez Knife” is a little milder than I expected and comes down to a solution that’s more like something from an Ellery Queen or John Dickson Carr novel (but without the complexity and skill of those authors). Still, Deming’s writing is very slick and fast-paced, and he’s always fun to read. Plus, Manville Moon is a very likable protagonist. I enjoyed this story, even though I thought it would be a little more hardboiled. It’s available as an e-book, as are most, if not all, of the other novellas and novels in the series, and I certainly intend to read more of them.

1 comment:

Adventuresfantastic said...

I've not heard of this series, but I'm gonna check it out. Thanks for the tip.