Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Moment of Violence - George Harmon Coxe

As I’ve mentioned before, George Harmon Coxe was a very popular mystery author when I was young. Every library had a full shelf of his novels, all of them published by Knopf. I read one now and then and enjoyed them, but I never gobbled them up like I did the books by Rex Stout, Brett Halliday, Richard S. Prather, Leslie Charteris, and the like. Turns out that’s okay, because now there are still a lot of George Harmon Coxe novels I haven’t read and I can enjoy them now.

For example, I just read MOMENT OF VIOLENCE, one of Coxe’s stand-alone novels. This one was published in hardback in 1961 and doesn’t appear to have ever had a paperback reprint. But it’s currently available in an e-book edition, and that’s the one I read. The protagonist is David Payne, a lawyer from Boston who travels down to Barbados at the request of his old mentor, who’s about to be the victim in a real estate swindle that will cost him a fortune.

Payne’s job is complicated by the fact that the perpetrator of said swindle is an old college classmate of his who ran off with and married the girl Payne was engaged to. And wouldn’t you know it, as soon as Payne gets to Barbados and goes to see the guy, he almost trips over a dead body. That’s right, the shady character who stole his girl is dead and Payne is the one who discovers the body.

He's hardly the only suspect, though, because this is one of those mysteries where all sorts of characters were wandering in and out of the murder scene just about the time the killing took place. There are two (count ’em, two) other lawyers, both possibly crooked, involved in the case, not to mention a stuffy British expatriate and his hot-to-trot former showgirl wife, the beautiful niece of the would-be victim in the land swindle, another American who seems to have a secret to hide, some Venezuelans with revenge on their minds, and the murdered man’s wife, who, you may recall from the previous paragraph of this review, was once engaged to our boy Dave. You got your smuggling, you got your blackmail, you got your lust and greed in the tropics. Great stuff, in other words.

Dave Payne is a very likable protagonist. He’s more of an Everyman, not a hardboiled sleuth like Coxe’s series characters Kent Murdock and Flashgun Casey, but he can be tough when he needs to be and he’s smart enough to figure everything out, leading to a violent and satisfactory climax that actually does play out almost like something from Coxe’s days as a pulpster in BLACK MASK. I really enjoyed MOMENT OF VIOLENCE. It’s not a lost classic, but it’s a really solid traditional mystery with a slightly gritty edge.

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