Published 1949 by Curtis Warren Ltd., Make Mine Murder was written by Bevis Winter, and is 192-pages.
The artwork has nothing to do with the plot of the story.
The author was born Bevis Winter on 27 August 1918 in Birmingham, England, and died 1985 at Haywards Heath, Sussex, England.
And now, onto the novel…
Released from the English army, ex-Corporal Philip Denton is disheartened. He’s returning home to his cottage, where he was hoping to start a new life with his wife. However, while at war, he receives a letter stating that she is leaving him and hooking up with an American soldier. On arrival, he finds the key under the mat, lets himself in, and is soon greeted by a young lady from a neighboring farm, taking pity on him. She helps to set the cottage right and, in going down to the cellar for supplies, suddenly screams. Philip darts down and beholds the emaciated, very decomposed body of his wife. She’d been likely down there for many, many months.
The local small-town police are useless. Philip hires the services of one of his ex-army mates, whom he recalls was returning back to civilization as a private investigator.
Enter: Major Martin Myers, and his secretarial sidekick, Olivia.
They take the case but he sees little in it. Especially via financial means. Philip isn’t worth much. But, while in the army, he had jokingly noted that if anyone needed his help as a P.I., he’d lend a hand. Now, he’s in it.
Meanwhile, back in London, another murder occurs, shortly after the grisly discovery of Philip’s wife. The two do not seem to coincide. It happens like this:
Author and playwright — Hackle — is holding one of his usual festive parties, when he gets into an argument over a murder scene. Wanting to prove his case, he has a gun loaded with blanks from an unopened case of blank cartridges, and has his party-goers enact the scene. Dismayed by the results, he swaps places with the guying playing the murderer, and takes the gun himself, and directs the scene. He fires and a fellow drops dead.
The police think the man that originally loaded the gun (not Hackle) was responsible, and had slipped a real “live” cartridge in. However, the department discovers that while he admitted to loading the gun, the blanks in the gun sport no fingerprints! They are entirely clean. Ergo, this can NOT be the same gun. Someone switched guns.
Now the police are secretly investigating Hackle, as he is the only other person known to have handled the gun. Clearly, there is a duplicate gun, somewhere. However, when they raid his house, with an arrest warrant, they find Hackle shot dead, lying across his desk.
Meanwhile, back at the cottage town, investigator Myers has learned that Hackle many years earlier had been a teacher in this community, and left shortly after a 9-year old girl had been found slain and brutally, sexually assaulted. It later comes about the recluse gynecologist has an imbecile son, and Myers is certain that he raped the child.
Confronting the doctor, he admits the truth, and that Hackle had been blackmailing him for years. As to the young man shot at the house party, turns out he was a newspaperman in London, but years earlier, had been a cub-reporter in the cottage town, and he, in turn, had begun to blackmail Hackle, thinking HE was the one responsible for the child’s demise, because, in one of his bestselling sensational novels, he describes the murder scene of the child and a bonnet she had on. That bonnet never made it into the local circulars, and he had known about via interviewing the parents. Naturally, only the murderer would know about it. Or, so he wrongly surmised. He never realized that the doctor had also been on the scene.
In learning all this, the detective and the police investigator team up to arrest the imbecile and take him into medical custody, only to learn that the brute has coincidentally escaped his “cage” and is running loose through the countryside. Drawing guns, they run in pursuit and finally locate him, in the ravenous act of raping Olivia (how convenient).
The whole plot wraps up nicely with Myers hooking up with Olivia, but, on the whole, while I enjoyed reading this early novel effort by Bevis Winter, it is ruined by the tasteless “imbecile” plot. For its few faults, Make Mine Murder is a damn fine read, overall, and I highly recommend it to anyone.
I should like to read more of Bevis Winter’s later efforts (again), as his quality of writing developed admirably over the ensuing years, after some years practice working on hardboiled gangster novels.