Published 1945 by Bear, Hudson, Ltd., “Death Takes a Hand” by Frank Griffin represents the publisher’s 25th printed title, and is printed on some form of flimsy cardboard stock paper. The 40-page pamphlet features a mediocre cover illustrated by H. W. Perl (which recycles a Hollywood film cut-out in the background). This is “reportedly” the author’s first fiction novel.
Born 15 October 1911, Charles Frank Griffin married Kathleen Cawood and sired many children. He served during the war for a number of years. Released from service, Griffin began to churn out gangster novels, and a few Westerns, from 1945 through 1951. And then, inexplicably, he vanished. Why precisely he abandoned the lucrative writing market when his fiction writing prowess had developed admirably, is beyond my ken.
However, if I had began by first reading “Death Takes a Hand,” I probably should never have read another Griffin book again. I’m not saying that it is horrible, mind you, but, well, it is not up to the higher level of quality that Griffin later came to represent. I’m not entirely sure this is Griffin’s fault or if the publishers excised a ton of text to make it run faster. The blurb runs: “…the tough, exciting, and streamlined story…” It’s certainly tough in places. Exciting is a stretch. Streamlined? Hardly.
If you have come this far, perhaps you are beginning to wonder what the plot of this novelette is? Okay.
Mart is running an illegal petrol / coupon business (along with other illegal activities) during the war. While discussing business with a fat man, he brings in a piece of fluff. She’s terrified of Mart and the fat man notices that she has been brutally beaten, perhaps by whippings. He threatens Mart and departs. Under normal circumstances, such a person is immediately murdered. Mart simply laughs, indicating confidence and perhaps, that he is slightly, mentally unstable.
After an illegal mission, Mart sends one of his henchmen to hire a replacement driver. They pick on recently discharged Dick Moxton, and pushing him into a drunken stupor, he meets two unsavory molls, Flo and Chinky. Here, the novel pushes into pure racism. Flo is short for Florence, and while drunk, Moxton is baffled why her hands her black while his are white. Chinky is Chinese. The girls are more than just fluff; they are tough, mean characters.
While on a driving assignment, Moxton spots a young lady trying to hitch a ride. He stops, and inadvertently rescues the young lady that Mart had terrorized and whipped. She somehow has escaped from captivity. We are given to understand she somehow escaped via the ineptitude of Mart’s servant, and that is all. Moxton inexplicably falls in love with the girl, whom is a refugee, puts her up somewhere safe and we never hear from her again except as a closing side-note at the conclusion.
That aside, Inspector Kemp is soon on the case when Moxton is brought to a hospital with his head bloodied. Seems that, while at Mart’s home, where a party was held at night, he walked out and heard a fight. Mart was assaulted by an unknown assailant, and robbed. Seeing the skirmish, Moxton, quite tipsy, attempted to intervene, but was bludgeoned. Bizarrely, Mart had Moxton brought to the hospital, and thus enters Kemp, after Doctor Raven pays him a visit, explaining the odd circumstances of his admittance and the wound. Kemp interviews Moxton, whom feigns memory loss, but Kemp isn’t falling.
Smelling trouble, he investigates Mart, learns of the illegal petrol dealings. Flo goes missing, is brutally beaten to death by Mart, and then buried with the help of another villain. Flo’s bloodied rags go missing from the room, Mart panics that someone is aware of the murder; he is later blackmailed for 10,000 pounds, and the person arriving to claim the funds is the original fat man from the beginning. We also learn that he was the man that assaulted and robbed Mart. Failing to secure the funds from Mart, the two tussle, the fat man tries to escape but ends up running upstairs into an inescapable room and Mart beats in his face…literally beats it in. Blood is everywhere by the time the servant finally arrives on the scene.
Seemingly the next day, Moxton enters, demands his back-pay, and Mart demands to know the location of the refugee. Moxton decks him, robs him, takes his safe key, and finds his own wallet (which was missing after HE was hospitalized) in the safe, and, he ruthlessly stomps his foot into Mart’s face and teeth.
Mart’s world continues to crumble when a house of ill-repute ten miles away inexplicably burns to the ground, taking all his henchmen with it (no reason is given for the fire) and Kemp and crew locate the buried remains of Flo in the garden. With a warrant, he approaches Mart’s home, alone, and the pair get into it.
Mart flees the scene, runs to his semi-secret air raid shelter, and enters a secret room. Failing to seal it, Kemp comes down the stairs to confront him. Foolishly, Mart fires and plugs Kemp twice, whom keeps coming for his man. A third shot nails a petrol container (apparently) and the whole place explodes. Kemp is propelled up the stairs, alive, and functional. While the air raid shelter consumes itself in flames, Kemp escapes. They later extract the charred body of Mart, and, the fat man of the inverted face.
Time passes, Kemp is in his office, dismayed by how the incident finalized. It closes with Kemp lamenting that he was cheated “once more” out of a big case. Again? Did Griffin write another tale with Inspector Kemp that we are unaware of…?
There are too many bizarre holes in this story to be taken at face value. Clearly much of the text was cut. And Moxton in the end has secured Mart’s “slave” again and marries her, in what is yes, a traditional happy ending, but an eye-rolling one.
If you have the desire to read Frank Griffin’s literature, you may wish to skip this one entirely, however, if you are like me, go ahead and read it, simply to see just how much his abilities improved with each publication.