This book is an enigma….
The cover to Murder Involved is rudimentary, and busy. We have two men dragging what appears to be an unwilling third body along the pavement to an awaiting vehicle. Are they rescuing him, prepared to give him the third degree at some secret location, hold an impromptu meeting in the auto, or kill him down the road? So many options!
To add to the confusion, the bottom of the cover proclaims that this title is part of the Dick Barton Library. And yet, I could not locate this title in any crime fiction indices nor recorded anywhere online. Worldcat and COPAC and the British Library have zero copies.
I couldn’t wait for Murder Involved to arrive, so that I could perform some investigative work….
When it did arrive, I was further flummoxed. Despite the dilapidated state of the book (chunk of spine missing, upper two inches spine to cover split, lower inch split and torn an inch into the cover from the spine and barely attached, rear cover entirely lacking) there is enough here to work on. But I was still somewhat baffled.
Here are the details:
Publisher: Paladin Press Ltd. (30, Gaywood Street, London)
Printer: Hollyfield Printers Ltd., Friern Barnet, London, N.11.
Published in association with Ariel Productions Ltd.
On the last interior printed page (bear in mind the rear cover is missing) are four titles. Two of the titles are actual Dick Barton novels, being Jail Break and The Black Panther, both listed as “by arrangement with the B.B.C.” Let’s focus on those two titles before moving on to the other two….
Now, some quick research online shows that broadcasted scripts for Dick Barton and the Affair of the Black Panther actually was written by Geoffrey Webb. I’m not sure when this was originally broadcast (in the U.K.), but the Australian broadcast was on 3 November through (?) December 1949, representing Story # 9 in the radio series. Then, in 1952, Atlas Publications published The Return of Dick Barton: Special Agent — The Black Panther. No author is given. However, this very same book later was re-released by Paladin Press Ltd., likely 1953. Paladin Press obtained the right to handle the series. The Atlas book sold poorly, and Paladin retrieved all unsold copies, stripped off the covers, issued a new cover to help move the remainder stock, and slapped a sticker over the original Atlas cover-page. So, same book, simply re-packaged with a fresh cover.
COPAC shows that Oxford University and Trinity College Dublin has Jail Break, listing the author as Dick Barton, and registered 1953. I’m not sure where this falls in the B.B.C. radio series.
Now, the other two titles listed on the reverse clearly state that they are not Dick Barton. They both are credited to T. C. H. Jacobs, and feature one Slim Sullivan. It’s unclear why Paladin Press deviated from running the Dick Barton name, however, one may readily insinuate that they did not have the rights to utilize the name in their fiction stories.
Adventure in Paris, which is listed on the BBC list as a Dick Barton radio play (Story 2: Dick Barton and the Paris Adventure) is clearly NOT a Dick Barton story. As noted, the rear of this book states it features SLIM SULLIVAN (whom is a private detective). The ultimate question is: was the book a re-write of the radio play?
Likewise, the book that I have (Murder Involved) definitely does feature Slim Sullivan. However, the rear cover lists this title before the Paris title. So, was it the first Slim Sullivan title, or no?
None of the major UK libraries appear to have Adventure in Paris nor Murder Involved. Was the Paris title published (assuming it indeed is the fourth) or was the series nixed?
While much of the actual history surrounding these latter two novels is a complete mystery, the answers may repose at Penn State University, whom hold the research and literary papers of author T. C. H. Jacobs. If anyone lives in the vicinity and regularly performs research there, I would love for you to tap that collection and retrieve copies of all relevant letters and correspondence, includes sales receipts, etc.
Now, you’ve patiently slogged through my ramblings, and are wondering just what is the plot of this book, right? Trust me, you aren’t missing much.
Private Detective Slim Sullivan has just been contracted by Samuel Budd to track down Percy (an American), the son and future heir to a large fortune, whose father (Justin Van Gault) has died. His mother, Mrs. Van Gault, is now in London, having learned that Percy is a weak-minded fool and is mixing it up with an “undesirable character.” Her name is Helga Bonne, a German whom previously worked at The Virgin Maid, but quit and latched onto Percy.
Quitting Mr. Budd’s company, Slim visits Percy’s mother, to obtain further details. We don’t learn much more from her beyond the scant details already divulged. She requests that Helga be removed, whether by deportation, bribery, and less scrupulous methods. Satisfied that Slim can find means satisfactory towards Helga’s removal, he signs on with an advance payment, and attends to the assignment.
Visiting Helga Bonne at her apartments, the door opens and his eyes are greeted to “the picture of some Norse goddess” and “wore her hair like a gleaming crown of gold with two thick plaits woven in a heavy coil above her head.” She assures Slim that she isn’t interested in Percy’s presumed fortune, or if he ever retrieves one red cent from the family. She is in love with Percy, despite his alcoholism and flirtations with an exotic dancer at the place of her former employ. Helga is also very much surprised to learn that Percy’s mother is in London; she was under the impression that Percy’s mother was an invalid. Slim comes clean and confesses his assigned task, but believes that she is in fact in love with Percy.
Unexpectedly, another door in the apartment (likely leading to her bedroom) opens and out lumbers Percy. He is the not the weak-kneed, frail boy that Slim expected. He is a “big, broad-shouldered fellow” and taking him in wearing pajamas, discounts the drunk as a serious threat. That is, until a “fist like a ham” knocks him out….
Waking up in the hallway, Slim stumbles outside and ambles home. Here he is greeted by Mugsy Spewmacker, described as “a short, broad-shouldered man with a chest like a barrel, a battered, homely face and a jaw which defied all the efforts of a razor to keep it free from stubble.” Described as tough, dumb, loyal like a dog, this ex-American was saved from a life in prison by Slim long ago and has stuck with Slim ever since.
Returning to Mrs. Van Gault’s hotel room, he asks her for a description of her son, should he actually run into the man. She’s mystified and states that is unnecessary. The assignment is remove the Helga, not track Percy. Slim explains that he might accidentally run into the boy while in company with Helga, and doesn’t wish to create a stir. Satisfied, she describes Percy but fails to accurately describe his eyes! Slim is now wholly convinced this woman, whom Helga thought to be an invalid, truly is not Percy’s real mother, but an imposter.
So, what is the real deal? Confirmed is that Percy indeed does stand to inherit a fortune, very soon. Clearly the faux Mrs. Van Gault is in league with a person or other parties to remove Helga from marrying Percy, assure he remains single or maybe even kill him and leave the path clear for some other potential heir. Slim doesn’t like his limited options, and continues to play the field.
Visiting The Virgin Maid, he witnesses the exotic dancer and her control both over the crowd and the intoxicated Percy. They leave together. Mugsy and Percy depart, and trail them to her apartments. There, they stealthily wait for developments. Surprisingly, another person arrives and heads up the steps. It’s one Maxy Fischer, a killer. A couple minutes later, the duo hear a muffled or startled cry, then silence. Shortly thereafter, Maxy departs.
The coast clear, the pair make haste up the steps and to the room, whose door is left open. Inside, the cliche scene: Katina lying dead with a bloodied puncture wound on her back, and Percy passed out, holding the bloody knife.
Realizing that Percy has been framed for murder, they commit a further crime by messing with the entire scene, extracting and cleaning the knife, retaining it, and lug the unconscious Percy to their car. From there, they arrive home and lock him away both for his safety and from prying eyes of the police.
The situation out-of-control, Slim phones Helga and asks if she is alone. Confirmed, he arrives at her flat and going in, spills a complete lie: Percy killed Katina! Her face shows immense shock, much to Slim’s disappointment. He was hoping to know if she was aware of the murder-plot. Caught unawares by this disclosure, he reveals that he is willing to hide Percy from the police…for a fee. He must also discern some method of clearing Percy from the presumed crime (the police will know that he left in her company). A fugitive from the law can hardly inherit a dime!
He shows her the knife, but she has never seen the weapon before. Slim is now certain that the knife did not belong to Percy. Smuggling her into his home, with her aid, they convince the drunk and befuddled Percy that he, in his drunken stupor, murdered the dancer.
While running about, comparing clues, Slim heads to his own detective agency (only took him until page 58) and we are introduced to Daisy Jones, his secretary. Stereotypical beauty she is not! Rather, we are given to understand that Daisy is “short, dumpy, mousy-haired and wore horn spectacles when she was typing.” The novel rapidly degrades into the realm of sleaze when Slim “came behind her and slid his arm around her. His left hand cupped her breast and he squeezed softly. The colour flamed in her cheeks and she pushed his hand away.” The scene is entirely unnecessary. To worsen matters, the author toots Slim’s horn with this casual explanation of the deed: “Maybe it was his warped sense of humour, but he never could resist embarrassing her. Daisy had about as much sex appeal as a suet pudding.”
After their brief encounter, he sends her on a mission, then establishes a social call with the possible assassin, Maxy Fischer, on the grounds that Slim’s secretary obtained a letter confirming that the faux Mrs. Van Gault is in fact Fischer’s wife, Flora, whom is also the real Mrs. Van Gault’s actual sister. Percy’s mother died ten days earlier. With Percy rubbed out or committed to an asylum, the sister becomes legally the next-of-kin! Confronting Fischer with these facts, he then bribes Fischer to pay him funds if he can get Percy shipped back to America, away from English lockup, etc. He plays the card that Percy murdered Katina, and that for a fee, he’ll help Percy escape, return home, and Maxy and Flora can themselves essentially have control over Percy and the inheritance. Maxy bites.
The murder is discovered and hits the newspapers. It’s not long before the police pay Slim a social call. Prior to the police arriving, Mugsy removed Percy and the pair went to a distant cottage, leaving Slim to expertly wipe the place clean of Percy’s prints and hairs, etc. One police officer arrives, and he substantiates that Slim Sullivan and Mugsy were spotted at The Virgin Maid that night and their car was seen in the vicinity of Katina’s apartments. Disliking coincidences, he is politely interrogated.
Slim confesses the “gist” of the assignment, quite crudely referring to Helga as a “German whore” whom Percy’s mother is not pleased with, but at least she is a “white European. Katina is described to the officer as “the coloured bird” and later as “a God-knows-what-breed….” Later, a fingerprint crew is brought in.
After the police depart, he visits Sam Budd, the person that originally brought him on board, and gives him the third degree. Slim’s not amused at being dragged into a web of lies and murder. He perpetuates his own lie that Percy murdered Katina and adds to this a fresh one…that Helga and Percy married days ago. Budd is caught unawares, and threatens to track that registered marriage. Slim laughs and informs Budd that he can, but he doubts that it has been released and registered yet at the Somerset House.
The irony is, that Helga is indeed married! She confesses this to Slim Sullivan, whom is both amused (his lying jest is in truth a reality) and mortified (her life is now in danger). And it wasn’t days ago. It was a month ago. The marriage will be officially recorded and public knowledge! Departing her apartment an hour later, Slim is accosted again by an officer, spying on his movements.
The officer insinuates that Slim was “busy” and lets slip that that the police are aware of her marriage. Slim feigns surprise, that he was not aware that is married. It’s revealed that the police do not know she is married to Percy; in fact, they have a record that she is married to one Gustav Bonne, serving a life sentence in a German asylum. Slim is secretly amused, as this means her marriage to Percy is null and void. Naturally, she could get a divorce, but, she would have to legally re-marry Percy, and that is clearly not part of her original plan, as her and Gustav used to operate a bribery racket, hitting on wealthy men and catching them in elicit positions, etc.
In the end, the office departs and Slim chews over the information. He’s angered to learn that Helga has perfectly played him and painted him a complete fool. Feeling like a mug, he heads home, hoping that Mugsy and Percy are getting along well at his secret cottage….
Mugsy in fact was not getting along with Percy. He disliked the wild Yank; his arrogance grated on his nerves. Thankfully, the man emptied a bottle of liquor and passes out. Grateful of the peace and quiet, Mugsy turns in and goes to bed. Unbeknownst to all, a robber has been casing the remote cottage, and once the lights go out, he goes in. Snapping a flashlight upon the dozing Mugsy’s face, he knocks Mugsy out with two solid lumps with the aid a blunt object. The robber is dismayed that neither Mugsy nor the unconscious Percy have any real funds upon their persons. Mission accomplished, the goes to leave, but spots another bottle of nearly empty liquor on the table. Snatching this up, he escapes, but, in a moment of foolishness, manages to get killed by a drunk driving along the country road. The drunk never realizes what happened until the next day, when he finds a piece of cloth on his car, and now knows he didn’t simply hit a pot-hole.
The police are called in after the body is discovered, and one of the C.I.D. men that visited our private detective is on the scene. He hefts the emptied liquor bottle and examines it, no doubt holding it up to the sunlight, to count the fingerprints. Meanwhile, earlier, back the cottage, that morning, Mugsy slowly drags himself out of bed from his beating, makes coffee. Percy challenges Mugsy for having robbed him while drunk, and Mugsy delivers a K.O. to the point of Percy’s chin. Asleep once more, Mugsy ties Percy up with wire (which he later escapes from) and departs, to hike a few miles to the nearest telephone.
While on his hike, he drops into the weeds and watches the police and C.I.D. man handling the liquor bottle. Mugsy mentally panics. Three sets of fingerprints are on that bottle: Percy, Mugsy, and his boss, Slim Sullivan!!! He continues on his way and calls Slim’s home. He’s not home. Then he phones the office, and leaves a message with Daisy, whom five minutes later relays it to their boss.
Angered over the matter, he irrationally chastises Mugsy’s inability to handle Percy, even if just for one night. He heads out to the cottage to professionally wipe away all fingerprints and remove any trace of their presence.
Returning to the city, Slim is confronted by the policeman again, and the cards are laid bare. It’s clear that Slim has been dishonest with the police and he begs the officer a respite until the next morning to give them Katina’s actual killer. The request granted, the officer departs and Slim informs his secretary to close shop….
Re-visiting Maxy Fischer’s flat, he confronts Maxy with the truth that he now knows Maxy was the actual killer, that Helga had found a dislodged button, and intends to blackmail Maxy. The latter wishes to know just how Helga knows his identity. Slim professes that he told Helga. Maxy is displeased with the matter, and they come to an agreement over raising the bar of the bribe that Slim was gonna extract from Maxy, if he kept “mum” about the entire affair. Agreeing to terms, Maxy infers that he will take care of Helga, by making it look like a suicide.
Slim leaves and quickly visits Helga. Bringing her up to speed, she is dismayed to learn that she is bait to trap a killer. Playing her part well the entire time, she is up to the “act. ” Slim hides, and Maxy knocks. Opening her door, she feigns no knowledge of who Maxy is, and he forces his way inside. She then exclaims she recognizes his mug, that he is the man that knifed Katina! Maxy is annoyed to learn that Slim had told the truth and Helga indeed does know that the murder was not committed by the drunken Percy. Demanding the lost button, she pulls a pistol on him. He slaps it aside and laughs. The gun wasn’t even loaded!
He pulls out a length of cord and begins the process of strangulation and setting the stage to make it look like a hanging, all the while the two have been talking about Katina’s murder and the whole plot. Slim jumps out of hiding and proclaims that Maxy’s entire confession has been recorded. A fight ensues and from out of another room, suddenly Mugsy appears on the scene and pulls his gun, shoots Maxy’s gun-hand, and putting all his weight into the swing, Slim Sullivan knocks out Maxy.
Maxy is arrested, to be tried for murder, etc.
Percy had already been found, after his escape, attempting to obtain liquor sans any funds on his person and upon police arrival, was in the process of destroying the establishment for refusal to provide him with alcohol. He has been locked up to dry out.
Helga’s marriage to Percy is cleared. Turns out her ex-husband died in prison months ago. Further, she apparently really does love the moron.
In lieu of his being in jail to dry out, Helga decides to forget about her husband (for now), and making some moves on our private detective, decides to see if she can straighten out Slim Sullivan !!!