“Fat Men Laugh at Murder” by Marc Stephens was published in Glasgow, Scotland by Muir-Watson Books, in 1949. This British digest-paperback novel runs 128-pages.
The strikingly bold and colourful cover illustration was created by Reina M. Bull (Reina Mary Sington was her birth name).
Her illustrated works are quite collectible, including covers for New Worlds, Science-Fantasy, various crime covers, and spicy covers for Utopian Press under her alias, “Janine.” (Side note: I would personally LOVE to own an original by Mrs. Bull.)
Who is (or was) Marc Stephens? The British Library and COPAC show zero holdings for this person. The identity of the writer is unknown. Searching the Internet turns up zilch. Does the name belong to a real person, short for “Marcus” Stephens?
This didn’t turn up anything useful, though I found a clergyman (Marcus James Treacher Stephens) that fit the bill nicely, but, during the years in question, he was stationed in Lebanon. Still, one never knows….
It was then suggested that I look to Hugh M. Stephens as a possibility.
FictionMags Index site shows Hugh M. Stephens contributed at least three known short stories, from 1943-1945, and one further in the Bonny album in 1949/1950. Ironically, I submitted those Laughitoff issues to the index site a couple years ago, myself! It’s possible that Stephens turns up in other issues. Bear in mind, the novel was released in 1949. This would seem to fit perfectly.
- This Pantomime Business (ss) Laughitoff # 3 (1943)
- Swing Date (vi) Laughitoff # 8 (1945)
- Grammar as She is Spoke (vi) Laughitoff # 9 (1945)
- Build for Tomorrow (ar) Personality (Feb 1948)
- (story title unknown) (ss) Bonny Annual 1950
So, who is Hugh M. Stephens?
The only Hugh M. Stephens I could find was born 1920 in the Brentford district. Identity of Hugh’s “M” initial never disclosed on any of the genealogy sites I searched.
Parents were Hugh O. T. G. Stephens and Ragnhild Gaaserud.
One known sibling, Kari B., married 1947 to Thaddeus H. Gebert in the Bedford District. Further research reveals this is Kari Bridget Gebert, born 1916, but died 28 January 2010.
Did he serve during WW2? Could be. I found two Hugh Stephens that might fit. The first has an entirely different middle name. Nix! The second, fits, but, DIED IN 1945!!! Could it be that the Laughitoff contributor died in 1945, and is NOT the same person that contributed to Personality three years later? One may never know. I am direly hoping that a relative might one day write and clear up this matter.
Without further ado, let’s hit the novel itself.
A socialite returning home to England after some years away is holding a large party on an ocean-going vessel. Private detective and Englishman Hugo Van Reine and his new associate, ex-soldier and man-of-action American (Johnny Vernon) are invited to attend. Johnny immediately falls in lust with the extremely beautiful Adele Manners. Hugo watches all the party-attendees, and notes two figures detach from their positions to chase down the gorgeous vixen. Here Hugo is in his element. What does the one young man want with Adele? What interest does the sinister, greasy-looking Italian have with Adele? (and why are Italians always described as greasy?)
Landing in England, they all part ways, but, Adele, for some odd reason, retains Hugo to visit her at her apartments. On arriving, he finds her in a harried state and unable to let him in. Please come back in 20 minutes. Irked, he departs, returns, finds the door open, and Adele, shot dead! A noise at the front door, and Hugo, not wishing to be caught with a corpse, steals down the fire escape.
Entering by the front door is Hugo’s young associate, Johnny. He is looking to re-acquaint himself with this lovely lady, but dismayed to find her equally dead. It is an inopportune moment for a recently-hired detective-in-training to be caught in such a precarious position, too.
And there begins our wonderful world of intrigue.
Who murdered Adele? It is immediately known that she was to inherit a worldly sum. Her murder means that many in her family stand to benefit.
Was is it her mother, whom seems more inclined to fret over the social-standing of the family than the death of her daughter?
Her sensible brother?
Her flirty and bitchy sister?
The brother’s wife?
Maybe the two fellows on the boat?
Or is there a deeper mystery at the root of this heinous crime?
Hugo, using his grey-cells, thinks his way through various situations while setting Johnny to work on the less delicate matters of handling the crooked underworld elements. Johnny is constantly battered and poked and prodded by guns and fists alike in his endeavor to uncloak the mastermind behind Adele’s murder.
But, when a clue appears, Hugo departs for New York City, to chase down the whereabouts of the Italian. Following various leads, he finally opens the door of that man’s home to find a body, tethered to a bed, in a drug-induced state….
Meanwhile, back in England, Johnny is cracking the other side of this racket. A night club owner and his moll (Adele’s brother’s wife!) have plans of their own, and rubbing out Johnny might just be one of them….
The whole matter is wrapped up days later when the police, with Johnny’s aid, arrest all local parties and Hugo, with the finishing touches, enters the offices with…Adele Manners! Turns out the first Adele was a fraud, established purely to obtain the inheritance for the Italian party and his confederates. However, his mission went awry when she was shot and killed by accident. The bullet was meant for her brother, whom was on the scene before anyone else. He didn’t want the brother talking to his faux-sister, since he would eventually learn of the deceit. So, he took a shot at the brother and accidentally murdered the false lady. The real Adele had been hooked up by him on drugs and there (in America) the switch was effected.
Now with the real Adele free, though not clean yet of her daily drug-induced cocktails, she will be able to seek proper claim to her inheritance.
In the closing scenes, Johnny asks, why did the faux-Adele request Hugo’s attentions? Hugo laughs this off, as he simply doesn’t have the answer to everything, and there the novel concludes, leaving us with that one last question….