The Finger of Death by Henry Keyworth

Henry Keyworth’s The Finger of Death was published by Kangaroo Books, owned and operated by David Lynn (aka: David McClelland, formerly of New Zealand) around 1944. The story text begins on page 3 and ends on 72.

The rear cover advertises Frippery Tip, an English satire by Stephen Ellison. The library at the Oxford University received that title in 1944.

kangaroo the finger of death

Henry Keyworth is also responsible for at least four other titles.

Black Market Murders
Death in Gelley Wood
Killer by Night
Murder at the Grange

The featured cover is not held by any major British library, whereas the other four are held. My copy clearly has a cover defect. While it may appear that the left margin (nearly a full inch) was exposed to light and faded as a result, this is not the case. One may clearly see that the bold-faced words running into those discolored areas are NOT affected. An unusual printer’s defect.

The Finger of Death is dedicated to “J.Y.C.” for “successfully combining domestic and literary art.”

The story involves a room full of business investors discussing the ill-fated venture of Atlett’s Investment Company, Ltd., and the fact that most of the locals that they represent will be financially in ruin while they, themselves, are rich and have their millions in numerous business investments, so their portfolios are perfectly sound (save for one investor, who has to face the music as he also invested his family money and lost all of it).

Shortly thereafter, Sir Allan Vale receives an ominous note:

“Dear Sir Allan, The Moving Finger Writes—writes your name off the list of the living. You are a thief, unpunishable by any law but my own. Prepare to die!”

Later that night, he awoke to a noise in his bedroom, and found a man leaping towards him with a gleaming blade rushing down upon him…

That morning, Superintendent Cleveland, of Scotland Yard, is assigned to the murder and visits the business Sir Allan worked at. He learns that their investment company is bankrupt, and discovers that another person has received the same notice. Worried about the safety of each investor, he requests the personal addresses of each directorate with the intention of removing them from the city to a remote location. There, he can keep an eye on each person until the case is solved.

Sadly, good intentions and well-thought-out plans move too slowly in this novel. Another directorate is murdered in his bedroom while a policeman is on the premises acting as guard! We learn the killer leapt the outside garden wall, climbed in the window and assaulted his second victim.

And so the onslaught of murders go, one by one eliminating each directorate, until it is not the Cleveland the solves the case, but one local Detective Sergeant Rogers. With three murders already attained, and a fourth now in the isolated safe-house, Rogers quickly flees the scene, leaving many to speculate that he either is in hot pursuit of the killer, he himself is the killer, or, the killer murdered Rogers and removed his body.

Not so fast! Pages are rapidly running out and Rogers, removed from the scene, in fact has reported back to Scotland Yard and the police with the intention of requesting aid to arrest the least likely murderer of all…Superintendent Cleveland, of Scotland Yard…???

Realizing time is short, Cleveland adroitly manipulates the placement of his guards in the house and the directors and one by one quickly slays two more in mere minutes! He then quickly moves in to kill the last director, knowing full-well that Rogers must have departed to request the arrest of Cleveland. Somewhere along the line, he must have slipped-up and revealed his hand!

The police are too late to save the life of the final director, however, his overly-protective mother isn’t. Not trusting the police to protect her son, after watching and learning of each director’s death, she situates herself to watch over her son. Spotting Cleveland stealthily moving into her son’ room, she creeps behind and discovers Cleveland with an upraised blade, bloodied, preparing to kill her son. She shoots Cleveland dead.

This was a fun British pulpish pot-boiler of a thriller, with the identity of the killer adequately veiled until nearly the concluding pages.

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The Finger of Death by Henry Keyworth

Death Stills the Brush by F. W. Gumley

GUMLEY Death Stills The Brush

I won’t lie. The crudely-executed cover art drew me in… I’ve read many short stories and novels that deal with artist and murder, so expected not too much from this one.

Death Stills the Brush was written by F. W. Gumley (better known for his children’s / juvenile stories) and published by the Mitre Press, 1946. It is a small side-stapled 32-page pamphlet, typical of the war and early postwar years. Mitre Press’s fiction division flourished during the war years, but didn’t last long.

The story is fairly simple. A young lady is modeling for an artist, whom is working on a sculpture. While he is using one lady for her body, he desires the other girl for her head and face. The former is jealous and we are led to believe that she later destroys the piece while it as yet not unveiled at a museum. The guard shits a brick when he sees the defacement, realizing his career is over.

The girl’s father discovers her daughter is modeling for the artist. Turns out he despises the man, for some “past” reason. Angered, he orders the girl to desist. He personally visits the artist and threatens the man’s life.

In typical fiction-fashion, the man is found dead, murdered. Witnesses heard the threat and of course, her father is investigated.

However, there is more wrongdoing occurring behind the scenes, as a man of mystery surfaces early, claiming to an once-popular artist whom was railroaded into prison. Having lost the ability to work with his hands, he wishes to exact his own vengeance.

So, who killed the artist? The jealous girl? The other girl’s father? The imprisoned artist? Or, someone else???

Lucky for you, if you remotely care, I own a spare copy of this title….

Death Stills the Brush by F. W. Gumley

“Easy Curves” by Nick Baroni

Easy Curves by Nick Baroni was published circa 1950 by Curtis Warren Ltd.; it begins on page 3 and concludes on 128. The front cover illustration is by H. W. Perl, appearing to be one of his customary painted (colorized) photos of a model or actress. Sadly, my copy is in complete ruin: the front cover is severely ripped and torn. A chunk of the lower cover along the spine is missing. However, these are incredibly difficult to obtain, so I won’t complain.

CURTIS WARREN Easy Curves

The novel was one of many penned by Albert Edward Garrett (born 1917) since the 1940s, a career that spanned a few decades.

He frequently under the alias “Edgar Garrett,” this appearing first on “Headline Holiday” (John Crowther, 1944) and later resuscitated for his Western novels of the 1950s and 1960s.

For the mushroom publishers, he wrote under a slew of identified books, and no doubt, many more yet to be confirmed. Below are two examples of his crime titles:

Bart Banarto – The Big Panic – Edwin Self, circa 1953
Johnny Cello – Corruption’s Tutor – Scion, 1953

It’s not the focus of this article, however, to delve into this author’s literary career, for which there are many other sites already admirably suited, so let’s return to Easy Curves for a moment. This novel embraces all that is hard-boiled and sleaze. Loads of violence, bloodshed, tons of unscrupulous sex and rapes, etc.

Gangster boss Joey Grindle and his boys are in a tight spot straight into the novel. A rival gang has moved in and are blissfully mowing down their competition. Joey is a survivor, and while convincing a couple of his boys to give up and head out front, he blasts his way out the back and escapes. Joey captures a rival gangster and beats the hell out of him to learn who squealed. When he learns that his younger brother’s “steady” spilled the beans, he busts in his brother and the girl. Relating the misadventures and the extinction of the Grindle gang, his brother is nonplussed and quickly angered to find that his girl sold them out. Trying to worm her way out of death, she attempts to seduce Joey, during an act of misinterpreting him. He catapults her into another world with a single shot through the heart.

Brothers Joey and Eddie take it on the lam and lay low for several weeks. Instructing Eddie to avoid female attachments in future, they hook up with one-night-stands to sate their urges. Joey, however, becomes infatuated with a girl that gives him the works and dumps him the next day. He doesn’t mind doing that to any girl, but no girl is gonna give him the one-night treatment. Possessed, he stalks her, but lands one of her friends, instead. They hook up and while on a drive to a cottage, they are intercepted by her aged wealthy husband and his hired hoodlums. They beat the living tar out of Joey and leave him for dead on a tombstone with a cement angel looking down on him, wings spread.

Something in him has cracked, severely. Mentally unstable, he is tended by a mob doctor and nursed back to health. But he doesn’t wait long to drag Eddie and some fresh cohorts into an assignment to kill everyone at the mansion that beat him to death. The doll-baby is happy that they are all dead and she is free. Convincing her to stay away from him until the news dies down, she plays her part admirably to the newshounds and law.

Time passes, they hook up, take a drive, and another group of hoods pull them over. Beaten severely and captured, he awakens to find his girlfriend on a bed and raped by a man he let take the rap for him years earlier. He had escaped prison and was hunting Joey the entire time. Having located Joey earlier in the novel, he followed him to the mansion and realized there was the opportunity for a monetary rake-off, a la bribery. He convinces an apish ogre to join his ranks, and others. After raping the girl, the ape is given his turn. Rapidly unhinging, Joey struggles free, grabs a gun, and shoots her dead. The ape dims is lights quickly.

He reawakens in a basement, bound and chained to a wall, battered and beaten to death. His brother and help break him out, but it’s clear to all present that his mental stability is rapidly waning. He’s dangerously close to losing touch with reality.

Fearing that everyone is out to get him, Joey begins a one-man war against his own gang, thinking that they are taking over the gang. He kills everyone, often mistaking his guards as long-dead rival gang members. In the final scene, he has it out with his brother Eddie, and top lieutenant, whom he is certain intends to take over the gang. Eddie, realizing that Joey is indeed too far gone, pulls his gun. The lieutenant pulls his and shoots the gun out of Eddie’s hand (he’s still loyal after all) and Joey shoots him.

Joey, not wounded, last man standing, gloats, and while Eddie is slowly bleeding out to death, the lieutenant, shot himself a couple fatal times, shoot Joey dead, realizing many innocent parties will continue to die if he doesn’t. He is the last to eventually die in that office, with the final thought that none of this should ever have happened….

 

“Easy Curves” by Nick Baroni