Way back in 2019 I posted a blog entry on the Crime and Passion Series. As a refresher course on publisher history, etc., please click on the highlighted series name above or, click on the series name in the sidebar…
Search the Lady by Henri Duval (in this case the alias of N. Wesley Firth) was published 1946 by the Curzon Publishing Company. It ran 32 pages, tiny font, averaging 18,000 words. This title was printed twice, the first time priced at 9d, then at 6d. My copy is the second edition, released circa 1948.
The cover art is by noted artist S. R. Boldero (Stephen Richard Boldero) many years before he would become known for his cover art appearing on paperbacks in the mid-1950s through early 1970s. By this time, he was aged 48 years! What in the world was the doing before this? Is this one of his first cover paintings? His 1940s output is not even recorded on the Bear Alley blog site; this piece debuted nearly a decade before Holland’s earliest noted Boldero work. The FictionMags Index site records two internal magazine illustrations, each in 1949.
Unlike several other titles in the Crime and Passion Series, this one carries a blurb:
Vice and crime rule Britain’s Metropolis. This is the stark theme of this sensationally topical novel. So extreme, violent and ruthless do the vice lords become, that four public spirited young men decide that third degree methods must be used to break up the gangs. In order to “make the canaries sing,” they are prepared to flog the truth out of the molls and crooks who seek to terrorise the greatest city in the world. Here indeed is a really tough novel.
I can hear your big question now: does the novelette stand up to the blurb? Hmm…not hardly. Bear in mind that England was under strict censorship laws. They could infer a lot, but there were lines that authors and publishers alike simply could not cross. That’s not to say they didn’t dare do so and face fines and imprisonment for doing just that.
In Search the Lady, four friends meet at the Trades Club off the Mall after a series of intelligent robberies and murders come off without a hitch. With Pavlovian accuracy, the police all respond to the shrill whistle or beat of the bobby sticks, etc., and abandon their stations to attend or cordon off a crime-zone. This leaves other areas open to victimization. And victimize those other locales the crime boss does!
The friends include:
Chief Inspector Arthur Manning, of Scotland Yard
Stein, a wealthy magnate
Graham, a doctor
Jarrold (occupation unclear)
Jarrold actually is the one to suggest third degree, but Manning is initially all against the American practice of torturing criminals. Remarkably, Manning pulls a 180 and declares “The only way to fight murder and torture is with murder and torture.” What happened to not following the America’s brutal practices? Guess that was tossed out the window.
With Manning’s direct access to knowledge at The Yard, they soon obtain bearded and mustached disguises and tail a criminal from a recent heist. Capturing him, they toss him in Stein’s secluded cellar and threaten him. The crook is nicknamed Pinch Scrubbs (seriously?) and calls their bluff…or so he believes. Manning orders the boys to throw petrol on Scrubbs’ foot, lights a match, and the roast begins! Scrubbs screams as his foot catches fire and completely caves. He doesn’t know any names, save that he received orders from a man named Flannery, and a girl operating under the name of Linda Denvers.
Flannery can’t be found, but Linda Denvers can. Her residence is known by Scrubbs, as he was to later meet up with her and obtain his share of the profits.
Manning decides that he himself shall keep that appointment. Again putting on the absurd disguise, he ventures out and knocks at the all-ladies quarters. The landlady refuses to admit him, but he convinces her that he is Denvers’ brother. She relents, hesitantly, only because the girl had in fact noted she was expecting her brother. Against her own house rules, she admits the man. Knocking, the door opens and Manning is greeted by the young beauty found on the front cover of Search the Lady.
And believe me, he wants to, er…”search the lady.”
Excusing the nosy landlady, they parlay. Manning desires to know why the girl didn’t cry alarm. She confesses she was interested in ascertaining his true identity, and, would he possibly remove the absurd disguise which had already partially dislodged before her own eyes. Readjusting the beard, he grills her concerning the crimes. She disavows all, stating she is not a criminal, nor responsible for the murders. Finally, Manning convinces her to leave the premises with him to be grilled further and doing so, he is coshed over the head and left outside in the garden.
Coming to, he is miffed to find the girl gone, and confused as to how anyone knew he was meeting her. Did she somehow relay a message? The landlady, perhaps, is part of the gang?
Fast-forward, he meets his friends again, explains the lump on the noggin, the girl escaped, and they are back to nothing…except Pinch Scrubbs. They release him and then each take turns tailing him in the hopes that he will lead them to another gang member. Eventually, while drinking at a pub, he is met by another person. A meeting place is determined, and Manning hops a cab, and pays the cabbie to follow discreetly.
Deposited in an unsavory part of town, Manning briefly loses Scrubbs, but discerns a track through the woods that leads to an isolated, seemingly abandoned house. Sneaking up stealthily, he spies Scrubbs inside waiting patiently. And someone behind Manning informs him to reach for the sky. Turns out the destination was a means to trap Manning! Falling bait, he is led inside, trussed, and learns the ugly mug gunman is Flannery, an American. From this turd, he learns the big boss will be coming later to give final instructions regarding Manning’s fate, and the big boss had recently come from England to America.
A Scotland Yard man to the last, Manning slowly puts relevant fact Number One before his very eyes. Absolutely nobody outside his own crew knew that they were tailing Scrubbs. Fact Number Two, he now knows the boss has been to America. Only two people within the foursome have been to America, and one of them is lying trussed-up awaiting a death sentence. Who is it? Stein? Graham? Jarrold?
Enter the young lady, Linda Denvers! She was in another room, and finally walks in. She had heard a gunshot (Scrubbs had been shot multiple times after Manning made an initial attempt at freedom; Manning used Scrubbs’ body as a shield while Flannery finished him off, accidentally). Flannery candidly explains that Manning (who is feigning unconsciousness) murdered Scrubbs, then informs her that the boss and instructed she remain in her room. She whines that she is lonely and desires his company. Thinking she is making love-moves on him, he acquiesces, knocking back a lot of alcohol and demands a smackeroo from his future gun-moll. She kisses him on the forehead and he laughingly ridicules her. She finally has to give him a real smooch. Manning wants to vomit…
Eventually Flannery slumbers from too much alcoholic consumption and…Denvers grabs a knife, severs Manning’s cords (still pretending to be “out”) and then steals a letter from inside Flannery’s coat, then retreats to her room. Shocked at being released, he notes Flannery is still snoring away. Making his way up the stairs, one board creaks so he dashes all pretense at stealth and charges the door. Knocking it open he finds her partially undressed and no letter in sight. Allowing her to dress properly, he demands the letter; she feigns no knowledge of it. Finally, after an exhaustive search of the room, he determines to “search the lady.”
Mortified, she declares no proper gentleman would dare! Thankfully, Manning mans up to the situation and states “Then it’s lucky I’m no gentleman.” Sadly, English censorship comes into play and our author adroitly dodges the bullet by following that salvo by suggesting she hand over the letter and avoid her own blushes. She reaches down and extracts the letter. Reading it, he isn’t surprised to find it unsigned. The crime boss would hardly leave such a glaring clue. We eventually learn her real name is Vivian Lane, daughter of a banker who died as a result of the violent crimes. She desired to find the mastermind and kill the person or persons involved in the death of her father.
Remarkably, while planning to leave or even wait for the eventual arrival of the crime boss, they hear stealthy footprints nearing and…Jarrold enters! How does he come to be on the scene, when Manning had left no information as to his whereabouts?
Jarrold explains that obviously he was the next point-of-contact in the chain of tailing Scrubbs, and when Manning failed to report in from his last known location, Jarrold phoned the other two friends and retraced Manning’s steps. They knew he was at the pub watching Scrubbs. There, Jarrold determined he obtained a cab, learned which cabbie he hired, re-obtained that particular cabbie, was driven out to the last known location, and eventually found that isolated track through the woods, etc.
Then, another set of footprints can now be heard making for them! Hushing up and drawing their respective guns, they await the crime lord. Only, the door opens to reveal Graham. He repeats a nearly identical story, too, beginning with Jarrold’s call to he and Stein. In telling his story, another set of steps are hard and thus enters Stein.
You get the idea…
Flannery, still snoring, is bundled into an awaiting car, and dumped in Stein’s cellar. They plan to third degree him, but in the meantime, Manning must return to Scotland Yard and face some music. His chief is greatly angered by a lack of communication and Manning’s lack of proper protocol in reporting in, performing any work, nor obtaining any clues to solve the ongoing crime-wave that hasn’t abated a single moment. Manning does not inform his superior that he has actually been working, because doing so would reveal his unorthodox methods, and likely have him both terminated and locked away.
Departing from his boss’s scorn, he returns to the cellar to find Flannery missing! Manning now is certain he knows who is at the back of the brilliant crimes. But first, he must find Flannery. Knowing the man was too intoxicated to move on his own, plus, the solid door isn’t busted, he determines it must have a spare key or was picked. Searching the premises without informing its master, he finally discovers Flannery’s corpse.
Long story short, he phones Jarrold and Graham to return to the vast estate and abandon their locations. Then, while they are enroute, he walks in on Stein who is surprised to see him. Manning explains that he has called off the other two friends from watching for the big boss to arrive at the remote location. They each arrive, want an explanation. He gives the trio one: the big boss will never appear there to deliver the fatal news to kill Manning, because, HE IS RIGHT HERE IN THE ROOM WITH THEM.
Manning explains his moves, the fact that only these 3 mates knew his moves, that Flannery disclosed the boss had been to America and points out that aside from himself, only the wealthy Stein had also been to America. Plus, via Yard access, he discovers Stein’s prints on Flannery’s letter and that Stein once had a criminal background, involved in fraudulent stock companies.
Stein laughs, reveals a Mauser, instructs each member to tie up the next person, until only Manning and Denvers remains. She ties up Manning, and then Stein trusses her. Good old English literature…just couldn’t have the heroes all riddled by bullets from Stein, could we? Nope. He opens a window, climbs out, and is surrounded immediately by members of The Yard. Refusing to give up, he is gut shot. Mortally wounded, he remains on the ground while our remaining trio and the girl are unbound.
Manning walks outside, looks down upon Stein, who is dying, and proclaims he took a bullet but dodged the hangman….
Prologue…the Assistant Commissioner congratulates Manning, decides this one time to overlook proper protocol on Manning’s part but sternly states that he is to never again abandon The Yard and her esteemed practices. Manning agrees but declares that should the matter ever arrive to this point again, he will not hesitate to employ third degree. He departs into the waiting arms of Linda Denvers (aka: Vivian Lane) and eventually they are engaged, of course…