Police Detective Lt. Terence Marshall, of the Los Angeles Police Department, is home with his wife, Leona, feeding their new baby, while she asks about his day. Nothing interesting, he tells her. One dead drifter, though, shot dead in a very cheap hotel. A couple of odd things, though. He had $300 on him that wasn’t stolen, and an unusual rosary, with what seems to be the wrong number of beads.
It’s a puzzle.
It’s a bigger, more important puzzle, when they discover the dead man also has the private phone number of Hilary Foulkes, heir and literary executor of the late giant of science fiction, Fowler Foulkes, author the adventures of Dr. Derringer. Derringer has outlived Fowler, or would, if not for the fact that Hilary Foulkes charges extremely high fees for any use of Derringer’s name, image, or adventures. He’s killed many literary projects, original adventures, quotes of memorable lines as chapter headers, even audio records for the National Library for the Blind. A lot of people really hate Hilary Foulkes.
And Hilary Foulkes reports that he has been getting threats and has experienced actual attempts on his life — so far not successful or even very impressive, but still, attempts on his life.
Soon Marshall is investigating a locked-room attempted murder, questioning a selection of potential suspects from the Mañana Literary Society, the informal social circle of the science fiction writers living in and around Los Angeles at the time. For dedicated science fiction fans, this adds some extra fun, because these writers are mostly thinly disguised major sf writers of the period. However, if you’re only here for the mystery, you won’t notice, and it won’t distract from the story. This is a solid mystery, well plotted, and the characters, sf writers or not, are developed and interesting.
One of the suspects is a friend of Marshall’s; one very helpful amateur detective is Sister Ursula of the Order of St. Mary of Bethany, who has a keen, observant mind, and useful background knowledge about the strange rosary, which turns out to be quite relevant. With the story not only set in 1942, but written then, one could be concerned about the women characters. However, Boucher doesn’t fall into the trap of much of both the sf and mystery fiction of the period. The women are described physically as you’d expect, tall and bosomy, but they’re smart and capable, though they don’t always make it obvious.
I thoroughly enjoyed this. Recommended.
(Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1942)