by Mack Reynolds, © 1951
Surinam Turtle Press, 2009 trade paper edition
This is the 27th in my series of Friday Forgotten Books
At the time Mack Reynolds wrote this, his first published novel, he was struggling to decide if he wanted to write mystery or science fiction. The answer was anything that would sell, but his friend Fredric Brown convinced him to try writing a mystery and this is the result. It was published just two years after Brown’s What Mad Universe, an instant classic of science-fiction-fan-related fiction. Reynolds’ book followed suit, also becoming a classic of that sub-sub genre.
Jeb Knight is a private eye. He’s not a vey good one, and he’s had a highly publicized failure to let the cops and the citizenry of Los Angeles know how inept he is. With little money, no clients and the rent on his office due in a week or so, he’s looking at the likely end of his career as a private cop. Until three men walk in the door and say they want to hire him.
The case sounds crazy, but Jeb will take any case to get his hands on some dough and keep the wolf from the door. So he says, yes, he will investigate. He’ll try to discover, for his fee of twenty-five bucks a day plus expenses, if there are in fact aliens from another planet in L.A.
The logical place to start, say the men, who represent a local science fiction fan club, is with the science fiction fans, because they will be the ones most aware of the threat and therefore the ones the aliens would be most likely to be watching. If they are watching, they must be nearby. If they’re nearby, perhaps Jeb can find them. It makes an odd kind of sense, and there’s the money.
There is a science fiction convention starting in a few days, meanwhile Jeb goes to a meeting of the club. In an hour or so a body turns up, flattened to death. No likely method, no motive, and the cops find Jeb on the scene. When he tells them why he’s there, what he’s been hired to do, they don’t like it one bit. Then there’s another murder…
I enjoyed this easy going, tongue in cheek mystery a lot. There are plenty of inside jokes for those who might have any knowledge of the west coast SF scene of 1950, and there’s fun made of the fans, viewed by most people as nuts, and their preoccupation with rockets and aliens, writers and magazines. I could have figured out who done it if I’d tried, but I intentionally didn’t try, I just read along and enjoyed the ride. I’m glad STP has put this one back in print. See HERE on the Lulu website has the information.
~ ~ ~ ~