Lady, This is Murder (Thorndike British Favorites) - Peter Chambers

Jeannie Benson was a sweet and lovely girl who suddenly disappeared from Vale City. Six months later she was found on a mortuary slab in Monkton City. But now she was Ruby Capone, a cheap bar pick-up. Boss of the rackets, Benito, gave Mark Preston five thousand dollars to find out what had happened to Jeannie. Preston soon discovered she'd made some odd friends. When the morgue had a sudden rush of business, Preston knew there was a slab waiting for him unless he got the killer quickly.

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Originally written in 1963, Lady, This Is Murder is a classic hard-boiled style crime fiction piece that looks at the life of one woman who started out as sweet, quiet Jeannie Benson who goes missing, found six months later in a morgue as barfly / "lady of the night" Ruby Capone. It's up to private investigator Mark Preston to unravel the question mark in the middle of that story. 

 

It's a curious fact that the reactions of women who have a busted romance are as diverse as the sand-patterns on a seashore. It is also well-known that the more conventional their life has been up to that point, the more drastic their reactions seem to be.

 

Mark Preston gets a visit one day from Southern California crime boss Rudy Benito. Rudy tells him that this missing Jeannie Benson is actually his daughter, real name Gina Benito. She took up the name Jeannie Benson to distance herself from her father's questionable line of work. Seemed like she was making a good life for herself -- good job, steady boyfriend, a clean slate all around. Then she vanishes. No one can explain it. Rudy knows the heroin OD victim "Ruby Capone" is actually his Gina, but he wants Preston to investigate what happened to her without her true identity being revealed. Preston is basically given a blank check to find the truth. With expense a non-issue, he travels all over LA County interviewing "Ruby's" past friends and acquaintances, trying to uncover if it was a true accidental OD she suffered or if someone possibly wanted her dead for some reason. The deeper he gets into his investigation, the more he uncovers secrets that lead right back to LAPD and an investigation gone sour. 

 

Guns are so familiar to everybody these days, they think it hardly counts if someone merely points one at somebody else and doesn't shoot it off. That's not the way I feel about it. In my business a gun is a thing that kills people. It's not something you carry for kicks, or to point at people if you don't mean to use it. The kind of company I keep, anybody steers an iron in my direction it means the chances are at least even they're thinking of squeezing the trigger. It's bad enough in the ordinary line of work. To have some clown point one at me with no intention and for no reason except it makes him feel important, that gets to me fast. 

 

This quick crime read has many of the elements of your classic gumshoe fiction. You got your loner-ish detective full of sarcastic edge and street smarts. The dialogue is infused with a heavy dose of testosterone and Preston even strikes up an almost-friendship with a "hooker with the heart of gold" type. But what's the rule, class? That's right, snitches get stitches... so it's not long before her bad news bus arrives. And of course, wouldn't you know, there's even a bar named Sam's worked into the scenery! :-P Seems like nearly any sort of hard-boiled / crime noir story has some bar like that -- "Sam's", "Pete's", "Moe's".

 

The female characters here were kind of laughably written, but remember, this one dates back to the early 60s. Chambers seems to either make his women ooze with over-the-top sex appeal or he makes them the fragile damsel-in-distress type... or the ladies are given split-personalities that flitter between the two. Not really much of an Option D -- where a woman is just an intelligent, take-no-crap type with a good head on her shoulders. Nope, that's a unicorn in these parts lol. But like I said, I found it more laughable and entertaining than offensive. And even though there are some cliche elements to the story and there aren't too many surprises plot-wise, it's still a plenty fun read that has a nice quick pace. Though the honest surprises are few here, there are some twists with some of the character storylines near the end you can look forward to. I'd say this one is just the thing when you're looking for something well-written with just a touch of edge but not too heavy or deep. Just a good-time crime fic to escape into for an afternoon. :-)