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"Bones Don't Lie" by Melinda Leigh
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Carlander Court made his money by his own hands and the sweat of his brow. Now he's dying of cancer. Two children with whom he'd had his bouts with over the years. Susan wanted to be an actress. The old man hated that and disowned her, leaving everything to her brother Tommy.
But he's had a change of heart. Tommy was in deep to a gambling club owner and was pretty disdainful of dad and sister. The will was to be changed in Susan's favor.
Our hero, P.I. Rock Dugan, home base in Denver, had already witnessed the death of another P.I., the fellow being chased by two thugs whn he stepped in front of a cab. An envelope had been slipped into Dugan's pocket.
Dugan is brought on by Susan to look after her father, The old man in turn gives him a check for twenty grand. "If I'm killed before tomorrow, find out who did it."
Death comes during the old man's flight in a one seat glider as he makes a hard landing. A knife protrudes from his chest. The police chief, in the pay of the gambler, immediately rules it a suicide.
The thing is the knife was clean of fingerprints and the old man wore no gloves.
Dugan has to, first, figure out how Court was murdered, then who all the while dodging the crooked police chief.
A good old-fashioned hardboiled PI thriller with all the ingredients --- a tough loner private eye (Denver-based Rock Dugan, former Hollywood stunt man), crooked cops, surly hoods, shootouts and fist fights, and not just one, but two delectable dames thrown into the mix --- that have kept this enduring sub genre alive for a century and counting. And on top of all that there is what amounts to a locked room-type puzzle involving a flying corpse who manages to land (albeit somewhat roughly) a glider airplane.
Written with the energy of a young writer clearly in love with the genre and demonstrating the solid skill that would only be honed sharper and sharper in works over the coming years, this was the first novel by Stephen Mertz and it's a darn shame that more Rock Dugan mysteries didn't follow.
An entertaining Afterward by author Mertz, detailing the shenanigans of the novel's initial publisher, Manor Books, may explain part of why that didn't happen.
At any rate, SOME DIE HARD is a fine hardboiled read and I strongly recommend it.
(Oh, by the way --- the delicious-looking babe on the cover [reminiscent of the McGinnis-type covers on the old paperbacks of the '60s and '70s] doesn't hurt a darn bit, either.)
Rock Dugan, a former stuntman who gave up Hollywood for private detective work and Denver, is returning home—after tying up an employee theft investigation—from the fictional Langdon Springs, Colorado. Sitting next to Dugan on the bus ride home is a nervous man who, once they arrive at the depot, panics and bolts, stumbling into Dugan before dashing into traffic where he’s hit and killed by a taxi. The police think the man’s death is an accident, an opinion Dugan doesn’t share because the man expertly passed an envelope to him in the confusion. The envelope’s contents are for Susan Court who, with a dying millionaire father changing his will at the last minute and a no-good brother, hired the nervous man, also a P.I., to uncover a few secrets.
SOME DIE HARD is a hardboiled locked-room murder mystery—those impossible crimes where the whodunit is less important than the howdunit (and I’m not even going to tell you who the victim is). Its prose is smooth, although not as crystal as Stephen Mertz’s latest work, and the story is enjoyable and easy. Easy to read, rather than easy to guess. Dugan is likable and hardboiled. He is big-fisted, clever and carries that sacred Private Eye code. A knight-errand more concerned with justice than law.