The Man Who Murdered Himself (1936) - Geoffrey Homes
Bishop's first case is an involved tale of multiple missing persons that leads to the discovery of multiple dead bodies. His employer, Oscar Morgan, runs a private detective agency that specializes in missing persons and Morgan selects the most financially rewarding cases by scanning the local newspapers and keeping a eye out for life insurance policies with large pay outs. At the start of the story Morgan proposes to Bishop that they go after the missing brother of a recent apparent murder victim.
Allen Hastings, an unemployed pilot is found drowned in a reservoir. He has also been shot in the abdomen. Broken chair and bloodstained walls in his kitchen indicate a struggle there. A .32 caliber bullet is pulled out of the living room wall. Smart aleck and lazy cops assigned to the Hastings murder find a way to manipulate the coroner's inquest jury to return a verdict of suicide. The newspapers rage at the cops. Next day, in retaliation for the absurdity of the inquest findings the papers are calling Hastings "The Man Who Murdered Himself."
Homes depicts the police in this book as lazy, irresponsible dullards. They simply don't want to do any investigating. If the case has even the slightest appearance of an accident or suicide they'll do their best to monkey with the evidence to close the case so that it is never treated as a murder. It is Bishop and a fellow reporter, Guy Bentley, who do all the real work. There are several scenes where the reporters badger the police, show them up at their own game, reveal that they have more evidence than the police (they usually hit the crime scenes first and steal the evidence), and pretty much make the police look like a bunch of fools. Bentley even boasts that he found one of the missing people in the morgue. The chief of police shoots him down by saying "You found Raymond Harris in the morgue" (an alias for the true identity of the dead body). Splitting hairs, to be sure, and a feeble attempt by the police to save face.
Homes has a laconic style, serves up a fast paced action based story, and is most adept at creating dialog that sings with realism and wit. The story gets very involved and hints at the convoluted noir masterpiece that would be his final novel Build My Gallows High, later turned into a classic film noir Out of the Past. The plot machinations involving two different life insurance policies are almost unnecessary because in the end they are nothing but red herrings. The solution and the identity of the killer do come as a big surprise but we learn everything second hand in a lengthy monologue from Bishop who tells of his findings to Bentley and Mary, the secretary at Morgan & company.
Robin Bishop detective novels
(Books reviewed elsewhere on this blog have colored links)
The Man Who Murdered Himself (1936)
The Doctor Died at Dusk (1936)
The Man Who Didn't Exist (1937)
The Man Who Murdered Goliath (1938)
Then There Were Three (1938)
(This last novel introduces Humphrey Campbell,
a milk drinking private eye who replaced Bishop
as Homes' series character.)