There is touch of Ross Macdonald in this first book but I'm guessing it's mere coincidence since only The Moving Target had been published by 1949. That Spicer chose to include one of the typical wealthy and morally corrupt families in this book is not all coincidence but the similarities to what Macdonald would soon be known for are. The Prentices really aren't all that bad as the story progresses but there is a creepy mother-son relationship depicted in Mrs. Prentice's devotion to her hunky son Alec. Also her daughter Alicia at first appears to be one of the many predatory females that populate private eye novels. She gets an eyeful of Wilde and wants more. So she invites herself along in Wilde's investigation by sitting in his car and refusing to leave until he starts the car and takes her with him.
I particularly liked this Chandleresque passage that comes early in the book:
I got in my car and went home for a cold bath. I lay back in the water, getting up enough interest to keep my date with Alicia. I had the courtroom stink in my nose and it didn't mix well with Alicia. The dead sourness of unwashed bodies and disinfectant and brutality and fear and the clumsy maneuvering of justice. I got out of the tub and tried to rub some of it off.
What makes Spicer's private eye different from most of the detectives of this type is that Carney Wilde is first and foremost a businessman. He's worried about his small firm and in his debut he's just learning to play the game. The entirety of Chapter 6 is devoted to his backstory in which we learn he was a member of the CID in the army who returned to work as a house detective for a department store. His former boss at that store, an astute businessman who made a killing in real estate and banking, hires Wilde as a security consultant and with that money he was able to start his own private detective firm. But the clients aren't rushing in. When they do show typically they are like Deacon Jackson, barely able to afford a day's work. But Wilde needs business and he takes what he can get. The chapter also goes into great detail outlining his work with an insurance company. It's a contact Wilde desperately needs. If he can get an insurance company as a regular client he'd have it made. He is hoping to earn some extra cash by giving testimony in a robbery case of great concern for a certain insurance company. With that money Wilde envisions buying a new car, a new office with a staff of three, and plenty more.
|UK edition, (Collins, 1950)|
What begins as a simple missing persons case soon becomes almost more than Wilde can handle. He finds himself enlisting the aid of his old army buddy who also happens to be a private detective working in New York to do some legwork and save on his commuting from Pennsylvania. He also finds himself collaborating almost against his will with Lt. Grodnick who thinks Kimball will turn up alive somewhere with a woman on the side. Wilde who has a much better understanding of human nature and without ever having met Kimball knows this is the wrong read on the preacher. Wilde will end up confronting blackmailers, an angry bigot with a sexually ravenous daughter, some talkative bartenders, and a nosey landlady before he manages to put all the pieces together and stop a killer who wants to protect a deep, dark secret.
|Bart Spicer as he appears on the|
rear DJ panel of the 1st edition