Sunday, February 27, 2011

IN BRIEF: About the Murder of a Man Afraid of Women

Like Willard Huntington Wright who created his alter ego "S. S. Van Dine" to narrate the Philo Vance novels Fulton Oursler created "Anthony Abbot," a fictitious police reporter, who documents the cases of Commissioner Thatcher Colt. Similarly, as with his primary influences of Ellery Queen and Van Dine, also present are a slew of police and assistant D.A.s who work closely together on each case. The novels are a blend of the fair play detective novel and the police procedural.  In my opinion the Thatcher Colt books were some of the best of the early police procedurals and still have a very modern feel to them. For anyone familiar with modern police work via TV crime dramas like the various "Law and Order" series reading a detective novel by Anthony Abbot won't seem very old-fashioned at all.

Peter Slade, a theatrical agent, is "afraid of women" but is ironically pursued by three – one of whom is less than half his age – who all claim to be his secret love. He is found shot wearing only a bathrobe and hanging out of his apartment window. There is a subplot about Colt running an undercover drug sting that is wrapped up in the final pages. The ending is quite a surprise and smacks of the tricks of John Dickson Carr and Agatha Christie. Had I been paying attention I would've caught on since all the clues were there.

The middle part of the book dragged on a bit with lots of interviews with minor characters. The story picks up again when one of those characters - Norma Sutton, a drug addicted, has-been actress who was in love with Slade - is found shot in her home and a drug king is found shot on the roof of her building.

This is the last of the police procedurals that are somewhat based on actual New York City criminal cases. The Thatcher Colt books are notable mostly for the discussions of police techniques and the politics of police work in an urban environment. This book is heavy on talk of fingerprinting techniques and ballistics. You learn all about the paraffin test for gunpowder residue and a myriad of technological wonders that aid in measuring bullet marks both on the bullets and inside the barrel of the guns.


  1. We're practically reading and reviewing the same books/writers, John! One of the titles I want to do for my blog next month is About the Murder of a Startled Lady, which will be my second Thatcher Colt novel.

    Anyhow, great review.

  2. Sounds really good, John. I don't think I've read any Abbot. I'm obviously going to have to correct that defect! Thanks for a great review.

  3. David Here:

    Abbot and Colt are indeed a good read. It's the Van Dine school, but Colt is a better realised character than Vance and his position of police commissioner (modeled on Teddy Roosevelt in that offcie) gives him the powers to command some impressive forces in his cases.

  4. Great Review. I only have 4 books of the 8 Anthony Abbot collection. Although I don't have this yet. I'm looking for it in every bookstore I go in to but none of them has it. Hoping to find this book once and for all. Really love murder and detective stories <3