Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The Case of the One-Penny Orange: E. V. Cunningham

There are seven mystery novels starring Masao Masuto, a detective on the Beverly Hills police force. The mysteries were  written by Howard Fast, using the pseudonym E. V. Cunningham.The first was The Case of the Angry Actress (1967, originally published as Samantha). I enjoyed the first book in the series mostly because of the setting (Southern California), the time period it was written in, and the political and social commentary. 

This is part of the description from the dust jacket of the 1977 Holt, Rinehart, Winston first edition. I found this at a site dedicated to Howard Fast's books:
Here, in this first of a series, Masao is called in to check a ransacked house from which nothing has been taken. The same day a noted stamp dealer is found murdered in his office, and his assistant is beaten to death that night. Although Masao's chief rages about the transatlantic phone calls Masao demands and no one can fathom the tack he's taking, he quietly begins a search for a little square of reddish-orange paper, imperforate – an 1847 postage stamp from the island of Mauritius, now worth close to half a million dollars. It is one of the rarest, most famous stamps in the world. 
I was much more impressed with this book than I was with the first in the series. This book had a lot to offer in both characterization and plot. I especially liked Masao Masuto and his fellow policeman. His boss is a cranky supervisor, full of stress, but he and Masuto have a good working relationship. The same goes for Masuto's partner, Detective Sy Beckman. He is more that willing to slog through many back issues of a magazine at the library for a picture that Masuto wants or to make overseas calls for him. 

Matsuo is Nisei, a native-born American who parents were Japanese immigrants. At one point I thought that Masuto's detecting skills were a bit too intuitive, but there was a twist towards the end that corrected that impression. He is a tenacious, tireless, and dedicated policeman. He also has a family and tends a garden full of roses. I don't know how much knowledge the author had of the Japanese experience in California, but he and Masuto shared a religion. Matsuo is a Zen Buddhist and his religion shapes his way of looking at things and his behavior in his work.

I liked the picture of the Los Angeles area in the 1970's. Because of the geographical layout of Los Angeles and surrounding cities, there is a lot of overlap between police departments in different communities, at least in 1977 when this book was published. Thus Matsuo ends up looking into multiple murders which are outside of his jurisdiction and cooperating with different police departments.

I thought this was a very entertaining and fast-paced book, with some interesting characters, and a lot of other interesting information. I enjoyed learning some facts about rare stamps and stamp collecting while reading this book

For more information on the author see my review of The Case of the Angry ActressAlso see this article at Mystery*File with information on the books written by Howard Fast as E. V. Cunningham.

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Publisher:   Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1982. Orig. pub. 1977.
Length:      159 pages
Format:      Paperback
Series:       Masao Masuto, #2
Setting:      Los Angeles, California
Genre:       Police Procedural
Source:      I purchased my copy.



14 comments:

  1. Interesting indeed to have a book set in LA in that time period. And I notice that it had 159 pages. Books have certainly gotten longer over the years, right? I wonder about that sometimes.

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    1. I was surprised at the length, Kay. I do like shorter books usually, and that may be why I like older mysteries.

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  2. You know, Tracy, I've meant to try that series for a while now, and simply haven't (yet) done it. I'm very glad you enjoyed this one, and I'm glad you reminded me of the series.

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    1. I think you would enjoy it, Margot. A very interesting picture of LA at the time.

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  3. I found this series uneven. But THE CASE OF THE ONE-PENNY ORANGE is one of the best. I've enjoyed other books by Howard Fast, too.

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    1. Reading this book has convinced me I should read one of the novels he wrote as Howard Fast, George. Maybe I did when I was much younger, but don't remember them now.

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  4. I'd always thought "Howard Fast" was the nom de plume for E.V. Cunningham! I've just downloaded The Case of the Poisoned Eclairs to read for next Friday. Your enticing review is responsible, Tracy, for nudging me back to a writer I'd completely forgotten. (btw, you FFB link didn't take. I've notified Patti)

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    1. I do hope you enjoy the The Case of the Poisoned Eclairs, Mathew. The only one I have on my shelves now is The Case of the Murdered Mackenzie, and it is the last one in the series. But it has a fantastic cover.

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  5. Yes, terrific review, Tracy. I'm going to read this one. I've never heard of either Howard Fast or E.V. Cunningham (or at least, I don't think I have) so thanks for the intro. I am intrigued by this particular plotline and also by the character. I don't think I've ever read a book featuring a Japanese American detective. So this will be another 'first.'

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    1. I do hope you like the novel, Yvette. I don't know of any Japanese American detectives either. And a short book that gets to the point. Although there was a lot going on and it surprised me that it was only 159 pages.

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  6. I was aware of Howard Fast and his works, but didn't know about this separate identity and books - this certainly sounds worth a look, particularly (as we are all saying) because nice and short!

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    1. This series, and possibly others written by Howard Fast as E.V. Cunningham, are definitely worth a try, Moira. There are other mysteries he wrote where each book's title was a woman's first name, and I hope to try one or two of those someday.

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  7. This does sound cover and I do like the cover. If only I didn't have too much to read already...

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    1. I know the problem, Col. I don't want to buy anything new for a while, I am just keeping a list of interesting books for future reference.

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