Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Murder with Pictures: George Harmon Coxe

This is the first book I have read by George Harmon Coxe. I was interested in his books because two of his series protagonists are photographers. He wrote the Kent Murdock series consisting of 23 books, and a shorter series starring "Flashgun" Casey, a crime photographer.

This is the brief review at Kirkus, from 1935:
A cameraman on a Boston paper acquires a persistent girl, plenty of excitement and action and a much-desired divorce, as a result of his work in the solution of a complicated crime. Top notcher.
Kent Murdock is a newspaper photographer, with a gift for sleuthing. Murder with Pictures was the first book in the series, published in 1935. As the story opens, Nate Girard has been acquitted of a murder charge. Many people, including the police, still think Girard was guilty of the crime. Kent Murdock gets some photos of Girard and his lawyer, Mark Redfield, leaving the courthouse. That evening, Murdock attends a party at Redfield's apartment, conveniently in the same building that Murdock lives in.

There are two women at the party that interest Murdock: his estranged wife, Hester, who refuses to give him a divorce and is seeing Nate Girard, and a beautiful but standoffish blonde in a blue dress.

A description of the blonde that has Murdock interested:
As he approached he saw that he had been right about her hair. Ash-blond, it escaped being straight by the merest trace of a natural wave. It was pulled back, hiding two-thirds of the ears, so that he was not sure whether it was long or just a long bob. The pale-blue dress looked soft and heavy and shiny.  There was a little jacket which reminded him of a vest without buttons.
Murdock tries to start up a conversation but is rebuffed. He leaves the party early and asks his estranged wife to go with him to his apartment to discuss a divorce.  That doesn't go well.

Shortly after that, the young woman in the blue dress runs into Murdock's apartment while he is taking a shower, and desperately jumps into the shower with him. Then a couple of policemen pursue her into the apartment, but Murdock does not let on that she is in there with him. So now we have a beautiful young woman in the shower with a nude man. He convinces the police that he knows nothing about the woman that they are pursuing, gets out of the shower and answers some questions, dresses, and leaves the apartment with the police.

What a great beginning to a story! Murdock gets involved with the investigation because he has connections with the police, and because he has a soft spot for the blonde, regardless of his first impression at the party.

In some ways I would compare this story to the Mike Shayne books with lots of action, good pacing, and lots of beautiful women. (Keeping in mind that I have only read two books by Brett Halliday.) The differences I see are that we get to know several of the key characters in this story much better and share their inner thoughts about the situation and their lives.

I have two more books in this series to read and one standalone. I will also be looking for The Jade Venus which deals with the effort to recover art treasures during World War II.

This book is covered in more detail at The Passing Tramp.


Publisher:   Harper & Row, 1981 (orig. publ. 1935)
Length:       269 pages
Format:       Paperback
Series:        Kent Murdock #1
Setting:       US
Genre:        Mystery
Source:       Purchased at the Planned Parenthood book sale, 2015.


Rick Robinson said...

I've read none of the Murdock books, but I have read several of the Flashgun Casey books, including Flash-Casey Detective, a short story collection. My review is here:

Margot Kinberg said...

I really like the idea of a photographer as sleuth, Tracy. It makes sense, and there aren't many examples out there. It sounds like this one also has an interesting plot and solid characters, too. Glad you liked it.

TracyK said...

Thanks for sharing that link, Rick. I read your review and it sounds really appealing. I have heard that some readers like the Flashgun Casey novels better than the Kent Murdock series. I will seek out this short story book, especially because I like longer short stories. And also one of the novels.

TracyK said...

I did enjoy it, Margot. It does make sense, as the photographer can get a picture of evidence or a clue. And I forgot to mention that we also watched a film adaptation. Oh well.

Clothes in Books said...

I have one of this series - I bought it in the Mysterious Bookshop in New York last year. It seemed ideal for my blog, featuring fashion photography, but haven't got round to it yet. I will get there!

TracyK said...

I remember that, Moira. That books sounds perfect for you and I hope you like it. (And blog about it.)

Mathew Paust said...

Reminds me of Kolchak: The Night Stalker without the supernatural, Tracy, altho a beautiful blonde jumping into a shower with the protagonist comes mighty close.

TracyK said...

That is funny, Mathew. And that is a good comparison. Although Kent Murdock is a bit more serious overall.

col2910 said...

Ditto Margot. I don't think I have encountered a photographer as a main character in a mystery or crime novel. Probably might be better for me if it was more contemporary though.

TracyK said...

It is unusual, Col, and especially in a longer series. The Flashgun Casey novels were supposed to be grittier, more hard-boiled but I have not tried one of those yet.