Iconic American author Louis L'Amour is prominently associated with his western legacy. His short-stories and novels delighted western fans for decades. While known for his sweeping frontier sagas, L'Amour also wrote a number of novellas and short-stories for the pulps, including “Hills of Homicide”, which originally appeared in Detective Tales in May, 1949. A pulp themed short-story collection was released in 1983, entitled “Hills of Homicide”, which featured this story along with L'Amour's “I Hate to Tell his Widow”, “Collect from a Corpse”, “Stay Out of my Nightmare!” and “Street of Lost Corpses”.
The story begins with a private investigator arriving in the desert town of Ranagat. Written in the first-person, the premise unfolds in a verbal exchange with a cab driver. A man named Bitner has been murdered in his cliff-side cabin. The main suspects are Johnny Holben, a feuding neighbor from the bottom of the ridge, Bitner's girlfriend Karen and a rowdy gambler named Blacky Caronna, who had been fighting with Bitner recently.
The two interesting aspects to the case: 1) Bitner's house sits on it's cliff-side retreat completely free of any paths or roads aside from the one that passes directly by the Holben place. 2) Our main character, the investigator, has been hired by Blacky Caronna to find evidence that proves he is innocent. But, as the story evolves, all signs point to Caronna as being the prime suspect. Surely the killer wouldn't hire a private investigator for a murder he committed, right?
L'Amour's whodunit is 53 pages of standard 80s paperback. While novella length, it feels like a full-length novel. It's procedural, featuring an alliance with the town sheriff, and of course includes the obligatory fist-fight, well-scripted in the L'Amour boxing style. In some ways it's the locked room mystery with a handful of possible killers. The surprise is unveiled three-fourths in, delivering a quality payout for what is ultimately an entertaining read.
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