“Wake Up Dead” is a 1974 private-eye novel by a shadowy and unfamiliar author named William Wall. A thorough search online failed to reveal any other known works. Locating the author's identity is a conundrum considering the book's publisher is equally as opaque. The paperback was issued by Papillon Books, copyright Aware Press, Inc., a 70s publishing house that dabbled in a handful of genre related titles like “Mr. Tomorrow,” a post-apocalyptic work by soft-core erotica author Con Sellers. Further, the publisher recycled the “Wake Up Dead” cover from a 1970 Belmont paperback entitled “Logan” by Alan Joseph. It's a bold move considering the paperback cover art fails to match any of the novel's actual content.
The book's protagonist is private investigator Tony Boyle, an apathetic sleuth with a declining business. Accustomed to his wealthy, affluent lifestyle, Boyle is yearning for business to pick up when in walks Marsha Vickers, a stunningly beautiful woman seeking to retain Boyle's services. Her wealthy Uncle Johnny, beneficiary of a lucrative trust fund, has been missing for several days. Concerned for his safety, she engages Boyle to find Uncle Johnny.
After a day of inquiries, Boyle learns that Marsha has received a ransom call from Uncle Johnny's kidnapper. The price is $25K for his safe return. Marsha must consult the trustee to obtain the ransom money. During this exchange we learn that Uncle Johnny only receives $1,500 per month, a rather paltry stipend considering the vast fortune in the trust. Once the money is placed at the drop site, Uncle Johnny is released. As Boyle starts to question the circumstances surrounding the kidnapping, there’s evidence to suggest maybe the whole thing was a scam.
There's an enormous plot twist regarding Uncle Johnny, the $25K and the kidnapper, but It would be cruel to spoil your surprise here. Suffice to say that Boyle's assignment isn't finished once Uncle Johnny is returned. Instead, the book's second half is centered around Boyle's investigation of Uncle Johnny's day-to-day life to provide greater clarity and answers.
Like all good crime stories, there are gambling debts, an enforcer and pages upon pages of clues for the determined reader to work through before the solution is revealed. The punch-line wasn't overly original, but it was probably entertaining enough to satisfy fans of Carter Brown's whodunits. If that’s the caliber of mystery you enjoy, you may like “Wake Up Dead.” If you demand more from your crime fiction, you can safely skip this largely derivative effort.
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