Last year, I read and reviewed the Stark House reprint of Kermit Jaediker’s “Hero’s Lust.” I loved the book so much I moved heaven and earth to buy an expensive used copy of his only other novel, “Tall Dark and Dead.” Just my luck, Stark House has released this rare and collectible book as part of another Lion Books three-pack along with “The Savage Chase” by Frederick Lorenz and “Run the Wild River” by D.L. Champion. The new edition also features a fascinating interview with Lion Books editor and author, Arnold Hano
“Tall Dark and Dead” began life as a hardcover mystery published in 1947 when Jaediker was moonlighting from his newspaper reporter job into more creative pursuits, including comic books and crime novels. In 1951 when paperbacks were the hot new entertainment product, Lion Books reprinted the short mystery with a salacious painted cover by illustrator Robert Maguire that has been restored for the Stark House trade paperback 68 years later.
Lou Lait is a Hollywood private investigator who is engaged by a wealthy woman to recover (i.e. steal) four letters locked in a man’s safe. You see, her husband was a WW2 fighter pilot who went missing in action and was presumed dead. She began seeing another man - a local society columnist - and wrote him some romantic letters. Of course, her husband resurfaces and comes home to resume life with his bride. The ex-boyfriend doesn’t want to let go, and begins extorting money from the woman with her letters as his proof of the accidental infidelity. If Lait can just swipe the letters from the ex-boyfriend’s safe, problem solved.
Luckily for Lou (and the reader), he’s pals with an expert safecracker whose always willing to take on a job like this for an extra buck or two. However, while in the apartment for the burglary, Lou finds the lifeless body of the blackmailer with a knife stuck in his back. Lou has no legit reason to be in the apartment with his safecracker friend, and his client is an obvious suspect. Thereafter, it’s up to Lou to solve the murder.
“Tall Dark and Dead” is a good, if largely unremarkable, 1940s private eye mystery. It’s better than some and not as good as others. It’s certainly nowhere near as great as Jaediker’s 1953 masterpiece, “Hero’s Lust.” I feel the paperback original crime novels of the 1950s were way edgier and more interesting than 1940s output. If you’re looking for a fundamentally solid private eye story, give this one a shot. I’m certainly going to tackle the other novels in the new three-book collection because I have faith in the quality of Lion Books and, by extension, Stark House.
Buy a copy of this book HERE