Henry Kane (1918-1988) authored over 60 novels, some utilizing pseudonyms like Anthony McCall, Kenneth McKay and Mario Sagola. His most successful character was 'Peter Chambers', a Manhattan playboy private eye that appeared in over 30 of Kane's novels. As a new Kane reader, my first experience with his writing is the early stand-alone title “Edge of Panic”, originally released by Dell in 1951 for a quarter.
“Edge of Panic” is the stereotypical crime-noir novel that possesses a tried and true formula that heaped huge rewards for many crime novelists of the 50s and 60s. The concept? Well, it's fairly elementary. The drunken man simply wakes up with a corpse. Even prolific crime novelist Day Keene titled one of his novels after the familiar prose - “Wake Up to Murder” (1951). Depending on the author, even an over-utilized plot can still be entertaining.
The book's protagonist is Harry Martin, an ordinary family man working as a successful insurance agent in New York City. For those unfamiliar with the insurance industry, agents are typically rewarded with lavish trips and bonus awards that are sometimes saturated with alcohol depending on how high the numbers bounce off the monthly quota. Martin has prospered at Alliance Mutual and in the past enjoyed many sales conferences with Scotch and the company's vice-president Quigley. After meeting his wife Alice and becoming a father, his wild and woolly days are in the rear-view. Now it's pork chops, club soda and nights with the newspaper.
After a client's husband passes away, Quigley brings the policy and it's cash payout to Martin with an invitation to catch up over drinks. Martin's plan is to meet with a wealthy female client later that night, so he takes Quigley up on the offer. After several glasses of Scotch (a mainstay beverage in Kane's novels), Martin starts to become woozy. With endless pouring, Martin goes on a full bender before departing for his prospective client's apartment.
Soon, Martin passes out only to awaken a few hours later in the woman's apartment...and she's been bludgeoned to death! Disoriented and drunk, Martin is dismayed to find he is holding a bloody hammer. Petrified that he's committed a murder, Martin flees the scene and holes up with a friend across town. Surprisingly, the book's changes gears and places Alice into a primary role. She works against the dragnet to learn more about her husband's activities while attempting to convince the authorities of Martin's innocence.
This is a breezy crime novel that works well within the “drunk finds a corpse” niche. While not terribly original (or innovative), Kane delivers the goods in a propelling way. While never dull or lifeless, the mystery takes a few twists and turns before culminating in the inevitable reveal. Overall, a pleasing, well-told crime novel from one of the genre's most consistent writers.
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