Former World War 2 paratrooper Charles E. Fritch (1927-2012) was mostly known as an author of science fiction short stories, but he also served as editor of “Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine” from 1979 to 1985. He wrote a couple crime novels under the pseudonyms of Eric Thomas and Christopher Sly, and half of an Ace double from 1959 titled “Negative of a Nude” under his own name.
Mark Wonder, our narrator, is a Los Angeles private eye taking pictures of a philandering husband on the beach with a younger woman. He meets a hot redhead named Cherry, who turns out to be an off-duty stripper, and takes her back to his place. Just as Mark is about to get lucky with the babe, a crazy sequence of events occurs (no spoilers, here), and Mark finds himself without the girl or the film from his camera bag.
Meanwhile, Mark has another photographic-related mystery to solve. A new client is being blackmailed by someone threatening to release nudie pics of the client’s wife. The client wants the Mark to identify the blackmailer and recover the negatives before the wife’s private parts become a public record.
Of course, the mysterious photographic happenings evolve into a murder mystery with a wrongfully-accused man needing to clear his name. Mark is a very enjoyable, wise-cracking private eye to join for 140 pages, and the novel is sexy, breezy, enjoyable fun. There were a few to many characters to keep track of, but mostly I enjoyed the heck out of “Negative of a Nude” and want to read more of Fritch’s work.
Author James Reasoner worked with Charles Fritch when Reasoner was a regular contributor to Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine. Reasoner recalls, “Sam Merwin Jr. was the editor when I broke in there, followed by Larry Shaw, who came and went so fast I never had any contact with him, then Chuck [Fritch] for the rest of the magazine's run. Chuck was Sam's assistant when I started and I assume was still there for Shaw's brief tenure before taking over himself. Wonderful, wonderful guy. He got out of editing after MSMM folded and wound up working at the California DMV for many years. I reconnected with him on-line the last couple of years of his life and was glad I did. He also wrote short stories under the name Chester H. Carlfi, an anagram of his real name.”
“Negative of a Nude” has slipped into the public domain and reprints are available in hardcover or paperback from Fiction House Press, a company that really should be sending Paperback Warrior free review copies of their excellent output.
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