Like his contemporaries in Harry Whittington, Gil Brewer and Talmage Powell, Day Keene (real name Gunnard R. Hjertstedt) was a successful Florida Gulf Coast writer. With over 50 published novels and dozens of short stories, the author's legacy has endured thanks to publishers like Stark House Press. While a number of Keene's literary works have been reprinted for new generations of fans and readers, there's still an abundance of the author's work that remains out of print. “Mrs. Homicide” was originally published as a 1953 Ace Double paired with William L. Stuart's “Dead Ahead”. The only other printing was a 1966 release by McFadden. Both versions are scarce, but luckily I was able to track down the original Ace paperback.
The novel's conspicuous beginning introduces Manhattan homicide detective Herman Stone. Stone is in a precinct house watching his wife Connie being questioned as a suspect in the murder of a wealthy businessman. Connie was found drunk and half-naked in the victim's apartment. She has no memory of the victim or how she arrived at his apartment. Further evidence suggests that she had sex with the victim, and there's a message on a photo frame that indicates the two were in a relationship. The cops' offer is to waive the death penalty if Connie will confess. She refuses and Stone is left in the proverbial “rock and a hard place” position.
The narrative explores Stone's investigation into the murder with hopes that he can overcome the overwhelming evidence against his wife. Once Stone hooks a racketeer kingpin named Rags Hanlon, the defense begins to take shape. Stone's probe into Hanlon's business dealings and his connections eventually leads to his suspension from the force. Alone, with no allies, Stone's efforts to free Connie becomes a fight against corruption.
Day Keene is one of the most popular authors here at Paperback Warrior for a reason. His storytelling is masterful and his characters skirt the fine line between moral and immoral. While “Mrs. Homicide” was an okay read, I didn't find it to be of the same caliber as his other works like “Joy House”, “Sleep with the Devil” or “Death House Doll”. They can't all be winners, but “Mrs. Homicide” fell a bit flat in developing an engaging story. Disappointingly, nothing really happens for two-thirds of the book. Stone's procedural (and non-procedural) investigation didn't have enough twists and turns to really propel the story.
Overall, maybe there's a reason that this novel hasn't been reprinted since 1966. You'll find better Keene novels in circulation today. "Mrs. Homicide" may only appeal to collectors or fans that just need everything.
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