Jonathan Craig (real name: Frank Smith) was an excellent crime fiction novelist of the 1950s and 1960s who really deserves to be remembered today. His 'Sixth Precinct' police procedural mysteries were his best known books, but he also left behind an impressive array of stand-alone novels as well. In 1952, Falcon Books published a Jonathan Craig book called “Junkie” marketed to leverage the public hysteria over drugs and jazz. The novel was reprinted in 1962 by Lancer Books is “Frenzy,” and remains available today as an affordable ebook.
Steve Harper is a Washington, DC jazz trumpeter whose mentor and best friend Hal has been murdered by strangulation in his own apartment. Here’s the catch: before the police found Hal’s body, someone identifying themselves as Kathy Mason called the cops and said she’d killed Hal and was going to kill herself. The problem is that Kathy is Steve’s steady girlfriend. Now Kathy is missing and the cops want Steve’s help in finding her. Is she even alive? And if so, is she a murderer?
The possibility that Kathy killed Hal can’t be dismissed out of hand because she is a recovering drug addict. I’m talking about Smack, Junk, Horse, The Big H, also known as the plague of the jazz scene: Heroin. Steve thought she was off the junk for the three months they’ve been dating, but the evidence is pointing towards her continued usage and the possible murder of Hal.
“Junkie/Frenzy” is deceptively packaged as a salacious look behind the curtain of the seedy world of drug addicts when it’s actually a pretty straightforward murder mystery by an outstanding crime fiction author. The plot moves along quickly, and the characters are well-developed and three dimensional. The author explores the male instinct to rescue beautiful, damaged girls, and it’s easy to have empathy when Steve’s white knight complex is on full display.
There are some decent twists and turns along the way, and the author keeps the action and revelations flowing nicely throughout the short paperback. The mystery itself has a satisfying conclusion, and while this isn’t Jonathan Craig’s masterpiece, it’s certainly another one in his win column.
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