Everette Howard Hunt (1918-2007, better known as E. Howard Hunt) worked for the CIA as a covert officer specializing in political influence and action. Before devising his best-known plot, the infamous Watergate burglary that saw President Nixon impeached and himself imprisoned, Hunt authored nearly 40 crime-fiction and espionage novels using pseudonyms including David St. John, P.S. Donoghue, Gordon Davis, John Baxter and variations of his own name. As Robert Dietrich, Hunt wrote ten novels starring Steve Bentley, a Washington D.C. accountant who solves murders in private-eye style. The series debut, Murder on the Rocks, was originally published in 1957 and has now been reprinted as an affordable ebook by Cutting Edge.
The first thing to know about Bentley is that he isn't just a paper-pushing CPA. He's a Korean War veteran who was employed at one time by the U.S. Treasury Department. His expertise led to breaking up a number of black market rings globally. It's this reason that a client named Iris Seawall approaches Bentley in a bar. She wants Bentley to assist in locating a valuable emerald that was entrusted to her father.
Bentley's skepticism is fueled by a number of factors. For starters, Iris is married to a rough character linked to a gambling kingpin, and her father is an Ambassador in South Africa. Our hero's questions are valid – why not just use a private-eye? Iris responds that her father doesn't want anyone to know the failure he's brought to his position and feels that a private-eye may attract unwanted attention. Whether that's true or not isn't important, but it's a great way to propel an accountant into a lost treasure adventure.
Hunt uses Iris and her sister Sara as sexy bait for Bentley. Both are soon-to-be divorcees with bodies that were made for sin. However, Bentley mostly passes up the flesh buffet to seek out the treasure. When Iris's neighbor and her father's courier are both found murdered, Bentley's case becomes more complex.
Murder on the Rocks actually begins twice. First, Bentley declines Iris's proposal and the $500 that comes with finding the emerald. Second, Bentley also declines a $10,000 offer from Iris's sister Sara to find who murdered the courier. Third, Bentley declines an offer from a gambling kingpin named Vance Bodine. At one point, I was questioning whether Hunt was declining his own publisher's offer to craft a story. Eventually, the narrative is kick-started with a murder and the investigation is instigated. Murder on the Rocks features two sexy, desperate women, a stolen emerald and a determined hero. If you love vintage crime-fiction you should enjoy this tale.
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