During his too-brief career as a writer, Roger Torrey (1901-1946) authored 280 short stories and novellas. Most of his output was hardboiled crime published in pulp magazines including Black Mask and Dime Detective. Black Dog Books has compiled a bunch of Torrey’s best stories in a collection anchored by “Bodyguard,” a novella originally from the December 1938 issue of Private Detective magazine.
As advertised, William Dugan is a professional bodyguard. His client is a corporate CEO named Mr. Arthur B. Miles, and someone took a shot at him yesterday prompting the call to Dugan, our narrator. Mr. Miles wants Dugan to investigate the threat while keeping the entire Miles family - a wife and two adult daughters - safe. One of the daughters is a bitch, and the other is the super-cute, friendly type named Angela. She has her eye on Dugan from the moment they meet, which leads to some fun scenes.
For a bodyguard, Dugan spends more time functioning as a private detective than he does jumping in front of bullets headed for his clients. He’s a great character - funny and plenty tough without the macho posturing of Mike Hammer or Race Williams. He conducts a logical and efficient investigation focusing on a handful of suspects who may have an axe to grind with Mr. Miles and his family.
The bodies pile up pretty quickly along the 50 pages leading to a solution. One reviewer described Torrey as “Dashiell Hammett Lite,” and I think that’s a reasonable comparison. His plotting in “Bodyguard” is solid, and Torrey’s knack for vivid supporting characters shines through among the suspects, witnesses and red herrings.
“Bodyguard” was a satisfying mystery, and I’m looking forward to reading additional entries in Torrey’s body of crime fiction work. Both Black Dog Books and Pulp Fiction Book store have been culling through his stories and creating Torrey compilations that allow modern audiences to discover his work - yet another reason why it’s a good time to be alive. Recommended.
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