Monday, November 20, 2023

Little Sister

Robert Martin (1908-1976) wrote a fair amount of crime and mystery paperbacks under his own name as well as the pseudonym Lee Roberts. Little Sister was a 1952 stand-alone Fawcett Gold Medal hardboiled private-eye paperback that has been reborn as a Black Gat reprint, including an insightful introduction by Bill Pronzini.

Our narrator is Private Detective Andrew Brice, and he is summoned to a new client meeting at a large estate. His client is a wealthy, attractive woman named Miss Vivian Prosper who has just gone through a financially-advantageous divorce. Vivian shares the lakefront mansion with her little sister, Linda — and since the novel is called Little Sister, you probably saw that coming.

Little Sister Linda is a 17 year-old whiskey-swilling hellion, and she stands to inherit a pile of money from a trust fund soon when she reaches 18. Linda intends to marry a 30 year-old gas station attendant, and Big Sister Vivian wants PI Brice to break up the romance because the loser boyfriend is clearly just trying to get his claws on the trust fund cash.

All of this is conveyed in the Chapter One meeting between Brice and Vivian. The reader sees where this is going, and then Little Sister Linda arrives home in her convertible, drunk-as-a-skunk with a dead body in the trunk. And THAT’S how you start a private eye paperback.

As a licensed professional, Brice is duty bound to report the corpse in the trunk to the police, but sexy Vivian has other ideas. Could the prospect of getting laid with the seductive divorcee possibly convince our PI to dispose of the body with no police involvement? That’s the kind of thing that could turn a hardboiled private eye mystery into a femme fatale crime noir paperback.

You’ll need to read the book to find out how Brice handles this and other dilemmas he confronts throughout this lean paperback. The plot eventually settles into a pretty standard PI mystery with Brice interviewing one witness after another until the situation becomes both more clear and more messy as red herrings arise. It’s all well-written with a sexy undercurrent thanks to the seductive sisters at the eye of the storm and the fact that every female interviewee throws themselves at Brice.

The climactic conclusion is a scene where the villain, now revealed, explains the motivation and execution of the murder in painstaking detail while holding a gun on Brice. It’s an overused trope in mystery fiction, but well-executed in this case.

And that’s the thing with Little Sister. This paperback breaks zero new ground for a private eye mystery of the 1950s. However, if you’re in the mood for a completely traditional and readable genre paperback, you could do a lot worse. It’s about as good as a better-than-average Mike Shayne novel. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

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