Created by M.S. Marble
Pseudonym of Margaret Strauss
“There were only five palms in front of the Seven Palms Hotel, along with a few fairly fresh stumps.”
And JOE GAYLORD is just about tough enough to make the cut in Die By Night (1947), his sole appearance.
Don’t get me wrong — even if it was eventually reprinted as a Graphic Mystery in 1955, presented in its artwork (by Walter Popp) and back cover blurb as a hard-boiled romp, this one owes at least as much to Agatha Christie (and romance novels and possibly a few mind-altering substances) as it does to the hard-boiled school.
Sure, there are’s some snappy patter and some tough guy antics, but the set-up is pure Christie at first glance. Private investigator for Gaylord Research in San Francisco (he calls himself a “crime researcher”) is called upon to visit his wealthy, wacky Aunt Hattie in Hollywood, who runs a sort of rooming house for assorted screwballs she’s befriended. But that’s nothing compared to Olympus, the estate next door, where “girls frolick in the gauzy costumes of nymphs and goddesses” and “men cavort… in the robes of Jupiter, Mars and Pluto.”
Suffice it to say that Aunt Hattie disapproves.
Of course, everyone here — in both houses — is a “type,” drawn in sometimes very broad strokes, and everyone has a deep, dark secret tucked away. And eventually murder does rear its ugly head, leaving good nephew Joe to try to make sense of it all.
Fortunately, our man Joe’s up to the task. Although he tries to pass himself off as a mere researcher who doesn’t even tote a gun and spends most of his time in libraries, he displays a suitable amount of sang-froid when things turn nasty.
And of course there’s a babe. This one’s called Stevie, and Joe describes her as “a hell of a good-looking girl with plenty of it.” She in turn thinks he has a “stern and stormy soul ” but that she’s “madly in love” with him anyway. As the book opens, Joe and Steve meet “cute” on the train to Los Angeles, unaware that they will soon be neighbours, with Steve playing the part of Diana at Olympus. In fact, she’s the one who discovers the first body and comes running to Joe for help. In true hard-boiled, red-blooded he-man tradition, Joe kisses her to calm her down.
I mean, gee, what else can a guy do?
And it’s those little eyeball-rolling touches of hokum, plus a few shrewd observations and some deft passages that make this book such a pleasant way to kill a few hours.
Not much is known about M.S. Marble, except that it was a pseudonym of Margaret Sharp (or is it Strauss?), and she was involved in theatre in Ventura County, California, as both an actress and a playwright. According to the Oxnard Press, she was “A writer of many plays, she was working on a three-act play when she became ill. She was the wife of Saticoy rancher and television announcer Dana Marble.”
She evidently wrote at least two other detective novels in the years after World War II, including Everybody Makes Mistakes (1946), featuring P.I. Craig McKenzie.
- “People must do what they feel. Otherwise they are no good for anything at all. If they want to dress differently and dance around, it’s all right with me. Your aunt doesn’t like it though.”
— Stevie displays some surprising open-mindedness for the time. Then again, she’s wearing a toga.
- Die By Night (1947) | Buy this book