Tom Alder (Twenty Plus Two)

Created by Frank Gruber
Pseudonyms include Stephen Acre, Charles K. Boston & John K. Vedder

Handsome, clean cut Los Angeles private investigator TOM ALDER has a house in Brentwood, a couple of nice suits, a Purple Heart, and a knack for tracking down missing heirs, in Frank Gruber‘s 1961 novel, Twenty Plus Two.

When the secretary for movie star Leroy Dane’s fan club is murdered while going through some old newspaper tearsheets, the police are baffled. But among the evidence left behind at the scene are several photos of Doris Delaney, a fifteen-year-old society heiress who went missing back East several years ago.

Always a little intrigued by the case, and sniffing a chance for a possible payoff, Tom decides to investigate, and discovers ties to another homicide. Things are complicated further when Tom runs into his ex-fiancée Linda (who sent him a “Dear John” letter while he was overseas, recuperating in a Tokyo hospital) for the first time in many years. Linda is accompanied by her good friend Nikki, who seems particularly interested in Tom’s case. Or is it Tom?

With the help of a well-connected old Army buddy who has access to military records, and a lead from  New York detective, Tom begins to follow a crooked, convoluted trail that somehow involves Linda, Nikki, the dead sectretary, Doris Delaney, a drunken reporter, a few more missing people, Leroy Dane, some blackmail, and Tom’s own war time romance with an enigmatic woman in Tokyo who later disappeared.

In the slow-burn film version (which is decidedly not noir, despite some claims to the contrary), released the same year as the book (with a screenplay by Frank Gruber), there are of course some relatively minor tweaks. Worth noting is David Janssen’s performance as Tom–he plays him with a sleepy, nonchalant cool that was a definite step away from Richard Diamond, but certainly hinted at what would be coming when he stepped into Harry O‘s gumshoes a decade later.

Frank Gruber, of course, was a prolific pulpster in the thirties who went on to publishing novels, both mysteries and westerns, in ther forties, with plenty of detours into television and film in the fifties and sixties. A notorious recycler, much of Twenty Plus Two was rehashed for his 1968 novel The Gold Gap.


  • Sharp-eyed fans of the genre might get a kick out of one of the repoorters in the film–he’s named Slocum, an obvious nod to another of Gruber’s many eyes.


  • “The pace is fast but the footwork is precarious and so is the fantastic to foolish plot.”
    — Kirkus Reviews
  • Twenty Plus Two was a better book than film; it plays too much like a two-part episode of a television anthology series to ever really gel as a feature, and noirish elements don’t make noir, but it is professionally done all around… There is nothing exciting about it, but it is a satisfying little mystery film that crosses and dots all the right letters, thanks to Gruber’s expertise in the field, even if the long arm of coincidence in this one at times seems to belong to Plastic Man.”
    — Steve Lewis (March 2016, Mystery*File)



  • TWENTY PLUS TWO | Buy this DVD
    aka “It Started in Tokyo”
    (1961, Allied Artists)
    102 minutes
    Black & white
    Based on the novel by Frank Gruber
    Screenplay by Frank Gruber
    Directed by Joseph M. Newman
    Starring David Janssen as TOM ALDER
    Also starring Jeanne Crain, Dina Merrill, Agnes Moorehead, Brad Dexter, Robert Strauss, Jacques Aubuchon, William Demarest, George N. Neise, Fredd Wayne, Carleton Young, Robert H. Harris, Billy Varga


Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

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