Johnny Church

Created by Vechel Howard
Pseudonym of Howard Rigsby

A medium-boiled P I who works for the Gerard Agency, which has offices in New York, Kansas City and San Francisco, thirty-something JOHNNY CHURCH has short hair, carries a Magnum and speaks fluent Spanish. And he’s a widower–his wife Laura was murdered when she was run down by a car, when he he refused to back off from a case when he was in Kansas City.

He’s now in charge of the San Francisco office, where his secretary is Bess, although his first case, Murder With Love (1959), finds him in Las Vegas, where his client wants him to find a woman, the beautiful and seductive Mira Whitney. He’s not the only one, either. The woman, Church soon discovers, seems to be a professional heartbreaker, or possibly simply a gold digger, with an apparently uncontrollable habit of getting men to fall in love with her, and then taking off with all the money and expensive gifts that had been bestowed upon her, disappearing as mysteriously as she had suddenly appeared.

This time, however, Church finds that blackmail, never part of her game before, has been added to her repertoire – and can murder be far behind? Church also stumbles across a pair of delectable twin sisters – but he’s really the kind of guy who gets hit over the head a lot and goes to bed with almost nobody. Almost.

The action is standard enough. It’s the ending that’s unusual. A bit maudlin as well, perhaps, but it’s the kind that lingers on. Longer, in fact, than the story itself. I’d give it a B minus.

Murder With Love is one of those cases where the detective gets him so personally involved that you wonder when it’s over whether there will ever be another one. But there was. Murder on Her Mind  was published later that same year, also by Gold Medal.

In that one, Johnny travels to Mexico, to look into the suspicious death of an American who was living large down there, with the help three mistresses. One of whom may have killed the poor sap, though.

Naturally, he’ll have to, uh, question each one of them.

Vechel Howard was the pen name of Howard Rigsby, an American writer of of detective and western novels. Besides the Johnny Church books, he wrote the crime novels Murder for the Holidays (1954),  and Lucinda (1954), which Anthony Boucher ranked among the twelve best detective novels of the year.


  • This poetic quest for the ghost woman is worth a detour.”
    — Claude Mesplède on Murder With Love
  • “There’s something gloriously kitschy in the Johnny Church books. These are proper pulp with a proper shamus who sniffs at the barrels of guns and finds clues wherever he puts his feet. And yet is fooled by people wearing wigs (more on that in a moment). They’re less about the mystery than the lifestyle: the ‘challenge’ of interrogating the beautiful women (and invariably failing to, um, ‘stay professional’), exotic locations (with swimming pools), dining with millionaires, driving fast cars and having punch-ups. These don’t have the darkness of Gold Medal’s best writers (MacDonald, Thompson) or the character depth of the second tier (Marlowe), but they’re a lot of fun.”
    — Jared (May 2014, Pornokitsch)


Respectfully submitted by Steve Lewis, from his review in the November/December 1981 MYSTERY FANcier, with additional info supplied by Colin Clynes (June 1999).

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