DEAD MEN'S LETTERS by Erie Stanley Gardner


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Before Perry Mason ever won a case, Gardner created many other hard-boiled detectives for Black Mask and Argosy. Here are half a dozen linked stories (first published in 1926-27) about Ed Jenkins, the Phantom Crook. The stories show Gardner at his most formulaic. Most of them begin with Jenkins, who can't be extradited from California because of a legal technicality, being lured out of hiding by a mysterious summons to crack a safe or pull off a phony kidnapping--all in a good cause, of course. The assignments always turn out to be bogus, pitting Ed, a crook with all the right instincts, against real crooks whom he chases, disguised as old men or Chinese, until they shoot each other or fall into the arms of the police, meanwhile allowing Ed to mingle with the cream of the social register--interchangeable janes and flappers and their incorrigibly understanding parents. The stories have a pleasant period feel, but Gardner's usual lead-footed prose (""Had the girl deliberately held me with the wiles of a vampire in order to enable her confederate to sneak to the door of my apartment and shoot the dog?"") is weighted further by a heavy dose of Fu-Manchuese (""the man whose name I did not know, but whose leading characteristic was a pair of cold, icy eyes, had been able to put his Finger on me at will""); and the evil characters, acting as transparent as Nancy Drew's adversaries, will beguile only the most credulous. For Gardner completists and hard-boiled historians only.

Pub Date: May 15th, 1990
Publisher: Carroll & Graf