Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Barry's Reviews--"Catspaw Ordeal"

CATSPAW ORDEAL (1950) by Edward Ronns (a.k.a. Edward S. Aarons)
reviewed by Barry Ergang

Edward S. Aarons, best known for his Sam Durell Assignment series of paperback originals, may not have been a great writer by the purest of literary standards, or by the standards set by more prominent mystery and suspense novelists, but he was a first-rate storyteller.

Catspaw Ordeal is among the mystery thrillers he wrote under the pseudonym Edward Ronns. It deals with one Daniel Archer, a man who would seem to have it all, but whose dissatisfaction with the good life in Southwich, Connecticut has led to the possible dissolution of his marriage and reveries about his more adventurous past—reveries which involve old flame Della Chambers and the late Burke Wiley, his shipmate aboard the Martin J. Crump on which Archer served as radioman, who died when the ship was torpedoed.

The novel opens with Archer getting himself drunk in a local watering hole when the bar's owner tells him there's a man who's been asking about him. Archer confronts the man, one Skit Moore, who might be either a private detective hired by Archer's estranged wife Rosalind or some sort of petty hoodlum. A brawl erupts between them which sets the story in motion.

Archer later discovers Moore in his—Archer's—home, bludgeoned to death, and circumstances compel him to help dispose of the body. Among other surprises, figures from his past, including Della Chambers, resurface to complicate matters, as well as his brother-in-law and business partner Stanley Manning, their secretary Louise Camp, the coldly criminous Clem Holloway, and Holloway's daughter Lisbeth. Much like an unwitting hero out of a Hitchcock film, Archer must dodge the police long enough to solve Moore's murder, dodge someone who would murder him, and thwart a criminal scheme with national and international ramifications.

Many years ago I read but no longer have a number of the Sam Durell espionage novels. Like those, Catspaw Ordeal is rapid-fire reading with plenty of action and suspense throughout. Unlike them, it's also a fairly-clued whodunit—though since it's populated with so many unsavory characters, a number of whom get their comeuppances before the final revelation, most experienced readers won't find it difficult to solve even if they do so by pure guesswork. Read strictly as a detective story it will likely prove disappointing. Read as a fast-paced, sometimes noirish adventure story with the bonus of a whodunit aspect, it's very satisfying.


As always, for more information on the Golden Age of Mystery and on this review (especially a misleading novel cover), follow the link to GA Detection Wiki at http://tinyurl.com/yp3j6r

Barry Ergang © 2007

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