Friday, March 12, 2010

Forgotten Books: THE SOFT ARMS OF DEATH -- Richard Hayward

Once upon a time there was a mystery writer named Baynard Kendrick. He wrote a series of novels about Duncan Mclain, a blind private-eye. (The Longstreet TV series was based at least in part on this series.) He wrote another p.i. series featuring Miles Standish Rice, and some standalones.

But that's not all. Under the name Richard Hayward, he wrote two Gold Medal novels, including The Soft Arms of Death, which I've had for a long time but never read. It's another one I downloaded from the Munsey's site to read on the Kindle, and I'm glad I did.

Our first-person narrator is Gil Blaine, a reporter for his uncle's newspaper. He drinks too much, and he's in love with a woman named Diana Marston. In fact, he's married to her, though they've never lived together, and she's long since left town. It's a surprise to Blaine when he hears that Diana's husband, Robert Smith, has died in California. It's an even bigger surprise when Diana and Smith show up in town.

Diana has a bad reputation. It's rumored that she killed her father, for one thing, and when Robert Smith is murdered, she's naturally a suspect. But then so are Blaine and several others. You might think you know where this one's going, but Hayward (or Kendrick) does a good job of keeping the reader off balance, right up until the final paragraphs. The plot's a little gimmicky, but that didn't bother me. I particularly enjoyed the setting, South Carolina, which is certainly off the beaten path for mystery novels, and the local color writing is top notch. This book was so entertaining that I'm now thinking I need to read Hayward's other Gold Medal novel.


George said...

Love the new look of your blog, Bill! Baynard Kendrick's work always made for interesting reading. I haven't read this book, but you motivated me to go find it.

Unknown said...

I suspect you have it, all right.