Friday, May 21, 2010

Forgotten Books: FIND MY KILLER -- Manly Wade Wellman

George Kelley's off on a Manly Wade Wellman binge, and that inspired me to pull Find My Killer off the shelves for a look. I'm a big admirer of Wellman's stories about John the Balladeer, as well as some of his other work. Not too long ago I reviewed his Sherlock Holmes pastiche (a collaboration with his son) here. I don't know why I didn't read Find My Killer long ago, but I'm glad I finally got around to it.
Let's start with the front cover. I  like it, but it has absolutely nothing with the book.  Must have been lying around the office.  Looks a bit like western cover that's been altered.  So forget the cover.

I don't usually show the back covers of books I review, but I thought the info on this one was so interesting that I couldn't resist.  It gives some nice background on Wellman.

The book's a combination of the hardboiled private-eye novel with a John Dickson Carr locked-room mystery.  It works better than you might think, thanks to the smooth first-person narration of Jackson Yates, a former cop who's just out of the army.  He goes to work for J. D. Thatcher, a lawyer, one of whose clients wrote codicil to his will shortly before his death implying that he knew he'd be murdered.  He leaves $5000 to the person who finds his killer.  You might wonder why he didn't name the person he suspected.  Well, what would be the fun in that?

There are plenty of clues, both real and false, and also some hardboiled action (Jackson undergoes a savage beating).  Lots of stuff about guns, most of which bears on the plot.  There's romance, too.  J. D. Thatcher is a woman, and Jackson's attracted to her from the start.  I didn't know what to expect when I started reading, but I enjoyed this one.  Worth looking for if you're in a used-book store.


Jerry House said...

I see on ISFDB that today is Wellman's birthday. He would have been 107.

George said...

I think I have a copy of FIND MY KILLER down in the Bat Cave. I'll have to find it and read it after this review!

Unknown said...

Jerry, thanks for that reminder. It's a good day for me and George to be posting reviews of Wellman's books.

Todd Mason said...

That award ceremony, where Wellman beat the cast of luminaries, is also the setting for Faulkner's drunken tantrum at losing, and Wellman being compelled to remonstrate with him.

As David Drake's memoirs of his later life suggest, and the testimony of everyone from Frederik Pohl to KarL Eward Wagner second, a gentleman as well as a brilliant writer.

Unknown said...

I was lucky enough to meet him at a World Fantasy Con long ago. He was already in bad health but a gracious guy.

Anonymous said...

I retain fixed memories of being greatly entertained and impressed by a Wellman juvenile, The Last Mammoth, read by me eons ago when I was likewise a juvenile (pubbed 1953). I looked for a copy online recently and it seems to be quite scarce (there's a recent book with the same title that's all over). Ever come across it, Bill, George?
Art Scott

Unknown said...

I don't remember ever having seen it. Definitely a nice collectible.

Jerry House said...

Art, I greatly enjoyed The Last Mammoth, as well the rest of his young adult books. (I've read them all except for The River Pirates.) Of these, the very best are those dealing with the Civil War and those dealing with the mountain people her was so fond of.
You should easily be able to get a copy of Last Mammoth (and most of his other books) from interlibrary loan.

Wellman had said often that he was a Southerner by choice. Rebel Yell is one of the most moving non-fiction accounts of the Civil Waer I have ever read. His fantasies have a stong sense of time and place with his beloved South.

When the EQMM judges were voted on the best story in 1946, each judge voted for a different story and none evidently wished to change their vote. It happened, however, that every judge agreed that Wellman's "Star for a Warrior" was their second choice -- which is how Wellman won that contest.

From all accounts, Wellman was a true gentleman (though flawed -- he believed the Ku Klux Klan was originally a noble organization that was later twisted into a pernacious mockery). Those who knew him loved him.

Night Shade Books has done a great fob releasing some of his work. Also, Wellman's Hok stories and his West Point, 3000 A.D. are now available as print on demand. Most of his other work has been sadly neglected.

Unknown said...

Great stuff, Jerry. Thanks.