Harold Q. Masur was born in 1909, graduated with his law degree in 1934, and was a practicing lawyer until the War came and he found himself shipped out to the China-Burma-India theater. Meanwhile he also wrote for the pulps, filling pages for the likes of Ten Detective Aces, Detective Story Magazine, and Mammoth Detective with the first-hand knowledge he picked up as an attorney. Apparently it worked well, because when he returned from the war Masur continued to write detective stories rather than re-establish his law office. Masur started out with short fiction for the pulps before he moved to paperback novels, expanding the story Bury Me Deep for its Pocket Books release.
Attorney Scott Jordan arrives home from Miami a few days early to find a surprise on his couch: an unknown blonde wearing nothing but black negligee, swirling a glass of brandy in her hand. As Jordan’s apartment becomes host to a succession of unknown, uninvited guests, the irritated and confused Jordan takes action and calls a cab for the girl when she passes out drunk. Unfortunately for him, she wasn’t drunk—she’s dead, as someone poisoned her brandy. And she was the prime witness in a messy court case to boot, with plenty of suspects ready to claim an inheritance based on her testimony… Or lack thereof. Now with a personal stake in the matter, Jordan must navigate between the cops, the court claimants, a veritable sea of suspects, friends, foes, and a killer or two…
There’s many similarities between Scott Jordan and the more famous attorney-detective, Perry Mason, but also a lot of differences. Jordan is a smart and canny attorney, but he’s also a hardboiled investigator. He knows his way around a gun, and isn’t afraid to go out in the field to find things out himself. While the Perry Mason books were more about the finely staged courtroom sequences and puzzle-like mysteries, Jordan is more interested in dredging up evidence without getting shot. And while he likes the ladies, he’s smart enough not to get into hot water… instead leveraging his brusque, confrontational style towards plaintiffs, defendants, and local hoodlums. He’s not quite a tough guy, but he can handle himself if he has to.
Harold Q. Masur writes more like Chandler or Hammett, too, with lightning-fast pacing and dialogue so sharp you get papercuts. The perspective is first-person from Jordan, so you get gems like “I felt like an accident going someplace to happen,” and “With a kind of grim desperation I went burrowing into the shadows at the juncture of earth and wall.” It’s not a terribly long novel, but it packs in a lot of intrigue and surprises in its twisty-turny plot. Few are the chapters that don’t blaze along without two or three surprising developments. It has all the action of a modern thriller—if not more—but packs it into just under 200 pages. Masur’s background helps the underlying feel of the novel: he knows what he’s talking about. Jordan speaks about law with a ring of authenticity, even as he breaks it to find the evidence he needs.
Masur first published the novel in a 1947 issue of pulp Mammoth Detective, and when it came out in paperback Pocket Books instructed Masur to eliminate Jordan’s marriage at the end of the novel to the novel’s love interest. (It comes in the form of a tacked-on afterward, the most glaring flaw in the book after constructing such a tight relationship between the two characters). From there, the bachelor Jordan starred in 10 more novels and almost twice that number in short stories. That’s a pretty good body of work, though Masur didn’t write much else—two non-Jordan novels are the main things I can find for him, though he did edit a number of Alfred Hitchcock collections.
Scott Jordan is a nice change of pace: he’s smarter and not as hardboiled as your average private eye, but is more street-savvy and gets into more trouble than your usual lawyer-type. The plot is pure pulp, in that the plot moves like a racehorse and runs a twisty-turny labyrinth of twists and cliffhangers, but also has a cheery optimism no matter how bad things get. The plot is intricate and layered to boot, keeping you guessing up until those last few surprises on the last few pages catch you off guard. Bury Me Deep is a fast and fun novel, Masur’s stylish debut, another lost classic from the pulp era that proves there’s still plenty of gems yet in need of rediscovery. A definite keeper for readers of ’40s-’50s hardboiled noir.
There’s two or three old printings you can find on the second-hand market, but the novel has been brought back for 2014 by new publisher Raven’s Head Press. I’m glad Raven’s Head is bringing back these old ’40s classics—they have three novels so far, each showing great taste—but I sure wish they’d ran the text of this one through ye old spellchecker one more time.