I didn’t need to take her blood count to know she had enough little bubbles inside her to lift her off the floor, like those speedboats which travel on a cushion of foam.
Another Hard Case Crime offering, Kill Now, Pay Later by Robert Terrall, originally published under the pseudonym of Robert Kyle. The name Terrall might not ring a bell, but he’s half of Brett Halliday, the pseudonym who wrote the Mike Shayne novels, and the name Shayne should resonate with mystery readers. You know, the Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, 77 novels (27 by Terrall), over 300 shorts, a comic book, a radio show which later became a TV show, and an even dozen movies.
Yeah, that Mike Shayne.
So it’s a little weird to see a quote of praise from Brett Halliday on the cover, but whatever.
Kill Now, Pay Later comes from a small series of novels featuring Ben Gates, P.I., Terrall’s own creation from back in the late-50s, the third of five Gates novels published in the midst of the hardboiled detective craze in paperbacks and TV (Mike Shayne, Mike Hammer, etc.). Apparently it wasn’t as successful; the last Ben Gates novel was published in 1964, while Terrall continued doing Mike Shayne novels through the ‘70s. Kill Now… was originally printed in 1960, and remained out of print from then until 2007, when it became the 35th Hard Case Crime novel.
Who do you work for, the insurance company?”
“Today I do,” I said. “I’m a private detective. They sent me out to keep good-looking blondes from helping themselves to the diamond bracelets.
To be honest, the basis for this book doesn’t sound that interesting, which is why I kept putting off reading it in favor of other Hard Case novels. Gates is hired by an insurance company to guard presents at an upper-class wedding, which doesn’t turn out as cushy a job as he expects. He ends up drugged, and wakes up to find a botched robbery with missing jewelry and two corpses. Now his reputation is on the line, and he’s a prime suspect for the police investigator, so Gates has to clean up this mess before things really get out of hand. Things pick up and almost immediately we’re in the realm of hardboiled detecting, and I’m a little ashamed that it took me so long to read this.
This is a straightforward private eye/detective tale, with a couple of slick twists along the way. The plot is fairly linear, and the pacing never breakneck; the story saunters its way towards an ending, which isn’t as explosive or climactic as it could be. Don’t expect a lot of action, though there are fisticuffs, some double-crosses, a bevy of scantily-clad women, and a fiery finale. The pacing works well with the character and plot, but it’s not what every reader might be looking for, especially as its ending is a little too tidy. And while it’s not unsatisfying, it’s not extraordinary.
It’s also worth noting that Gates isn’t superhuman—in the first chapter, bam, he ends up drugged and the prime suspect in a robbery-murder—so the character feels very natural, making mistakes and suffering through them. Having the police on his back is a nice touch, pressuring Gates to solve everything quickly. On the bright side, he’s also a ladies man, and there are quite a few beautiful femme fatales whom Gates weaves back and forth between.
On the writing scale of things, Terrall has some wonderful dialogue, full of bone-dry witty zingers that are worthy of a grin or a chuckle. I’m a sucker for well-done first-person detective tales, and this one more than fulfills; Gates’ voice is smooth and quite enjoyable. It’s not overly complex, but it has a firm grasp of the “first person hardboiled voice,” especially with the sardonic repartee. This voice is the book’s real strength; it grabbed me and kept me reading, making an otherwise unexceptional mystery quite enjoyable.
As for the cover… Robert McGinnis did some fantastic work, back in the day. Including the original cover to this novel, I might add (see below). McGinnis is a legend in the field for his movie posters (including a chunk of Bond films and Breakfast at Tiffany’s) and his 1,200+ paperback covers. His newer stuff for HCC does nothing for me—the girls, especially this one, look freakishly disproportionate, and instead of looking sultry, have this dead thousand-yard stare. I’m probably alone on this, so—since it’s, y’know, up at the top of the page, for you to view and form opinions upon—YMMV.
I ended up really liking this one. It’s a by-the-numbers detective tale, but a well-written one, with a likeable protagonist and some likeable characters. The investigation builds nicely, bringing up some interesting developments. It’s not as thrilling or involving as it could be, though it is well-rounded, a quick, breezy-easy read. And it reads so damn well; I want to find some of Terrall’s Mike Shayne novels—or the other Gates mysteries—based on this fine writing.
Soon after this we entered one of those sad developments that were thrown up in the hell-for-leather days after World War II. Hurricanes are infrequent in this part of the country, so the houses were still standing, but it worried me to see a boy bouncing a rubber ball against a wall.