Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Frederick C. Davis - He Wouldn't Stay Dead (1939)

"...I can't help feeling that you're getting off on the wrong foot by calling this a case of murder and body snatching."

He Wouldn't Stay Dead is the second mystery to feature Cy Hatch, a criminology professor who also happens to be the police commissioner's son and who, in his father's opinion, has a bad habit of becoming involved in the police department's cases. Aiding Hatch is Danny Delevan, a retired welterweight who is employed as Hatch's bodyguard to prevent any of the police commissioner's enemies from taking revenge against the father through the son (although Delevan is largely ineffectual in the role and functions primarily in the story as comic relief).

At the beginning of HWSD Hatch is visited in quick succession by two persons requesting his help in locating Sylvia Gregg, a witness in a car theft ring and murder investigation who disappeared shortly after being subpoenaed. One is a stripper named Dorelle who claims that her husband has helped Sylvia to disappear, the other Roy Foster, a fellow college instructor of Hatch's who has become lovestruck with Sylvia. Sensing that Dorelle is lying about her interest in the Sylvia Gregg disappearance and out of sympathy for Foster who's a nervous wreck, Hatch decides to take a hand in the case.

Visiting his father, Mark Hatch, at police headquarters for background on the case, Cy discovers that the case involves several missing persons. In addition to Sylvia, Sylvia's roommate Ruth Grayson, who has come into a million dollar inheritance and moved out of the apartment, also can't be traced and may be sheltering Sylvia. The police would also like to locate Phil Doyle, a disreputable private investigator who was seen at the Gregg apartment before she disappeared. Fortuitously, as Cy questions his father, a telephone call from Sylvia's landlady informs them that Phil Doyle is back at the Gregg apartment. As Cy. Mark and Danny arrive at the apartment, they hear a shot. Entering the apartment they discover Phil Doyle's body in the bedroom. No pulse and surprisingly, two gunshot holes in his shirt front. But the shooting gets even stranger. As the two Hatches search the apartment, Danny cries out in the bedroom. Finding the bedroom door now closed and locked, the father and son break down the door to discover Doyle's body no longer in the room and Delevan groggy on his hands and knees claiming that the corpse slugged him on the head with a gun. While Mark Hatch decides that Danny is mistaken and that someone else slugged Delevan and absconded with the body through the window, Cy is insistent that the shooting and Sylvia's disappearance are much more complex than they first appeared.

He Wouldn't Stay Dead is a winning mystery (and probably the most affordable and easiest to find of the early Cy Hatch cases). Briskly paced, humorous and fleshed out with characters who complicate the investigation--the secretary who's a little too willing to aid in the investigation, a deputy commissioner who indulges in a little eavesdropping and political backstabbing, and two hissably sadistic thugs. Hatch engages in some scientific detection and the usual rounding-up-of-the-suspects conclusion (although the astute reader will figure out what happened to Sylvia Gregg before he does). The only part that seemed underdone was an attraction between Hatch and one of the principals in the case.

Overall, a "fun" read and I look forward to the other Cy Hatch novels.

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