Several years have passed since I last had occasion to write about the once-prolific husband-and-wife writing team of Francis and Richard Lockridge. Back then, I was remarking on the 1960 paperback front from one of their Mr. and Mrs. North novels, Death Has a Small Voice. This week I’ll address Case of the Murdered Redhead (shown above on the left). That novel, originally titled The Faceless Adversary, was first published in hardcover by J.B. Lippincott back in 1956. The conspicuously scarlet cover featured here comes from the retitled, 1958 Avon paperback edition. Sadly, the artwork is not credited anywhere on the book.
The Faceless Adversary/Case of the Murdered Redhead was the opening entry in the Lockridges’ third detective series, starring New York City police detective Nathan Shapiro. As Wikipedia explains, “Shapiro was a sad-sack of a detective, who always assumed some other detective would be more skilful or more insightful. He always thinks that the promotions he receives are undeserved. People he encounters wonder what makes him appear to be so depressed.” The Lockridges eventually penned 10 Shapiro books, the last of those being The Old Die Young (1980). But it’s Shapiro’s debut that concerns us here. I don’t own the copy of Case of the Murdered Redhead I’m highlighting atop this post, but I can at least give you a sense of its story line by quoting the back cover copy:
Was He an Upright Citizen or –Our second book in the spotlight this week, The Case of the Radioactive Redhead (Belmont, 1963), was composed by Gloria and Forrest E. “Skip” Fickling. They’re certainly best remembered as the authors of 11 novels featuring “beautiful, brainy, and very much determined” private eye Honey West (later the star of her own half-hour TV series), but they also produced four books focused on Erik March, “a high-priced … personal consultant/private investigator for large corporations in and around the Hollywood/Los Angeles area.” The Case of the Radioactive Redhead followed March’s inaugural appearance in 1962’s Naughty But Dead. Again, allow me to quote from the back of the Ficklings’ novel:
The Killer of the Beautiful Redhead?
John Haywood #1: respectable young banker engaged to a lovely girl, mild-mannered, rigorously upright
John Haywood #2: cold-blooded killer, notorious bachelor playboy, given to violence, criminal mastermind
The police had John booked as #2, for the murder of the gorgeous redhead …
Was he cleverly framed – or did he have a double life?
The Private Eye Meets the Curvaceous KookI can’t say that I feel any wiser for having read (and transcribed) that text, but then the jacket copy on mid-19th-century paperback crime and mystery novels wasn’t really supposed to inform so much as titillate. This work’s book-rack appeal was further enhanced by its cover, illustrated by the great Robert Maguire.
Two tapering legs waving straight up in the air, flaring downward into mesh-covered buttocks and a billow of gold cloth that played frantic peek-a-boo over the torrid torso of Frenchy Appleton …
I’m Erik March, private investigator. The fee is a grand a day (plus expenses). Amigo, I knew all the angles … until I met The Radioactive Redhead.
Settle back in your chair while I spell out this caper. It’s a dilly.