The Search for Tabatha Carr, by Richard Martin Stern (McFadden, 1964). Illustration by Charles McVicker.
Born in Fresno, California, in 1915, Richard Martin Stern “wrote more than 20 mystery and suspense novels as well as short stories for Collier’s and The Saturday Evening Post magazines,” according to The New York Times. His 1958 novel, The Bright Road to Fear, won him the 1959 Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best First Novel, beating out Harry Olesker’s Now Will You Try for Murder? and two other nominated works. Stern went on to pen half a dozen novels, including Interloper (1990), about New Mexico policeman Johnny Ortiz, “a half-breed Apache Indian who has the uncanny ability to solve homicides using his own instincts.” More importantly, perhaps, he composed The Tower, a 1973 thriller in which a huge fire consumes a new metal-and-glass skyscraper in New York City. Movie rights to that novel were snapped up quickly, and screenwriter Stirling Silliphant was hired to weave its plot elements together with those of a rather similar work, The Glass Inferno (1974), by Thomas N. Scortia and Frank M. Robinson, in order to produce the script for the 1974 blockbuster disaster film, The Towering Inferno. Sixteen years later, Stern returned to the subject of big blazes in Wildfire, about a mammoth scorcher in a New Mexico national forest. One fan of that novel says it will “scare the pants off” you.
The author had no such grand storytelling scope in mind when he sat down to produce The Search for Tabatha Carr, an espionage adventure that was originally published by Charles Scribner's Sons in 1960. Kirkus Reviews offers this plot synopsis:
Tabatha Carr, if she can be located within two months, will inherit a million and a half dollars, and Willard Robbins, a young lawyer, is sent to find her … [Yet] before long he has every reason to believe she is working for Communist agents. Her brother and his wife prove to be unsuspected enemies of Tabatha’s--along with those [who] would keep him from finding her and murder in order to do so. But the trail, an attractive itinerary, leads from Paris to Vienna to the Tyrol for the final identification.That same critique told readers to “look to sensuous touches for suspense,” and summed up the novel as “not too devious a diversion.” Rather faint praise, I think.
Stern died in Santa Fe, New Mexico, on October 31, 2001, following his battle with a “prolonged illness.” He was 86 years old.