Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Is That a Great Title, or What?

The 1949 Dell Mapback edition of Stuart Brock’s Just Around the Coroner, with cover art by Gerald Gregg.

There have been so many mediocre and downright awful crime-fiction titles (in how many ways can “kill,” “murder,” and “death” be employed before readers start doubting the imaginations of authors and editors alike?), that finding one with a more offbeat or lighthearted bent can only make a reader smile. Such a case is the punning Just Around the Coroner, a private-eye novel first published in 1948 and credited to one “Stuart Brock.” As it turns out, however, Brock was a pseudonym used by Louis Trimble (1917-1988), an academic who, in the mid-20th century, also penned novels for the mystery, science fiction, and Western markets.

Wikipedia explains that Trimble was born in scenic Seattle, Washington, and went on to become “an instructor and professor in humanities and social studies at the University of Washington from 1956 onward.” So it’s no surprise that Just Around the Coroner should have starred a “tough” but “sensitive” Seattle gumshoe named Peter Cory. In fact, it’s the only book that character was ever recruited to headline. According to The Thrilling Detective Web Site, Cory was “a top op for Boldman Investigations,” with a “virginal, yet money-hungry girlfriend, Terry James.” He admits that he “lost his conscience a long time ago” and is “not above a little ‘malarkey peddling’ or anything else to get the job done.”

As The Thrilling Detective’s Kevin Burton Smith synopsizes this novel’s plot, Just Around the Coroner finds Cory being “sent in to clear up a rash of jewel thefts in the swank Towne Hotel where [girlfriend] Terry works [in the gift shop], and soon runs into murder, mayhem, and a couple of old enemies he’d rather have never seen again.” Mike Grost, commenting in the Golden Age of Detection Wiki, adds:
The best parts of this book are Chapters 1-5, in which Cory is sent to investigate jewel robberies at a swank hotel. These sections show Brock celebrating America’s newfound post-war affluence. He seems extremely proud of the modernistic elegance of his hotel, and the book looks forward to all the executive suites and modernistic offices and hotels that will be built during the 1950s. His detective, too, while having tough-guy mannerisms, is calculated to express a new sophistication in America. Cory is a former tennis bum with a Nob Hill background and an elegant wardrobe of $200 suits. He has an upper-class appearance, which is why he is sent undercover as a wealthy hotel guest in the novel. His character is an Ordinary Guy who gets to move among the economic elite. He clearly represents the dream of many returning vets that they could move into the upper middle classes, a dream that would become a reality for many ordinary Americans during the next thirty years, as America moved from the mass poverty of the Depression to the mass affluence of the 1960s.
Author Trimble seemed to make a specialty of composing one-off P.I. novels. He wrote about another Seattle shamus, Bert Norden, in 1956’s Killer’s Choice, and about a Mexico City private dick, Tom Blane, in a 1959 mystery called Till Death Do Us Part.

READ MORE:Review: Stuart Brock—Bring Back Her Body,” by Steve Lewis (Mystery*File); “Archived Review—Louis Trimble, Fit to Kill,” by Steve Lewis (Mystery*File).

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