Sunday, November 7, 2021

Frederick C. Davis's High Heel Homicide

High Heel Homicide is a 1961 hardboiled crime novella by Frederick C. Davis (1902–1977) who had been a prolific pulp writer back in the 30s.

Johnny Trexler, the narrator, has a fairly senior position at a TV studio. Driving past his boss Victor Gaylord’s house in the early hours of the morning he sees a woman run out in front of his car. The woman then jumps into a parked car and speeds off. Trexler, a little uneasy, decides to check that everything is OK in the house, and in the guest house he finds Gaylord’s dead body. He has been murdered, with a Boy Scout hatchet.

There are bloody footprints, and they are the footprints of a woman. Trexler puts two and two together and figures that the woman who ran in front of his car must have been the murderess. But there are signs that Gaylord had been entertaining not one but two women. And, as it later turns out that his wife was in Chicago that night, neither women could have been his wife. Trexler also finds a note that is an obvious clue and for some reason he feels compelled to pocket that note rather than leaving it for the police to find. He has an uneasy feeling that he should have recognised the woman in the street and that he should have recognised the handwriting on the note.

Trexler isn’t particularly sorry that Victor Gaylord is dead. While Gaylord was alive Trexler’s job at the TV studio was under a cloud so from a purely selfish point of view Gaylord’s death is not such a bad thing for Johnny Trexler. And he heartily disliked Gaylord (most people heartily disliked Gaylord).

Trexler’s main concern is to avoid getting involved in any investigation. He doesn’t need the aggravation and when the police start snooping the fact that he doesn’t have a rock-solid alibi might become a problem. Because he doesn’t know what else to do he rings his friend Bryce, also a senior guy at the studio, and they decide it’s best to keep quiet and just wait for the police to discover the body.

Trexler has another problem. He has a bullet wound in his arm, acquired while he was poking around Victor Gaylord’s guest house. He has no idea who shot him. He also doesn’t know why. He was lying ion the ground and he was shot at close range. He should be a corpse. But all he has is a slight wound in the left arm.

He’s pretty sure the killer is a woman associated with the TV studio. Gaylord played around with the ladies and didn’t treat them any too well so lots of the women at the studio might have had a motive.

His girlfriend Val, one of the top actresses at the studio, might even have done it but she has an alibi. He and Bryce can more or less alibi each other but the murderer was definitely a woman. Bryce’s wife Mona, a rather unstable actress, might have been involved in the murder. She’s acting rather strangely. There’s evidence for and against that theory. Allene, a staff writer, is also behaving oddly. Maybe she could be a suspect. Trexler is pretty confused about the whole thing. Val doesn’t seem quite so confused. She has a theory.

The second murder seems to confuse things more.

The method by which the killer distracts the attention of the police onto others is quite clever. The whole murder plan turns out to be quite clever. There’s some good misdirection. The TV studio setting is interesting. There are plenty of plausible motives. There are plenty of plausible suspects but the most likely suspects from the point of view of motive seems to be the least likely suspects when it comes to opportunity.

Trexler’s idea of keeping clear if the investigation turns out to be a bad idea since he finds himself caught in the middle anyway. But even if he’d called the cops straight away it probably wouldn’t have helped.

It’s a pretty decently plotted story. It’s really only mildly hardboiled. Trexler is maybe not the smartest guy in the world but eventually he starts to figure out at least some of what’s going on. His judgment is sometimes suspect and he jumps to conclusions at times but he’s not such a bad guy. He’s quite sympathetic in is own way.

Davis’s style is a bit pulpy but that’s mostly a plus. There’s a solid mystery and it’s at least moderately fairly clued. There’s an important clue early on which hinges on what is not seen rather than on what is seen.

Overall this is an enjoyable little tale of murder and mayhem. Recommended.

Armchair Fiction have paired this title with E. Howard Hunt’s The Violent Ones in one of their excellent two-novel paperback editions.

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