Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Kermit Jaediker's Tall, Dark and Dead

Tall, Dark and Dead is a private eye thriller by Kermit Jaediker, published in 1947 by Lion Books. I’d love to be able to tell you something about the author but my knowledge on this subject is an absolute zero.

Lou Lait (who narrates the tale) is a new York private detective. He’s an ex-cop. He’s not a crook but he’s not a Boy Scout either. When Tina Van Lube (married to the very wealthy Jan Van Lube) walks into his office it doesn’t sound like it’s a terribly complicated case she’s offering him. All he has to do is to steal some letters for him. Or rather, all he has to do is find someone who can steal the letters for her. That will be easy - Lait has a friend named Willie who is an ex-safe cracker turned escape artist. Willie should be able to handle the job very easily. 

Tina is of course being blackmailed. During the war her husband had been reported killed in action. To console herself Tina had begun an affair with columnist Erskine Spalding. Her husband then turned up alive, she ended the affair, and Spalding turned nasty. Hence the blackmail. 

It isn’t really all that risky. Even if they get caught they’re not likely to be in much trouble. Both the police and the courts would be very sympathetic to guys acting on behalf of a lady who is a victim of blackmail, especially given that the affair she had with Spalding was technically quite innocent.

The job goes smoothly, except for the murder. That’s a complication Lait hadn’t expected.  Willie gets arrested but even the cops don’t really think he did it. Apart from getting Willie out of a jam (and Lait is genuinely concerned for his friend) Lait has a very big motivation to solve the murder. Spalding’s paper has offered a $10,000 reward for the capture of the killer, and ten Gs was an enormous amount of money in 1947.

There are plenty of suspects and Lait has to admit he doesn’t know what the motive for the murder was. It could have involved fiery dancer Lolita, or Tina’s chronically broke and useless brother, or Tina herself, or Spalding’s secretary Miss Prescott (the main beneficiary of his estate). Or it could have have involved South American politics, which Spalding and Lolita and the Durkins (friends of the Van Lubes) were mixed up in. Lait has no idea, but he wants that ten grand reward.

This is not noir fiction but a stock standard hardboiled private eye yarn. Lou Lait is very much your typical fictional hardboiled private eye, maybe a bit smarter than most (he spots a couple of non-obvious clues). He doesn’t have a whole lot of personality. 

Jaediker’s style is basic pulp, without any embellishments but without anything distinctive to it.

A major weakness is that the two main female characters, both of whom have definite femme fatale potential, aren’t allowed to play any significant role in the story. There’s no romance and no sexual tension. 

The author has several plot strands going but he isn’t able to bring them all together at the end. It’s more like three separate stories that aren’t related and at least one of them ends in a disappointingly straightforward manner. Structurally this is a mystery novel (we even get all the suspects gathered together at the end for the detective’s big revelation of the identity of the murderer) but the plotting is too sloppy to make it a satisfactory one. There is however one very clever clue. It can’t be called fair play since too much vital information is withheld until the end. 

Tall, Dark and Dead is a fairly disappointing crime story. I can’t recommend this one.

Stark House Noir have reprinted Tall, Dark and Dead in a paperback edition with two other crime thrillers, Frederick Lorenz’s The Savage Chase and D.L. Champion’s Run the Wild River (neither of which I’ve read yet).

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