Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Nick Quarry's The Girl With No Place To Hide

Marvin H. Albert (1924-1996) was an American writer of pulp crime and adventure novels, some written under his own name and others under a host of pseudonyms. The Girl With No Place To Hide, published in 1959, was the second of his six Jake Barrow private eye thrillers written under the name Nick Quarry.

Hardbitten PI Jake Barrow sees a girl being beaten up and rescues her. She wants somewhere to hide out and thinks that Jake’s apartment would be a good place. The girl is Angela and she tells Jake that a couple of guys are trying to kill her and that they’ve already killed some guy named Ernie. Jake gets a call and he has to go out to attend to a case. He tells Angela to stay put.

Jake discovers he’s been decoyed out of the apartment. By the time he gets back Angela has gone. Maybe she just took a powder and maybe somebody snatched her.

Jake has no idea who this Ernie character is but the next day he finds out that a guy named Ernie really did turn up dead in an alleyway. Jake figures the matter is worth looking into. He did after all promise to protect Angela.

The trail leads Jake into the worlds of high fashion and photography and the murky world of high-stakes gambling. He also uncovers some juicy domestic dramas that might be motives for murder. And there might be a connection to another much earlier murder.

There are quite a few dames mixed up in this case. One of the dames, Lavinia, is a knife-thrower. That’s her profession. She worked a knife-throwing act in a carny. Another woman who seems to be mixed up in the case is Nel. She had been Ernie’s secretary and now someone is trying to kill her but she claims to know nothing that would cause someone to want to bump her off.

Of more immediate concern to Jake is the fact that someone is trying to bump him off.

There’s a decent well worked-out plot here with plenty of suspects and plenty of possible motives.

There’s also plenty of action with some moderately graphic (by 1959 standards) violence. And there’s as much sleazy paranoid noir atmosphere as anyone could reasonably demand. And you get quite a bit of hardboiled dialogue.

In this type of fiction the key was to get a good balance between plot and atmosphere and the author manages that very effectively in this instance.

Jake is definitely a tough guy PI. He most definitely does not like to be pushed around. He’s a pretty good guy overall and he doesn’t have much liking for people who go around terrorising, and murdering, women. In fact he doesn’t have much time for murderers. He’s not a Boy Scout. He’s not an outrageous womaniser but if a woman is willing then he won’t say no.

He likes money, he likes it a lot, but he likes to earn it honestly. He’s not self-righteous about it but he does have ethics. He does the right thing but he doesn’t make a song and dance about it.

Jake is a likeable enough and reasonably colourful hero.

Most of the women have the potential to turn out to be either innocent victims, innocent bystanders or scheming femmes fatales and Quarry keeps us guessing about every one of them.

It’s not exactly ground-breaking but overall this is a well-crafted noirish private eye thriller which provides very solid entertainment. Highly recommended. It's been reprinted by Black Gat Books.

I’ve reviewed another of the Jake Barrow PI novels, No Chance in Hell (which is also very good), and also one of the thrillers he wrote as Ian McAlister, Driscoll’s Diamonds (a terrific book).

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