Saturday, March 03, 2007

Richard Moore on TILL DEATH by Louis Trimble

(This first appeared in Rara-Avis in 2003 and later in Thrilling Detective site)

At some late night Bouchercon party standing around talking books with Hal Rice, I made a statement complimentary of the mysteries published in the Ace Double line. Hal puffed on his unfiltered cigarette and disagreed. "The art, yes, but most of their originals weren't very good. There was so much better out there." Hal was a pharmacist who had book racks back when that was where the paperbacks were sold. He was also a fan and grabbed copies of the paperbacks and magazines he liked for his personal collection. I didn't say so then, but Hal, wherever you are my friend, you were right. Putting aside romanticism. most of the Ace Double originals were bad to mediocre. Not all, just most.
As Hal elaborated to me that night, the average wasn't even close to Gold Medal or the other major lines, Signet and Avon. Alas, he was right.

But one of the regulars of Ace books in several genres was Louis Trimble and today I celebrate his TILL DEATH DO US PART (Ace 367 1959). I've always considered Trimble more of a western writer but he wrote a considerable amount of mystery fiction and by the time of this novel, he was a veteran of at least 15 years in the field.

Now I will confess that although I have several other Trimble mysteries, this is the first I've read. It won't be the last. TIL DEATH is a hardboiled mystery that begins in Mexico City and then moves for most of the action to a border area with characters crossing several times during the course of the novel. The first person viewpoint is an American private eye Tom Blane who operates an agency in Mexico City.

The novel opens with Blane hard up as his Mexican partner has left Blane high and dry as he bilked some clients and left Blane to face the music. Blane is hired by a business woman from a border city who wants him to investigate his former partner. So here was a client willing to hire him to do what he wanted to do more than anything. He takes the job, goes to the border city and soon finds his ex-partner very dead and himself very likely to be accused of the murder.

The writing is very hardboiled and the characters are well-drawn, although I think the number could have been trimmed. Among my favorites is the Mexican restaurant owner who also happens to own or control much on his side of the border. There is also a gay radio announcer who sends secret messages during his broadcast and is somehow tied into a blackmail scheme.

During the course of my career I have spent a fair amount of time in Mexico, working for and with Mexicans, and Trimble is spot on. He knew Mexico. This wasn't a case of a writer with a guidebook and an issue of National Geographic. There are subtle bits and pieces here that demonstrate that to me. Mexican attitudes and sensitivities are very well-captured.

The action is constantly moving and the murders are gory, often with torture.
Trimble is a good writer and now and then a phrase stands out. Towards the end when a feeling of multiple betrayals sinks into Blane, he thinks:

"If I'd had enough energy, I'd have kicked myself.

"I could smell everything I'd stepped into, fallen into, and got my hands into. After a while I was almost ready to turn myself in if the cops would guarantee me a hot bath."

This isn't a great, four star PI novel. But it is above average for any publisher, which may make it one of the best in the Ace Double line. It is certainly good enough in concept and execution to make me read more by Louis Trimble.

Richard A. Moore

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