When my husband visits, the annual library used book sale, and he journeys into that sea of paperbacks his eyes do not focus on titles. Instead, he looks for book designs, because he knows “his type” of fiction from the sixties into the early seventies has a distinctive look. The fonts on the spine, the colors, even the publisher’s logos stand out like beacons. On a recent search, he found one of his gems, but while the artwork signaled gold, the contents of the book were somewhat of a surprise.
Mark Kilby Solves A Murder –
by Robert Caine Frazer
I spotted my latest read at a book sale and it had all the earmarks of my type of fiction. The series opener for Mark Kilby, who the book’s subtitle said was a debonair man about crime, who tangles with the toughest crooks in town. I enjoyed reading Michael Shayne and Shell Scott and I felt I’d discovered something new.
The story opens with a despondent and troubled executive James Wedburn. His company is on the rocks and for unknown reasons, none of his friends will help him escape his dilemma. On the verge of suicide, a mysterious stranger scoops him from the brink of the irreversible act. Wedburn is now under the protection of Mark Kilby, an operative for a group of investors who see promise in the executive’s failing enterprise. Their investigation has revealed that some secret individual is trying to break Wedburn’s business for unclear reasons. Kilby’s mission is to uncover the truth.
Naturally, Wedburn has a dysfunctional family; a daughter who is attractive but uncertain about her life choices, a son who gambles, drinks, and dates loose women, and a wife who seems close to a nervous breakdown.
With the executive rebounded from his attempted suicide, the hidden enemy sends contract killers on his path. Kilby not only saves him from these undertakings but also his daughter Julia, who forms a crush on the handsome troubleshooter. We also begin to learn about our hero.
My first impressions of Mark Kilby was of a man like Alfred the Butler from the Batman series.
Instead, as the story evolved he becomes a tall, lean man of action who dresses well and carries a shiny yellow cane in a pocket in the waistband of his trousers. It is a weapon and is important to the story, but I must confess it was a goofy and unnatural way to operate.
Mark Kilby, is a British ex-secret agent who now works as an investigator/detective for R.I.S.C., Regal Investment Security Corporation, a consortium of billionaires. This tickled me when I read it. Acronym agencies were extremely popular in fiction in the sixties, while consortiums of the rich (for good & evil) date back to the penny dreadful and Edgar Wallace. Nothing about this book had given me any indication that Kilby would turn out to be a cloak-and-dagger man for big business. It is a novel approach.
Things aren’t all fun and games as Kilby has to get rough with men and women to try and undercover the villain. No book of this type would be complete without gangsters, and although we are talking BIG business, sleazy mobsters make an appearance. I began to get a little disillusioned as three-quarters of the story elapsed without a murder. There had been killing, but only of those nameless necessary toughies who have the job of dyeing in conflict with the hero as a standard course of the story arc.
Finally, there is a murder, and then another and both constructed to make Mark Kilby the prime suspect. The Brit has to think fast now to save his own bacon and the Wedburn family. There is an unrealistic encounter with L.A. detectives who have him cornered, but let him escape custody. This after they listen to his appeal and promise to put the real murderer in their hands that evening. It is a necessary plot element to wrap up the adventure, which surprise; ends with the classic gathering of all the suspects in one room.
Unbelievably there are other installments in the Mark Kilby series. (Listed on Goodreads)
Mark Kilby and the Secret Syndicate
Mark Kilby and The Miami Mob
The Hollywood Hoax
Mark Kilby Stands Alone
Mark Kilby Takes a Risk
I’ve never seen another edition myself at a sale or in a used bookstore, but they can be purchased at various sites online. (The cover art on several of them is outstanding.) PocketBooks sold these paperbacks for 25-cents, and I paid 50-cents for mine at the library book sale. I confess, if I had spent a dollar or more I would have felt cheated.