Gale Gallagher

Chord In Crimsons

“Gale Gallagher” is both the author and the private eye character herself in two late 1940’s novels, I Found Him Deadand Chord In Crimson. The books are written as if the private investigator herself is detailing authentic case histories in response (or even rebuttal) to the glut of hard-boiled detective novels so popular at the time. In fact the first book’s rear dust jacket purports to show the author/detective herself. Actually, the character — and pen name — was the real-life husband and wife writing team of Margaret Scott and William Oursler.

Private investigator Gallagher is the daughter of a widower New York cop, raised like a boy and groomed for a career in law enforcement. But she abandoned the police academy to open her own agency, the Acme Investigating Bureau. Gale’s licensed to carry (but rarely does). She’s smart, sarcastic, an elegant dresser, frequents Manhattan’s nightclubs and dates (or at least flirts with) her share of men.

I FOund Him Dead Front & Back

Rooting around in the dusty history of mid-twentieth century ‘stiletto gumshoes’ can be a little frustrating.  Intriguing characters like Scott and Oursler’s Gale Gallagher vanished, while ‘blonde bombshells’ like G.G. Fickling’s Honey West and Carter Brown’s Mavis Seidlitz flourished in multiple titles and editions. In a way, Gale Gallagher marks a transition point between the relatively demure amateur female sleuths from the 1930’s pulps and drawing room mysteries to the ‘saucier’ 50s/60s/70s series, and owes more to the familiar male hard-boiled private eye series of the time.

Easy Innocence

Easy Innocence 2008 ed

Easy Innocence was the first first Libby Fischer Hellmann novel I read, later reading Toxic City (a prequel, if I recall), An Eye For Murder and still eager to dig deeper into her dozen other books. Hellmann’s a Washington DC transplant to Chicago, but depicts both the city and the ‘burbs like she was born here. Novels that feel like they’re set in Anytown, USA sometimes can disappoint. Hellmann does an artful job of creating a sense of place here. In fact, the disconnect between the city and the tony North Shore lakefront suburbs plays a key part in Easy Innocence’s plot, where privileged ‘mean girls’ let an easy mark take the fall for the brutal murder of one their own, which will eventually reveal more than just unexpected violence among the mansions, manicured lawns and snooty prep school crowd, but something even more surprisingly sleazy and sinister. This was the first in the Hellmann’s Georgi Davis series, Davis a former cop turned private investigator. It was a great read…look for it.

Easy Innocence 2002 limited edition

Lillian Frost

Design For Dying

My own tastes in mysteries and crime fiction run more from hard-boiled (the harder the better) to noir – classic, ‘neo’ and everything in between. For some reason though, I’ll happily embrace softer or lighter-toned material (though rarely so-called ‘cozies’) in retro settings. I don’t know why flipping the calendar back a few decades dials up my interest level, but it always has.

Perfect example: Renee Patrick’s Lillian Frost & Edith Head series, with two novels released so far, Design For Dyingand Dangerous To Know. Set in late 1930’s Hollywood, the first in 1937 and the next the following year, the novels introduce Lillian Frost, a New York transplant trading dreams of silver screen stardom for a job in a department store, initially poking into the murder of a former roommate found wearing an elegant gown stolen from the Paramount Pictures costume department, domain of Edith Head, who’s not yet the multi-Oscar nominated designer. The books include cameos from famous Golden Age stars and do an excellent job of portraying this often used location and time period.

Dangerous To Know

Renee Patrick is actually a pen name for the husband and wife team of Rosemarie and Vince Keenan (shades of G.G. Fickling of Honey West fame). Their well-drawn lead, Lillian Frost, is a classic ‘plucky’ girl detective type, celebrating the clichés while paving some new ground at the same time. The able assistance of designer Edith Head is a brave but inspired choice. Hard-boiled or noir-ish? Not a bit. But both books were absolute delights, and I hope there’ll be more. Try them, or go to reneepatrickbooks.com to learn more about the series.

Reneepatrickbooks.com

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