A Short Bier

Rough Edges: Forgotten Books: A Short Bier - Frank Kane

Frank Kane was a news columnist. He wrote stories for numerous publications and wrote screenplays. But, most of all, he wrote stories about a PI named Johnny Liddell. In all, he published at least 29 Lidell novels and hundreds of short stories. Liddell is a tough, no-nonsense PI whose first inclination is to ask questions with his fists. He has a one man office in NYC with a redheaded secretary who tries to type without ruining her nails but has a witty sense of humor.

Interestingly, I didn’t realize what a bier was, thinking it was slang for a beer or a pier. It is actually “a movable frame on which a coffin or a corpse is placed before burial or cremation or on which it is carried to the grave.” That fits in with this story quite well.

Margot Stanton was tall. Her honey-colored hair was piled on top of her head and “a blue hostess gown was doing an indifferent job of containing her full-blown figure.” Margot was secretly meeting with a reporter named Jensen who comes calling with a .38 in his pocket and who is writing a series about Madden. Margot tells him that she wants his protection in exchange for information. She’s still a mobster’s girl, though. So reporter or not, Jensen better watch his step with this dame. She may be tougher than she looks.

When Larry Jensen’s body is found in a car near Pier 26, Jensen’s editor Jim Kiely asks Johnny Liddell to look into the matter. Johnny quickly gets into a shoot out and ends up in jail.
For someone with as many dealings with the police as Liddell has had, he doesn’t get along with them as well as he should.

Kane’s description of Johnny’s trip to Las Vegas as part of the investigation gives the flavor of Vegas in the mid-fifties. “At all hours of the night, cars and taxis disgorge crowds of feverish, chattering tourists and week-end refugees from Los Angeles who fervently make the pilgrimage from one spot to another, always in the hope that the next place will have hotter dice or more co-operative slot machines,” he explains. The shows in Vegas were alive to the sound of Jazz: “The trumpet man started blowing up a breeze, while the man on the stick was bent over double, his clarinet almost touching the floor” and “the redhead undulated in the middle of the floor” with “her shoulders picking up the beat of the drum” and her hair falling “in a coppery cascade over her shoulders.” As the drummer picked up the tempo, her twisting and squirming became more frenetic.”

But chasing down leads in Vegas is no vacation for Liddell who meets more than one crooked dame and gets involved in violent shootouts with men bent on putting a stop to the investigation. Non-stop action is the name of the game here.

The story swings from the deserts of the southwest to Spanish Harlem and then to boxing arenas and wealthy enclaves in Manhattan. It’s one terrific story and, if anything, Kane is one of the most underrated pulp writers out there.

You can’t go wrong picking up any Johnny Liddell mystery. They are all top-notch work, all quick-reading, and all worthy of your time.

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