Book Review: Slay Ride: A Johnny Liddell Mystery by Frank Kane

Title: Slay Ride: A Johnny Liddell Mystery

Author: Frank Kane

Format: Paperback edition, Dell Books

Published: 1959


The 1950s were most definitely the heyday of the hard boiled private eye in paperback.  Spurred on by the success of Mickey Spillane and others, publishers filled the shelves with their own takes on the two fisted gumshoe who straddles the line between Pulp and Noir.  Frank Kane was one of the better purveyors of this trend at the time and introduced the world to Johnny Liddell, a PI of questionable morals, but who lived inside a solitary code of his own making.

Slay Ride finds Liddell tied up with a detective agency that currently is working on a rash of jewelry heists that have taken the city by storm.  The agency’s part has been largely to handle the payoffs to crooks who contact them or the insurance companies and say for a cut of the value of the jewels or the policies on them, they’ll return said jewels to their owners via Liddell and his like.  Although he’s not a fan of this, Liddell accepts it as part of the business.  That is, until people start dying, including a young rookie PI who took a job that was originally assigned to Liddell.

This single death fires up Johnny’s code and spurs him forward into a tangle of conspiracy, theft, and murder.  Along the way, he runs headlong into various characters on both sides of the law and of course, enough women to turn any man’s head.  The resolution to this one is overall satisfying, but to be honest, there’s not much in these pages that can’t be found done as well and usually better in other books.

Liddell is perfectly cast in the mold of the 1950s private eye, solid with the women, always dodging bullets from the law and the lawless, and as cool as ice, in action and verbiage. The characters inside this little mystery are all done well, too, but again, there’s not a lot that makes this stand out from any other read from that era.

Slay Ride gets three out of five pages.  It’s a fun read if you’re a fan of the genre and aren’t looking for something other than a quick, good mystery.

I’ll load four out of six bullets in my usual scale for this one. Nothing surprising in this that makes it just top notch, but it meets every bar I think Kane was reaching for when he wrote it.

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