Friday, October 3, 2014
Forgotten Books: THE TAG MURDERS by Carroll John Daly (1930)
Damn! Race Williams just doesn't get any better than this.
Back in the early 90s, Otto Penzler began reprinting the Race Williams novels, with Snarl of the Beast and The Hidden Hand. Sadly, they didn't sell well enough for the series to continue. And the saddest part it is that book three - The Tag Murders - is where the:Race stories really kick into high gear.
Like most (if not all) of Daly's novels, this one appeared first, in pieces, in the pulps. In this case, that pulp was Black Mask, in four consecutive issues beginning with March 1929. In the several cases I've been able to examine, the text of Daly's novels was lifted directly from the pulps with no revisions. Sometimes a paragraph or two was dropped, but nothing new was added. I'm guessing that's the case here, because The Tag Murders breaks nicely into four novelettes.
The first, originally published as "Tags of Death," is an unusually traditional mystery story. It's also unusual in that the novel's main plotline - about a criminal organization killing citizens and leaving metal tags on the bodies - is merely the background to the real mystery.
Part two, "A Pretty Bit of Shooting," takes the Tag killers on directly and uncovers the secret behind the gang's seemingly pointless advertising. It builds to a spectacular climax in a crowded Broadway theater.
Part four, "Race Williams Never Bluffs," takes up 110 pages of the book (more than one-third) and must have been one of the longest Race novelettes ever to appear in Black Mask. This one has everything - including infernal devices and torture - and brings the story home in fine style.
Bottom Line: If you like Race Williams, you're going to love The Tag Murders. As a book, it's dang near impossible to come by, but the text - in PDF format - is readily available from Vintage Library. And right now it's even on sale. They're offering 10% off the usual bargain price of $6.95. For instant gratification, I suggest you click HERE.