Friday, July 6, 2012

Forgotten Books: Murder '97 by Frank Gruber

This is the third and last book in my favorite Gruber series - the adventures of Simon Lash. Why is it my favorite? Because Lash is not only a hardboiled detective - he's a book collector. (Simon Lash, Private Detective is reviewed HERE, and The Buffalo Box is HERE)

The first book, you may recall, had an Old West theme, and the second revolved around the history of the Donnor Party. This time, the focus is on Horatio Alger. Lash is hired to track down the original owner of an Alger book, and follows the trail from book dealer to book scout to junk store, uncovering evil doings dating back to 1897.

It's noted several times that at the time of this story, 1948, no one reads Alger anymore. The characters who read him as kids are now in their 60s. But the books have become collectible, and a first edition of Ralph Raymond's Heir, the book at the center of this case, is so rare that a book dealer apologizes for charging $20 for it. Jeez, wouldn't it be great if rare books today sold for twenty bucks, and dealers would apologize for charging that much?

Curious what that book would sell for now, I tried to find a copy. There were none offered on ABE or Bookfinder, but a dealer on eBay is asking $200 for what he claims is a first. BUT, the binding is orange, and no date is mentioned, while the binding of an 1892 first shown on an authoritative Alger site is blue. So I'm suspicious.

Like most folks, I've never read an Alger book. Closest I came was Frank Merriwell's Schooldays by Burt L. Standish, published in 1901. I wanted to see the origin of George MacDonald Fraser's Flashman character. I found the book relatively painless, but have no desire to read more.

Anyway, Murder '97 is typical Gruber mystery. It's short and breezy with just enough comic relief. I wish he'd written a few more Lash books, and few less Johnny Fletchers.

The ugly green cover above is the hardcover first. Both the good-looking Reader's Choice Library edition (at top) and the even uglier green and yellow Jonathan Press digest claim to be complete and unabridged. Why the Jonathan Press edition was retitled The Long Arm of Murder is a mystery that would baffle even Simon Lash.


Jerry House said...

I have you beat. I actually read a Horatio Alger book. It called (I think; I read it a number of years ago) Dick the Newsboy -- a rags to riches extravaganza. Looking back, I should have read Murder '97 instead.

George said...

I think you're referring to RAGGED DICK, Jerry.

J F Norris said...

Isn't Harry Flashman from TOM BROWN'S SCHOOL DAYS by Thomas Hughes? Bet you never found Flashman in the book you read.

I liked this Simon Lash book. Gruber knows his books. One of my fantasies has always been to travel back in time and purchase a complete set of Arkham House books so I could resell them in the 21st century and rebuild the losses I suffered in my IRA back in 2008.

Evan Lewis said...

I expect you're correct, John. Whatever I read, I know Harry Flashman was in there.

Oscar Case said...

Horatio Alger's "Fame & Fortune"; or "Progress of Richard Hunter" is listed at $400 for a 1st ed. in VG condition. No listing for "Ralph Raymond's Heir." Ref: Eighth Ed of Hulger's Old Book Value Guide which is a few years old itself.