Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Where There's Smoke by Stewart Sterling

Ben Pedley is the head Fire Marshall of New York City with the responsibility of investigating and determining the cause of fires in a city with seven million inhabitants. When this story begins, he was called to a fire at the Brockhurst Theater where, on this very cold night, fire men would be battling a blaze with water which would coat them and their equipment with ice.

The fire had started in the dressing room of the lovely radio singing star, Leila Lownes. Ben Pedley rescued Leila from the flames, but it was not until after the fire was put out that firemen discovered the burned body of her brother, Ned Lownes. curled up under a couch. An autopsy would reveal that Ned had had a lot to drink before his death, and inspection of the dressing room indicated that the fire had been deliberately set.

Ned Lownes had been Leila's manager, and he had treated her badly. She had a good motive for wanting his death. There was also Paul Amery, her lawyer, Terry Ross, her press agent,  and Hal Kelsey, a band director, who all  had reasons for wanting Ned dead. Another murder and arson would occur as those in Leila's life struggled to get control of her career and the money that could be made from her performance contracts.

Steward Sterling (1895 - 1976) was the pen name of Prentice Mitchell who also wrote under the pen names of Spencer Dean and Jay deBekker. He wrote about unconventional detectives such as Ben Pedley and Don Cadee, a department store detective. He was also a screen writer and an author of radio scripts. If you are interested in more information on Prentice Mitchell, read the essay by Richard Moore.

I found this book to be interesting, and it was good to have a crime solver who wasn't a traditional detective or policeman. The book does have a lot of slang terms which may have been more comprehensible in 1946 than they are now, but now they just make reading more difficult. The author has great respect for firemen and the difficult job that they do. His writing is best when he is describing the actions of the firemen and their equipment.

This book was published in 1946. I have read it for the 2017 Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt in the category of a book with a red object on the cover.


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