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About the author: The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction states: Pseudonym of US author William Levine (1881-? ), who seems to have been active in the late 1920s and 1930s, publishing several crime novels during this period, usually featuring the deductive exploits of the elderly Professor Herman Brierly. Seemingly unnatural events and murders are usually brought back to the mundane by the professor.
He also authored Death Points a Finger, the final selection published by The Mystery League.
- Dr. John Agnew, the shady doctor
- Henry Slater, dead of diabetes before story begins
- Mrs. Frey, an invalid
- Annie Roosma, Mrs. Frey's maid and unstable screaming neighbor
- Charles Stone, who got too close to a cliff
- Dr. Richardson Cornwall, who got a bad whiff of something
- James MacIntosh, Lieutenant of Detectives
- Richard Quantrell Marlow, reporter for the Newark Evening Bulletin
- George Becker, City Editor of the Newark Evening Bulletin
- Louis Carver, chief adjuster of Trans-Pacific Life Insurance Co.
It starts with a brief newspaper item of a scheduled speech by Dr. John Agnew at a medical conference, in which the speaker claimed that science has advanced to a point where murder can be committed, leaving no traces. A year goes by - and Louis Carver, chief adjuster for Trans-Pacific Life Insurance Co. becomes suspicious when the company receives an unusual number of claims for deaths of persons with large value policies. Detective James Macintosh and Reporter Richard Quantrell Marlow notice the death certificates are signed by Dr. Agnew. Is he committing murder for hire?
No sooner do they begin inquiring into the death of the last victim, Henry Slater, when Mrs. Frey, invalid patient of Dr. Agnew, is found murdered in her bed. She had been providing a room for her maid, unstable neighbor Annie, who staged a fake attack upon herself, and screams a lot.
More of Dr. Agnew's patients drop off - Charles Stone (literally, off a cliff) - and his associate Dr. Richardson Cornwall - while their beneficiaries collect large sums. Can Dr. Agnew be stopped?
This follows the police procedural formula - it is known early on who the killer is, the challenge is catching him with proof. It is fascinating how the evil doctor keeps coming up with more convoluted, obscure murder methods - and the detective and his newspaper buddy have to keep digging into research to figure them out.
The annoying aspect of this book is Detective James MacIntosh with his heavy Irish brogue which is rendered phonetically ("Yon's a verra dangerous mon, laddie"), and can turn it on and off at will. Not only is this flip-flopping annoying to the reader, but reporter Marlow likes to fake the brogue just to tease MacIntosh, so it is difficult to follow who is actually speaking. Cute at first, but wears thin quickly.
Caution: Text contains use of the n-word to reference African-Americans.