Back in January, I reviewed D.L. Champion's "The Day Nobody Died," a richly plotted locked room mystery from the pages of Dime Detective Magazine, which resembled one of those clever short stories by Ellery Queen, but as good as the plot were the cast of series-characters – spearheaded by an angry, bitter and unhinged former police detective. Deputy Inspector Allhoff of the New York Police Department was "the NYPD's ace detective" until "bullets from a mobster's machine gun robbed him of his legs."
Allhoff was too good a detective to lose and the department creatively doctored the books to keep him, unofficially, employed and refer to him "such cases as the department couldn't or wouldn't handle." Lamentably, the consequences of that botched arrest and shootout would continue to extract a heavy toll on everyone involved.
Deputy Inspector Allhoff lost not only his legs and a promising career, but had to move into a filthy, cockroach infested flophouse across from headquarters. As a result, his sanity buckled under the traumatic injuries to both his mind and body, turning him into "a bitter misanthrope," who delighted in verbally abusing and mentally torturing the man he personally holds responsible for his situation, Patrolman Battersly – who Allhoff demanded be assigned to him as his personal assistant. Battersly is routinely bullied by Allhoff with "grotesquely embellished" accounts of his "momentary cowardice." This has left the young policeman in a constant state of anxiety.
Stuck between this rock and a hard place is the narrator of the series, Sergeant Simmonds, who had been "dragged down from a good desk job" to take care of the paperwork, but is to ensure Allhoff and Battersly don't kill each other. And he was slowly going nuts as he had to watch Allhoff's "cunning mind devise new methods of torturing the younger man."
A few years ago, Altus Press began reissuing this series, seventeen of the twenty-nine stories, which were collected in The Complete Cases of Inspector Allhoff, vol. 1 (2014) and The Complete Cases of Inspector Allhoff, vol. 2 (2018) with an introduction by Ed Hulse. I'm not overly familiar with the pulps, but, going by what little I have read, this series was certainly better than "the typical penny-a-word prose found in the Bloody Pulps." So let's take these stories down from the top.
I'll try to keep the reviews of the individual stories as brief as possible to prevent this blog-post from becoming a bloated mess.
This collection opens with "Footprints on a Brain," originally published in the July, 1938, issue of Dime Detective Magazine (hereafter, DDM) and brings Detective-Sergeant Carrigan, of the Chicago Police, to New York when the person he had been assigned to protect died under suspicious circumstances – which could have either been a suicide or murder. Richard B. Hadley was dying of cancer and had been working on a tell-all memoirs, but, when he had completed the manuscript, he apparently turned a gun on himself and pulled the trigger. However, Carrigan believes he had been murdered. Allhoff agrees with his opinion and deduces part of the truth from such clues as a pack of razor blades, a postage stamp and the chattering of Chimney Swallows. The other part, namely ensnaring the murderer, requires the setting of a clever little trap.
So, as the introductory story in this series, Champion had to establish his series-characters and their bizarre, borderline sadomasochistic relationship. This means there's more abuse here than normally. Allhoff really goes to town on poor Battersly and, by the end of the story, he's reduced to a broken, sobbing mess of a human being. Allhoff deserves sympathy for having lost his legs, but makes it impossible to give him any, because he's a first-ballot Hall of Fame piece of shit.
The next story, "I'll Be Glad When You're Dead," originally appeared in the September, 1938, issue of DDM and this time it's not Battersly who takes the brunt of Allhoff's abuse, but one of "the smartest and crookedest lawyer" in town, Philips – who had "bought more juries than Jim Brady had diamonds." Philips made the mistake to call Allhoff a legless, smug little gnome and proceeded to throw coffee in his face. So now he's determined to nail the lawyer for the murder of his business partner, Gregory L. Somers, who was found with a bullet in his head on the floor of his office.
Don't worry, this is an inverted detective story, of sorts, in which Allhoff plays a risky game of cat-and-mouse with a crooked, but highly influential, lawyer. Sergeant Simmonds even remarks that, if he can think his way out of this mess, he'll "go down in history as Machiavelli, the second." Allhoff undeniably has a Machiavellian streak and a complete disregard for the rule of law, which is a fatal combination that planted Philips in the electric chair. So a good how-to-catch'em type of crime story.
The third story, "Lock the Death House Door," was originally published in December, 1938, issue of DDM and is the second impossible crime in this series listed by Adey in Locked Room Murders (1991). But I hope there are more in this, until recently, incredibly obscure and hard-to-get series.
Battersly has had a date with Ruth Manning and she happens to be the daughter of a convicted murderer, Morris Manning, who Allhoff put on death row and is less than twelve hours removed from his execution, which Allhoff sadistically use as cudgel – telling Battersly to remember he put her father on the chair when he's wiping away her tears. However, Battersly has an unpleasant surprise for Allhoff. The D.A. office is “digging out a pardon for Manning” on the strength of evidence Battersly has uncovered. Someone even confessed to have been the murderer. Allhoff is beyond himself with fury and vindictively sets out to destroy the newly surfaced evidence, because Manning must and shall burn in the hot seat – a problem complicated when the man who had confessed is murdered in locked and guarded prison cell. This is another how-to-catch'ems with a simplistic locked room mystery thrown in the works.
So not quite the classic locked room story, like "The Day Nobody Died," but still a good story.
The next story is "Cover the Corpse's Eye," first published in the July, 1939, issue of DDM, which began on a positive note for the downtrodden, browbeaten Battersly. He was instrumental in the arrest of a notorious murderer, Ronnie Regan, who appears to have shot and robbed a well-known banker, Alfred Sontag. Allhoff was livid and relentlessly started to rain on his parade by finding someone else to put in the electric chair. The solution is not entirely original and very pulpy, but it was adeptly handled here by Champion.
"Dead and Dumb" was originally published in the October, 1939, issue of DDM and opens with the absolutely impossible, not a murder in a hermetically sealed room, but peace and tranquility reigning in the slum office of Allhoff, which has miraculously persisted for five days. Sergeant Simmonds even heard him singing fragments of The Missouri Waltz! This changes the moment a cab-driver staggered into the room, supporting a mortally wounded man, who had demanded to be brought to Allhoff instead of the hospital.
Unluckily, the victim is a deaf mute and he dies before he can communicate with them, but Allhoff is clever enough to link this murder to a reported suicide at the Rickerts Institute, on Long Island, which is an asylum for deaf mutes – where a third murder is committed right under Allhoff's nose. A suicidal move when you're faced with an unforgiving, vindictive and merciless opponent, like Allhoff, who only finds pleasure in cornering people. And watch them squirm. Another good story with an interesting background and a clever take on a very EQ-like motive.
The next story, "A Corpse for Christmas," was originally published in the December, 1939, issue of DDM and is, without question, the standout story of the collection.
The story opens two days before Christmas and Allhoff is bah-humbugging the merriment of the season. A merry period in which "a million morons get drunk" and go home "to beat their wives" or the Nazis who'll "undoubtedly blow thousands of British into little pieces," but the demented Ebenezer Scrooge in deerstalker is visited by his very own Ghost of Christmas – who becomes one of his most formidable opponents in this series. A breathtakingly beautiful woman visits the slum apartment on behalf of the Society League's Holiday Aid Organization. She brought a covered basket with "a real old-fashioned Christmas dinner to the worthy poor."
Allhoff is furious at this kindly offer, but exploded when the woman tells him not to let his "foolish pride" stand in the way of a delicious turkey, because why would he deprive himself of "two fat legs." That remark was the proverbial match that lit the powderkeg. However, Allhoff has not seen the last of this unflappable woman. She turns up again in a bizarre murder/suicide case on Long Island, but she possesses a cast-iron alibi. At the time of the double shooting, she was in the apartment getting yelled at by Allhoff. So, if she did it, how could she have been in two places at the same time. An excellent detective story with an alibi-trick worthy of the alibi-breaking stories by Christopher Bush.
The next story is "Sergeants Should Never Sleep" was originally published in the March, 1940, issue of DDM, which turned out the be only dud in the collection. The story began promisingly with Sergeant Paul Hamtrack requesting to be temporarily assigned to Allhoff, in order to study his method's first hand, but Sergeant Hamtrack is notorious career yes-man. Adding an additional strain to the torturous, daily routine of Battersly and Simmonds. Unfortunately, the apparent problem of "a killing done by a sneak thief" degenerates into a World War II spy tale with an obvious solution.
The next story, "Turn in Your Badge," was culled from the pages of the June, 1940, issue of DDM and opens with the news that the body of Lieutenant Mike Arnold, of the Racketeering Squad, had been pulled out of the river with his feet in a block of concrete and his tongue cut out – complemented by nine bullet holes. Allhoff is shocked by the news and annoyed that his daily reports from Headquarters are late, but this has a very good reason. Acting Commissioner Blakely has decided to sever their "unofficial connection" and gives him a week to sort out his affairs. Allhoff was fucking furious.
Blakely arrested a well-known gangster for the murder of Sergeant Arnold and Allhoff is convinced the murderer disguised his work as a mob killing, because it was complete overkill. So he wants to find the real murderer and uses the life of an innocent man to mercilessly destroy Blakely and secure his unofficial standing within the department. Battersly and Simmonds were not happy with this outcome, to say the least. And they were so close to freedom they could actually taste it.
"There Was a Crooked Man" is the penultimate story, originally published in the August, 1940, issue of DDM and has Allhoff rudely turning down a huge fee to privately investigate a murder, but accepts an offer to investigate the very same murder when a crippled man asks him to. Champion used a lot of handicapped characters in his stories and, in this volume alone, there are blind characters, deaf mutes and cripples, which also play some part in the solution. So I was able to foresee which direction the plot was taking. Still a very well put together story, but the solution was not difficult to anticipate.
Finally, the collection closes with "Suicide in Blue," first published in the October, 1940, issue of DDM, which is a quasi-impossible crime about a series of threatening extortion letters demanding money and refusal to pay has fatal consequences – accurately predicting the date and time of their date. One of the victim's a policeman, Sergeant Wheeler, who apparently committed suicide with his own Service Revolver. Obviously, this turned the suicide into a murder, but Allhoff disagrees and sets out to prove a suicide and find a murderer. And, of course, he pulls it off. However, Allhoff pulls one of his nastiest trick to date on poor Battersly. Something that could have easily pushed him over the edge. What can I say? Allhoff is a bit of a dick.
So, all in all, The Complete Cases of Inspector Allhoff is an excellent volume of high-quality pulp detective stories full with grotesque, broken characters, sordid murders and often clever plots, but not every reader today will be able to put up with the vindictive, acid-tongued Allhoff. A truly sadistic, mentally unhinged character and the ultimate anti-hero. In my opinion, the only true weaknesses is that every single story goes over the series origin story, which becomes repetitive after the third or fourth story. You can easily skip these endlessly rewritten passages after the first story. My second complaint is that only one of the stories, "A Corpse for Christmas," came close to the superb "The Day Nobody Died." Most of the stories here were pretty good, but not anywhere near that classic short story.
However, this will not deter me from getting the second volume. Despite the sadistic, broken and weary main-characters, Champion created an original and unforgettable series like no other in the genre. Simply fascinating and highly recommended, if you think you can stomach Allhoff.