This novel, like the television program upon which it is based, makes a special effort to establish its setting. The first two chapters begin with short geography lessons, for example. Mention is often made of local landmarks: Bay Meadows, the Fairmont Hotel, Fisherman’s Wharf, and many others. Some street names are bogus (probably intentionally), but otherwise the author seems to have a strong sense of the city. Then comes the final chapter. The detectives make their way from Scotty Campbell’s restaurant in Atherton -- that’s near Palo Alto -- via the Bay Bridge to Alameda. The house they visit there, Kane tells us, is “practically in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge (p. 155).” Which seems like some sort of typo until they head back to San Francisco and take the Golden Gate (and then Lombard Street) to get there. I know that authors can write about California without actually visiting the state. And I’m pretty sure that no one familiar with San Francisco can mix up the two bridges, which are fifteen miles apart and go in different directions. So has Kane been faking his sense of place all along? Could be.
The Lineup by Frank Kane. Dell First Edition (1959), 160 pp.
Lieutenant Ben Guthrie and Inspector Matt Greb are investigating a robbery that has turned into a double homicide. Dead at the scene, a gambling den in Chinatown, are the operator of the house, killed in a blast of mustard gas, and a patrolman outside, hit by the getaway car. Guthrie and Greb, aided by associates within the department, begin a thorough search for clues. They soon discover the vehicle involved, but the owner and his wife, Sam and Em Walters, claim to know nothing about how it got out of the garage. Meanwhile, Sarge Kurtz convinces the other members of his mini-gang, Mike Newman and Doc Lawrence, that it’s not the time to leave town or lie low. So the robberies continue.
What we have here is a completely competent police procedural. Guthrie and Greb are all about the job. They don’t have families; they don’t have other interests; they barely have personalities. While this might have worked on a half-hour TV show, it’s not enough for a novel. So Kane occasionally switches viewpoint to show what the bad guys are doing. Their use of poison gas is a bit zany, but otherwise they, like their adversaries, behave as expected. Although the book doesn’t exactly sparkle, readers attracted to stories about police detectives are likely to enjoy it.