I don't think anyone would say that Frank Gruber (1904-1969) was a great writer or maybe even a great genre writer. But he did have an extraordinarily productive career. He started writing short stories for pulp magazines in the mid-1930s. He published his first novel in 1940. During the next three decades he cranked out thirty-four mysteries and two dozen westerns. His books sold in the tens of millions. (I'm not sure how many were set in California.) Gruber also wrote for movies and television, eventually specializing in westerns. He's credited with writing twenty-five screenplays and dozens of episodes for TV series. As far as I can tell, he continued working right up until his death.
Simon Lash, Private Detective by Frank Gruber. Farrar and Rinehart (1941), 281 pp.
Los Angeles detective Simon Lash is approached by an ex-girlfriend, Joyce Bonniwell. She wants him to find her husband, a banker who has suffered spells of amnesia in the past and has now disappeared. Lash immediately doubts the amnesia story but takes the case anyway. The investigation leads Lash first to Vincent Springer, the bank's president, then to Evelyn Price, a gorgeous redhead who may be the husband's mistress, and then to a mink ranch in the mountains east of Mojave. As Lash suspected from the beginning, there's much more to the case than a simple disappearance.
Frank Gruber once said that a colorful hero was an essential element of a successful mystery story. It's pretty easy to see Gruber creating that hero in this book. Simon Lash isn't just hard-boiled, he's plain nasty to everyone. He treats his fawning sidekick like dirt. And Lash, a smart guy who once practiced law, isn't especially interested in solving mysteries or even earning a living. He'd rather stay home reading from his collection of western Americana. At one point in the story, Lash's diffidence allows a murder to take place. Readers who can put up with this character are likely to enjoy the book, which has many plot twists and moves along swiftly.