We come now to the end of the Vernor Dixon oeuvre, or at least of his works before 1960. After Killer in Silk he stopped writing books for six years. I don't know why. He then produced three paperback originals for downscale publisher Monarch: That Girl Marian (1962), The Pleasure Seekers (1963) and Guerrilla (1963). His last novel, The Rag Pickers (1966), was a hardcover about the fashion business. In all, Dixon wrote sixteen books, ten of which were published between 1950 and 1956 and set in California.
Killer in Silk by H. Vernor Dixon. Fawcett Gold Medal (1956), 189 pp.
Morgan O'Keefe, unsuccessful author of grim novels, has a serious drinking problem. After blowing a good-sized royalty check on a long binge in San Francisco, he's given a chance to dry out in the Pacific Heights home of a reclusive young widow, Irene Wilson. He soon learns that she shot her husband some years before. The death, which gave her control of the family business, had been ruled an accident, but Frank and Glenna Wilson, her brother-in-law and his wife, had suspected murder. O'Keefe doesn't want to remain in the house, especially if he's to be patronized by the Wilsons and their rich friends, but he is intrigued by the killing. Without quite realizing it, he becomes determined to find out what really happened.
Vernor Dixon is at the top of his game here. His interest is not so much crime as character development. Morgan O'Keefe and Irene Wilson begin the story isolated -- he by his and anger and alcoholism, she by a fear (or perhaps a realization) that she really did kill her husband intentionally. As Dixon drops in clues about the shooting, he shows O'Keefe's investigation bringing them both out of seclusion. The portrait of O'Keefe is the sharper and more believable of the two. (He ruminates about writing novels and is genuinely nasty when dealing with the rich folks.) Modern readers may find an unfamiliarly large amount of psychologizing here: The book is, after all, a product of the 1950s. But the story moves easily and Dixon's prose is, as usual, lean and clean. Fans of crime fiction, both genteel and hard-boiled, are likely to enjoy the novel.