Drink with the Dead by J. M. Flynn. Ace Books (1959), 136 pp.
Treasury agent Kon Jensen, operating undercover to expose a bootlegging operation, is being worked over in the Seacliff (think Santa Cruz) jail. He’s accused of killing McCullough Shannon, co-owner of a local security firm, even though the body of the purported victim has yet to be found. Someone has turned up dead, however. He’s Johnny Levangie, Jensen’s predecessor in the investigation, who was shot by Shannon during an alleged burglary. But the killing might have had another motive, since Levangie had begun dating Shannon’s sometime girlfriend, newspaper reporter Rhody Cranston. Jensen thinks back to the beginning of the case and all the events that have happened since.
Flynn is trying for something just a bit out of the ordinary. He starts with an action scene, then uses a long flashback to lay out the case. He presents all the mysteries right at the beginning: Where’s the illegal still and who’s running it? What’s the real story behind Levangie’s death? And what has happened to Shannon? In addition, while Flynn’s protagonist acts like a loner detective most of the time, he uncomplainingly relies on his fellow feds (including the Air Force) when necessary. To these unusual structural elements the author adds a lively style that keeps the story moving swiftly. True, the novel probably has too many characters to allow any of them to be adequately developed. And the solution to one of the mysteries, while appropriately tricky, would never convince a jury of the culprit’s guilt. All in all, however, fans of genre are likely to enjoy the book.