When this novel starts out, it’s hard to know who the detective is going to be. A young police reporter named Charles Morden uncovers a potential scandal involving a banker and businessman from a neighboring city. Morden sets out to investigate, but murder soon crops up, and it looks like Dan Bleeker, the very Perry Mason-like publisher of the newspaper, is going to take over as the detective. But there are more murders, and about a fourth of the way into the book, criminologist Sidney Griff comes onto the scene and dominates the action from then on. Griff, too, is reminiscent of Mason in that he figures out pretty quickly what’s going on and manipulates people and events to uncover the truth and get the results he wants.
This book is from the more hardboiled phase of Gardner’s career and has some nice action in it, including a shootout with a guy standing on the running board of a speeding car and blasting away. You gotta love that stuff, or at least I do. There’s also quite a bit of humor and snappy patter, and of course the usual rapid-fire pacing. The early Gardner novels are nice snapshots of their era. Reading them is like watching a good 1930s B-movie. If you’re in that sort of mood, they’re great entertainment, and THE CLUE OF THE FORGOTTEN MURDER definitely falls into that category. Here’s the opening paragraph, which I really like:
Crime sifted into police headquarters and then seeped down into the press room in the basement with the unfailing regularity of dirty water draining through the waste pipe of a bathtub.
I couldn’t find a scan of the original edition, but like most Gardner novels, there were numerous paperback reprints which can still be picked up fairly inexpensively.