RARA-AVIS: Knight Rhoades

From: Jim Beaver ( jumblejim@prodigy.net)
Date: 23 May 2000

Occasionally I will make a note to myself to find and read a certain book, usually because it relates to some research I'm doing or because it deals with a subject I find interesting, or, as is often the case on rara-avis, it comes highly recommended in a genre I love.

A year or so ago, I found one of these notes to myself that had lain around forgotten for some time. I could not at all remember why I had made the note, but I did recall that I had done so with some enthusiasm. All the note said was: "She Died On the Stairway" by Knight Rhoades.

I put it onto my want list at www.abebooks.com and it finally showed up a couple of months ago. I purchased it and was delighted to see that it was a lovely little PBO with a gaudy late-Forties cover (delectable dame lying somewhat the worse for wear on a staircase).

Now I've read it. It was pretty awful, a cozy, old-dark-house mystery disguised as a hardboiled. Nothing to recommend it, even to cozy fans. Except:

It features a San Francisco homicide dick who keeps his suspects distracted and off-balance by doing magic tricks during his interrogations. One of his interrogees actually recognizes the methodology and cries out suddenly,
"Wait a minute. You're not the-- the Sleight-of-Hand Cop, are you?" "Yep, that's me," replies our hero.

As wacky as this is, it isn't implemented often or well enough to make the book worth reading, even for a laugh. But it reminded me of a friend who performs in a sketch comedy company. He has a character called Magic Cop, who pulls people over for fun and makes their drivers licenses disappear, etc. "Let me ask you, sir, have I ever pulled you over before?" Pretty funny routine. Lots funnier than this book.

After this long-winded lead-in, I have a question. I can't remember, even after reading the book, why on earth I ever made note of it to seek out. I've not heard of the author, Knight Rhoades, before, and nothing about the story seemed noteworthy, either in execution or subject matter. I do a lot of research into the source material for movies and television shows, but I can't recall any connection between this novel and any film or show I've ever heard of. Does anyone have any knowledge of either the author or the book? Rhoades writes like he wants to be a hardboiled writer, but can't quite give up the Nick and Nora fans. (His cop's wife accompanies him on the case, and she's written like a bargain-basement Myrna Loy.)

Any input would be very welcome.


Jim Beaver

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