RARA-AVIS: Roger Torrey's 42 Days For Murder

From: Moorich2@aol.com
Date: 11 Nov 2002

Ed Lynskey asked yesterday for an opinion of 42 DAYS FOR MURDER By Roger Torrey and it just so happens I finished the novel that very day. I had picked it out as my 30s decade novel and am so glad I did. It turned out to be the most enjoyable reading I've done in months. What a blast!

Published in 1938 (and reprinted by Dennis McMillan in 1988), this is the only novel by Black Mask regular Torrey. It features private eye Shean Connell who fits the classic mold of the hard-drinking, fast-talking, quick-fisted PI. Connell, like the author, is also a barrel-house piano player who plays well enough to take club jobs when the cover is useful. Torrey has a nice, knowing touch when writing about the piano work.

 The setting is Reno, Nevada, then best known as the divorce capital of the United States. In order to establish residency and be eligible for the courts of Nevada, it was necessary to live there for six weeks--hence the title.

The setting is also one of the great attractions of this novel as the Reno lovingly described is nearly wide-open. Torrey gives us this Reno with great texture as when he shows us a hotel which both the crooks and the semi-corrupt cops leave as a neutral zone that can serve as a meeting place.
 Or, the brothel with 48 cribs in the shape of a horseshoe and the drugged-up whores who work there.

Connell is hired by a rich guy whose wife decamped on him and moved to Reno in order to divorce him. Still in love ("...a man in love is always a pitiful thing"), the client just wants to talk with his wife but is prevented from doing so by her lawyer who has considerable legal and illegal power in Reno ("I've always hated the fat, smooth toad type and he was the perfect example"). That is Connell's assignment but nothing is as it seems and a complex but nicely worked out plot builds from this simple base.

The action is incredibly fast-pasted. This thing moves! But better than that is the running first person commentary of Connell. He has a teenage sidekick named Lester. When the kid falls for this huge brassy blonde, Connell gives him this advice, "She's too big for you; she'd grapple with you and take two falls out of three. Why, my God, kid, you could have her, another cow, and a dozen milk bottles and start a milk route."

Or the girl he ended up paired with through much of the novel nicknamed
"Spanish." She was drop-dead gorgeous but he hated her voice. "I don't expect them perfect, at my age, but I don't want them saying sweet nothings in my ear and sounding as though they had adenoids while doing it. It's not that I'm so fussy but you can hear a voice even in the dark."

Or when Lester remarked on the youth of a prostitute (who told the cops "Just a minute Chief. You ain't getting any cherry; I been pinched before") that she hardly seemed more than a child: "She's been further under the barn after eggs than you've been away from home, kid. That's a tough baby."

Or in commenting on the health status of a guy he'd shot: "My slug had caught him just below the knee and ranged up the whole length of his thigh. They dug it out up by his hip but they had to cut off his leg to find it."

To repeat, from one who loves the old stuff from the 1920s & 30s, this is a great read.

Richard Moore

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