The Man Who Died Twice (1955) by George Harmon Coxe

John McQuade was dying. Ensconced in his estate on Barbados, he had, technically, already died once, but he was revived that time. Now he has summoned his long-estranged nephew, Jim, from England, to make amends before the Reaper finally arrives. But has Jim arrived out of the goodness of his heart, or is his eye set on McQuade’s substantial fortune? Or perhaps, is there another reason behind his visit?

When McQuade is found dead, smothered by a pillow, suspicion falls on Jim – would the man really not have noticed that, when he sneaked into McQuade’s study, the man asleep on the sofa was in fact dead? With suspicion focussing on him, it falls to Jim to find the real murderer. It seems that almost everybody in the neighbourhood had a good reason to kill McQuade – and also, apparently, a good reason to carry on killing…

I can’t remember why I decided to buy this one – not, as one might imagine, as clickbait for people looking for the new Richard Osman book that happens to have the same title. I think it was mentioned on the Golden Age Detection Facebook group as a good example of… something, but it was cheap so I figured I’d give it a go.

George Harmon Cox (1901-1984) was a US crime writer. His primary series character was Jack “Flashgun” Casey, a crime photographer, but having written 62 novels, there are other recurring characters too. Three of his novels were made into films, Women Are Trouble, Murder With Pictures and Here’s Flash Casey, but this one is (I presume) a standalone.

It’s a real page-turner, it has to be said. The opening pre-murder bit is enlivened by a trick that is hinted at (and I doubt will fool most readers) but it’s nicely done. Our central character – most of the book focusses on Jim, although that switches at times for a bit of drama – usually involving Jim’s cousin Alma getting attacked for the umpteenth time. I did like the protagonist a lot, as he gets backed into a situation that gradually gets worse for him with no clear way out. The author’s pulp roots do show a bit – he is rather good at ratcheting up the tension – but that just helps speed the story along.

The weaknesses are that there are a few too many suspects knocking around, with some important characters not really having enough page time to distinguish themselves (for me at least). The clueing is pretty minimal. The clue that finally pinpoints the villain is a visual one that isn’t described well enough to be fair, although there are others that hint at the character’s guilt, so I wouldn’t go as far as call it unfair.

But as I said, there’s a lot of good stuff here – the doyenne of the household is an interesting character, especially her interplay with Jim. It’s flawed but entertaining, certainly worth a look.

2 comments

  1. Interesting to see a review for this author. Not one you see much about on blogs. I have only read the one by him The Camera Clue (1937), which I thought was good, but he has not been a writer I have been driven to seek more out. Helpful to know this one has its merits.

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    • I liked this enough to try one more, but it does look like his work generally is very pulpy. Wish I could remember who’s comment pointed me in this direction, but am pretty sure it was specifically to this book, so this might be his best…

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