George Dyer. The People Ask Death (1940) 313 pp.
San Francisco’s shadowy crime-busting Catalyst Club faces a grave threat—and its greatest challenge—when one of its members, Persen “Buzz” Drake, ace crime reporter for The San Francisco Times, is arrested following the murder of Police Commissioner F. Austin Scarborough. The case against Drake is seemingly airtight. Scarborough was shot in the back in the pool room of the exclusive Thermopylæ Club; the only other person in the room was Buzz Drake, who had accompanied him there following a public argument in the Hall of Justice. For Drake’s defense, the Club turns to young attorney, Richard Victor, who takes what looks like a hopeless case and becomes an unofficial member of the Club. At nearly every turn, the defense efforts are countered by damning stories in the Times’ chief rival, The San Francisco Star (whose editor had tangled with the Club in their previous outing, The Long Death (1937)). Most of the stories are by-lined by the Star’s star reporter, Aram Bagration, who, along with editor Abel Brander, has a personal vendetta against Buzz and the Times. As he sits in jail awaiting the start of his trial, Buzz’s case is also hurt by a series of “sob-sister” columns by the pretty and ambitious Lee Randall. Lee eventually realizes that Buzz is getting a raw deal by her employer and quits, taking a new job with yet another San Francisco paper, The San Francisco Journal, and turning her talents to Buzz’s favor. Even though Catalyst Club applies all of its collective talents to proving Buzz’s innocence, the evidence the members gather still predominantly points to his guilt. The case finally starts to break when Lee remembers a fragment of a conversation she overheard in the Star newsroom between Brander and another reporter, Edgar McGonnigle, on the night of the murder. McGonnigle had been at the Thermopylæ Club the same night, leaving as Buzz and the commissioner were arriving, and had seen—and recognized—someone following them in. But, now McGonnigle is missing and any hope that Richard has of his client escaping with his life is rapidly vanishing....
Setting: San Francisco
Baird & Greenwood 724