Thursday, December 7, 2017

FOURTH DEGREE, by K. S. Daiger

Here's a rarity for you; I just happened to come across a mention of this author in Jess Nevin's Encyclopedia of Pulp Heroes and decided to track them down. K. S. Daiger was a local author, and I came across a reference to K. S. being a woman, but am otherwise unable to find much biographical information.

Fourth Degree, published in 1931, opens in the wealthy and bucolic suburb of Towson, outside Baltimore. Beautiful Sunny Paige has been found murdered in her house on the posh Paige estate. Baltimore city cop Everett Andrews, or "Captain Andy" as he's known, is called into the case, although technically Towson is in Baltimore County, not in the city. (This is mentioned, but not much is made of it.) The book is narrated by a newspaper reporter whose full name is never given; they're referred to as "Kay" but it's never clear if that's their first or last name. In fact, I got almost all the way through the book before I found a reference to Kay's sex; I wondered if Daiger had pre-figured Sarah Caudwell's sleuth Hilary Tamar (whose sex is never revealed), but toward the end Kay is firmly referred to as a man. (There are clues galore, but I didn't want to jump to conclusions....but given the time period, and this is a character running around with the cops and handling a gun, chances are it's a man.

It's essentially a country-house murder case mixed with a police procedural; the cops have to piece together the clues leading to the killer of wealthy Sunny. Was it her philandering husband? Her maid, who has a dark past? Her neighbor, who may or may not be a false friend? The lawyer who was in love with her? The shady private eye hired to find clues of his own?

The problem this book has is that the prose is often overheated, and plot elements are introduced, then dropped as soon as they're inconvenient. A shady woman that the husband was involved with? There's a plot thread there that's dropped. The maid's shady past? Same there. A cop's difficult relationship with his family? Yup, dropped. And Daiger goes on several times about how this case "has gone down in the history of Maryland criminology" which is clunky enough to begin with but is repeated too many times.

So, yeah, not a great novel. I didn't hate it, there were a few times I laughed, and it was kind of fun reading all the references to Baltimore of almost a century ago. I work in Towson now, and it's interesting reading of that bustling, very developed suburb as a quiet rural town.

But I had a good belly laugh when reporter Kay refers to Captain Andy as having helped reduce Baltimore's crime rate to one of the lowest in the country. Oh my, how times have changed.

Daiger wrote another book, but I may not bother.

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