Before the Travis McGee series MacDonald made his mark with dozens of Gold Medal originals. A large number are considered classics and remain admired by many authors. This one is classic noir and fans of crime novels will really like it. I know I did.
Cliff Bartells is forced to resign from the corrupt Florence City, Florida police force. He was a Lieutenent with a gold badge. When he wouldn’t play ball with the local syndicate boss and crooked cops that badge went to brass as he became a patrolman. He knew he had to quit.
Now he’s an investigator for an insurance company. The cops resent him even more as he’s bought back some stolen jewelry to end a couple cases. Now an elderly spinster has been murdered and her jewelry stolen. It was insured for three quarters of a million dollars.
He agrees to buy them back for a nice piece of change for himself. He wants it kept quiet because he knows the local cops will come down hard on him. He meets the woman’s knockout niece, Melody Chance.
Her aunt’s will leaves her the estate if she marries a man who has been chasing her seemingly forever. He’s a fortune hunter and she wants nothing to do with marriage. She knew him when she was a little girl. Cliff gets involved with her as he continues his investigation.
He suspects a servant couple may have has something to do with it. He talks with the man and his wife opens her mouth and gets slapped down for it. Cliff knows their favorite bar and drops in. He get the wife to come with him while hubby is busy playing shuffleboard. When he drops her off at their place, her husband is waiting. He starts to work her over until Cliff saves the day.
He has his only police friend follow the husband. He loses him and the man is found dead. The wife suspects Cliff and tries to fill him full of holes with a :45. In the course of the investigation Cliff is held by the crooked police chief and two officers Cliff rode hard when he was their superior officer. The officers take revenge now with a third degree.
The book is good, hard boiled stuff. What makes this one really special is that it’s MacDonald’s first published novel.