- By Milton M. Propper
- First published: US: Harper & Brothers, 1930
Philip Nixon is the president of American Motors, the biggest auto concern in the world. On the eve of cornering the US automobile market, his corpse is found on the train tracks. Sgt. Gilmore had been asked to act as a bodyguard to the financier. Fortunately, Gilmore was a passenger on the train that hit Nixon’s body…
Milton M. Propper (1906–62) was an American devotee of Freeman Wills Crofts and Lynn Brock. Mike Grost and Curt Evans have both written appreciatively of him; although he doesn’t reach the heights of Crofts at his best, and he’s not as good a stylist as Brock, I’m sure that JJ for one would enjoy him.
The book is the American equivalent of Crofts: a methodical policeman, “not brilliant, [but] capable and thorough”, testing discrepancies and checking alibis; finance; transport (three different train and two cars thundering across New Jersey by night); and plenty of railway timetables. Like his British models, Propper handles a complex plot admirably, unfolding layer by layer, each mystery’s solution opening new possibilities. The pure puzzle satisfies because there is no fat. But which character doesn’t need to be in the book, has no motive, and hasn’t been suspected when all the other characters have been eliminated? There’s your murderer!
With Audobon stock soaring under his skillful manipulation, with the money world aghast at the significance of the colossal “corner”, the death of Philip Nixon was a calamity. Mangled on the steel rails of the East Shore Express, his body yielded no clues.
Armed with knowledge of blackmail threats, Detective Sergeant Gilmore of the Philadelphia Police took the case with full confidence of pushing it to an obvious and rapid conclusion. But numerous motives appeared, and soon the list of potential murderers included gangsters thirsting for revenge, the brothers of a betrayed girl, a desperate bear speculator and the man’s own secretary, once before convicted of manslaughter.
Who threw the body on the tracks? By sheer doggedness and an intelligence that missed no single detail, Gilmore solved this thrilling mystery in a way that will delight the keenest reader.
Books (Will Cuppy, 23rd March 1930, 180w): Mr. Propper eliminates the main suspects with much skill and arrives at an exciting climax by means of last-minute evidence. An honestly posed puzzle.
Bookm (April 1930, 100w)
NY Times (6th April 1930, 100w)
Sat R of Lit (19th April 1930, 300w): One of the main functions of a murder story is to mystify. This novel certainly does so and coupled with this is a very readable if plain prose… Mr. Propper has undoubtedly done a very good job. He has played the game with the reader according to all the unwritten rules.
Booklist (July 1930)
Times Literary Supplement (2nd October 1930, 200w): Detective stories may be roughly divided into thriller and problems. Mr. Propper’s story is a specimen of the second class—and a good one, written with a sense of design and of responsibility towards the reader.
Spectator (18ith October 1930, 120w): Perhaps the only defect of the book is the stale trick by which a real criminal is only introduced at the last moment, but the clearing of one suspect after another is so ingeniously accomplished that the interest is maintained. Mr. Propper does not disdain to be thrilled by fast driving in motors, a running fight, or even the lack of sophistication of the heroine, and this makes him extremely good company.