Kill Now Pay Later Mass Market Paperback – Jul 30 2007
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About the Author
Robert Terrall wrote many popular and well-reviewed crime novels, including the prescient 1948 classic A Killer Is Loose Among Us, about a biological weapons lab developing weaponized anthrax for use in a terrorist attack. He is best known, however, for his comic work, including the Ben Gates series that began with Blackmail, Inc. in 1958 and included Kill Now, Pay Later. --This text refers to an alternate Mass Market Paperback edition.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Shayne's name will undoubtedly be familiar to most crime fans, being a character who was not only featured in those novels and a popular radio series (later TV), but who also loaned his name to a magazine (Mike Shayne's Mystery Magazine) that published stories by many of crime fiction's biggest names. "Halliday" (presumably Dresser) was also the host (after John Dickson Carr) of Murder by Experts, one of the best crime anthology radio shows of its day.
As Kyle, this prolific writer's claim to fame was a series of novels featuring P.I. Ben Gates. Kill Now, Pay Later is the third in that series of five, and Hard Case Crime has released it under Terrall's own name for the first time.
Hired by an insurance company to guard wedding presents, Gates is subsequently drugged and wakes up to a missing diamond bracelet and two dead bodies. Passing out on the job is not likely to bring new referrals, so Gates takes it upon himself to solve the mystery (against the wishes of Lieutenant Minturn of the state police, who is pretty much satisfied that Gates had something to do with the crime) before he becomes corpse number three.
Unlike most of the other books put out by Hard Case Crime, this one is a pretty straightforward private eye tale. Gates has an eye for the ladies (and, more importantly, they for him), which makes question and answer sessions interesting, but the actual solution -- thought it takes place in the midst of a conflagration -- is rather anticlimactic. And the tidy, tie-up-all-the-loose-ends conclusion, while satisfying in its own way, is certainly not what Hard Case Crime readers will be expecting.
Still, Ben Gates and his friend/colleague are charming characters I would follow to another book, and Terrall's style is smooth enough to make Kill Now, Pay Later a light, easygoing read that would probably appeal to fans of Erle Stanley Gardner's novels under the name A.A. Fair (Top of the Heap, for example).
What's to like? First, some very sharp turns of phrase. There must be at least a couple dozen in the book you just want to read to whomever is within listening distance. Sardonic for sure, but Terrall has a great ear for incisive social observation in a few sentences.
Two, a well thought out plot that twists throughout the book, in not implausible but unexpected ways. A book in which all the clues are dangled and still surprises is rare. Kill Now is such a book.
Finally, the protagonist seems like a real character. He makes mistakes, gets sucked into things which not are as they seem, but comes out ahead in the end. He is a flesh and blood character who earns the readers respect, even though in his introduction, he thoroughly blows his assignment.
Ben Gates is a NYC PI who has a number of associates. Here, he is hired to watch wedding presents and ends up drinking coffee with knockout drops. When he comes to, a bracelet, and a substantial sum of money are missing and two people have lost their lives.
This all takes place in a small country town and the local authorities don't want Gates poking his nose into it.
What proceeds then is a typical PI novel of the era with Gates determined to clear his name and solve the mystery. There are a lot of twists and turns in the plot and the action slows at times. Gates uncovers blackmail, bigamy, pornography, and other sleazy matters.
Terrall's work is at its best when Gates encounters the numerous femme fatales in this book. His wry sense of humor well serves the story in counting the buttons coming undone on one woman's dress and his interest being piqued as another tries to gain his attention. First, there's Shelley who approaches Gates with a glass in one hand and a bottle of champagne in the other. Second, there's Hilda who is up on a ladder wearing a shirt with most of the buttons missing. When the crucial button came off, Gates' suspicions were confirmed. She is indeed a girl. Third, there's Lorraine who isn't embarrassed to be seen wearing nothing more than mascara. Fourth, there's Anna who meets a man in a tavern wearing little more than Gates' raincoat and some heels.
All in all, a worthy book in the Hard Case Crime series, although It is not as fast paced as most.
The story features Ben Gates, a hulking-yet-charming PI in the mold of Richard Prather's Shell Scott. Gates loves a wise-crack, loves the ladies and loves getting himself into increasingly ridiculous situations. Gates isn't afraid of guns or a bit of the rough stuff, but lurking behind his craggy exterior is a razor sharp mind.
In Kill Now, Pay Later, Gates is working a very soft gig - hired by some rich folks to loom at a wedding and make sure that no one steals the presents. There's a bit of temptation (mostly in the form of an inebriated bridesmaid with a good eye for jewellery), but Gates stands strong. That is, until someone drugs his coffee. Much to his embarrassment, he passes out. When he wakes up, some gifts are missing and - worse yet - two people are dead. A thief named Moran snuck into the house and surprised the matron of the house while looting the safe. She dies of a heart attack, he dies of "being shot a lot and then falling over a balcony". All while Gates was dozing on the sofa. His reputation is utterly ruined, and the local police get their kicks by smearing his name in the paper.
Naturally, Gates sets out to find the real villain(s). Someone set him up, and he's extremely displeased. It isn't a straightforward process as the police are determined to push him out of the picture. Gates not only needs to stay a step ahead of them - he needs to stay out of their sight entirely. Although the larger mystery is fairly impressive, Gates' finest detective work takes place in the first half of the book, when (with a staggering hangover), he quickly slaps together the facts required to bully himself onto the case. It is brave, cunning and a little bit desperate - but as an example of lightning-fast deduction, Gates' work is only a half-pace behind Sherlock Holmes'.
Of course, this being a that sort of PI novel, there's plenty going on outside of the mystery. First, there's Shelley, the drunken bridesmaid (and fiancée of the rich folks' wastrel son):
"It was a demure dress, but there was nothing demure about what was inside it. The dress had been engineered to be worn with high-heels, and the shock waves set up an interesting play of movement, chiefly in an up-and-down direction, but accompanied with a slight amount of sway." (11)
There's also Hilda, the part-time maid who brought Gates the doped coffee:
"She settled on a sort of hassock, tucking one foot under her. She had fewer buttons on her shirt than I had thought at first. Even with close scrutiny, and this is a matter which I like to give close scrutiny, I could only count one." (48)
And, of course, Anna DeLong - the rich man's secretary with a mysteeeerious past:
"I stopped in the bedroom doorway. She had dropped the wrapper. She lifted her hands about her head and stretched. I believe this is known as the hard sell." (130)
As far as buxom red herrings go, Kill Now, Pay Later is a veritable fish market. But Ben Gates someone manages to soldier on, bravely interrogating all the suspects to the best of his ability. The whole thing is a bit silly, but it never steps over the line, as Mr. Terrall plays everything as a light-hearted romp rather than deep noir passion. Gates' deft juggling of the three women (two good, one bad, none ugly) is played for smiles, not leers.
Although Mr. Terrall, as demonstrated above, has a gift for the one liner, Gates still stands in the shadow of Shell Scott - probably the finest of the wise-cracking goofball detectives. Mr. Terrall also throws in enough realism to give the case a hard edge. Although Gates maintains a certain aloof, sarcastic air throughout, the atmosphere changes as the book builds. By the end, it isn't about Gates' reputation, as Kill Now, Pay Later turns into something a bit seedy and serious. It makes for a better mystery, but a less jovial story. Still, when it comes down to it, this is yet another example of Hard Case Crime bringing a lost PI great back into the light of publication.
Now, Hard Case Crime blesses readers with KILL NOW, PAY LATER, a Ben Gates mystery that has been out of print for well over 40 years but stands up amazingly well in spite of --- or maybe because of --- the passage of time. The novel begins with Gates on an insurance company job with what is supposed to be a very easy assignment: guarding the presents at a very high-class wedding. It's one of those tasks where no one really expects any trouble, and all Gates has to do is maintain a presence, if you will, to discourage anyone whose thoughts stray toward walking off with something.
Problems begin, however, when someone slips sleeping pills into Gates's coffee. When he comes to the office the next morning, Gates is in huge trouble. Money is missing, two people are dead and Gates is being solemnly assured that he will never get insurance company work again. Suspects abound --- all are female, beautiful and uncontrollably attracted to him. Before he is through, Gates is involved in a caper involving pornography, blackmail and murder. While all the trademarks of the genre are here --- fisticuffs, double-crosses and a good deal of tawdry temptation --- there is also a first-rate, tantalizing mystery in KILL NOW, PAY LATER that clamors for the reader's attention from first page to last.
Terrall is still with us, a solid 93 and counting. It is fitting that in his salad years a new generation of readers should become acquainted with him, while several older generations should re-familiarize themselves with him.
--- Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub