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- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Kill Now, Pay Later (1960, reprinted 2007) is by Robert Terrall, who is also Robert Kyle and John Gonzales and occasionally even Brett Halliday (leading to a lovely situation where Mr. Terrall blurbed himself). Those were the golden days of pseudonyms.
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.