Thursday, June 21, 2012

Noteworthy Reads: the ED RIVERS series by Talmage Powell

Thanks to the magic of eBooks and the vision of the good folks at Prologue Books (among others), long out-of-print books and genre series are getting new life breathed back into them. The mission statement of Prologue, in fact, is to: "Bring back to the reading public books that help shape the genres we know and revere today … to shine the spotlight on authors who may have been significantly influential on the current state of publishing, but who have never really received their due for one reason or another."

Toward that end, Prologue has re-released the entire series of Ed Rivers novels by Talmage Powell. For those not in the know, Ed Rivers is a Tampa-based PI circa late 1950s/early 1960s. Actually, he works for the Nationwide Detective Agency and is in charge of their Southeast Office. But, at least for the cases detailed in these novels, he operates pretty much the same as any of the more lone wolf-type PIs we see elsewhere.



There are five titles in the series. They are, chronologically: The Killer Is Mine (1959); The Girl's Number Doesn't Answer (1960); With A Madman Behind Me (1961); Start Screaming Murder (1962); Corpus Delectable (1964).

The titles were somewhat sensationalistic and not terribly evocative of the content (neither of which was uncommon for the era), but the writing and plotting were a cut above much of what else was being done in the genre.
Not only that, Powell dealt with themes that were rather daring for the time (an accused child molester; a WWII vet possibly committing murder while suffering PTSD – or shell shock, as they called it back then; a psycho bent on revenge), and avoided almost completely stereotypical plot devices relying on hoods and dames and blazing guns. Still, there's plenty of action to be found in these tales—Fisticuffs; the hero getting roughed up and frequently conked unconscious; gunplay; and no shortage of beautiful women.



It is the range of colorful characters that Rivers encounters and the sweltering Tampa setting that Powell paints so vividly that also helps to set these books apart.
The dialogue is a little too formal and flowery in spots, but Rivers is compassionate and insightful and plenty tough when he has to be. He's not above appreciating the pretty ladies who cross his path, but otherwise he comes across as tenacious and professional and refreshingly reluctant to toss around an over abundance of wisecracks. He is described frequently as "bearish" and homely or, as he himself puts it, having a mug that: "Women either get a charge from or want to run … and men either fear or trust to the hilt." He carries a .38 and a knife sheathed at the nape of his neck, the latter coming in handy almost as often as his gun.

Powell was a popular writer from the late 1940s through the '60s and wrote in various genres, though primarily mysteries, including a Mission: Impossible TV tie-in.
All and all, the Ed Rivers series is a very good entry in the PI genre and well worth checking out. The books certainly fit into the category of never having "received their proper due", and that's a damn shame.
You can check out all of these titles and more at www.prologuebooks.com .

1 comment:

WRITING FOR THE BRAND said...

Thanks for the excellent review of these books, Wayne. I have never read Powell but intend on starting with the first of these soon.

Pete