Friday, May 18, 2018


By Leonard Starr & Stan Drake

Well, Kelly Green sure lives a sucky life. She became a widow in her first story. Now, in the second outing from Leonard Starr and Stan Drake, things get worse.

It all starts when a socialite is murdered at her father's mansion upstate. The girl's sister happens to be Kelly's landlady, a beautiful artist named Samantha Brockhurst. Kelly and Samantha bond over the tragedy, and Kelly soon gets drawn into a trail of murder as, one by one, members of Samantha's family are picked off by a mystery man with a grudge. Samantha's father believes to be a disgruntled former employee, but while the characters in the story have little reason to believe otherwise, the clues presented to the reader leave little doubt that this is meant to be a red herring. Meanwhile, Kelly is warned multiple times to keep away from Samantha and the Brokhursts, but she is undeterred. Eventually the killer is revealed and Kelly knocks him out until the police arrive to take him away.

So like I said, it's a sucky life for Kelly Green. This time around, in a sort of "cold open" to the story, she acts as go-between to deliver ransom money for a kidnapped dog, but winds up recovering an imposter pooch instead, who she names Lady. Then, about halfway through the story, as one of the warnings to keep away from Samantha, the dog is killed and left at Kelly's door. Later, Samantha herself, who Kelly has befriended and who seems to be the one member of the Brockhurst family declared "off-limits" to the killer by the narrative, is murdered in her apartment. Kelly wins in the end, but not until after authors Leonard Starr and Stan Drake have heaped these further tragedies upon her.

Look, I understand the need for writers to make life difficult for their protagonists. It's a boring story that has no such drama in it. And Samantha's murder, while heartbreaking considering she was saved from death several pages earlier by Kelly's pals Jimmy and Meathooks, is legitimately surprising and tragic. But I have always felt, and always will, that "kill the dog" is a lazy and somewhat hackneyed way for writers to quickly and cheaply draw a visceral response from their readers -- and after the first story, I thought Starr and Drake were better than that.

Beyond that, the conclusion to this one is telegraphed by about a thousand miles. As I noted last week, the first book featured three suspects and the bad guy turned out to be one of them -- and while there was no twist or anything, at least there was that much. This story gives us, as noted above, a red herring who is quite clearly exactly that, and a murderer revealed in the final pages to be pretty much exactly the person you expected -- simply because he's the only other possible suspect in the story!

Oh, and the dog, Lady, who meets her unfortunate end as described above? She comes into the story, as noted via something akin to a "cold open" which shows Kelly on a different case. Considering the dog was kidnapped from wealthy owners and the story deals with the systematic murders of the members of a well-off family, I had assumed that -- as with the prior book -- the case of the missing dog would dovetail somehow with the Brokhurst killings. But that doesn't happen at all, and as the missing dog is never found and returned anywhere in this book, I find myself puzzling over its fate! I suppose this could be Starr and Drake playing with the idea that in real life not everything has a clean answer -- but, in a mystery story, everything generally does have one. It seems weird to set up a minor mystery in this story's opening pages which is never visited again.

There's also a weird scene, surely put in by Starr and Drake simply to justify their "mature" subject matter, in which Kelly befriends the shy, virginal owner of the pet store next to his building and then seduces him to show him that he doesn't need to be shy around women because sex is no big deal. Now we were told in the first book that Kelly was wanton in her youth and slept around a lot before settling down with her husband, but even so -- this moment is just really bizarre and the couple pages it encompasses probably could've been put to better use giving us a more compelling mystery.

Add to all this the fact that Stan Drake's artwork somehow feels "off" in this one -- it's still very nice, but it looks rougher and not exactly as polished as in the first book -- and ONE, TWO, THREE... DIE! is a less-than-worthy sequel to the promising beginning seen in THE GO-BETWEEN. I suppose next week will be the true indicator as to whether Starr and Drake were just having an off day with this particular tale, or whether THE GO-BETWEEN was an exception standing out in a series of otherwise lackluster offerings.

No comments:

Post a Comment