Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Man in White

Read/Watch 'em In Order #65

At the end of "Diamonds of Dread," Filipino detective Jo Gar had learned that "the one who walks badly--always in white" was apparently the leader of the gang that had stolen the ten Von Loffler diamonds and murdered a number of people (including Jo's friend Juan Arragon). So when the next story in the serial--"The Man in White"--begins, Jo is on a ship sailing to Honolulu, keeping tabs on a man in a white suit who walks with a slight limp.

But this guy is a former cop himself. And when Jo's cabin is broken into and searched, so is the man in white's cabin. Soon after that, someone tries to put a few bullets into Jo. A steward who could have ID'd the shooter is found with a knife in his back. Is the shooter the man in white, or is there another killer on board?

The situation seems to be getting confusing, but Jo actually has a pretty good idea of what's going on right from the beginning. In fact, so do a lot of the story's readers. Raoul Whitfield was great at plot construction and keeping the level of mystery high. This time, he writes an atmospheric and interesting tale, but the real killer isn't as well-concealed behind the plot twists as Whitfield probably hoped. An attentive reader will have a firm lock on the plot fairly quickly.

It's a tribute to Whitfield's skill as a storyteller that even when he's not entirely successful in constructing the tale--it's still engrossing and entertaining. Like all great heroes in fiction, Jo Gar is someone we want to hang around with. And despite the climax being telegraphed a little bit too obviously, the tale moves along a logical path to a satisfying conclusion.

And that conclusion involves a dying crook managing to speak a few cryptic last words. It's interesting to note how some of the best mystery writers could reuse a particular devise over and over again but still make it work. In the Ellery Queen stories, for instance, murder victims left dying clues with amazing frequency. With Whitfield's Jo Gar stories, there was a tendency for villains to gasp out an important sentence fragment before expiring.

This time, the dying criminal turns out NOT to be the head of the gang, but just one of their allies. Jo Gar recovers one of the ten diamonds, but that means he still has one gang leader and nine diamonds to go. But, by golly, he has yet another sentence fragment to give him a clue to where to look next: "The blind--Chinese--Honolulu--you can find---."

It's a very small clue, but it's enough to take Jo Gar into the next story of the Rainbow Diamonds serial. We'll take a look at that one soon.

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