Frank Gruber was a prolific pulp writer, turning out westerns, mysteries, and even worked in the early days of Hollywood. Fletcher and Craig was one of several series he wrote(fourteen titles).
Johnny Fletcher and Sam Craig are in Chicago this time. They picked the wrong time, dead winter, to ply their con game: Craig the homemade Samson and Johnny the carnival barker hawking the cheap booklets, Every Man A Samson, for $2.95.
The time is 1941 and the pair are dead broke and cold. Three weeks behind on the rent and hungry, when the young woman offers them ten dollars to poke a man in the nose, it seems like a sweet deal. She gives them a dollar down, the address, and sets up a meeting for the rest. They must bring proof: the “victim” favors red ties, get his, she knows his ties.
That was the only sweet part of the deal.
When they bang on the door, the victim boils out with a big pistol in his hands and a wrestling match ensues. The gun goes off into the ceiling as Sam pops the man in the jaw, knocking him out. The neighbors are screeching, someone has called the cops, and the man is not wearing a tie. The pair grab the gun and beat it, leaving him lying in the hall.
Things get worse as the young woman doesn’t show up at the meeting. In desperate need of money, Johnny uses his gift of gab at a hock shop to get three dollars out of the pawnbroker for the pistol.
The next morning is when things really start to go downhill. The newspaper said the man had been murdered, the neighbors gave a very good description of them. Two shots fired, the body found in the apartment, Johnny notices those discrepancies right away. What’s worse, the pistol they had sold so cheaply was an old Navy Colt that once belonged to Jesse James.
He also spots an ad in the personals:
“Will the man with the red necktie telephone Stanton Park 2628 and learn something to his advantage?”
Meeting the young woman, after assuring her they didn’t kill anybody, she offers them their money. “Where’s the proof?” Even though they match the descriptions of the “killers.” Johnny is immediately suspicious.
Working his magic mouth at a wrestling match, while Sam easily handles the pro in a public challenge, Johnny sells fifty books and gets them working capital. The first thing is getting the Colt out of hock.
Upon examining it, he finds four chambers loaded with caps, balls, and powder, one fired, and when he pulls something from the sixth, it turns out to be half a thousand dollar bill.
Everyone wants the Colt, more specifically the half bill which, when matched to the other half reveals a location. The young woman, two collectors are bidding for the gun, Johnny is mugged for the half bill. The pair are left playing private eye, Sam albeit reluctantly(he just wants to get out of town) to clear their names. The trail ends up leading them to Northfield, Minnesota, the spot of Jesse James’ undoing.
I haven’t read all of their adventures, but it seems you can count on them to be fun, quick reads with a good mystery plot thrown in. These two con men aren’t conventional private eyes, but they always end up in the middle of trouble and have to solve the mystery.