Ed Lacy was born Leonard “Len” S. Zenberg in 1911 and died January 7, 1968 of a heart attack. With ROOM TO SWING, he introduced the world to Toussaint “Touie” Marcus Moore, acknowledged as the first credible black private eye. It won him the 1958 Edgar for best novel. I have posted on Lacy before.
Touie Moore is your typical private eye in that money is always an issue, but he’s a man doing what he likes. His one room in an apartment he shares with two other men converts to his office when he folds the bed up. He has a woman, Sybil, he’s been seeing a few years. She wants him to quit the business and take the Post Office job for which he’s just been offered. He keeps putting her off.
A young woman shows up at the office one day saying he’d been recommended to her. She’s a publicist for a new TV show called YOU-DETECTIVE!, a sort of fifties Cops. She has a job for him. She wants him to keep tabs on one of the criminals to be featured in the third episode. He’s a man wanted for rape and assault of a sixteen year old girl in the man’s hometown.
The gag on the new show is the sponsor, a pharmaceutical company, will send anyone a badge who sends two box tops that will get the owner twice the reward for any criminal spotted and arrested that a non-buyer would get. They’ve already spotted this man and have a stooge set up to finger him after the show airs for the publicity. All they want is for Touie to watch and make sure he don’t skip without them knowing about it. Light duty, they know where he lives and works and all Touie has to do is check twice a day to confirm he’s still there. For that he gets fifty dollars a day for a month until air date. Everything is hush-hush and she pays him two a hundred retainer out of petty cash.
A sweet deal.
Until one of his room mates answers a call late one night and relays it to him. A woman frantically wants him at the apartment of the criminal at exactly midnight, about forty minutes later. Wondering how it had blown up so quick, Touie hustles over and knows something’s up as soon as he enters the apartment. It had been torn up. Then he spots the body, his man, with the back of his head caved in. At that moment, a cop appears in the door with a gun drawn.
He realizes then that he’s been set up.
When the cop raises his gun hand up to pistol whip him, Touie punches him and bolts.
The effort to clear his name leads Touie to the man’s home town, Bingston, Ohio, where he has to deal with the things a black man faced on a regular basis. Boy this, boy that,you can’t eat with decent folk, you can’t sit in the theater with decent folk, the patronizing attitude of those liberal folks, and something I never knew about until a black friend told me. Light skinned blacks tend to look down on dark skinned individuals. Oh, and this is the fifties. Touie prefers to be called colored rather than black.
Ed Lacy was married to a black woman and lived most of his adult life in Harlem. He knows of what he speaks.
And it’s a damn good mystery as well.
Anyone with an ereader and interested in this or some other of Lacy’s books, you can get free downloads by clicking HERE,and paging down to external links. Just click on the cover and pick your type of reader.
For more forgotten books, go to PATTINASE.