Red Is For Murder, by Martin Meyers
No month stated, 1976 Popular Library
The most slothful of private eyes returns in the third volume of Hardy, and once again if I didn’t know any better I’d assume “Martin Meyers” was just another pseudonym of Len Levinson. Seriously, their styles are almost identical – with the caveat that Len turns in more entertaining work. But Meyers was a real person, and I see now that he died in 2014, two years before his Hardy novels came out as eBooks.
This one picks up a couple months after the previous volume; it’s a few days before Christmas, and Hardy has just been let out of the hospital for knee surgery. As known from previous volumes, Hardy has a trick knee, and apparently he injured it even more in the events of the previous book. He’ll use a cane and experience knee pain throughout Red Is For Murder, the events of which span three months. This knee trouble in particular has a Levinson ring to it, with Hardy even buying a leg weight in some Manhattan sports shop and hobbling around with it to strenghten his knee, even using it as an impromptu weapon – all this just had a bit of a Len Levinson vibe for me.
Hardy’s immediate first stop is the apartment of Kate Arnheim, a hot redhead we’ve never met before, I think; we’re briefly informed that Hardy’s usual pals Steve Macker and Ruby Rose are both out of town, and they’ll remain so for the duration of the novel. Yes, this means that for once Hardy himself does all his private eye work, and doesn’t leave the heavy lifting to Macker. But make no mistake, Hardy’s “method” remains the same as ever – checking the TV Guide for what old movie’s on, preparing himself elaborate meals, walking aimlessly around Manhattan, sitting in the barber chair in his Riverside Drive home, and getting lots of sleep. As ever he scores with a few eager gals – Hardy is the “sensuous sleuth,” after all – but also as ever Meyers refuses to give us any sleazy details. This is ironic, because it robs the series of the one trashy thing it has going for it.
I say “ironic” because Popular Library clearly hyped the trashy elements in their packaging of the series; the Hardy books could be viewed as an example in the power of marketing. Looking at the cover and sensastionalistic blurbs and back cover copy, one would get the impression that the five books in this series are just lurid blasts of ultra-‘70s trash. Unfortunately they are not. One wonders what Meyers thought of how Popular marketed his work – one also wishes that he might’ve taken a little inspiration from his publishers and tried to turn out a series more in accord with the marketing department. I mean folks, three volumes in and Hardy’s never even touched a gun, yet there he is toting one on the cover of every single volume!
After some off-page lovin’ Kate and Hardy make a date for Xmas Eve. Hardy whiles away the next few days – Meyers has a penchant for delaying things for no plotwise reasons, particularly for no dramatic reasons – and on Christas Eve he keeps waiting and waiting for Kate to answer her phone. He goes over to her apartment that night to find, you guessed it, her bloody corpse. Hardy calls the cops and ends up talking to his “pal” at the local precinct, Gerald Friday, who has appeared in all the novels. Hardy meanwhile mourns Kate for all of a few pages, but he does at least vow to find out who killed her, especially when the cops don’t come up with any leads.
Flashforward to February, and while Hardy’s pretty much over Kate, he still wants to know who murdered her and all. But the cops don’t have much to go on. He retains the assistance of Friday, who lets Hardy know all the people in the Kate’s apartment building, info that’s clumsily relayed over a few pages of exposition, as if we readers are supposed to take notes on who’s who. Around this time one of the guys who lived in the apartment, a PR type, is killed in his office. Hardy of course suspects a connection. This guy was boffing his girlfriend, Denise, the night Kate was murdered, and Hardy calls Denise up – and is himself boffing her (offpage) that night! People quickly move on from grief in the world of Hardy; Denise later relates that the murdered dude was just another casual lay she had going on.
Speaking of casual lays, Denise visits Hardy a whole bunch at his Riverside Drive place, spending the night and engaging in weekend-long boffs, and ultimately even goes out with him on a few of his private eye deals. She’s an actress and for the most part replaces Ruby Red, Hardy’s hooker friend who served a similar capacity in previous books. But Denise is given more importance and it’s implied Hardy’s falling in love with her – a lot of the book’s padded length is given over to their bickering, with Denise being asked out by producers and Hardy being resentful, and Denise calling him to apologize and whatnot. Meanwhile Hardy has no qualms with screwing any random babe who comes his way.
But don’t be misled. Most of Red Is For Murder is along the exact lines of previous installments – Hardy sitting around, getting lots of sleep, feeding his dog Holmes, watching TV, and shoving his face with gourmet meals. This time we have the added element of his bum knee, which he grumbles about at length. Folks, this novel – and the series in general – is so damn boring that even Hardy himself is bored! Don’t believe me? Check out this excerpt. It’s also a good example of that strange penchant of Meyer’s I noted; he’s forever having Hardy plan to do something like hours or days away, then whiling away the time as he waits:
It was still early [for Hardy’s date with Denise]. Hardy prepared Holmes’s dinner. Then he turned on the television and turned it off. He looked through his own TV scanner that covered the street entrance. Nothing interesting. He swiveled around in his chair and looked up at the shelves of books He got up to take a closer look. Muhammad Ali’s face stared at him from the paperback cover of Sting Like A Bee. Hardy took the book to the chaise and read till it was time to go.
And that’s just page 47!! We’ve got another 100+ to go. Hardy is bored throughout most of those pages, often looking for ways to pass the time.
When not catching up on his sleep, Hardy often visits his prime suspects, a pair of writers who employed Kate. These two are involved with a shady businessman who has mob connections; Hardy soon notices a thug loitering outside Kate’s apartment and glaring at Hardy every time he walks by. After a party in which Hardy runs afoul of this guy, he goes home with some random babe, has some more of that off-page sex, and then when leaving walks right into the mobster and henchman. It was all a trap, but Hardy uses his cane as an impromptu weapon; he jabs a hole in the waterbed and uses the gushing water to foil the thugs long enough for him to hobble away. I’m not making that up, either.
Soon thereafter Hardy’s moved on to his next conquest, a busty megastar in the Raquel Welch mold. The sole memorable bit in the novel features her and Hardy watching one of her early movies, in which she played a cavewoman, on TV: “Look at those boobs,” she says, oggling her younger self. One of their boffs, by they way, occurs with the lady still wearing her clothes, as she has an event to go to; Hardy thinks to himself that she’s the kinkiest lay ever, up there with the Duchess of the previous volume.
After various bits of padding – more meals consumed, naps taken, and off-page sex – it culminates in a party in which Hardy hopes to out the killer. The reveal is as thoroughly pre-PC as you can get – the killer turns out to be one of the gays in Kate’s building, who, “like most homosexuals” (per cop Friday), hated himself for being gay and wanted to be straight, so put the moves on Kate…only to find he couldn’t do the deed. And when she laughed at him he killed her…and became so excited killing her that he “made it” after she was dead, hence the signs of Kate having been sexually assaulted by her murderer. Don’t worry about Hardy toting a gun or anything in the climax; Friday does the heavy lifting, bringing the murderer in.
And here Red Is For Murder ends, but I have to admit, while the book was as dull as the others, perhaps even duller, I guess I myself was in a bored sort of mood when I read it, as this one didn’t annoy me as much as the others did.