Select one of the keywords
A Shot in the Dark: An Inner Sanctum Mystery    by Richard Powell order for
Shot in the Dark
by Richard Powell
Order:  USA  Can
Award Books, 1965 (1952)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

I don't know how many times I've re-read Richard Powell's A Shot in the Dark - it seems that every few years I get the urge to read it again, enjoying the author's wit, his hero's self-deprecating humor, the determination with which he works to redress his guilt over failing a friend and comrade, and his clumsiness - but ultimate success - at romance (of the old-fashioned variety for which many of us are nostalgic).

Richard Pitts Powell (1908-1999) published a variety of novels, from his Arab & Andy mystery series to the bestseller, The Phildadelphian (made into a movie in 1959), The Soldier (set in the World War II South Pacific arena and one of my favorites), the very funny Pioneer, Go Home! (made into a 1962 film) and Don Quixote, U.S.A.. Modern military mystery author Brian Haig writes in a style reminiscent of Powell's, so if you like Haig, go scour the libraries and second-hand bookstores for Powell's books (some of which are fortunately being reissued!)

The protagonist of A Shot in the Dark starts out as something of an antihero. Playboy Johnny Edwards, who 'had been doing stupid things all his life' and bumming around since the end of World War II, flew to Havana on what he considered a fool's errand. When Johnny was with the 11th Airborne in the Philippines, a 'scared little Spaniard' named Tony Mendoza saved his life. Johnny received a letter from Tony asking for his help, but went fishing instead of rushing to the rescue. When he finds Tony, he discovers that another American got there an hour before he did and killed his friend. From then on, guilt turns Johnny into a man on a mission. His efforts to find the killers only get him deported but he returns to encounter the appealing, open-hearted Ellen McCarter, a long-legged American girl next door.

By this point, Johnny's obsession has caused him to use family influence to get into the Border Patrol, since you 'need a license to play tag across frontiers with a murderer' and he's figured out that Tony's killer is in the alien smuggling racket. He makes a date with Ellen but stands her up after getting a lead in his investigation - when he bumps into her again, she's with the six feet tall, over-muscled Bob Tate. It's hate at first sight. Then Johnny's assigned to Fort Myers to work with Ellen's brother Tim (who's not happy about his new partner) and to stay in the McCarter home. Sparks fly between Johnny and Ellen especially after he realizes she's dating Tate on a regular basis.

The story moves fast, with witty dialog, plenty of action, and characters you quickly get to know and like - or vehemently dislike as the case may be. Johnny's shot at repeatedly, and makes Ellen cry. She's as persistent as he is and pushes herself into his investigation, to her peril, while Johnny ends up on the run from the law. Of course, it all works out in the end, when our hero finally finds a true purpose - and a lifetime partner to share it with. A Shot in the Dark is a timeless classic and a must read for mystery lovers.

Note: Opinions expressed in reviews and articles on this site are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of BookLoons.

Find more Mystery books on our Shelves or in our book Reviews