Murder Will Out
by Murray Leinster

Review by
Robert Wilfred Franson

originally as novelet —
"The Purple Hieroglyph", Snappy Stories, 1 March 1920
as by Will F. Jenkins

expanded to novel —
"The Purple Warning", Illustrated Detective Magazine, October 1930

John Hamilton: London, 1932
224 pages

with a general introduction by Billee Jenkins Stallings —
ML Press: Springfield, Illinois, 2013

Amazon Kindle March 2014


Murder Will Out by Murray Leinster is a suspenseful murder mystery, a sort of anti-blackmail procedural. The novel opens with Leonard Staunton being asked by an acquaintance to bolster his morale as the hours tick down to a threatened execution deadline: this fellow Fitzhugh has not cooperated with demands from a Chinese blackmail gang operating in New York. The gang sends its demands, warnings, and threats via calling-cards stamped with a purple hieroglyph (the title of the first incarnation of the story):

Underneath was an elaborate hieroglyph, in purple ink. It was one of those Chinese ideograms in the archaic style, which now is reserved for book titles, and wall mottoes, and — well — sometimes for solemn warnings.

The appearance of these cards, or similarly-signed messages, are always startling and unsettling, appearing out of nowhere as if delivered by a host of unseen conjurers, or by magic. The first that Staunton sees, given to Fitzhugh, states simply:

Tonight at midnight.

And we're off and running, as warnings and threats, attacks and demands multiply. Staunton's mind is on his fiancee, and he's really not wanting to be ensnared in the web of crime, police, and detection; but as the gang pushes ahead, he has no choice. His fiancee; her father (a U.S. Senator); her naval-officer brother; a doctor; a British Intelligence agent with Far East experience; and assorted police — all are enmeshed in trying to counter the murderous gang.

The plot seems simple, but it moves fast and furnishes surprises along the way. The characters are clear and strong, and the physical settings are vividly, even lushly described. Murray Leinster's / Will F. Jenkins' writing is smooth, as always.

"The Purple Hieroglyph" story's strengths in visualization and suspense are shown by its thrice being made into movies, albeit with its plot variously Hollywooded: The Purple Cipher (1920; silent); Murder Will Out (1930); and Torchy Blane in Chinatown (1939).

Murder Will Out may feel a little old-fashioned in some ways, but I find it compelling and entertaining.


© 2014 Robert Wilfred Franson

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