The Wire Gang (Frank L. Packard, 1918)

The Wire Gang are a criminal outfit in the southwest with the gimmick of sending each other coded messages over the railroad’s telegraph lines. They keep getting beaten to the punch, however, by the Hawk, who has deciphered their code and manages to steal the money/gold/jewels before them. Though the Wire Gang would like to see him dead, the press and local police assume the Hawk must be the Wire Gang’s chief. But the Hawk is actually an undercover Secret Service agent. Oh no, I spoiled it. You know, I’ve read a number of Packard’s crime-action novels and they are pretty samey, but this one felt really by the numbers.

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From Now On (Frank L. Packard, 1919)

An underling of a crooked bookkeeper thinks he’s set for life when he manages double-cross his employer and make off with a hundred thousand dollars in cash, but the theft only lands him five years in prison. On his release, he’s hounded by the police, who expect him to lead them to where the money is hidden; by his gangland compatriots, who expect the same; and by the mafia, who he foolishly accepted a favor from without realizing that it came at a price. In the end, after much bloodshed and death, he comes to realize that the money simply wasn’t worth it.

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Doors of the Night (Frank L. Packard, 1922)

Billy Zane Kane is the private secretary to David Ellsworth, the multimillionaire, ruby collector, and noted philanthropist. Part of Billy’s job is vetting the stories of all the poor people who appeal to Ellsworth for help. Those who tell the truth are handsomely rewarded, and those that are running a con are turned out. It’s a job that quickly familiarizes Billy to New York’s underworld and the people who haunt it.

Late one evening, Billy discovers that his boss has been murdered and the rubies stolen. It’s clear that whoever  committed the crime intended for Billy to take the wrap, as all the evidence left points conclusively to him. Pursued by the police, Billy escapes into the underworld, where he finds himself mistaken for a gangster known as the Rat. The resemblance must be uncanny, as no one so much as doubts that the Rat is back in town.

Billy intends to use the new persona as a cover to search for Ellsworth’s real killer, who he eventually identifies as the Man with the Crutch, but the appearance of the Woman in Black complicates matters. The Woman in Black is holding something over the Rat — what, Billy doesn’t know, but evidently it’s enough put him in her power. She directs hims to thwart all his gang’s criminal activities, which he does by adopting a third persona. All of them are dangerous: Billy Kane is hunted by the police, the Man in the Mask is hunted by the underworld, and the Rat will be in a sticky situation should the actual Rat ever return.

Speaking of that, where is the Rat and how is it that his impersonator has gone unnoticed so long? As it turns out, he’s never been away at all — the Rat and the Man with the Crutch are one and the same — and he’s well aware of Billy’s activities — in fact, he’s setting Billy up to take another fall. He intends on killing the troublesome Woman in Black, after which her securities against him will be made public, but that matters little, because “the Rat” will also be found dead.

Interesting tidbit, Doors of the Night contains one of the earliest usages of “– not!” I’ve seen. There are earlier, some dating back to the 19th century, but they’re uncommon and don’t read exactly like the familiar 1990s catchphrase, which this one absolutely does:

The Cherub, a young thug with a disarmingly innocent face, is talking to Shaky Liz, a disheveled, elderly boozehound. He was speaking about his grandmother when he tells her:

“She looked just like youse, too — not!”
Shaky Liz scowled.
(Packard, 1922, p. 264)

The Locked Book (Frank L. Packard, 1924)

Kenneth Wayne is the captain of a trading ship plying the waters of the Malayan archipelago. The ship is attacked by pirates and Wayne’s father is killed. Wayne vows revenge. His plan involves posing as a gold hunter as a ruse to search Malay villages unsuspected, but he rather overestimates his own ability and is forever being rescued by his much more skillful guide, an Indian named Gulab Singh.

Wayne becomes involved in a mystery — the discovery (and loss) of the fabled Itu Konchi-kan Kitab, or The Locked Book, a sort of treasure map left by a prolific pirate from generations past. Two men are killed for it, a Malay and a white man, and Wayne becomes the target of a manhunt on both sides. Gulab Singh helps him escape into the jungle, but they are cornered by the pirates, who believe that Wayne still has the book.

As it so happens, Gulab Singh has it, and he arranges an exchange with the pirates — the book for their lives. You see, Gulab Singh’s wife and child were also killed by the pirates and he also vowed revenge. He spent years forging The Locked Book perfectly, only it did not contain the key to lost treasures, but rather high explosives rigged to detonate on opening. Gulab Singh orchestrated almost everything and was using Wayne as a means of massing the pirates together and getting the booby-trapped  book into their hands.