Necessary Evil (1965) by Kelley Roos

One April night two men are making their way through New York, for what seems like nefarious purposes. This is confirmed when they lure away the Erskine household’s maid and houseman with a phone call. Eventually they make their way into the apartment and gag and tie up Madge Erskine. Yet whilst rummaging through her jewellery cases, an ornament is smashed. Porter, Madge’s husband, comes to investigate and is shot dead for his troubles. All seems like your normal burglary gone wrong – but is it? By the end of chapter 1 we know that Madge is in league with the burglars; that killing her husband was the aim of the game, and that unfortunately one of Madge’s dinner party guests, Mark Deane, who was sleeping off some whisky in Porter’s study, has not only seen the burglars/killers, yet also recognises one of them. The crooks are determined to eliminate him, in case he goes to the police when he sobers up and remembers what has happened. This plan, whilst wise, is far from simple. It is in fact the remainder of the plot; a cat and mouse game where the mouse doesn’t even realise his predicament until very near the end. Instead the cats in question focus their pressure on their target’s spouse and eventually her kid brother too. What makes this element of story more interesting than usual is that last week Mark split from his wife Peg, yet no one else knows this. The crooks are waiting for him to return to her apartment, but only she knows he isn’t going to be coming back. Nevertheless, she is desperate to save him, but first she has to find him…

Overall Thoughts

The plot has a simple premise, which you could easily imagine featuring in a b movie of yesteryear. The tension is maintained by Peg who urgently needs to find Mark, before her brother gets shot, whilst also preventing Mark from dying as well. Both these endeavours are frustrated though by Mark being side-tracked from turning up to his usual haunts, through a happenchance meeting with a young couple eager to get off the starting blocks in their artistic professions. I think this side of the story lightens an otherwise quite dark story.

Unsurprisingly this is a thriller styled tale, though I would also argue for it being a variant of the inverted mystery, as we know who the guilty parties are and why they did what they did. The reader’s interest is therefore shifted to seeing whether the crooks are caught and how Peg and her loved ones will get out of the mess they’ve landed in, as time after time Peg’s efforts are thwarted and stymied.

So whilst the book doesn’t have the most original of storylines, I think the Roos add a bit more to the piece through having Mark separated from his wife. This gives the story more emotional depth, as the reader is curious as to the reason why they split up. It also impacts the plot a little as well, as Peg’s plans to locate Mark are complicated by this issue, as several of the people she turns too are unwilling to help her, attaching a different motive to her request. More importantly, for me, perhaps, is the fact that Peg seems to eschew the helpless ninny role, which unfortunately the Roos’ serial character Haila Troy does not. I think Peg’s frightened, but more resourceful behaviour helped me to enjoy this book much more. I will say that if you enjoyed the Roos’ Troy series, then be warned that the style of this non-series novel is much different. It leans more into noir than screwball comedy.

Rating: 3.75/5

Just the Facts Ma’am (Silver Card): Author 1st Name or Last Name Begin with Same Letter as Yours

6 comments

    • haha no of course not lol I wouldn’t say this is one to rush out and buy immediately for the plot, but if you get to the point of struggling to find nerw inverted mysteries to read then it might be worth a look.

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  1. What a pity they ditched the screwball approached in some of their later work, because they were at their best, writers and characters, when they were having a laugh. What a shame the Roos reprints stopped when the Rue Morgue Press closed down.

    You might be interested in Roos’ One False Move. A theatrical-like mystery novel in which Jeff and Haila have gone their separate ways. Sounds very dark and gloomy, but it has all the hallmarks of their earlier work. And when you compare it with the first novel in the series, Made Up to Kill, you can only conclude that the series has come full circle. You’ll probably find it an interesting piece of character development.

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      • Don’t worry. It’s not a spoiler at all. The story begins with them being divorced and having gone their separate ways, but they bump into each other again just around the time when a murder is committed. Those two have all the luck in the world.

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  2. Thanks for the review, and the predominantly thriller-ish flavour makes me think I might seek greener pastures elsewhere… 😅 I only have one more Roos novel on my TBR shelf.

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