Private detective Rod Striker has a problem. That problem was named Kim Rumshaw, and Kim Rumshaw has a problem named Eddie Tarino. And everyone has a problem named Nick Markos. For Striker, the trouble started when Kim’s wealthy aunt approached him with an offer: get this love-struck guy named Eddie off her niece’s back using the quickest, most violent solution possible. It seems ol’ Eddie-boy has been hiring goons to make threats against the aunt and Kim’s fiance, a square-jawed hunk of wood, in order to pressure Kim into going out with him. Rod isn’t in the muscle-for-hire business, but he does agree to take care of the problem in a less two-fisted fashion—though that commitment to doing things the polite way goes out the window pretty fast as soon as the lead starts flying. Eddie maintains he has nothing to do with the threat, and that Kim is a willing companion. Striker doesn’t buy it, and before too long he and his partner, Myra, are up to their eyeballs in a plot involving…well, Rod’s not sure, but he’s damn well gonna find out.
Kim is the sort of lean, no-nonsense hardboiled detective formula that, by the 1960s, the pulp paperback industry could produce in its sleep. That’s not a criticism. Well-executed formula can be highly entertaining, and Robert Colby knows how to deliver. He keeps Kim short and packed with twists which, while maybe not surprising, are fun nevertheless. His prose is cut from the same flannel as Mickey Spillane’s, only with considerably less of a deep-seated hatred for all mankind. Colby’s Rod Striker — yes, that’s his name — is your typical tough-talking shamus, but he doesn’t skulk around with a chip on his shoulder, and in a change of pace, he’s not shabby in appearance or profession. The Miami agency he runs with former police woman Myra Baily is a posh outfit catering to well-heeled clients, and neither he nor Myra harbor romantic notions of the “warrior with a broken heart” that defined the quintessential gumshoe, Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe. “We were in the PI racket not because we loved the work and wanted to use our knowledge to relieve suffering humanity of its burden of evil,” Striker confesses, “but because we wanted to relieve the customers of as much goddamn money as the traffic would bear.”
So, no knights errant are Myra and Rod, but they’re still committed to their clients, especially when those clients serve up a dish as tempting as Kim Rumshaw. Kim seems like a reasonable young women who, faced with marriage to a well-meaning slab of dullsville, indulges in a fling with flashy hustler Eddie Tarino, not realizing that Eddie would think of it as more than a one-and-done deal. To get Eddie out of the Rumshaws’ hair, Rod plays the tough guy while Myra infiltrates Tarino’s strip club, either to dazzle Eddie and make him forget about Kim or to amass enough evidence of crime that they can serve Eddie up to the cops. Needless to say, neither plan goes smoothly, and when a sinister character named Nick Markos shows up from Chicago, it clues the PIs in to something much bigger than Eddie’s infatuation with Kim and casual threats of violence against her loved ones.
Kim is too short to be slow-paced. Colby peppers the story with enough fist-fights, shoot-outs, and sex to keep the slim volume well-packed with exactly what you expect from such a story. He switches things up, shifting the narrative from Rod’s point of view to Myra’s for a few chapters as she works her way into Tarino’s operation. Colby may not sparkle at writing from a woman’s point of view, but certainly there have been worse attempts. Myra remains a capable, resourceful operative who never falls victim to the age-old mistake of a male author devoting a paragraph to how tough and smart a female is, then immediately undermining that assertion by writing her as a bumbling damsel in distress. Instead, Myra finds herself in a heck of a pickle and, rather than Rod riding to her rescue, finds he’s not at home, leaving her to think (and judo chop) her way out of danger. Sure, there’s some eyeroll-worthy pining for Rod on Myra’s part, but the same is true in the other direction, so all’s fair in love and detective work.
As is the case with many paperback authors of the time, teasing out the details of Robert Colby’s career requires a little bit of detective work, provided you think of using Google as detective work. He achieved a certain degree of acclaim with the hard-hitting revenge novel, The Captain Must Die (1959) and worked for crime fiction magazines, including Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine and Mike Shayne. He wrote a Hawaiian Eye novel that was adapted into an episode of the series, and he like many was involved with the long-running and voluminous Nick Carter, aka Killmaster, series, co-authoring The Death’s Head Conspiracy with Gary Brandner. Although he never achieved the fame and respect of a writer like Donald Hamilton, Colby proved time and again he was a capable wordsmith who could deliver action-packed pulp.
Published in 1962, after many of the major obscenity battles had been won, Colby gets to make Kim a little spicier than was common in the previous decade. It’s not hardcore by any stretch, but Kim doesn’t shy away from some steamy nonsense. It’s just sleazy enough, and you damn well know with a character named Rod Striker, there’s not much that isn’t out on the table, including the time-honored squeezing of the upper thigh that leads to a woman saying, “Gosh, you are a lot of man.” That said, he makes for a decent enough lead, and Myra is a suitable partner, even if her point-of-view is just an aside.
Tarino doesn’t show up a lot in the story, but when he does, he makes for a somewhat interesting foil because he’s not a thoroughly cartoonish villain. He’s pretty low-key and prefers to play it easy rather than cracking skulls. The key to his success is in keeping as clean as you can running a strip club with a side business in promising prostitution but rarely delivering — only going far enough to fleece an easy mark for as much dough as he’s got. Nick Markos is the real heavy, and he’s the impetus for the only bit where the sleaze gets a little rougher.
Rod gets to bed just about every woman described as nubile, except for a secretary he describes as having an ass that waved goodbye to you as she walked away. There are indeed a number of choice pulp detectivisms of that nature, and as is demanded by the genre, Colby comes up with some admirably ludicrous ways to describe women’s breasts, the best being one about having a lot on her balcony. Look, pal, you don’t come to these stories expecting good behavior. Most of the time, his prose is lean, mean, and effective. It’s all good fun, provided you are willing to roll with the usual ass-slapping, stocking glimpsing, and clunky come-ons.
Availability: Kim (Prologue Books)