Who is George Axelrod? He is not one of the legion of forgotten pulp writers from the fifties being resurrected by modern publishers, at least, not primarily. Axelrod was well known on Broadway and in Hollywood. He first became famous in 1952 for writing a Broadway play, The Seven Year Itch, which later was adapted for the big screen, starring Marilyn Monroe and containing the famous scene on the subway grate where her skirts blow up, the scene that pissed off Joe D. Axelrod also adapted Breakfast at Tiffanys and the Manchurian Candidate for the big screen. He wrote numerous screenplays that were well-received and starred well known actors and actresses. Axelrod only wrote three novels, Blackmailer, Beggars Choice, and Where Am I Now When I Need Me? Of the three. Blackmailer was the only crime novel.
Blackmailer was first published in 1952 and, if you didn't know that, you wouldn't have guessed it. The plot revolves around a publisher, Dick Sherman, of a small little-known publishing house, who often gets stuck entertaining authors' wives. Jean Dahl visits him and offers to sell him the last unpublished manuscript of a now-deceased but famous author, Charles Anstruther, who appears to be like Hemingway, a big game hunter, a traveler, a legend. Dahl "had thick, honey-colored blonde hair that she wore a little longer than this winter's styles dictated." She wore a beaver coat and a little black dress. Sherman thinks the whole thing is quite strange and thinks it over. An agent, Max Shriber, then sends him a letter offering to sell the same book. The whole thing is quite preposterous.
Turns out that Sherman ten years earlier, had dated Janet Whitney, who was now Hollywood's brightest, sexiest star. Between Whitney and Dahl, Sherman's head is spinning around. Ten years earlier, he had fallen for Whitney, but you know even then that she was going to be a big star. "She was a beautiful girl with soft, dark hair, greenish eyes, and a wide, exciting mouth" and "driving, compelling ambition." She had left him behind and never looked back.
It gets even crazier when two hoods follow Dahl to Sherman's apartment and tear the place apart looking for something. Tearing the place apart even includes stripsearching Dahl. With his head still spinning, Sherman sees both Dahl and Whitney at a party thrown at a mansion and bodies and blackmail start flying around.
Although it doesn't necessarily sound like much of a plot, it is a damn good book that is very hard to put down. The voice that Axelrod uses to narrate works quite well, an innocent man who can't quite comprehend what he has gotten mixed up in. Throw in movie starlets, mysterious dames, mean hoods, and rich people who have two-way mirrors and recording devices all over their houses and you have the makings of something real interesting. There are great fight scenes in the book and mysterious parlor games played at parties with the lights out. There is intrigue and mystery here.