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George Kelley Paperback & Pulp Fiction Collection

Innocent Bystander

cover image By: Rice, Craig (pseudonym of Georgiana Ann Randolph Craig) (female)
Publisher: Dell Publishing Co., Inc. (461)
Place of Publication: New York, NY
Catalog #: Kelley Box 360: PS3535 .I2217 I56 1949
Contributor: K. Quinlivan


Era: 1940s Author as on Cover: Craig Rice Geographic Locale: Los Angeles, California Date of Publication: 1949  |  Original Date: 1949 Setting: urban; coastal amusement pier and boardwalk; carnival atmosphere, nearby cheap motels and rooming houses Motives: money, greed, murder

Plot Summary

The lighthearted atmosphere of a boardwalk amusement pier is abruptly shattered one evening when a gambling big shot is found dead on the Ferris wheel. The police, led by detective Art Smith, arrive on the scene to ask questions and immediately suspect ex-con Tony Webb who also went for a ride on the same Ferris wheel. When it is determined that an attractive young woman named Ellen Haven who posed for a carnival sketch artist may have witnessed the murder, both the police and Tony are anxious to track her down in order to learn just how much she actually saw. Is she merely an "innocent bystander" as the title suggests, or is her shy, demure appearance actually a clever disguise? With the added incentive of $50,000 left behind by the dead gambler, the hunt for the murderer intensifies, moving quickly up and down the midway, and drawing to a violent conclusion in the Fun House.

Major Characters

Art Smith adult male, blue eyes, big, awkward, police lieutenant and head of the homicide squad

Jack O'Mara adult male, tall, blonde hair, handsome, brutish, assistant police detective

Lee Dickson adult male, big, plump, chief of detectives

Joe McGurn adult male, tall, heavy, muscular, dark hair and eyes, gambling boss

Tony Webb adult male, youngish, dark complexion, slender, ex-con

The Boys From New York (otherwise nameless), adult males, one is tall and heavy, the other is short and wiry, gamblers and thugs

Ellen Haven adult female, brown hair, blue eyes, pretty, has held a series of part-time jobs including waitress and car-hop at a drive-in restaurant

Amby adult male, brown eyes, slight build, deaf and dumb, sketch artist

Maritza a.k.a. Mamie, adult female, middle-aged, heavy makeup, enormously fat, fortuneteller


kitchen knife, guns

Level of Violence

a witness is beaten up by police and there are several very bloody fistfights. O'Mara craves violence, beating up anyone who crosses his path, including a woman and a witness who is deaf and dumb. He even savors the sight of blood that emerged from a fish he once caught after he hit the fish with a baseball bat. Violence is described with relish and in vivid detail during each fight scene.


the beautiful young woman who is wanted for questioning by both sides is seductive and flaunts her sexuality when she thinks it might help her get out of a tough situation. Clothing, perfume, and makeup are used to her advantage as she entices the men who pursue her. She quickly wins the interest of both the detective and the ex-con through a combination of sultry charm and feigned innocence.

Gender Roles

traditional --women are casually referred to as "dames" and "babes;" Ellen Haven is variously described as sweet, soft, innocent, trusting and sensuous. Men are "coppers" and "dicks," thugs and ex-cons, and are generally portrayed as stubborn, cynical, mean and hot-tempered.


the characters are all presumably European-Americans, and race/ethnicity is not an issue. There is one brief reference to O'Mara's gleeful recollection of the "swell time" he had during a "zoot-suit riot" when he used his leather-covered sapper against "those coffee-colored punks."

Alcohol/Drug Abuse

liquor is used frequently, often as a painkiller, a sedative, or in the hope that it will erase a painful memory. Nearly everyone smokes cigarettes or cigars; unlit cigarettes often dangle from someone's lips.

Law Enforcement

there is dissension and rivalry among the police officers over how to handle the case, and there is no love lost between Smith and his subordinate, O'Mara. Officer O'Mara is the ultimate bad cop -- hot-tempered, greedy, sadistic and vengeful. He frequently employs violent methods when questioning witnesses, a nasty habit that is tolerated by his superiors. Smith frequently quotes the guidelines outlined in the Manual of Police Procedure (his Bible), comparing its theories with the grim reality of his actual working environment. He views his colleagues as exceptionally stupid and they are a continual source of frustration.

Added Features

the novel nicely evokes the atmosphere of a boardwalk amusement park filled with slightly dilapidated concession stands, fortune tellers, games of chance, bright lights, raucous music and thrilling rides. The individuals who inhabit the carnival world form a tightly knit society, and they have an unspoken agreement to protect their own from any outside forces, including the police.

Subject Headings

California (Los Angeles)/ Murder/ Police/ Greed/ Amusement parks

Psychological Elements

lacking an emotional relationship in his own life, Art Smith fantasizes about the young woman who is wanted for questioning in the murder case. He romanticizes her to the point where it interferes with his objectivity as a police officer. He suffers a guilty conscience knowing that he shouldn't let his emotions cloud his professional judgment, but feeling powerless to do anything else.