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George Kelley Paperback & Pulp Fiction Collection

Mambo to Murder

cover image By: Clark, Dale (pseudonym of Ronal Kayser) (male)
Publisher: Ace Books, Inc. (D-109)
Place of Publication: New York, NY
Catalog #: Kelley Box 492: PS3553 .L2894 M35 1955


Era: 1950s Author as on Cover: Dale Clark Geographic Locale: San Diego, California and environs Date of Publication: 1955  |  Original Date: 1955 Setting: urban; middle-class apartments and offices with brief forays to other parts of California, including a wealthy mansion and a tumbledown shed in a remote area. Lots of the action occurs while the protagonist is driving his trusty Chevy around San Diego. Motives: blackmail, kidnapping, murder

Plot Summary

Joe Moran is in a foul mood. He's just had his private investigator's license revoked as the result of a frame-up by police lieutenant Elmer Hoke, and Joe decides that it would be in his best interests to make a fast getaway to Arizona. Before he can leave town, however, a beautiful young dance-mill teacher named Shona Pell arrives at his office and persuades him to launch a search for a missing student. Shona knows little about Alan J. Westburne, an unassuming middle-aged businessman, other than the fact that he's willing to sign a lifetime dance-instruction contract and Shona is anxious to pocket her commission from his enrollment fee. Driven by hopes of furthering a romantic relationship with the lovely Miss Pell, Joe agrees to take her case, but it seems that Mr. Westburne has entrusted Shona with an envelope that suddenly disappears. Joe puts his P.I. skills to good use, confronting kidnappers, blackmailers, double-crossing scam artists and murderers in rapid succesion. He tracks down a variety of leads and suspects in and around San Diego, cleverly piecing together the convoluted elements of the blackmail scheme and identifying the perpetrators while managing to settle a few old scores along the way.

Major Characters

Joe Moran adult male, tough-talking private investigator, has a reputation as a lonewolf

Elmer Hoke adult male, "lanky, big-boned cop with a sour look on his hatchet face," police lieutenant

Jean Orlando adult female, stenographer whose office is located next door to Moran's

Shona Pell adult female, attractive, curvacious figure, heavy makeup, dance instructress at the Sheldon Dance Studio

Alan J. Westburne adult male, middle-aged, widower, "shy, lonely, kind of sad", gray hair, blue eyes, wears thick glasses, smokes a pipe, retired businessman

Felix Perry adult male, deaf, overweight, gloomy, circles under his eyes, reporter/editor for a scandal sheet

Walter Comfrey adult male, "clean-cut, reasonable type," police officer

Dave Birch adult male, "dyspeptic face," police officer

Vivette Lyselle adult female, blonde, beautiful, oval face, green eyes, "cool, poised, and plenty brainy," successful businesswoman

Steven W. Perry aka "Red," male, 6-years old, vivid red hair

Steve Lubaugh adult male, red hair, handle-bar mustache, former heavyweight fighter, gangster, ex-con

Colonel Earle Sabbage adult male, middle-aged, "big burly slab of beef, bald-headed and flat-faced," former carnival wrestler who now owns a scandal sheet

Netta Sabbage adolescent female, 18 years old, attractive, daughter of Colonel Sabbage


fists, guns

Level of Violence

the actual murders take place offstage and are described after-the-fact, but graphic details of several other violent incidents seem designed to shock: "I started tickling his face with the sap. I tapped him teasingly at first, then harder and harder, while his puss bounced like crazy." Steve Lubaugh is portrayed as an extremely vicious character with no redeeming qualities; he is fond of gangland-style beatings and torture, including physical abuse toward women ("Lubaugh was on top of her, his big knee in her naked belly. She was wearing a dress, but he'd stripped that down to her hips. He had her by the breasts, one of them in each hand. The sadistic ape enjoyed this so much he stayed deaf and blind to my walking up behind him.") There are several fistfights -- which the good guy always wins despite getting knocked around, and guns are brandished by several characters.


Joe comments on the physical attractiveness of every female character he encounters, usually noticing details about their breast, waist and hip measurements before anything else. Joe tells Shona that he is eager to "make the grade" with her, and his desire for her is one of the reasons he agrees to accept her case. Joe seems to be something of a romantic, but aside from a few relatively tame hugs and kisses, Joe is more talk than action in the sexual arena.

Gender Roles

fairly traditional; despite his tough-talking P.I. faade, Joe Moran apparently has a softer, more sentimental side, perhaps a place where his true emotions lie. This is evident in the concern he exhibits for little "Red." Vivette Lyselle, the owner of a record store, is described as "the picture of the successful young career woman." In contrast, Jean Orlando is referred to as "one of those dames that are born to go down the line for a man, and how their lives turn out depends on what kind of a man comes along."


not a factor; all characters are presumably caucasian.

Alcohol/Drug Abuse

in one scene, Joe and Shona have drinks at a local bar called the Tiki-Tiki Club, where they order gin and quinine and plan to discuss the case, but alcohol is not a significant factor in this novel. Joe smokes cigarettes when he wants to relax or ponder a puzzling aaspect of the case. Vivette smokes cigarettes and Alan J. Westburne smokes a pipe.

Law Enforcement

the police are methodical but are not given much credit by Moran; in turn, they are suspicious of his methods and critical of his attempts to solve the case. Lt. Hoke's claim that Moran played a role in an insurance scam leads to Moran having his license revoked and precipitates his desire to leave town. There is no love lost between these two.

Added Features

the phrases "cutting blue wax," "the blue wax racket" and "dirty platter racket" are used in the book to refer to the business of vocalizing phonograph records of obscene songs. This is viewed in a negative light.

Subject Headings

Detectives, Private/ California - San Diego/ Blackmail/ Kidnapping/ Murder