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University at Buffalo Libraries

George Kelley Paperback & Pulp Fiction Collection

Death and Taxes

cover image By: Dodge, David (male)
Publisher: Popular Library (168)
Place of Publication: New York, NY
Catalog #: Kelley Box 231: PS3507 .O248 D42 1941
Contributor: R. Brandt


Era: 1940s Author as on Cover: David Dodge Geographic Locale: San Francisco, California Date of Publication: 1941  |  Original Date: 1941 Setting: urban; financial district Motives: tax fraud, blootlegging, murder

Plot Summary

San Francisco tax accountant James "Whit" Whitney is summoned home from a vacation in Santa Cruz to help his partner, George MacLeod, recover a hefty tax refund for a beautiful blonde client named Marian Wolff. When he returns to his office, Whit finds MacLeod dead in the firm's vault, "with a small hole in the bridge of his nose." In order to complete the tax return and uncover the murderer, Whit becomes a reluctant detective and nearly gets himself killed in the process. To prevent Whit's murder, if possible, the San Francisco Police Department assigns him a bodyguard named Swede Larson. Whit and Swede tangle with ex-bootleggers and Telegraph Hill gangsters in their efforts to unravel the mystery, which climaxes with a shootout in the Mission District and a dramatic car chase across the Bay Bridge. Along the way, Whit resists the advances of Marian Wolff and strikes up a romance with Kitty MacLeod, George's widow.

Major Characters

James Whitney "Whit", adult male, 33 years old, tall, thin, Certified Public Accountant, tax consultant

Frank Marston adult male, middle-aged, thick, curly gray hair, brown face, well-dressed, lawyer

George MacLeod adult male, middle-aged, heavy-set, salmon-colored hair, balding, Certified Public Accountant, tax consultant

Frederick Zimmerman adult male, small, homely, bookkeeper, restaurant owner, ex-con

Kitty MacLeod adult female, tall, brunette, perfect complexion, ex-blues singer and chorus girl

Marian Wolff adult female, ash blonde hair, cornflower blue eyes

Swede Larson adult male, flat broken nose, thick eyebrow ridges, police officer, San Francisco Police Department

Webster adult male, big, homely, thick chest and shoulders, good-natured face, Detective Lieutenant, SFPD

Krebs adult male, tall, thin, short straw-colored hair, beaked nose, glasses, protruding Adam's apple, accountant



Level of Violence

violence does not play a major role, however the acts of violence are relatively graphic. When gangsters shoot Whit, both the impact of the slug and the shock of being hit are described. When the police arrest a suspect, they try to beat information out of him. The suspect fights back and the interrogation session nearly turns into a brawl. The Mission District shootout and car smash-up and the climax of the novel are also graphically described.


Marian Wolff uses sexual blackmail to manipulate the men around her into doing things for her, and in Whit's case, risking their lives for her. She gets George to make up a tax return and Marston to waive $18,000 in fees by sleeping with them. When she was afraid that Kitty MacLeod had convinced Whit to give up trying to get the tax refund, she tries to seduce him. Although Whit is attracted to Marian, he quickly realizes that she is using him.

Gender Roles

fairly traditional for both male and female characters. The men run around chasing the bad guys; the women generally stay out of the action. Marian plays the role of nurse to Whit when he is shot outside her apartment. Kitty is smart, witty, plenty tough, and can certainly take care of herself. However, her role in this novel is limited.


not a significant factor

Alcohol/Drug Abuse

alcohol use is fairly heavy. George MacLeod drinks far too much and becomes obnoxious and belligerent when he is drunk. Whit and Swede both drink copious amounts of alcohol -- even when Swede is supposed to be on duty -- but they appear to handle their liquor better than MacLeod.

Law Enforcement

Lt. Webster and Swede Larson represent the law. Webster is a no-nonsense cop who is willing to bend procedural rules in order to crack the case quickly so that Whit can file the tax returns. Whit has only a few days before the statute of limitations runs out and he would be unable to claim Marian's refund (forfeiting a tidy $50,000 fee for himself in the process). Swede Larson is an unorthodox police officer. He is mainly used for special assignments, such as the bodyguard job he is given by Webster. He tends to drink too much while on duty, yet his reflexes with a gun are never impaired by alcohol.

Added Features

the tone of the novel is fast-paced and light-hearted. A notable aspect of the Whit Whitney series is the volume of information about taxes, finances and estates that Dodge effortlessly weaves into his plots. Dodge himself was a C.P.A. before becoming a full-time writer, and his stories revolve around financial details.

Subject Headings

California - San Francisco/ Accountants/ Taxation/ Murder/ Gangsters