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George Kelley Paperback & Pulp Fiction Collection

The Silver Tombstone Mystery

cover image By: Gruber, Frank (male)
Publisher: New American Library (Signet Books - 1677)
Place of Publication: New York, NY
Catalog #: Kelley Box 261: PS3513 .R866 S52 1959
Contributor: K. Quinlivan


Era: 1940s Author as on Cover: Frank Gruber Geographic Locale: Los Angeles, California and the Arizona desert Date of Publication: 1959  |  Original Date: 1945 Setting: urban and rural areas; motels in the Los Angeles area; ghost towns, abandoned silver mines in the desert southwest Motives: greed

Plot Summary

While driving their old jalopy from New York City to California, penniless con man Johnny Fletcher and his strong-arm partner, Sam Cragg, discover a dead body in the back seat of their car. Fletcher and Cragg continue their trip under suspicion of murder, but thanks to Johnny's remarkable resourcefulness, the two men always manage to stay one step ahead of the law. Fast-talking Fletcher cleverly swindles hotel clerks, used car dealers, and store managers before eventually becoming entangled in a search for the rightful owner of an old silver mine in Tombstone, Arizona. Fletcher and Cragg dodge the police, and at the same time outwit an ever-growing group of unscrupulous miners and shady lawyers as their investigation leads the duo of self-proclaimed amateur detectives into all sorts of sticky situations. They even take an unexpected detour into an abandoned mine shaft, before Fletcher solves the murder mystery and settles the silver mine ownership controversy once and for all.

Major Characters

Johnny Fletcher adult male, irrepressible, quick-thinking, always on the lookout for new ways to make money at someone else's expense, fast-talking salesman

Sam Cragg adult male, Johnny Fletcher's strongman sidekick, enjoys tearing phone books apart, eager to demonstrate his physical prowess

Joe Cotter adult male, strong, sleazy lawyer, hired to sort out the legal claim to an old desert silver mine

Helen Walker adult female, early 20s, tall, slender, claims that her great-uncle's will makes her the rightful owner of the silver mine, but she's not interested in selling

Charles Ralston adult male, grandson of the silver mine's original owner, wants to buy the mine from Helen

Dan Tompkins adult male, crusty prospector who is also interested in gaining title to the silver mine

Mike Henderson adult male, early 30s, greedy, mine owner

Laura Henderson adult female, sister of Mike Henderson, she finds Johnny Fletcher very attractive; unlike her brother, she is willing to tell Johnny the truth

Danny Sage adult male, half white, half Indian, early 30s, well-educated, magazine writer, knows a great deal about what actually took place during the original mine owner's tenure


knife, guns

Level of Violence

one character is stabbed to death, but this is described briefly and after the fact. There are numerous fight scenes involving both fist fights and gun battles. These are described in great detail, but despite their ferocity, no one is ever seriously injured or killed.


no sex is described; there are several minor references to attractively dressed female characters, but aside from one brief stolen kiss, none of the main characters are involved in a sexual relationship of any kind.

Gender Roles

the two women in the novel have relatively minor roles; both male and female characters are greedy, morally weak and untrustworthy.


all the major characters are European-Americans; one character is described as being half-white and half-Native American.

Alcohol/Drug Abuse

very little mention is made of alcohol; no one uses drugs

Law Enforcement

the police and state troopers are presented as well-trained and conscientious, although Johnny Fletcher has no problem outsmarting the boys in blue when necessary.

Added Features

one scene involves a fortune-teller and one of the main characters is a great believer in astrological predictions, but these are treated in a lighthearted manner and given little credence. Despite the fact that he usually operates outside the law, Johnny Fletcher has no qualms of conscience about his lifestyle and derives great personal satisfaction from his talents as a swindler. The tone is lighthearted and humorous.

Subject Headings

Arizona/ Mines and Mining/ California - Los Angeles/ Swindlers and swindling/ Greed