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University at Buffalo Libraries

George Kelley Paperback & Pulp Fiction Collection

The Whispering Master

cover image By: Gruber, Frank (male)
Publisher: New American Library (Signet Books - 726)
Place of Publication: New York, NY
Catalog #: Kelley Box 262: PS3513 .R866 W45 1949
Contributor: K. Quinlivan


Era: 1940s Author as on Cover: Frank Gruber Geographic Locale: New York City and a side trip to Newark, New Jersey Date of Publication: 1949  |  Original Date: 1947 Setting: urban; hotels, stores, restaurants and offices in the Big Apple Motives: greed

Plot Summary

Book salesman Johnny Fletcher and his muscular partner Sam Cragg, a duo frequently short of cash, decide to pawn Sam's suit in order to avoid being evicted from their hotel room. Johnny returns from the pawn shop to learn that the beautiful blonde who lives across the air shaft has been strangled, but just before the killer struck, she tossed a master phonograph record made by a popular recording artist through her window and into Johnny and Sam's room. The pair manages to keep the hotel manager and the police at bay as they attempt to track down the killer, skillfully outwitting store owners, bank clerks and a host of others as they try to raise some cash. Johnny makes purchases, pawns the merchandise, makes bank deposits and withdrawals, passes bogus checks, and cleverly avoids the bonding companies that threaten these shaky financial maneuvers. Forced to rely on a combination of wit and muscle, Johnny and Sam outsmart some rather unscrupulous business executives and several hard-hitting thugs as they turn to a whispered comment on the master recording to help identify the murderer.

Major Characters

Johnny Fletcher adult male, fast-talking hustler and book salesman

Sam Cragg adult male, heavyset, massive torso, strongarm sidekick to Johnny Fletcher

Lieutenant Rook adult male, 40s, truculent-looking, police department homicide investigator

Jefferson Todd adult male, tall, lanky, private detective

Marjorie Fair adult female, blonde, 24 years old, beautiful, aspiring singer

Mr. Doniger adult male, record company sales manager

Charles Armstrong adult male, sandy hair, record company executive

Orville Seebright adult male, thin, nervous, 50-ish, record company executive

Arthur Dorcas (a.k.a. Joe), adult male, 40-ish, sullen-faced, record company executive

Edward M. Farnham adult male, record company executive

Susan Fair adult female, attractive, Marjorie Fair's sister

Mr. Peabody adult male, grumpy, short-tempered, hotel manager

Eddie Miller adult male,short, sarcastic, intrigued by Johnny's money-making techniques, hotel bell captain

Violet Rodgers adult female, attractive, receptionist

Doug Esbenshade adult male, early 30s, chunky physique, Marjorie Fair's boyfriend, wealthy, department store owner

Sherman Hoke (a.k.a. Joe), adult male, hired thug

Georgie Starbuck adult male, huge, mean-tempered, thug


hands (strangulation), fists

Level of Violence

two thugs beat up Johnny Fletcher; he beats up one of them while Sam overpowers the other.


a few brief comments about the physical attractiveness of certain female characters, but the level of description is very limited. Johnny uses lines like, "Man to girl, then, let's get away from all these people....and you can tell me what you've been doing all your life."

Gender Roles

reflective of the 1940s era for both male and female characters; the recording company executives are men, and the women are either clerical employees or innocent young girls from rural areas who dream of making it big in New York City.


most characters are presumably European-American; racism and/or references to ethnic background are not a factor.

Alcohol/Drug Abuse

most characters indulge in social drinking, although Johnny and Sam seldom have enough money to do a serious amount of drinking. One female character is portrayed as a heavy drinker who enjoys "drenching her tonsils with Scotch."

Law Enforcement

sparks fly whenever Johnny encounters a police officer, particularly Lt. Rook who takes a dim view of Johnny's wisecracking remarks about the police and his lack of respect for officers of the law.

Added Features

the recording industry and production of high-fidelity phonograph records feature prominently. Even the bad guys follow their own code of ethics: "It's your reputation in this racket that brings you the business. You double-cross a customer and it gets around." Telephone calls made from a pay phone cost a nickel.

Subject Headings

Sales personnel and selling/ Greed/ New York (N.Y.)/ Murder/ Recording industry