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University at Buffalo Libraries

George Kelley Paperback & Pulp Fiction Collection

Shear the Black Sheep

cover image By: Dodge, David (male)
Publisher: Popular Library (202)
Place of Publication: New York, NY
Catalog #: Kelley Box 231: PS3507 .O248 S53 1942
Contributor: R. Brandt

General

Era: 1940s Author as on Cover: David Dodge Geographic Locale: Los Angeles, California Date of Publication: 1942  |  Original Date: 1942 Setting: urban Motives: adultery, murder, jealousy

Plot Summary

San Francisco tax man James "Whit" Whitney reluctantly accepts a job offer from John J. Clayton, a wealthy wool-broker, to investigate Clayton's son Bob, who runs the Los Angeles office of the family business. Whit's assignment is to find out why Bob has been making unauthorized payments with company funds and, if possible, why he abandoned his wife and young child. Not only does the job involve more detective work than Whit is comfortable with, it takes him to L.A. over the New Year's holiday and away from his girlfriend, Kitty MacLeod. Whit quickly learns the answers to both of Clayton's problems: Bob is involved in a high-stakes poker game with a bunch of card sharks and has taken up with a redhead named Gwen, the sister of one of the poker players. Whit is about to blow the lid on the whole setup when Bob drops dead during one of the card games, poisoned by strychnine-laced aspirin tablets. Also, the $25,000 that Bob had brought with him has vanished. Kitty, who doesn't like being stood up, joins Whit in L.A. and they hit the Hollywood nightclubs, hobnob with movie stars, attend the Rose Bowl game, and both wind up in jail before the killer is run down and the money recovered.


Major Characters

James Whitney "Whit", adult male, 34 years old, tall (6 ft.), thin, certified public accountant, tax consultant

Ruth Martin adolescent female, 19 years old, 5 ft., 2 in. tall, 110 lbs., elegant legs, page-boy haircut, nice teeth, "a very neat superstructure," secretary to Bob Clayton

Robert Clayton "Bob", adult male, 30 years old, big, good-looking, expensive clothes, bloodshot eyes, wool broker

Kitty MacLeod adult female, 26 years old, tall, black hair, "the best-looking girl in San Francisco," clever, stubborn, Whit's "business partner"

John J. Clayton adult male, middle-aged, "fatter than he should be for his height," well-dressed, wool broker

Gwen Storey adult female, "a killer-diller," red hair, husky "whiskey-tenor" voice, "ripe, like a peach, but not fat," con artist

Les Storey adult male, straight pale yellow hair, big, good-natured, slow, untalkative, con artist, professional gambler

Maurie Laski adult male, very dark, flashy, sullen face, hairline mustache, con artist, professional gambler

Andrew Sims adult male, middle-aged, small, neat, precise, soft-spoken, pure white hair, wears a pince-nez, retired college psychology professor, professional poker player and card shark

Jack Morgan adult male, late 20s, handsome, dark hair, nice teeth, movie actor

Captain Hendry adult male, bald, bull-necked, jovial, Los Angeles Police Department captain

Kathryn Clayton adult female, extremely attractive, intelligent, calm, classic profile, immaculately groomed, housewife


Weapons

poison (strychnine), brass knuckles, gun, roll of half dollars


Level of Violence

all of the violence centers on the character of Maurie Laski, a vicious, dirty fighter who keeps a set of brass knuckles in his pocket. When he is accused of cheating at cards, he attacks his accuser and breaks his nose. Whit, the only one who actually saw the brass knuckles, is afraid of Laski, and knows that the only way to conquer that fear is to take him on. Whit does, and consequently knocks him out, quelling his fear and prompting Laski to seek revenge. Laski knocks at Whit's door and hits him on the chin with a roll of half-dollars in his fist (Whit is spared further damage by Hamilton -- the man with the broken nose -- who saps Laski down with an illegal blackjack).


Sexuality

although sexual acts are not explicitly described, sexuality plays a key role in the plot and in the murderer's motive. Bob Clayton has been cheating on his wife with his young secretary, Ruth Martin. When he dumps her in favor of "killer-diller" Gwen Storey, Ruth replaces his aspirin tablets with strychnine, and kills him out of jealousy.


Gender Roles

male: traditional, female: progressive. Kitty MacLeod is given a greatly expanded role over her previous appearance in Death and Taxes, the first Whitney novel, and she displays a decidedly progressive attitude. After Whit accepts the job that takes him out of town over New Year's, Kitty drives down to Los Angeles to join him. She books adjoining rooms for them at the hotel, debates the relative merits of Stanford football with Whit, and bails him out of jail after Clayton is killed. When Whit and Kitty are called out to meet with Sims, the suspected murderer, Kitty displays a remarkable lack of fear or nervousness. She also takes the lead in the investigation after Whit's second trip to jail, and with the help of Jack Morgan, even cracks the case before Whit does. She is also not shy about inviting herself into Whit's bed.


Ethnicity

not a significant factor


Alcohol/Drug Abuse

Whit uses alcohol to his advantage on two separate occasions. First, he feigns being drunk in order to get into the poker game and observe the gamblers without drawing suspicion to himself. Then, when he needs a favor from a reluctant buddy, Whit feeds him double Bloody Marys until he's so drunk he'll do anything Whit asks.


Law Enforcement

law enforcement is represented by Captain Hendry of the L.A.P.D. Hendry is a good-natured, easy-going cop who doesn't like "amateur detectives mucking around in his murders." He tells Whit, in no uncertain terms, to leave the detecting to the police and to stay out of trouble. Whit has a hard time following either instruction.


Added Features

a notable aspect of the Whit Whitney series is the volume of information about taxes and financial details that Dodge effortlessly weaves into his plots. Whit's status as a certified public accountant gives him an excuse to poke his nose into Bob Clayton's business. Whit also immediately recognizes that the card sharks have violated the Internal Revenue Code by removing the revenue stamps from packs of playing cards.


Subject Headings

Murder/ Gambling/ California - Los Angeles/ Accountants/ Embezzlement/ Police/ Adultery/ Jealousy


Psychological Elements

Whit's primary motivation -- when he has been told to give up his investigation not only by the police but also by the man who hired him in the first place -- is his sense of personal responsibility. Whit is reluctant to accept a job that he does not feel he is qualified to do. However, once he accepts the job, he feels obligated to carry out his duties, and any failure to do so damages him both professionally and personally. He also faces his fears head on rather than running away from them. He intentionally picks a fight with Laski, even though he knows Laski fights with brass knuckles. The only way Whit can live with himself is to defeat Laski, and consequently, defeat his fear of him.