The Name Is Jordan: The Lawyer Detective

TheNameIsJordanThe Name is Jordan is a collection of short stories by Harold Q. Masur centered on a lawyer/private detective named Scott Jordan.  Published during the pulp era of the 50’s and 60’s, the book was part of a series from Pyramid Books that introduced readers to various detectives from various authors through a series of short stories.  Other titles included The Name is Chambers; by Henry Kane, and The Name is Malone; by Craig Rice.  Though the cover of the book, like many detective novels from the pulp era features an illustration that overtly objectifies women, Masur’s work does not tend to hypersexualize women the way works by the likes of Carter Brown do.  Instead Jordan’s focus is on the detective story, though he does include beautiful woman and a couple of liaisons.

 

Harold Q. Masur

Harold Q. Masur

For matters of perceived race, the books is utterly devoid of any persons of colour, which can be problematic in that is fails to display any sort of diversity, but book also avoids employing any comments regarding perceived race that might be taken as problematic with one exception.  On the second last page, the narrator/protagonist Jordan refers back to his time served during WWII, an experience that is not referenced until that point in the narrative.  It is here that the book makes its first and only reference to perceived race as Jordan refers to the Japanese as ‘slant-eyed fanatics’.  It is not a flattering portrayal, but rather overtly derogatory and demeaning.  It seems out of place given that it was on the second last page and until that moment there had been no pejorative or derogatory terms or phrases used to reference people of colour.  Because of this it really sticks out, especially given its placement on the second last page, and though the reader might be inclined to excuse such an offensive term given that the character was clearly warped by his experience in the war, it ultimately adds nothing valuable to the text.

 

 

Another novel by Harold Q. Masur.

Another novel by Harold Q. Masur.

In terms of gender and feminism, the books is certainly not an ideal feminist presentation, but neither does it indulge in the kind of excessive sexualization of women that is present in other works of detective fiction from the era.  The male gaze is certainly present in the work, but sex does not define every relationship which the protagonist has with women.  Jordan’s secretary, for example, is an older plump woman who is not sexualized in the least.  There are several narratives where Jordan takes on female clients who, though attractive, are not treated as sexual commodities.  One woman sees her husband charged with murder, and Jordan secures his release without ever attempting to or even contemplating the pursuit an adulterous affair.  Some of the female witnesses are elderly, or engaged in a relationship that makes them unavailable, and hence are not defined by their gender or by the sex act, but rather how they fit in with the narrative.  One could argue that because the women who are not described in a manner that fits conventional concepts of beauty are not described in sexual terms, that the work promotes patriarchal prescriptions of beauty by excluding people who fail to fit prescribed notions of beautiful for conversations on sex, but such people will always find a problem with a work.  It is clear that the novel was not written as a feminist text, but neither is it weighted down too heavily by the patriarchal bias that is present.  It would have been nice to see some of the female characters take a more active role in the narratives, as they often do in Carter Brown novels, rather than being treated as the Arthurian damsels in distress, but neither does the work hypersexualize the women in the narrative the way that Brown does, and Masur’s presentation of women, though lacking any diversity in terms of perceived race, does at least have a degree of diversity in terms of appearance, age and body types.

 

The cover for 'Murder On Broadway', another detective novel by Harold Q. Masur.

The cover for ‘Murder On Broadway’, another detective novel by Harold Q. Masur.

In terms of the male gaze, which is very much present, Masur is just as quick to turn it on the men.  At one point he describes a man as one who clearly works out, whilst another is described as “a homely man in a world that puts a premium on beauty”.  Though this may not make up for instances where he describes women in less flattering terms, it does at least show a consistency that is not present in many other works from the genre.  What makes Masur’s work unique is the fact that he is not only willing to include and describe those who are not conventionally attractive, but he makes these people redeeming in many instances and explores how constructs of beauty shape ones’ life.  In describing one character as homely in a “world that puts a premium on beauty” he demonstrates that aside from the overt instances of discrimination such as perceived race, gender, age and other arbitrary categories, he recognizes that beauty is a category under which kyriarchal systems can oppress and generate misery.  The homely man, for instance, is said to have endured “the childhood trauma of rejection”, and it is noted that “his unattractiveness to girls had left him with few social graces”.  This describes how one who does not fit constructed concepts of beauty can endure harsh psychological trauma as a result and that such trauma can negatively shape one’s life and personality.  In this particular narrative, the person is manipulated by a beautiful person and is easily duped because he is lonely and starved for intimacy.  Though some people are eager to identify as a certain ‘race’ or orientation or gender, it is easy to unite and organize against oppression based on such categories, but when it comes to concepts of beauty, few will be so eager to identify as ‘ugly’, and so it is an experience that one must endure alone, leaving them few, if any, weapons with which to combat this form of oppression.

 

'The Name Is Chambers', another short story collection from Pyramid Books.

‘The Name Is Chambers’, another short story collection from Pyramid Books.

As for the stories themselves, they are conventional at times, but interesting.  Being that they are short stories, they pay off quickly and move fast.  Often times the mystery is easy enough to solve before it is revealed, but Masur does make you work to figure it out, and just as often the reader does not know the end until it is revealed.  The ability to discern the end in some instances but not others, makes the work fun as a brain teaser of sorts that encourages you to solve the mystery before it is revealed and makes it possible to do so, which heightens the reader’s interest.  Unlike many other detective stories that rely on impractical guesswork or contain narrative inconsistencies, the fact that the reader can do the detective work along with the protagonist makes the reading entertaining, fun and engaging.

 

 

The work certainly satisfies on several levels.  It is an entertaining collection that moves quickly and allows readers to project themselves into the narrative.  It also presents diversity within a context that lacks diversity in a manner that simply isn’t present in other works from the genre.  Its treatment of concepts of beauty though are the most interesting parts of the work and challenge social constructs while forcing the reader to at least consider those within society who do not fit conventional constructs of beauty and presents them as caring considerate and kind people in many instances, rather than demonizing them as such figures often are in narratives that celebrate beauty and indulge sexual fantasy.  Though Masur may not have been as prolific as the likes of Carter Brown, his work is unique in some respects and serves as an interesting addition to detective fiction that is well worth reading.

 

If you care to read more reviews of pulp-era detective novels, check out my reviews of the Carter Brown novels The Sometimes Wife, The Corpse, Until Temptation Do Us Part, The Phantom Lady, Remember Maybelle and others.

Rambler About Rambler

Jason John Horn is a writer and critic who recently completed his Master's in English Literature at the University of Windsor. He has composed a play, a novella and a number of short stories and satirical essays.

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