Review: Holly Roth – The Mask of Glass

Many of us have a daydream where we change our appearance and see if those that we are close to are able to recognise us. What will be the feature that we are unable to hide? Our eyes? Body shape? It is, of course, also a well used device in crime fiction with both criminals disguising their true identity and deceiving their nearest and dearest (Agatha Christie’s A Murder is Announced) and also victims using disguise to avoid detection (Lisbeth Salander in Steig Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy). Occasionally, the detective has to undertake this too – Sherlock Holmes of course revelling in disguise and trickery.

In this book by US author Holly Roth, who was writing in the 1950s and 1960s, Jimmy Kennemore of the US Army’s Counter Intelligence Corps is both victim and investigator when a routine investigation into a missing deserter goes horribly wrong. His innocent enquiries at a seedy photographic studio result in him trussed up in a garage and only narrowly surviving an explosion. He crawls to the apartment of a family friend, Doc, who patches him up and nurses him back to health.

When Jimmy looks in the mirror his boyish good looks have disappeared and he now looks like a much older man with deep grooves down the side of his face and his red hair turned white. This is where the fun starts. I enjoyed reading of Jimmy embracing his new identity, testing it out on his girlfriend Rita and his astonishment at how people react to his more macho appearance. Equally enjoyable is Jimmy’s investigations into the men who nearly killed him. His revisits to the shop and attempts to dupe his way into the gang were gripping passages full of tension. There is a Jack Reacher/Da Vinci Code feel to the narrative, Jimmy goes from one scrape to the next but his natural bravado and military training help him to brazen out his situations.

The denouement was slighty disappointing, I don’t think I’m giving too much away to say it had something to do with Communists and H Bombs, a sign of the times I suppose when the book was written in 1957. It all seemed to be wrapped up on the last two pages so I had a slightly dazed feeling after finishing it. Given the preceding action, a little more explanation would have been welcome. It provided though a real slice of New York’s mean streets, contrasted nicely with Doc’s Second Avenue lifestyle.

This is #1237 in the vintage Penguin series.

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5 thoughts on “Review: Holly Roth – The Mask of Glass

  1. Sounds fun! I think a lot of books are a bit like this, great premise but kind of running out of steam (ideas-wise) by the end. On the appearance point, a slightly more modern (1980s or 90s) book that uses this device effectively is Total Eclipse by Liz Rigbey. It’s out of print now but I recommend it if you can ever get hold of a copy. It has other interesting aspects, for example it is about a scientist (an astronomer) and apart from the protag, almost all the significant characters are women, quite unusual in those days. (Rigbey has written a couple of other books since but Total Eclipse is the best in my opinion.)

    • Thanks Maxine. I haven’t heard of Liz Rigbey but will keep an eye open for it on my travels. Interesting about the female protagonists. I did enjoy this book but it was definitely a period piece.

  2. Sarah – A fine review for which thanks. It does sound like a fun, action-filled kinds of thriller and the premise is really interesting. As you say, disguises and changes of appearance are common enough in crime fiction but this one seems to take that a little farther. I know what you mean about the end, though; I’m one of those people who believes that the rest of the novel should lead logically to the ending, so that it’s not revealed in the last two pages.

  3. Pingback: The best of January’s reading. « crimepieces

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