Briskly, in polished workaday fashion, Kuttner tells the story of Ann Avery, a passionate woman in early middle age who one night arouses the wrong kind of passion, and of Eddie Udall, a troubled kid who stands accused of murdering her. Around them lie a clutch of associates who make for plausible alternative suspects: Ann’s uptight pillar-of-the-community husband, Eddie’s down-on-her-luck drug-addict mother, the kindly and ostensibly clueless couple who serve as Eddie’s foster parents, a teacher who takes an unusual interest in both Ann and Eddie, and a pair of mixed-up teens who have taken refuge in gang activity and drugs. Filling the role of detective is psychoanalyst Michael Gray, a smart and compassionate yet oddly colorless fellow who combines traditional shoe-leather sleuthing with a keen awareness of the ways that people unwittingly reveal character and motive. His own motivation stems from a concern for Eddie and his cohorts that clearly arises from the zeitgeist of the mid-1950s, the period of Blackboard Jungle and Rebel Without a Cause. Kuttner, to his credit, exploits the then-current anxiety about “juvenile delinquency” without tilting too far in the direction of either faddish alarmism or facile sympathy. Instead, he produces a tale of frustrated desires and ancient family secrets that prefigures—in rudimentary form and in occasionally over-earnest tones—the novels that Ross Macdonald would write in the 1960s.
[ADDENDUM: While preparing this post, I discovered that Haffner Press plans to issue an omnibus edition that includes all four titles in the Michael Gray series. According to the Amazon page devoted to the book, The Michael Gray Mysteries will come this summer (July 2013). Intriguingly, the cover of the new omnibus cites two authors—not just Kuttner, but also Catherine L. Moore. She was Kuttner’s wife, and the couple did collaborate on writing works of fantasy and science fiction (the genres with which both of them are most closely associated), but I’ve seen nothing else that indicates her co-authorship of the Gray novels.]