“Clarence Budington Kelland is master of the slick, swift, entertaining yarn.” —The New York Times
“His mysteries are on the ball.” —Criminal Record
This slightly offbeat Golden Age mystery, filled with Kelland’s trademark zany dialogue and eccentric, vivid characters, is sure to please readers of Agatha Christie, Rex Stout and Erle Stanley Gardner.
It all begins in 1956, when analytical Jick Roche notices something odd about Artemus Baldwin, a guest at a society party: although he seems to be a gentleman, he occasionally slips into gangster slang. What Jick doesn’t know is that Artemus is a Secret Service agent masquerading as a gangster who is masquerading as a gentleman. Jick’s suspicions are already aroused, but they definitely spike when Artemus finds a corpse with a money roll stuffed in his mouth—and she sees Artemus slip one of the bills into his pocket.
The more time Jick spends with Artemus, the deeper her reservations—and her curiosity—grow. Her analytical mind knows something doesn’t add up. Determined to penetrate his secrets, Jick finds herself falling in love with Artemus even as he proves to be an unsettling puzzle of a man.
She decides to introduce him to her eccentric family, including her oddball father and Pomfret Lionel, her geeky kid brother who, at twelve, can spot the difference between a counterfeit bill and the genuine article at twenty paces. They introduce him to a sophisticated, widely-traveled Southern aristocrat and his rather outgoing daughter. Meanwhile, Artemus has suspicions of his own. He knows one of the families must be crooked—but which one?
When word gets around the underworld that a famous gunman is in town on the lam, job offers begin to pile up for Artemus. He knows some are sincere and others traps. When he finds himself hijacked by two local mobsters and being taken for a ride, the Secret Service man realizes he has slipped up somewhere. And what is he to make of the smooth-talking local attorney who orders him to help scam the Southern Colonel? Or the celebrated but lecherous local painter? Or the aging identical twins who appear to operate as one man, and are identical in everything—including criminality? Or Porque the Egg, the ratty little gangland “gofer” with the strange way of talking who saves Artemus’ life more than once and seems to be his only true friend?
Meanwhile, Jick can’t help noticing inconsistencies in Artemus’ story, the shady nature of his associates, and his attraction to Jennifer Beauregard—a femme fatale to whom that label may apply literally. But when she finds her own family in danger, Jick is certain Artemus is the only man she can trust—if he doesn’t wind up on a slab first, caught in the crossfire between trigger-happy mobsters and two powerful, compelling women.
For a Secret Service agent, life on the job is never dull. And neither is Clarence Budington Kelland’s fast-moving mystery filed with swindle, murder and a powerful love that finds its own way against the odds.
The Counterfeit Gentleman is one of the Federal Agent Mysteries. Kelland was asked to write a series of novels giving people a behind-the-scenes look at what different types of federal law enforcement agents –the FBI, Postal Service, Park rangers, Secret Service, etc.—did to earn their keep. He received unprecedented access to offices, procedures, agents and files.
“Urbane entertainment!” —Kirkus Reviews