MURDER DOSSIERS -- complete with "real" physical clues such as cellophane-wrapped strands of hair and burnt matches and even a snippet of blood-stained curtain -- are among the curiosities of crim fiction. These be-your-own-detective kits appeared in the 1930s with the immediate and short-lived success of most gimmicks. Since then, they have become collector's items.
Now the first, Murder Off Miami (published in America as File on Bolitho Blane ), has been reproduced in a facsimile of the original 1936 English version (Mayflowers Books, $14.95).
The first item in the ribbon-bound dossier is a Western Union cablegram to Miami police headquarters reporting the apparent suicide of Bolitho Blane, a wealthy Englishman, aboard the yacht of a rival American soap tycoon. The reader can play detective as he is given the investigating officer's reports, photographs of the crime scene and the yacht's passengers, handwritten notes in replica and verbatim accounts of the interrogations. The solution is in a sealed envolope and is followed by an explanation of how the senior officer, sitting at his desk in Miami, solved the crime from the dossier documents available to the reader.
The murder dossier is a game to be played -- once-- and not a book to be read. As assembled (one could hardly say written) by Dennis Wheat ley and J.G. Links, Murder Off Miami offers neither characterization, action nor dialogue. The puzzle show no great originality, and the background is dated with titled Englishmen, American millionaires and bogus Italian counts. But perhaps the facsimile edition itself may become a collector's item in another 40 years. HOMAGE TO CHRISTIE
AGATHA CHRISTIE undoubtedly would have relished the devilish idea. Yves Jacquemard and Jean-Michel Senecal, two French actor-playwrights and devoted Christie fans, unashamedly have copied her clever sleight-of-hand technique and recycled some of her favorite plot ploys. And they do it with such elan and obvious admiration for Dame Agatha that The Eleventh Little Indian (Dodd, Mead, $8.95) becomes a tribute to her memory.
At the Theatre Gerard in Paris, a new production of the play version of Christie's famous Ten Little Indians is being staged with a cast of stars and an avant-grade director. Paul Samson, the narrator, has the role of the judge (and murderer) in the play. One night he arrives late for a performance to find the other members of the cast dead in their dressing rooms. In his own dressing room, there is the body of an unknown man -- the eleventh little Indian.
Dame Agatha would have admired the ingenious method of mass murder and the surprise denouement. The Eleventh Little Indian is not pastiche but imitation with affection. EXTORTIONISTS AND EXHIBITIONISTS
NEW YORK CITY Police Inspector Max Kauffman is on an elevator in the Criminal Courts Building when the power fails. Then comes a phone call with a demand for $3 million from extortionists holding the city as hostage under the threat of further power disruptions. High Voltage (Doubleday, $8.95), Thomas Chastain's new suspense novel, has a plot that seems terrifyingly possible. The extortionists black out the twin-towered World Trade Center and police headquarters to show they can tamper with Con Ed's power grid. Chastain, who has done his research, makes it entirely believable. In his third novel with urbane Inspector Kauffman, he deftly shifts the narration back and forth from the police to the bickering extortionists and saves an ironic shocker for the end.
If Joseph Hansen were not an excellent craftsman and a mature writer with taste, Skinflick (Hold, Rinehard & Winston, $8.95) might have deteriorated into an exploitative book, what with its nymphets, transvetites, religious vigilantes, teenagers on drugs and porno-filmmakers. But Hansen, one of the best practitioners of the California private-eye school, takes this sleazy scene and turns it into a tense tale with real human beings, humor and even some tender moments.
In Skinflick , Geral Dawson, a religious zealot who scourges porno book shops, is murdered. The police have the obvious suspect in the bookstore owner. But Brandstetter discoveres that Dawson collected girlie magazines and shared a secret love nest with a teenage runaway; moreover, Dawson's partner dabbled in porno filmmaking a gave drug parties on his boat.
Hansen tends to allow the psychos to run away with the plot, but he still writes crisply with a lean, spare prose that echoes Hammett, Chandler and Macdonald. BIG BOARD AND SILVER SCREEN
ARTHUR MALING, whose knowledge of the stock market has paid high dividends in suspense for readers, has a new business thriller with his likeable stockbroker-sleuth, Brock Potter, of Price, Potter and Petacque, financial advisers to a mutual funds and bank. In The Koberg Lind (Harper & Row, $9.95), the fiance of his secretary's niece is murdered, and Potter finds that the young man was linked to a chemical company whose shares have been doing gyrations on the Big Board. Maling can make a company takeover as exciting as a care chase.
Toby Peters, the Los Angeles private eye who has worked with Errol Flynn, Humphrey Bogart, Judy Garland and the Marx Brothers on earlier cases, collaborates with Basil Rathbone and Bugsy Siegel in his lates caper, The Howard Hughes Affair (St. Martin's Press, $8.95).Sturat Kaminsky, a Northwestern University professor, is a film buff and aficionado of hardboiled detective fiction. He obviously has lots of fun in recreating the 1940s and the world of tough private eyes and Hollywood stars. The Howard Hughes Affair works better than the more recent books in the series, with some delicious moments when Rathbone plays his Sherlock Holmes role and theorizes from an anonymous phone call: "He is a Canadian who has worked for a doctor or in a hospital or is a doctor, and he knew you, I would guess, about ten years ago. I'd suggest you check anyone you put in prison about ten years ago who recently got out and fits that description."