Series: Mr. and Mrs. North mysteries
The LockridgesKelley RoosFay Grissom Stanley | Murder Leaves a Ring
Elizabeth Dean | Murder Is a Collector's Item
A Guide to Classic Mystery and Detection Home Page
Frances and Richard LockridgeA Pinch of Poison (1941) (Chapters 1, second half of 2, 4, 5, second half of 6, first half of 7, 19)
Death Takes a Bow (1943) (Chapters 1, 2, first half of 3)
Murder in a Hurry (1950)
Foggy, Foggy Death (1950) (Chapters: end of 1, 2, start of 3, 5, 7, 9)
Death by Association (1952) (Chapters 1, 2, 3, start of 4, end of 5, first half of 10)
Voyage into Violence (1956)
Accent on Murder (1958) (Chapters 1, 2, start of 3, second half of 6, 7, 9, 10, 11, start of 12)
Pam and Jerry North short stories
- Pattern for Murder (1955)
- Death on a Foggy Morning (1957)
- Boy Kidnaped (1957)
- The Accusing Smoke (1959)
- Flair for Murder (1965)
Kelley RoosThe Frightened Stiff (1942)
Sailor, Take Warning! (1943 - 1944)
There Was a Crooked Man (1945)
Ghost of a Chance (1945, 1947) (Chapters 1 - 8)
Murder in Any Language (1948)
Haila and Jeff Troy novellas
- Murder Among Ladies (1950)
- Deadly Detour (1952)
- The Case of the Hanging Gardens (1954)
Jack IamsWhat Rhymes With Murder? (1950)
The above is not a complete list of the authors' works. Rather, it consists of my picks of their best tales, the ones I enjoyed reading, and recommend to others.
The LockridgesFrances and Richard Lockridge were a husband and wife team who wrote numerous mysteries.
Commentary on Frances and Richard Lockridge:
Mystery TraditionsThe Lockridges are intuitionist detective writers. Their most famous detectives, the husband and wife team Pam and Jerry North, are classic amateur detectives, people who stumble into crimes and solve them through brain power, in the intuitionist tradition. Their police allies use sheer brain power too, not leg work to solve crimes. Captain Bill Weigand looks first for discrepancies among suspects' testimony, in the early stage of an investigation. Later, when he has acquired a lot of facts, he tries to find the underlying pattern in the crimes. These methods are profoundly intuitionist. They involve reasoning, analysis, and attempts to shape facts into ideas and structures.
Mr. and Mrs. North books have several features of the Van Dine tradition:
- They are set in New York City, amid the upper middle classes. The characters are sophisticated.
- Many of the characters are intellectuals. Their novels feature murder mysteries among the same sort of literati one finds in Ngaio Marsh or Van Dine.
- Several of the books are set in the theater, always a Van Dine school favorite locale.
- The Norths have a relationship with a friendly police officer, Bill Weigand, that recalls many other amateur detective- New York police alliances, such as Philo Vance and the DA, Ellery Queen and Inspector Queen, and Hildegarde Withers' friendship with Inspector Piper in Stuart Palmer's books.
- There is a continuing cast of police characters that recur from book to book, as in many of the Van Dine school writers.
- Many of the killings are bizarre, or use unusual murder methods, in the Van Dine school style.
- There is lots of intensive analysis on the murder scene after a crime, also a favorite Van Dine tradition.
- A Client Is Canceled and "Death on a Foggy Morning" contain that Ellery Queen favorite, a dying message. Variants related to the dying message are found in Murder in a Hurry and "Pattern for Murder".
Murder Out of TurnMurder Out of Turn (1940-1941) is the second Mr. and Mrs. North mystery. It has a pleasant, mainly comic beginning, introducing the characters and setting (Chapters 1, 2, 3). This opening is yet another Lockridge book that begins at a party: here among people staying at a tourist camp.
The opening details the landscape around the tourist camp in the countryside. We also get looks at the simple-but-interesting interior architectural layouts of some of the cabins. Architecture and landscape are prominent in much Golden Age mystery fiction. These architectural/landscape features in Murder Out of Turn are pleasing in themselves - but they wind up playing no role in the mystery plot.
But after this, the killings start - and the murder mystery as a whole is not much good: grim and with killings that are too gruesome. The puzzle plot has a few good features, but mainly early on in the book. The solution at the finale is not too creative.
Murder Weapon. One of the mystery plot's better ideas is the identity of the murder weapon. The weapon is missing, but is eventually found. SPOILERS. Its identity affects some earlier reasoning in unexpected ways (Chapters: last part of 4, 8, second half of 9).
Perhaps oddly, the discovery of the weapon is NOT linked to detective reasoning. It is an accidental by-product of a police search for something else. The identity of the weapon was indeed previously suggested by fair-play clues, that could have been used by the police (or the reader) to figure out what the weapon is. But the police fail to follow up on these clues.
Mystery Plot: Reasoning. Weigand does some good detective reasoning (Chapter 6). SPOILERS:
- About the chronology of the case (middle of Chapter 6). This gives the book its title.
- About a can (last part of Chapter 6). The reasoning recalls a logic puzzle.
Murder Out of Turn also marks the first appearance of New York State Trooper M. L. Heimrich. He is mainly depicted simply as a conventional homicide investigator here, thoughtful, but also a bit gruff and mildly tough. There is nothing wrong with this approach. But it is not especially noteworthy, either.
We do learn some background information on Heimrich's organization the B.C.I. (Bureau of Criminal Identification) of the New York State Police (Chapter 4). This is interesting. And I don't recall it being explained much in Heimrich's later cases.
Heimrich and Weigand are doubles of each other. Both:
- Are in charge of Homicide investigations.
- Have a Lieutenant's rank.
- Have Germanic names.
- Have names that are two syllables, with an "ei" sound in the first.
- Are thoughtful, intelligent and have a good reputation.
M. L. Heimrich might not have been intended as a series character at this point. It would be seven years before he starred in the first of his series of solo novels Think of Death (1947). By contrast, one suspects that Dorian was consciously introduced with the premise that she would be a romantic partner for Weigand.
Hierarchies. There are definite differences in the two men Heimrich and Weigand. Heimrich keeps getting seen as part of a hierarchy, giving orders to other State Troopers. Weigand, who is outside of his turf, mainly acts on his own, treating the Norths and Heimrich as equals. This anticipates the criticism of hierarchy in Accent on Murder: a book that contrasts characters within hierarchy to those who stand outside it.
Motorcycles. The State Police use motorcycles. The first State Trooper to arrive at the crime scene rides one (Chapter 4). The Trooper who uses it takes part in a discussion that defines the organization and capabilities of the State Police.
The film The Wild One (1953) redefined motorcycles as symbols of Rebellion. It largely erased two earlier points-of-view on motorcycles from public consciousness:
- The British Realist school of 1920-1940 mystery fiction often saw motorcycles positively, as symbols of Modernity, advanced technology, and dynamism.
- Americans in this period sometimes viewed motorcycles negatively as symbols of authoritarianism and homegrown-American right-wing fascism. See the film Meet John Doe (Frank Capra, 1941), and the short story "Cyclists' Raid" (1951) by Frank Rooney.
Advertising. Some of the characters work in the advertising business in New York City. This business is seen somewhat skeptically, a point of view that returns more briefly in Death and the Gentle Bull.
The skepticism about advertising is not limited to the ad agencies themselves, but extends to the businesses that employ the ad agencies (last part of Chapter 13).
Both the ad agencies, and the attitudes of the businesses that employ them, help give rise to one of the main possible motives for the murder in Murder Out of Turn.
A Pinch of PoisonA Pinch of Poison (1941) is the third Mr. and Mrs. North mystery. It's no classic. But quite a few of the earlier chapters have charm (Chapters 1, second half of 2, 4, 5, second half of 6, first half of 7).
The Start of the Mystery. Some opening sections tell a decent "start of a mystery story":
- The murder (second half of Chapter 2).
- Policeman Bill Weigand's initial investigation (Chapter 4, 5).
- The forensic determination of the poison (second half of Chapter 6). This visit with the assistant medical examiner, reminds one of the police hero's visit to the vet in Death and the Gentle Bull (Chapter 6).
- More police work, including Detective Stein (first half of Chapter 7).
The fancy restaurant locale has appeal. The staffers are nice characters, with individual personalities. Unfortunately, they and the restaurant disappear from the novel after this opening. The restaurant reminds one of the cruise ship in Voyage into Violence. Both are refined, upbeat venues that have staff and serve food and drinks. And like other Lockridge books, men are in bright costumes:
- The bus-boy is uniformed in maroon in A Pinch of Poison.
- The hotel workers wear red jackets and the male guests white tuxedos in Death by Association.
- The brightly colored uniforms in Voyage into Violence.
The older generation of the family uses its money to interfere with the personal lives of the younger generation. This anticipates the generational conflict in Death and the Gentle Bull.
Mystery Plot. SPOILERS. The authors are in there trying, conscientiously coming up with a mystery puzzle plot:
- The book duly contains a mildly ingenious Hidden Scheme, serving as motive to the murder.
- And some scientific clues suggesting the truth behind the Scheme. The science idea on which the clues are based, is decent. But the clues themselves are a bit faint and hard to interpret.
Jewish Characters. There are some pleasant vignettes, featuring sympathetic Jewish characters: taxi driver Max Fineberg (Chapter 1), Detective Stein (Chapters 7, 10). These have little to do with the mystery plot. But sympathetic portraits of minorities are always welcome. And in the bad year of 1941, with Hitler on the rampage, positive portraits of Jews are doubly welcome. It is good to see the authors standing up for their convictions.
Similarly, the heroine's sympathetic boss Isaac Bernstein in Death by Association is Jewish.
One thing that enhances the Lockridges' Jewish characters: they come alive as people. They seem interesting and vivid. They succeed as fiction, as actual characters that help create a fictional world.
Theater NovelsThe theater atmosphere in Death of an Angel (1955) is probably the closest American equivalent of Ngaio Marsh's theater mysteries. The opening chapters of this book (Chapters 1 - 2) have considerable charm. The Lockridges' characters are considerably less eccentric than Marsh's. They also do a lot more drinking, in the American style - see Dashiell Hammett'sThe Thin Man (1933), and Craig Rice.
Death on the Aisle (1942) is another Lockridge theater novel. While Death of an Angel mainly takes place among the off-stage lives of theater people, observing their contract negotiations and theatrical parties, Death on the Aisle is set in the theater itself, during the rehearsals of a new play. It was published in the same year as another theater novel, Helen McCloy'sCue for Murder (1942), although the Lockridge book seems to be earlier. Both books focus on the entrances and exits of various actors during a play, with much about alibis, time tables, and positions in the theater at the time of the murder.
The theater background is also partially present in Death Takes a Bow (1943), which deals with the lecture circuit and not plays. Still, this subject involves public performances, and has a cast of literati, so it has much in common with the theater books.
Death of a Tall ManDeath of a Tall Man (1946) is a Mr. and Mrs. North mystery. It is not one of my favorite North novels: its medical subject matter is grim. And I found the key idea in the murder scheme easy to figure out.
Architecture. Death of a Tall Man has one of the more detailed architectural layouts of any Lockridge book. The opening crime takes place at a doctor's office. We get a floor plan of the office. And the movements of the characters throughout the day of the murder are carefully specified at all times in relation to this floor plan (Chapter 1).
MILD SPOILER. Like many mysteries with floor plans, the solution of the crime turns out to be linked with the movement of the characters through the architecture (Chapter 11). It's an integral part of the mystery puzzle and murder method.
The series of examining rooms at the office, remind one oddly of the rows of animal quarters in later Lockridge books:
- The animal pens in the pet store in Murder in a Hurry.
- The stalls for the cattle in Death and the Gentle Bull.
Institutions. The doctor regularly does compensation cases for insurance companies: checking men who might have eye problems for which corporations and their insurance companies might be responsible (Chapter 1). This gives the doctor a connection to institutions: in this case, the insurance companies.
Characters in A Pinch of Poison also have a connection to an institution: the adoption agency Foundation. Such institutional links likely formed parts of many Americans' lives in that era.
Eyes. SPOILERS. Eye problems and medical conditions also play a role in A Pinch of Poison and "Pattern for Murder".
Mystery Subplot: Combat Fatigue. SPOILERS. One of the characters, Dan Gordon, is discovered to be suffering from "combat fatigue": what today is called Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It is caused by his service in World War II, just over. First we see his behavior (opening section of Chapter 1); then Bill Weigand deduces his condition (middle of Chapter 5). The book treats this as a mystery subplot: figuring out what is going on with the character. Later on, we get a medical history (near the end of Chapter 6).
I am of two minds of the treatment of PTSD in Death of a Tall Man. It occurs in a sympathetic character, and seems partly intended to draw attention to PTSD as a serious issue. But it also helps make that character seem like a suspect: something that might be offensive.
Death of a Tall Man goes all out to make Dan Gordon a sympathetic character. He is young, tall, slender, from a wealthy New England WASP family, a Harvard graduate with a distinguished war service record, and a straight white male. It is hard to imagine what else they could have done to make him more socially prestigious in 1946. One suspects that Death of a Tall Man might be trying to point out that PTSD can affect all classes of society, even the most powerful and high level. It also likely is suggesting that PTSD can affect sympathetic people.
Dan Gordon is also the novel's Handsome Young Lover: a man whose engagement to the Young Heroine is threatened by the murder. Such Young Lovers whose future is clouded by a murder mystery were widespread in Golden Age mystery fiction.
Heimrich. Heimrich of the New York State Police returns, after his debut in the North novel Murder Out of Turn (1940-1941). He will soon have his own, long-running series of books. His appearance in Death of a Tall Man is just a brief cameo (end of Chapter 5). It doesn't add much to our understanding of the character.
Murder in a HurryMurder in a Hurry (1950) is a fun, light-hearted mystery. It has a simple but logically sound puzzle plot.
Police Detective. Almost all the detective work in Murder in a Hurry is done by police Lieutenant Bill Weigand. The Norths are highly present as colorful characters, but they don't do much to solve the mystery.
Detective Work: Links to Rex Stout. Murder in a Hurry bears similarities to Rex Stout's tales of detective Nero Wolfe, another writer like the Lockridges who takes part in Van Dine school traditions. The links are especially strong in the detective methods used:
- Policeman Bill Weigand relentlessly interviews the suspects, trying to elicit key scraps of over-looked information that might crack the case. This recalls Nero Wolfe's relentless examinations of suspects. In both writers, this is not an interrogation designed to attack or demoralize the witness. Instead, it is an exhaustive search for hidden background facts. Facts that the witness knows, but has forgotten to mention or share with the detectives.
- When towards the end Weigand gathers the suspects together and has them reenact a key event, this too resembles Nero Wolfe, and such books as Champagne for One (1958).
Architecture and Cityscape. The opening, describing out-of-the-way West Kepp Street, is both funny, and an example of the Golden Age interest in cityscape. Manhattan cityscapes appear in Van Dine, in his The Bishop Murder Case (1928), and in such Van Dine School writers as Rex Stout's novella "Method Three for Murder" (1960), and Aaron Marc Stein'sA Dirty Way To Die (1955).
The animal pens in the pet store are architectural features. They are simple - but they give an architectural dimension to the events that unfold in them.
The events in the mansion are also staged against architectural backgrounds.
Theater. Murder in a Hurry is not primarily a theater novel. But it has a fine set-piece dealing with an assault on-stage (Chapters 9, 10). Like Death on the Aisle and Helen McCloy'sCue for Murder, this takes place during a production of a play. As in Cue for Murder, we see both what the play looks like to the audience, and a backstage view behind the set.
The theater section includes a hilarious spoof of British thrillers in general, and Emlyn Williams' play Night Must Fall (1935) in particular. The episode Lucille Is 40 (1963) of the TV series Car 54, Where Are You? also contains a clever Night Must Fall parody. There is something about Night Must Fall and its over-the-top imagery that invites burlesque.
The Rich. The wealthy family in Murder in a Hurry is higher in social class than the upper middle class professionals that often appear in the North mysteries. This family is so rich it does not need to work for a living - while the North novels tend to focus on people who work, albeit in upper middle class jobs. The family lives in Sutton Place: a Manhattan neighborhood that has symbolized upper class privilege and the class warfare practiced by the rich, ever since Sidney Kingsley's play Dead End (1935).
Murder in a Hurry has a field day satirizing rich dowager Barbara Whiteside, a woman who uses her status to object to everything. The book's satire is simple in technique, but hilarious and startlingly effective.
The Artist. The artist heroine works as an illustrator, in an era when illustration was a hugely prestigious job. It was a profession conspicuous to most Americans, because magazines and book jackets spread illustration throughout the country. Helen Reilly'sThe Dead Can Tell (1940) also has an illustrator heroine. The heroine of the Lockridges' Death by Association is a commercial artist who does paintings for ad agencies.
As a worker in a genteel New York City profession, the illustrator is a bit more typical of the characters in the North books than are the rich family. She is conspicuously more middle class.
Dead as a DinosaurDead as a Dinosaur (1952) is an unusually grim novel for the Lockridges. It has some decent sections on its Backgrounds. Otherwise, I don't like it very much.
Quite a few grim books and films deal with serious social problems. That is not the case with Dead as a Dinosaur. It seems to be nonpolitical and with little to say about society. It is simply a sad tale about a decent old man who is first persecuted, then murdered. I certainly feel sorry for this guy. But reading about his life is unpleasant.
McCarthy?. Perhaps there is a hidden social allegory in Dead as a Dinosaur. The attacks on the man serve to destroy his reputation. This perhaps evokes the McCarthy era, in which people could suddenly find their reputation under attack. However, I greatly prefer the Lockridges' Death by Association (1952) from the same year, which is explicitly about the McCarthy era, and examines it in depth.
Dead as a Dinosaur has a newspaper headline that subtly pokes fun at McCarthy (end of Chapter 5).
Backgrounds: Museum, Publishing. Dead as a Dinosaur has two interlocking Backgrounds:
- A look at paleozoologists studying extinct mammals, and the natural history museum where they work.
- A scientist writing and publishing a book, with Jerry North's publishing firm.
Sections of Dead as a Dinosaur dealing with these two Backgrounds: the paragraph starting Preson's meeting with Jerry in Chapter 1, first half of Chapter 2, Chapter 6, first half of Chapter 7, end of Chapter 8, first paragraph of Chapter 9. These sections are the best parts of Dead as a Dinosaur. These sections total only around 27 pages, in the hardback edition, so they are none too extensive.
These Background sections tend to be viewed through the eyes of Jerry North and/or Pam North. We get the Norths' views and perceptions, as well as a straightforward account of the facts. The Norths' views add a good deal to the Backgrounds.
The Backgrounds stress how outstanding Dr. Preson is as a scientist (Chapter 7) and as a writer (Chapter 1). This emphasis on Quality is interesting. We also learn that Dr. Agee is "efficient" as the museum's administrator (start of Chapter 7).
Museums run through the Van Dine School. So do looks at the intelligentsia, such as authors and publishing.
Animals: Mammals. Despite its title, Dead as a Dinosaur is not about dinosaurs or other reptiles. It is about mammals.
The Lockridges liked animals. Cats run through the Mr. and Mrs. North books. And other creatures pop up in the pet store in Murder in a Hurry and Death and the Gentle Bull.
All of these animals are mammals. Dead as a Dinosaur takes a related turn, looking at the prehistoric era of now extinct mammals. Dr. Orpheus Preson is a paleozoologist, and the author of a hauntingly eerie book about early mammals, The Days Before Man.
The account of Jerry North's first reading of The Days Before Man is vivid and memorable (middle of Chapter 2).
In Greek mythology, Orpheus was able to summon the animals of the forest through his beautiful music. So his name is appropriate for a mammalogy expert like Dr. Preson.
Architecture. The numerous shop-window-like display cases in the museum, each filled with stuffed animals (middle of Chapter 7), recall the animal pens in Murder in a Hurry and Death and the Gentle Bull.
The Past: A Negative View. The Norths criticize thinking about and learning about the Past:
- Publisher Jerry casts doubt on American readers' fascination with books set in the past (middle of Chapter 1).
- Pam wonders what good it is for scientists to learn about the Past, suggesting they should be interested in current Life instead (second part of Chapter 6).
- Pam wonders what difference it makes that dinosaurs once lived (start of Chapter 7). Jerry immediately notes Americans' interest in reading to books about the Past.
Voyage into ViolenceVoyage into Violence (1956) is especially vividly written. The story of a cruise from New York City to pre-Castro Havana, the tale is remarkably atmospheric.
The officers and crew of the ship are British. This allows some good-natured ribbing of their English attitudes. The ship's Captain is compared to a Noel Coward character. This recalls the satire on the British play in Murder in a Hurry. The Captain's British understatement is especially funny (middle of Chapter 3).
The officers are sharply uniformed. And sailing aboard are an American fraternal order, who also wear uniforms and maintain a chain of command. This allows an extensive comic look at uniforms and military-style discipline. It recalls Death and the Gentle Bull, where young Trooper Crowley enthusiastically embodies military-style discipline in his encounter with Police Captain Heimrich (start of Chapter 2).
Links to Death Takes a Bow. There are similar plot patterns in Death Takes a Bow (1943) and Voyage into Violence (1956). SPOILERS:
- Both stories wind up having two villains, one an amateur who committed the actual murder, the other a professional criminal. This professional commits most of the recurring acts of violence in the tale: searching people's rooms, thefts, and the accompanying assaults and battery of the occupants of the rooms, usually with a blackjack. The amateur who commits the murder is actually far less violent that this professional, who is always stirring up the suspense plot by constantly menacing one character or another in the dark.
- The amateur has a strong reason to commit the crimes. The crimes are related to family life, and the motivation in each case is related to women's issues: the stories were plotted by Frances Lockridge, and like many woman detective writers of the era, she raised issues of concern to women in her stories.
- Both novels have a similar puzzle plot: in each the killer is sailing under false pretenses, and turns out to be someone different from whom they appear to be. In each case, the killer's relationships are involved, faked relationships that disguise the truth.
Murder by the BookMurder by the Book (1963) was the last Mr. and Mrs. North novel. It takes place in the Florida Keys, near Key West, recalling Death by Association.
Much of it deals with alibis of the different characters; its plotting technique recalls that of the Realist school.
There is much medical detail in the book. Such intricate medical detail also served as an interesting element in the early chapters of Death Takes a Bow (1943).
Pattern for Murder: A Short Story"Pattern for Murder" (1955) is a fine short story starring Pam and Jerry North. It can be found in anthologies such as:
- 3x3 edited by Howard Haycraft and John Beecroft.
- Detective Duos (1997), edited by Marcia Muller and Bill Pronzini.
We do learn that Pam North, although a sophisticated New Yorker today, was born in the Middle West and in what seems to be the middle class.
Mystery Plot. "Pattern for Murder" is a full-fledged whodunit mystery, complete with clues and puzzle plot.
The mystery plot in "Pattern for Murder" goes through a series of stages. At each stage, the sleuths reach a new, deeper understanding of the crime. This is creative plotting, and is impressive in a brief short story.
"Pattern for Murder" has links in subject matter and imagery with Murder in a Hurry, although their mystery plots are different. Both:
- Have a major plot event at a party in an upscale Manhattan living room.
- Both living rooms have exits in the form of staircases. These staircases play roles in the plot.
- Police Captain Weigand asks the suspects to analyze what they remember about this party in depth. He is looking for hidden clues and facts that have bearing on the murder.
- Eventually, a hidden pattern emerges, although this is very different in the two works.
- The hidden pattern has implications for who had motive to commit the crime.
- Both have utterances by the victim that get interpreted later, in a style analogous to a "dying message", though neither are strictly messages at the time of death. This includes the animal names in Murder in a Hurry, and a remark by the victim in "Pattern for Murder".
Captain M. L. HeimrichCaptain M. L. Heimrich is a New York State Police officer and a series sleuth, in numerous novels and short stories. I wish that the Lockridges had written a mystery called The Heimrich Maneuver.
The Norths are the Lockridges' most famous sleuths. But there is lots of good material in the Heimrich novels and short stories too.
Foggy, Foggy DeathFoggy, Foggy Death (1950) is a novel starring Captain M. L. Heimrich. It has three good passages, totaling around 75 pages, a third of the book:
- The discovery of the first crime (last three pages of Chapter 1, Chapter 2, start of Chapter 3).
- The events leading up to the second crime (Chapters 5, 7).
- The solution to the Lorry subplot, the most interesting mystery puzzle in the novel (Chapter 9). It satisfies that classic criterion for a good mystery solution: it's surprising, yet logically based on the prior events of the storyline. The solution also transforms events that had looked like string of coincidences, into a logical cause-and-effect pattern. This too is admirable.
- Aside from the welcome comic passages with Higgins (start of Chapter 3, Chapter 5), it's a solemn, sometimes grim work that makes little use of the Lockridges' gift of humor.
- It takes place at a mansion that seems hermetically shut off from the outside world. In many books the Lockridges' portrait of the New York and American life of the day is a key strength. It's absent here.
- Dogs and their kennels are mentioned in dialogue, but never brought "on stage". Animals play a much bigger role in other Lockridge books.
- The solution to the main murder mystery is uninteresting, lacking ingenuity, and with only two small clues to the killer.
- Heimrich's work as detective doesn't generate interest. In fact, much of what detective work there is, is actually done by the heroine. (Both times, after the heroine comes up with good detectival ideas, Heimrich says he knew these ideas all along. It's an odd approach, and unsatisfactory.) Suspect Everett Hume unexpectedly also does some good detective work, an interesting development (middle of Chapter 2).
- A young heroine with romantic problems.
- A rich but dysfunctional family filled with hyper-emotionalism, and crosscurrents of feeling.
- A matriarch running the family.
- The rich family's huge mansion.
- A heroine who wanders alone in the impenetrable fog, despite possible danger. (The Lockridges come up with a very good reason for this, that fully justifies what even in that era was coming to seem like a silly cliche).
Hume. HIBK mysteries sometimes have a Mysterious Visitor, a stranger who no one knows who tries to contact the heroine's family. Everett Hume is a bit like such figures: he shows up out of the blue at the mansion, knows no one, and he is certainly mysterious: something Foggy, Foggy Death tells the reader right away.
But Hume differs from typical Mysterious Visitors:
- Traditionally Mysterious Visitors were often of much lower social class than the heroine's family. By contrast, Hume looks very much like a member of the upper or upper middle classes, with good clothes and refined manners.
- Traditional Mysterious Visitors immediately seem mysterious and puzzling to the family they try to call on: everyone is puzzled about why they are trying to contact the family. By contrast everyone in Foggy, Foggy Death accepts Hume's cover story of a flat tire, and doesn't find him mysterious at all. Only the reader is alerted that there is something odd about him.
But unlike some HIBK books, Foggy, Foggy Death does not prolong this non-mystery approach too long. Instead, it turns to mystery and crime. One of the novel's best passages shows the discovery of the crime and other mystery elements (last two pages of Chapter 1, Chapter 2, start of Chapter 3).
This section introduces no less than four different mystery situations, for the reader to puzzle over. This is plotting richness. Two of the mysteries are of possible crimes; two others involves mysterious people: Hume, Higgins.
This section does not solve any of its mysteries (although it comes to a small partial solution of the Lorry subplot). The mysteries are left open to be solved in later parts of the book.
Landscape. One of the best aspects of this "Discovery of the First Crime" episode is its use of landscape. The discovery is mainly set on the huge grounds of the mansion.
The landscape recalls a bit the country landscapes found in Helen Reilly. And like Reilly, this passage in Foggy, Foggy Death has vivid descriptive writing.
Discovery of the Second Crime. The episode with Higgins (Chapter 5) is a prelude, in plot and settings, to the episode where the heroine discovers the second crime (Chapter 7). Both episodes are absorbing, with lots of detail of plot and architectural setting.
The second crime contrasts with the first, being set indoors, inside the mansion. The mansion architecture plays a pleasant role in the storytelling of these chapters. SPOILERS. As occurs in a number of Lockridge works, the killing is linked to a staircase.
The architecture of the murder scene, stairs going down into a cellar room, recalls the steps to the basement "game room" in Helen Reilly's Dead for a Ducat (1939) (end of Chapter 6). In both novels, the rooms are in turn connected to other cellar rooms through doorways.
Higgins sneaks around the mansion from room to room, evading other people (Chapter 5). This recalls the way Helen Reilly's sleuth Inspector McKee sneaks around buildings in The Line-Up (1934).
Mythology. The heroine compares the grim police interrogation to sacrifices to the Minotaur (Chapter 4). Like the Orpheus reference in Dead as a Dinosaur, this cites a Greek Myth that involves the relationship between people and animals.
Higgins. Bill Higgins is one of the book's best characters. He is a (very) low level thief who breaks into closed-up summer cabins and pilfers nearly worthless objects. In an odd way, this makes him part of the sort of summer resort milieu found in other Lockridge books like Murder Out of Turn.
Foggy, Foggy Death pokes fun at Higgins' deluded ideas, which are "obviously" wrong - something apparent to the reader, but not to Higgins himself. And the book never endorses or rationalizes Higgins' criminal behavior. Despite all this, Higgins is an endearing and mainly sympathetic character, one who the reader likes.
The biographies of the two-bit Higgins (start of Chapter 5) and the wealthy matriarch Mrs. Bromwell (start of Chapter 2) subtly share a feature. Both are supremely indifferent to the state line separating New York and Connecticut, that bisects the estate. This is an odd echoing effect. It suggests that both are indifferent to the rule of law, represented by Heimrich, who works strictly for the New York State police. It also suggests that both are not well connected to human society, with Mrs. Bromwell thinking she is better than other people, and Higgins too poor and alienated to connect.
Higgins is explicitly worried that the police will kowtow to a rich person like Mrs. Bromwell, and persecute a poor man like him (start of Chapter 5). Higgins is steeped in self-pity, and perhaps this is just more of the same. But perhaps it is intended as a serious social criticism.
A Client Is CanceledA Client Is Canceled (1951) is a novel starring Captain M. L. Heimrich.
A Client Is Canceled is readable and has some mildly likable passages, but fails overall. It has an interesting hero and heroine - but most of the suspects are a banal and sometimes unpleasantly sordid group of business people. This sordidness leaves a bad taste. Such depressing topics are a rarity in Lockridge books.
The best parts of the book are:
- The opening, introducing the hero and heroine (first half of Chapter 1).
- The two sections showing the discovery of the book's two murders.
Discovery of the First Crime. As in Foggy, Foggy Death, one of the best parts of A Client Is Canceled is the discovery of the first crime (Chapter 3). In both books:
- This discovery is made by the heroine, in a vivid set piece.
- The discovery is on a remote outdoor region of the estate, far from the house.
- The discovery takes place in an interesting landscape containing water.
Discovery of the Second Crime. As in Foggy, Foggy Death, the "discovery of the second murder" (Chapters 6, first part of 7) is also a good section. In Foggy, Foggy Death, the second crime takes place indoors. But in A Client Is Canceled the "second crime discovery" mainly takes place outdoors. It too uses landscape creatively.
Motorcycles. The first State Troopers to arrive at the crime scene ride motorcycles (Chapter 3). This recalls Murder Out of Turn. Unlike that earlier novel, where the motorcop is implicitly criticized as authoritarian, in A Client Is Canceled these police are trying to convey a conspicuous presence, machismo and an "in charge" attitude. They put on what amounts to a theatrical performance.
Another State Trooper shows up at the second murder (first part of Chapter 7). He too tries to convey an image.
Mystery Plot. The undistinguished mystery plot of A Client Is Canceled is simple, and lacks ingenuity. But it is full of detail.
Dying Message. The second murder contains a Dying Message (set forth middle of Chapter 6, solved end of Chapter 11). This subplot is sound enough, without being brilliant.
The message shares aspects with the one in "Death on a Foggy Morning". Both Dying Messages:
- Are purely verbal.
- Try to convey plot content.
- Are straightforward statements, without the gimmicks, symbolism or rhetorical devices sometimes found in other authors' Dying Messages.
- Tell about aspects of the murder, that are unknown to anyone but the victim.
- SPOILERS. Concern cars and driving.
Links to Death and the Gentle Bull. The suspects and their professions, anticipate those to come in Death and the Gentle Bull:
- Two work for a New York advertising agency.
- One is a dairy farmer. And the hero and heroine meet a second rancher with a prize bull (Chapter 3).
A Client Is Canceled takes place near Mt. Kisco in Westchester County, close to New York City. Both in 1951 and today, this is an upscale region. A Client Is Canceled calls the area suburban (middle of Chapter 6).
Hero and Heroine. The hero and heroine resembles the Norths in that they are a happily married, often comic couple from New York City. They are younger than the Norths, though, and far from being genius detectives. They also have their own distinctive personalities, quite different from the Norths.
As the couple are both writers, they also resemble the Lockridges themselves. Another autobiographical touch: the hero's first name is Orson - which is also Richard Lockridge's middle name.
Having the protagonists be part of the creative intelligentsia is in the Van Dine School tradition.
Science Fiction. The hero is a science fiction writer. This is quite unusual in traditional mystery fiction. In fact, science fiction is rarely mentioned.
Realistically, the hero shown as publishing in pulp science fiction magazines. And not making much money from these low-paying magazines. This is an accurate account of the lives of most science fiction writers of the era.
An interesting piece of science fiction imagery takes over the hero's perceptions, while he is drunk (middle of Chapter 2). This is not "abstraction": that is, the hero does not lose contact with reality and move into a private world. Instead, he still sees the world around him - but in an unusual way. It is a memorable bit of writing.
By contrast, the brief synopsis of one of the hero's science fiction stories (Chapter 1) is uninventive. It seems to imply that science fiction is mainly adventure tales about rocket ships. The more accurate idea that science fiction writers in 1951 regularly created detailed future worlds is absent from this story, and apparently from the Lockridges' understanding of science fiction.
I tend to think of American science fiction in the 1926-1966 era as forming a subculture. Science fiction writers socialized together, shared ideas, and had a worldview completely different from mainstream society around them. We don't get any sense of this in A Client Is Canceled. The hero is not shown having any science fiction writer friends. Nor does he have any subcultural intellectual interests.
Also, the heroine, the hero's wife, is shown as having ties to the New York mainstream literary establishment. In real life, I never heard of any science fiction writer having any such ties. Science fiction writers were a completely marginalized group.
However, none of this should be taken as a condemnation of A Client Is Canceled. On the contrary, I'm impressed that the Lockridges have recognized the existence of science fiction: something that their contemporaries largely failed to do. Also, it is good to get the Lockridges' contemporary 1951 perspective on science fiction.
A Client Is Canceled celebrates the hero for choosing to be a writer, and following his chosen path to publish in the pulps.
Death by AssociationDeath by Association (1952) is a novel starring Captain M. L. Heimrich. It is best in the long opening leading up to the murder (Chapters 1, 2, 3, start of 4), and in a few later sections (end of Chapter 5, first half of Chapter 10). It is an ambitious but uneven and not-always-successful novel that combines five wildly disparate strands:
- A detailed critical look at both American Communism and the anti-Communist witch hunts of the McCarthy era.
- A murder mystery, that is underdeveloped and uncreative.
- A sympathetic heroine who is a commercial artist.
- A comedy of manners, including some of the Lockridges' patented well-done party and restaurant scenes.
- A travelogue of Key West, Florida.
The sheer strange mix of the above elements is odd. I would never have expected a novel about the McCarthy era to be set among genteel upper middle class people on vacation in a luxury resort hotel in Key West. There is no connection between McCarthyism and Florida, nor does Death by Association suggest any such connection. McCarthyism and Florida are simply two wildly unrelated things that happen to co-exist in the same novel. If anything, Death by Association is surrealistic in juxtaposing startlingly different things side by side. This surrealist method was embodied in a quotation from the poet Lautréamont, "the meeting of an umbrella and a sewing machine on the dissecting table".
In Murder in Tow (1943) by Christopher Hale, her series detective Michigan State Policeman Lt. French goes to St. Petersburg, Florida to convalesce. In Death by Association New York State Trooper Heimrich goes to Key West to convalesce. There was perhaps an influence.
Key West. The Key West tourist scenes anticipate the cruise to (pre-Castro) Havana in Voyage into Violence. Both are glamorous tropical areas. The most important Key West scene-paintings in Death by Association follow:
- The artist heroine as she arrives in Key West (Chapter 1 and first half of Chapter 2). This section also gives the best picture of the heroine at work as an artist.
- The characters on a walk through town after dark (end of Chapter 5). The streets recall the Manhattan street that forms a cityscape at the start of Murder in a Hurry.
Architecture. Death by Association shows the Golden Age interest in architecture. This too is linked to the Key West setting. The heroine explores the hotel grounds, and finds a strange building (opening of Chapter 4). This is eventually explained (first half of Chapter 10).
A strange building of unusual shape also plays a role in the film Stavisky (Alain Resnais, 1974).
Comedy of Manners: Party and Restaurant Dinner. Some Lockridge novels open with either a party or a restaurant dinner; these lively scenes are some of the best in these tales. Death by Association early on (not quite at the actual opening) has both a party followed by a restaurant dinner! This sparkling, atmospheric scene in the best in the novel. The cocktail party in the hotel lounge comes first (second half of Chapter 2, start of Chapter 3); it segues into the dinner and dance at the hotel restaurant (rest of Chapter 3).
Detective Work: Off Stage. Detection in Death by Association is handled in a weird manner, differently from most mystery fiction. Heimrich and other detectives are NOT shown while doing their detective work. Instead, Heimrich shows up periodically, and gives the other characters and the reader a summary of the results of the detective work he has recently done. I found this approach annoying, and a poor substitute for actually seeing a detective at work.
In later Heimrich novels like Death and the Gentle Bull, Heimrich is a protagonist, and the reader follows him in detail while he does his detection. That is much better.
In Death by Association, Heimrich frequently closes his eyes while talking to other people. He also sometimes seems odd in his interactions with other characters. One guesses that all this is an attempt to convey "the eccentricities of a great sleuth". However, these behaviors simply make Heimrich seem neurotic and/or antisocial. One is glad that they were largely dropped in later novels, making Heimrich seem more normal.
Communism. Death by Association is both vigorously anti-Communist, depicting American Communism as an evil organization under the control of Stalin, AND opposed to the McCarthyist "witch hunts" of the early 1950's. In general, I think that this is an honorable position to take, and one that has worn well. Death by Association admirably does not try to oversimplify a complex situation, but presents the 1950's political arena as full of complex and varied activity.
The hero admiringly cites Arthur Schlesinger's book The Vital Center (1949). Schlesinger was a leader of a group of liberal Democrats, who were opposed to both Hitler and Stalin, and felt that democracy organized on liberal principles offered the best alternative. One suspects that the Lockridges shared Schlesinger's liberal Democratic, anti-Communist views.
Unfortunately, much of the political material in Death by Association is neither worked into good fiction, nor presented with originality of insight: something new. A pleasant exception on both counts: Heimrich's insistence (Chapter 2) that activities against Communists should be left to the police, rather than crusaders like McCarthy. This is original: its not a point I recall seeing in other writers. And it is meaningful as fiction: Heimrich is a policeman himself, and he is making a personal statement incorporating his own perspective and experience.
Liberal Victims?. One aspect of Death by Association I'm uncomfortable with. A character (and perhaps a second one) are non-Communist liberals who years before naively joined organizations or signed petitions that advocated seemingly liberal causes - only to have it revealed years later that such organizations were secretly Communist fronts. These characters get in big trouble when they are falsely accused of being Communists (second half of Chapter 8, later part of Chapter 9, later part of Chapter 12). (A similar character is the librarian heroine of the film Storm Center (Daniel Taradash, 1956), who also gets falsely accused.) I agree with the specific point: such liberals should not be accused of Communism, and not be harmed or attacked. Most people would agree.
But I also suspect that in real life such cases were fairly rare. Most of the Hollywood figures blacklisted in the era, were in fact either committed Communists or supporters of Communism, at least during some period of their lives. And physicist Robert Oppenheimer is also now seen today as a Communist supporter. These people were NOT liberals who naively joined front organizations or signed petitions. They were Communists.
Complicating my response: The introduction of this topic (second half of Chapter 8) is involving as fiction. The character comes alive, and her feelings and liberal political attitudes seem real. This scene works as fiction, even if it is dubious that such liberals were actually much persecuted in the real-life McCarthy era.
The Victim. The highly reprehensible victim Bronson Wells spent over twenty years in the Communist Party, then left and became a professional anti-Communist crusader. This allows Death by Association to target both Communists and McCarthyites, in the same unappetizing character.
Death by Association makes satiric points, by suggesting that people who had the brains and morals never to fall for Communism in the first place, might be more admirable guides to truth than ex-Communists like Bronson Wells. In the book's era, real-life ex-Communists like Whittaker Chambers and Arthur Koestler were treated by some as the fonts of all wisdom. Death by Association suggests lionizing such people is misguided.
While the victim is a looming presence throughout much of the book, his career is most clearly seen in certain episodes (Chapter 2, second half of Chapter 7).
The victim is introduced (Chapter 2) as "the lecturer, the author of books", and very famous. In this he recalls the famous author Victor Sproul in Death Takes a Bow (1943), who gets bumped off during a lecture appearance. Both men also resemble each other, in knowing and often revealing many other characters' secrets: thus giving motives for their murder. However, Bronson Wells is more political and controversial than Victor Sproul.
The Male Gaze. Death by Association comments on what was later dubbed "the male gaze": men looking at women as sex objects. The strip club scene (start of Chapter 6) suggests most men are really not that interested in looking at strippers, and pretend to be more interested in doing this than they actually feel. It also looks at the dismal future facing the women now working as strippers.
"Flair for Murder" (1965) will offer sidelights on "the male gaze", with a wife disturbed by her husband being more interested in looking at her, than he actually is in being with her or interacting with her. It's an unusual moment. And one designed to create an ominous feel. SPOILERS. It signals that something is wrong with both the husband and their marriage.
These Lockridge works were written before feminist film critic Laura Mulvey developed the concept of "the male gaze" in 1975.
Merton. We learn that M.L. Heimrich's first name is Merton (opening of Chapter 8). And he gets kidded about Merton of the Movies, a hit Broadway comedy of 1922, filmed in 1924, 1932 and 1947. In 1952 it was likely fairly famous, enough so that Heimrich might prefer going by his initials. Today, one suspects that most people won't see anything wrong with the name Merton.
Death and the Gentle BullDeath and the Gentle Bull (1954) is a novel starring Captain M. L. Heimrich. It's a minor but sometimes interesting mystery. Best parts: Chapters 1, 2, 3, 6.
Background: Raising Champion Cattle. The opening shows an upscale farm, where rich Society people raise a champion bull as an elite hobby (Chapters 1-3). This section has charm, and is the best part of the novel. We learn a lot about the bull, cattle raising and the farm.
Like Murder in a Hurry this novel has:
- A background involving humans raising animals.
- The first murder victim found in a pen for animals.
Mystery Plot. Death and the Gentle Bull conscientiously develops aspects of its mystery plot:
- Howdunit: The mysterious method by which the murder was committed (figured out in Chapter 6).
- The motive: Why the crime was committed, and who benefitted (Chapters 5, 15).
The authors are trying to show good craftsmanship and adherence to the paradigms of the puzzle plot mystery novel, by paying attention to such things as murder method and motive.
The howdunit and motive ideas are also linked to the novel's Background of cattle raising and the champion bull. This too shows conscientious craftsmanship.
Sleuths. Heimrich's young police assistant Trooper Ray Crowley is a good character. He does a good job with his detective concerns in his first scene (Chapter 2). Unfortunately, we don't see much of him in the rest of the book, apart from a brief look at him in civilian clothes (middle of Chapter 6).
Captain M. L. Heimrich is introduced reading the New York Times (start of Chapter 2). He is reading one of the nation's most responsible, informative newspapers, suggesting he is an intelligent man who tries to stay informed. And although he is stationed in an outlying area, he is interested in the big city of New York nearby. During this era Americans strongly admired newspapers, and respected the people who read them. We soon learn young Trooper Crowley also reads the New York Times: a link between the two men.
Detection: Directed Dialogues. Both Heimrich's scenes with Crowley (Chapter 2) and the veterinarian (Chapter 6), show Heimrich engaging with these men, pulling ideas out of them, making suggestions, and directing the evolution of the conversation. It is during these "directed dialogues" that key ideas about the case emerge. They show ideas building on each other, being developed out of earlier ideas and comments.
Both Crowley and the veterinarian have expert knowledge about both farming and the suspects' farm; Heimrich does not. He organizes and develops their knowledge, assembling it, drawing the men out. In the veterinarian's case, Heimrich use this knowledge he gets from the veterinarian, to get a new idea about how the murder was committed. This is an "idea built on previous ideas". Heimrich thus solves the problem of howdunit.
Characters. Few of the suspects rise above routine, standard types. They are uninteresting as people. They are also vaguely unpleasant: partly due to their sheer conventionality and conformism. One of the men works in Madison Avenue. Even by 1954, one suspects, this center of advertising had a reputation of embodying everything dubious about American business. As well as a conformity and superficial social polish, that had a dark edge.
The best character at the farm is the victim, who promptly gets killed off (end of Chapter 1). This woman is completely devoted to her farm and raising cattle. She is tough, ferocious, and drastically different from 1950's stereotypes of femininity. Such "horsey, outdoors women" sometimes show up in mystery fiction. They offer an alternative to standard ideas about gender and women's personalities.
Similarities of Death and the Gentle Bull to "Pattern for Murder":
- Characters: Both take place at parties where most of the guests are ultra-conventional, heterosexual couples. And where the murder victim is a single, unmarried woman who stands outside the standardized heterosexuality of the era. And whose general attitudes and behavior are also "different" from conventional people.
- Mystery plot structure: In both tales, the key mysteries include howdunit.
Location. Like other Heimrich mysteries, Death and the Gentle Bull is set up the Hudson river from New York City. This is generally an upscale area. Real towns are mentioned:
- Brewster in Putnam County, where the farm is near,
- Carmel, the county seat of Putnam County, where the district attorney and medical examiner are. (This location was established in Heimrich's first appearance in Murder Out of Turn.)
- Hawthorne in Westchester County, where Heimrich has his State Police barracks. (This was also established in Murder Out of Turn.)
Burnt OfferingBurnt Offering (1955) is a novel starring Captain M. L. Heimrich.
The Town. Burnt Offering takes place in a small suburban town in Putnam County, New York. Burnt Offering concentrates on a portrait of the town, its buildings, landscapes, residents and financial transactions. This depiction is one of the main virtues of the book.
Burnt Offering is not what today is called a "cozy". This small town is full of corruption and mean-spirited fighting. It is NOT a cute, cozy fantasy of warm-hearted folks in an idyllic community. Burnt Offering is "clean": there is no racy or explicit material. But it is not a book for people with fantasies of how swell everything is in small-town America.
Burnt Offering appeared the year before Grace Metalious published her huge best-seller Peyton Place (1956). I've never read Peyton Place, but have seen the 1957 film version, which suggests that Burnt Offering and Peyton Place have a good deal in common with their settings. Both are laid in beautiful but corrupt small towns in the Northeast. Both explore social class. Both towns are divided into a small number of the rich, a larger group of middle class, and poor folks who live in a dumpy area on the "wrong side of town". A big difference between the two books: intrigue in Burnt Offering mainly concerns financial deals and secrets, whereas the goings-on in Peyton Place are often sexual. However, zoning controversies reflecting class conflicts appear in both books.
From the dates, it seems unlikely that either novel influenced the other. Burnt Offering came out around March 1955, long before Peyton Place was published. Conversely, the draft manuscript of Peyton Place was reportedly submitted to publishers in mid-1955, leaving little window of opportunity for it to be influenced by Burnt Offering.
McCarthyism. The Lockridges continue their negative depiction of McCarthyism, with a brief but pointed look at controversy at the local Public Library (last part of Chapter 2).
Alcohol. The Lockridges' books are full of liquor consumption, mainly treated as a fun, "normal" thing. Burnt Offering is different, in that the dark side of alcohol is explored, however briefly. The caricatured Miss Snively pokes fun at a temperance crusader. But more seriously, the look at young Asa's growing drinking problem (Chapter 3) offers a serious warning about the problems liquor can cause.
Asa is an endearing character. Another very young man, less comic, will appear in "Death on a Foggy Morning".
Small Business. Burnt Offering has a sympathetic look at a small garage and a young man who works there (Chapter 3). In some ways this is a look at working class life. But Burnt Offering recalls Ellery Queen, in that this "working class" locale is actually a very small business, owned and run by a man and his three sons. These people are not factory workers or other members of an industrial proletariat; they are business owners. Queen's The Egyptian Cross Mystery (1932) in fact examines a small town garage, just like Burnt Offering.
Let Dead Enough AloneLet Dead Enough Alone (1955) is a novel starring Captain M. L. Heimrich. Let Dead Enough Alone is mainly a disappointing book. Let Dead Enough Alone suffers from grimness. It has morbid characters, with psychiatrists and their patients among the main suspects. And a grim setting, an isolated country cottage during a winter blizzard.
A New Year's Eve party with ominous atmosphere and leading to murder previously appeared in the Mr. and Mrs. North The Dishonest Murderer (1949). These sinister New Year's celebrations differ in tone from the (much better) upbeat parties and restaurant dinners in other Lockridge books.
Initial Investigation. Let Dead Enough Alone has a good passage, in which Heimrich and Trooper Ray Crowley first investigate the crime (end of Chapter 3, Chapter 4, first part of Chapter 5) (pages 43-74 of the original hardback). This section shows some good plot developments, along with sound detective work. It is pleasantly detailed. It builds on a brief passage containing a clue, earlier in the novel (last part of Chapter 2) (pages 25-29).
Both the crime and the clues to its solution are grounded in technology. They bring Let Dead Enough Alone into the realm of Scientific Detection.
The investigation builds on the infrastructure of a country house. The Heimrich short story "Boy Kidnaped" (1957) also build on a county house's technical infrastructure, although the specific infrastructure looked at is different. See also the mysterious building which turns out to be technical, in Death by Association.
By the end of this section, the detectives and the reader know all about how the crime was committed, and the circumstances surrounding the crime. The only mystery left is who did the killing.
This section would have made a good short story, with an ending added that revealed who-done-it.
The Rest of the Mystery. There are no good clues to the identity of the killer. Only a few dubious, inconclusive psychological indications that the killer did it (Chapter 12). Even Heimnrich's girlfriend at the end tells him "you guessed." I agree. This "identity of the killer" puzzle is poor mystery plotting.
The murder is complicated by a gimmick, that was already old, stale and much-used by 1955. In fact, after the good "initial investigation", little in the mystery plot is creative or much good.
Detectives. The return of young trooper Ray Crowley is welcome. He does some good detective work. Crowley was previously seen in Death and the Gentle Bull. In both books, he starts the investigation, when he alerts Heimrich that what looks like a routine death is likely something more complex, possibly a murder. He has logical, intelligent reasons in both books.
Both books also emphasize Crowley developing a knowledge base about the locals that live in his district. This please his superior Heimrich, who regards such knowledge of individuals as essential for a state policeman.
Heimrich's appearance (middle of Chapter 4) echoes and slightly modifies his earlier description in Foggy, Foggy Death (middle of Chapter 3):
- He looks like he could be "anybody", not necessarily a cop. In Foggy, Foggy Death Heimrich looks like a policeman - but he also looks like he could be a businessman.
- In Let Dead Enough Alone Heimrich looks "squarely built". In Foggy, Foggy Death he looks like a former college football player who has kept up his exercise and build.
Food. As a side note, the references to food are of the incredibly bland fare favored by upper-middle-class Americans of the era. Today, people eat a much more diverse and flavorful menu.
Accent on MurderAccent on Murder (1958) is a novel starring Captain M. L. Heimrich. Its comic characters and social observations of a changing America are more interesting than its simple, uninventive murder mystery. Best parts: Chapters 1, 2, start of 3, second half of 6, 7, 9, 10, 11, start of 12.
Mystery Plot. BIG SPOILERS. The mystery plot of Accent on Murder is a simple variant on that of the earlier "Pattern for Murder". In both, someone kills because their hidden, unrespectable past might be exposed by the victim. In both, it is the accidental encounter at a party between the killer and the victim who knows about their past, that triggers the murder. In both, the victim is an innocuous, innocent woman who just happened to encounter the killer in the distant past.
This is a simple plot. It is fine for a brief short story like "Pattern for Murder". But it is brief and sketchy when stretched out over a whole novel like Accent on Murder. And the novel adds little of interest to the plot.
Because I'd read "Pattern for Murder", I picked up right away on the killer's motive in Accent on Murder. And it was also easy to figure out who-done-it. There were no surprises at all during the solution at the end.
Accent on Murder is also a bit unusual in that it has no mystery subplots. Its sole mystery elements consist of the killer and the killer's victims. And the murder method is just a routine shooting, lacking any howdunit or technological interest. These factors also make the mystery aspects of Accent on Murder skimpy.
New Technology. Young Navy officer Brady Wilkins is a specialist in advanced technology, used in weapon systems. We never learn exactly what these weapons are - but the book's hush-hush concealment of his exact work makes these mysterious weapon systems sound even creepier. These advanced weapons offer an ominous background to the events in Accent on Murder. They are referred to again and again throughout the course of the novel.
Helen Reilly has high tech weapons as a sinister background in her mystery novel The Canvas Dagger (1956). Reilly is a "serious" writer in tone, and the Lockridges are comic ones. But somehow the Lockridges' "comedy of manners" tone does not make this weapons background less ominous. Instead, both Reilly and the Lockridges offer an insistent warning that something ominous is going on, in America's interest in high tech weapons.
Both Reilly and the Lockridges set their books among upper class Americans living in chic countryside areas: Cape Cod in Reilly's The Canvas Dagger, Westchester County in New York in Accent on Murder. In both, the weapons are part of the work of a successful young husband of an upscale young wife. This look at socially proper members of the upper middle class also fails to reassure readers. It somehow makes what is going on with weapons and advanced tech seem even creepier and more ominous. Both books implicitly suggest that the strong forces of upper class conformity and worship of "success" are helping introduce sinister weapons into the modern world.
Class, and Rigid Thought. Class is explicitly introduced as an issue, with the old money rich waging war on the middle class (start of Chapter 3). Explicit mentions of class are fairly rare in literature. We also see the same group's (mis)treatment of the working class (Chapter 8).
A Navy admiral also shows prejudice against an officer who came from a "trade school" rather than Annapolis (Chapter 9). This sequence parallels treatment of social class elsewhere in Accent on Murder.
Both the old money rich like Craig (Chapter 8) and the Admiral (Chapter 9) are described as being rigid in thought, and seeing the world in unchanging eternal categories, hierarchies and facts. Such a need for certainty in thought is linked to sinister right-wing values, such as hierarchies of class or military rank.
By contrast Heimrich's aide Sergeant Forniss is repeatedly noted for his skepticism. He constantly has trouble believing what suspects say to him. Heimrich both agrees with and praises this point of view, regarding as proper in a police detective, and worries that it might be excessive. While the book doesn't make an explicit contrast, Forniss' skepticism is the opposite of the upper class characters' and the Admiral's rigid certainty. We don't learn much about Forniss' background, but Police Sergeants in books and films are often seen as being typical members of the working class.
Lt. Nelson, the officer from the trade school rather than Annapolis, is also shown as displaying extreme caution in believing what people say (second half of Chapter 6). Nelson too is a professional detective figure, being part of Navy Intelligence.
Race. Accent on Murder offers satiric comedy on the black-white race relations issue of the era. I don't want to spoil its comic turns. But it should be pointed out that this comedy has a backbone: there are two approving mentions of the NAACP (Chapters 1, 7).
Death on a Foggy Morning: a Short Story"Death on a Foggy Morning" (1957) stars Captain M. L. Heimrich. It is a pure detective whodunit. One can find it in Stewart Beach's anthology, This Week's Stories of Mystery and Suspense (1957).
Mystery Plot: The Dying Message. "Death on a Foggy Morning" is a Dying Message story. The Lockridges do well with this standard detection gambit.
The witness who hears the message is a retired English professor. He is thus an expert at understanding utterances. I don't recall this sort of expert witness in any other dying message tale.
Heimrich, through directed questioning, pulls expert knowledge out of this witness (the second session with the witness, in the second half of the story). This is a miniature version of the "directed dialogues" Heimrich does with experts in Death and the Gentle Bull.
Mystery Plot: The Killing. Heimrich gets insight into the killing, when he sees a countryside custom. This is a special activity, found in the upstate countryside, not known in the city. Similarly in "Boy Kidnaped", the tale is brought to a successful conclusion by knowing about machinery only used in the countryside.
Society. The professor is an example of the intelligentsia often found in the Van Dine School.
Issues of class are briefly raised. A deeper look at class will soon appear in Accent on Murder.
Boy Kidnaped: a Short Story"Boy Kidnaped" (1957) stars Captain M. L. Heimrich. This short tale combines mystery (where is they kidnaped boy?) with elements of a Criminal Makes a Mistake inverted story.
Mystery Plot. The search for the boy is related to a popular Golden Age kind of mystery puzzle: the intensive search by the detective for a hidden, concealed object. In "Boy Kidnaped", this "object" is the hidden boy. SPOILERS. "Boy Kidnaped" differs from searches for inanimate objects, in that the boy can do active things to aid in the search. This gives the plot in "Boy Kidnaped" an unusual structure.
SPOILERS. The criminal seems to be a different kind of person, from whom he actually is. This recalls Death Takes a Bow and Voyage into Violence.
SPOILERS. Heimrich's sense of hearing aids him in finding the solution, just as his sense of smell does in "Flair for Murder".
Architecture and Landscape. "Boy Kidnaped" includes both the Golden Age interest in landscape (in the tale's first half), and the related interest in architecture (in the second half). Both are pleasantly done. The architecture is especially interesting in its originality. It is also more closely linked to the mystery plot than the landscape in the first half.
The architectural unit recalls a bit the strange building in Death by Association (Chapters 4, 10). SPOILERS. Both turn out to be centers of technology. And both are interesting.
The architecture includes a ladder. This recalls a bit the staircases in the architecture in "Pattern for Murder" and Murder in a Hurry.
The landscape involves paths in the countryside. This recalls the landscape around the tourist camp in Murder Out of Turn.
The Accusing Smoke: a Short Story"The Accusing Smoke" (1959) is a pleasant mystery short story, starring Captain M. L. Heimrich.
Plot Structure. The story is not fair play - the reader does not have enough facts to deduce the murderer - nor do the police actually solve the crime through their detective work. Rather, the murderer makes a Fatal Mistake that trips him up at the end of the story. In this, the tale resembles the version of Inverted Crime story that was popular in both the pulps and the slicks in the US, ones in which some miscalculation by the killer exposes an otherwise perfect crime. This miscalculation is supposed to be ingenious, and is often based on science: both of these are true in the Lockridges' tale. Unlike these inverted tales, in "The Accusing Smoke" we do not see the crime committed or know who the killer is in advance - the story has the format of a standard whodunit mystery tale.
Society and Van Dine Traditions. All of this is mixed in with the sort of milieu we expect in a Van Dine school tale, with a setting among art world people living upper middle class lives near New York City.
Flair for Murder: a Short Story"Flair for Murder" (1965) is a good mystery short story, starring Captain M. L. Heimrich. For a brief, compactly told tale, the story is rich in plot. Everything happens in logical step-by-step detail, both in the murder plot, and its detection.
The central characters and their relationships are also carefully defined.
The dog is well-defined as a personality too. He is seen as good-naturedly comic: something more typically associated with cats than with dogs in entertainment media.
The plot of "Flair for Murder" is built throughout on horticulture. It centers on growing plants, in the way raising animals was central to Murder in a Hurry and Death and the Gentle Bull. These are not wild plants: these are plants grown by humans, using specific horticulture techniques. The techniques play roles in the mystery plot.
Most of the story takes place outside, in a single large landscape comprised of two neighboring yards.
Heimrich does much detection using his sense of smell: something the story explicitly points out.
While "Flair for Murder" is a lively title, I can't figure out any connection between it and the actual story.
"Flair for Murder" appeared in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine (October 1965) and was anthologized in Ellery Queen's Crime Carousel (1966).
Kelley RoosLike the Lockridges, the couple behind the "Kelley Roos" pseudonym were a husband and wife mystery writing team, Audrey Kelley and William Roos.
Commentary on Kelley Roos:
Mystery TraditionsKelley Roos is among the intuitionist writers who emerged in America around 1940. These include Craig Rice, Lillian de la Torre, the Lockridges, James Yaffee and Anthony Boucher. All of these writers seem to have adopted the intuitionist paradigm for detective fiction almost as a matter of course - it is clearly part of their basic view of what a detective story should be.
Like the Lockridges, Kelley Roos wrote about a husband and wife team of amateur detectives, as did Craig Rice, as well. Both couples' detectives live not just in New York City, but in Greenwich Village, then a haven for intellectuals and the chic.
FilmsFilm versions of Roos novels are rarely mentioned in detective fiction reference books. The Frightened Stiff (1941) was filmed as A Night to Remember (1943). Haila and Jeff are portrayed by Loretta Young and Brian Aherne, a delightfully civilized couple.
There Was a Crooked Man was adapted as an episode of the TV drama anthology series Studio One (June 19, 1950) directed by Paul Nickell. It stars Robert Sterling and Virginia Gilmore as the Troys. Its plot is often remarkably faithful to the novel. This adaptation works tirelessly to keep cramming the book's plot threads in. Unfortunately, I found the storytelling of this TV version to be lifeless, even grating. By contrast, I enjoyed the original novel both times I read it.
The Blonde Died Dancing (1956) was filmed in France as Do You Want to Dance With Me? (1959). It starred Brigitte Bardot; not many literary characters have been played by Loretta Young at her most sophisticated, and by Brigitte Bardot.
To Save His Life (1968) was made into an absorbing TV-Movie, Dead Men Tell No Tales (1971). Robert Dozier's script has some excellent plot twists. Leading man Christopher George gives a charismatic performance.
Made Up To KillMade Up To Kill (1940) is the first novel about Jeff Troy and Haila Rodgers: the couple is not married yet.
Made Up To Kill is a minor novel, compared to many later works of Kelly Roos. It is readable, but the people are less likable than in later Roos novels. The book's events are grimmer and thus less enjoyable than many later Roos novels, too.
Mystery Plot. The main murder plot is not inspired.
The book is full of disconnected subplots, in which the various suspects are immersed. Some of these are pretty trivial, but one, the Lee Gray subplot, is fairly clever (solved second half of Chapter 15). The small subplot about Philip Ashley comes to a simple but pleasant conclusion (Chapters 1, end of 7, 13).
Van Dine Traditions. This tale refers to such detectives as S.S. Van Dine's Philo Vance, Ellery Queen, and Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe. It is pretty easy to guess which detective writers the authors value: these are all members of the Van Dine school!
This is a backstage story, set during the run of a Broadway play in which aspiring actress Haila is appearing. This theatrical setting is typical of Van Dine school writers. The look at the early career of a distinguished theatrical producer-director is interesting (start of Chapter 11).
The main setting of a Broadway theater somewhat resembles such later Roos locales as the apartment building in The Frightened Stiff, the showboat in "Death Is a Trouper", and the boarding house in There Was a Crooked Man. Each character has their own dressing room or office in the theater, the way each suspect has a room or apartment in the other novels.
The Detective. Jeff Troy is a photographer for an ad agency. He is on vacation when the murder occurs, and decides he would like to be a detective. In this tale, and subsequent ones, he accepts a fee as a private eye to work on the case; but Jeff and Haila are clearly in the tradition of amateur sleuths, and are treated as such by the friendly policeman in this novel. There is some nice satire on the concept of the amateur detective in Chapter 2 of Murder in Any Language (1948). Roos also satirizes the "wife who is always walking in on murder" gambit (Chapter 5). However, this is only a cliché of the 1940's, whereas the amateur detective is one of the key concepts of mystery fiction.
Stereotypes. The black elevator operator is stereotyped. This is another key reason to not recommend Made Up To Kill, in addition to problems with the main murder mystery and unlikable characters. Very thankfully, such stereotypes are largely absent from Roos' later work.
If the Shroud FitsIf the Shroud Fits (1941) takes place among Jeff Troy's professional world of photography for advertising, with most of the suspects being models or photographers brought together for a shoot.
It is less successful than later Roos novels. It has two main problems. One is the tone of grim anxiety, even horror sometimes, that dominates this book. It is not fun to read. Most of the later Troy novels are full of comedy and joie de vivre. Kelley Roos has not found the right tone yet for their books.
Secondly, the book lacks a brilliant puzzle plot idea for its events, although the second murder that occurs late in the book shows some ingenuity.
Roos instead has labored endlessly to marshal dozens of small details into mystery patterns. The book is full of small, insignificant clues, tiny plot threads and small bits of business that the authors try to weave into a solution at the end. This solution is almost as complicated and large as a solution to an ultra-complex Carr or Ellery Queen novel. But while those authors' solutions were made up of brilliant puzzle plot ideas of substance, here we just get mountains of trivia all sewn together. If sheer labor or effort could make a mystery tale plot worthwhile, this book would qualify. It unfortunately lacks the ingenuity required for good puzzle plot fiction.
The Opening. The opening has decent storytelling, showing the events that lead up to the murder (Chapters 1-3). This opening:
- Has an "inside" look at a photography studio making an advertising photo. This look is pleasant, although not brilliant or deeply detailed.
- Introduces the main characters.
- Has a fairly common and pleasant gambit in mystery fiction: having a series of events repeat themselves a second time, making a surrealist echo. Here, the repeated events are two highly-similar photo shoots. A further surrealistic repeating of events occurs later during the investigation (second half of Chapter 5).
The Nightclub. The nightclub scene (Chapter 10) is fun. Partly because it introduces two new mystery subplots (SPOILERS. These subplots are 1) Where is Kenyon getting his money? 2) Who is the man with Erika at the club, and why is he secretive?) Eventually we discover these two mystery subplots are linked, when we get a solution to the first and a partial solution to the second (second half of Chapter 13).
The nightclub chapter is also fun because it gives us a look at one of the suspects, a man who doubles as as avant-garde dancer. Van Dine School novels often have inside looks at people in entertainment or the arts; this is an example. The portrait of the dancer's work and clothes is colorful.
The dancer is one of a number of men in 1940's American mysteries who has really dressy clothes. See Men's Dressy Clothes in 1940's American Mysteries for a list and discussion.
Police Fairness. The police make an odd, brief mention of them being "fair" to the suspects (first part of Chapter 4). The police also say that such fairness is due to the suspects, because they are American citizens. I'm guessing that this is a reference to some then-current political controversy. But I don't know what this actually refers to.
The Frightened StiffThe Frightened Stiff (1942) is the first novel in which the Troys are married, and the novel in which they move into their Greenwich Village apartment, which promptly becomes the scene of a crime.
This is a nicely done detective novel, by any standards. It starts out conventionally, if a bit wackily, with the discovery of a corpse and the introduction of a bunch of suspects. But then the mysteries start piling up, and the book becomes quite imaginative in its twists, and in linking everything together in its plot. The dialogue is full of humor, and there is a good take-off on the HIBK school, in the scene where the heroine wanders all alone in the spooky cellar (Chapter 5).
Roos often conceals clues around rooms. We see a character's rooms and all their belongings; later the detective deduces a hidden significance from some object in the room.
There is a nice dovetailing quality to Roos' plots. If there is an odd, unexplained detail, or some strange aspect to someone's behavior, it is bound to link up with some other aspect of the mystery plot later on in some unexpected way. This sort of dovetailing always gives pleasure to the true mystery fan. Roos loves clues, and sprinkles them liberally throughout the books.
There is an evolutionary quality to Roos' puzzle plots. First we have a surprising revelation of part of the truth. Later, we will have a second revelation that builds on the first, and so on. Oftentimes, this twists the original idea into some new shape. These ideas can involve a series of characters: we will find a character in the series of people that is behaving in an anomalous way, different from the others, that is not sharing in their common behavior or structural position in the plot. This character looks at first glance as if they were just another member of the series, but they are not. Among Roos' fiction, The Frightened Stiff matches up in mystery plot technique with "Murder Among Ladies" (1950), being tales about series of people.
Sailor, Take Warning!Mystery Plot. Sailor, Take Warning! (1943-1944) is an impossible crime novel, and more. It falls into the Chesterton tradition, from which much of the impossible crime writing by intuitionist writers derives.
The authors show considerable ingenuity in the non-impossible crime aspects of the plot, as well. These are full of the hidden significances to actions that the Kelley Roos team loved.
A "hidden criminal scheme" is revealed at the end of the story. Such criminal schemes are a frequent kind of mystery puzzle - always welcome when done well.
Characters. The characters in the story are the kind of eccentric hobbyists we are familiar with from S. S. Van Dine and his followers Ellery Queen and Rex Stout.
The enthusiastic little boy in the first chapter is a pleasant comic touch. He anticipates the more elaborately drawn kid in There Was a Crooked Man. See also the comic young girl Rita Pinker in "Death Is a Trouper". These characters are all nicely done.
Society. Paul Muni is mentioned as an example of a great actor, maybe the world's best (Chapter 1). Muni was a liberal icon in this era, for the social commentary films he had made.
This imaginative work stands with The Frightened Stiff as the best of the Roos' detective novels.
There Was a Crooked ManUniversity Background. There Was a Crooked Man is in the tradition of The Frightened Stiff, concentrating on the characters who live in a single boarding house. This time the house is near Columbia University; both of the novel's main subplots have an academic slant. A few scenes take place at Columbia University itself. This gives a Background of University life to the novel.
Intellectual characters are a staple of Van Dine school writers.
Some characters also have theater connections: the theater also being prominent in Van Dine school mysteries.
There Was a Crooked Man (1945) is an expanded version of an American Magazine novella called "Murder by Degrees" (1944), which is a better and more appropriate title.
There Was a Crooked Man has a pleasantly low-key approach. The characters are often comic and the tale is light-hearted. Aside from the murder, the various criminal activities are fairly small potatoes, and relaxing to read about.
Characters and their Situations. Some of the characters and their stories recall those of Made Up To Kill:
- Paul Collins showed up a few weeks ago out of the blue; no one knows anything about his past. This recalls the actress Carol Blanton with a mysterious background and a short current acquaintance with the other characters in Made Up To Kill.
- Husband Fred Girard has suddenly and unexpectedly shown up in New York City. This recalls British playwright Greeley Morris's surprise visit to New York in Made Up To Kill.
- Kay Abbott is a close friend of the narrator-heroine and a woman-in-trouble who needs help. She recalls Carol Blanton who is the heroine's roommate and who needs help in Made Up To Kill.
- The heroine gets chalk on the back of her clothes. This recalls the way Eve North gets fresh paint from a wall on the back of her clothes in