#1011: Double or Quits (1941) by A.A. Fair

Double or Quits

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Where the novel of detection delights in tropes so as to better lull you in and then sock you with an unexpected development, I’m starting to suspect that the private eye novel likes tropes so that you’re as comfortable as possible throughout without ever having to pay too close attention. You sign up for wealthy families, suspicious deaths, shady hangers-on, and plenty of business malfeasance, all the better to then unfurl a complex final chapter explanation which probably works as well as anything else, but, hey, at least it was entertaining while it lasted. And the world absolutely has a place for that kind of book, just don’t expect me to get too excited when I encounter one of them.

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#1009: The Right Murder (1941) by Craig Rice

Right Murder

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“Now you take this guy who was killed New Year’s Eve. If he was gonna be killed, why couldn’t he have had his passport on him, or a driver’s license, or even a calling card? No. Not a damn thing. So I have to go to all the trouble of finding out who he was. When I do find out, then what? More trouble.” Homicide Captain Daniel von Flanagan has a point, as there’s also the matter of the dead man staggering into a bar where lawyer John J. Malone was drowning his sorrows and croaking out “Malone!” before expiring on the floor, added to Malone’s insistence that he’d never seen the man before. And what of the key numbered 114 the man slipped to Malone…a key that was apparently stolen from the lawyer only moments later?

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#996: The Nine Wrong Answers (1952) by John Dickson Carr

Nine Wrong Answers

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In order to read the full text of The Nine Wrong Answers (1952) by John Dickson Carr you must read the first edition hardcover, as all paperback printings having been reduced by what Carr’s biographer Douglas Greene estimates to be about 15%. And, having now read the condensed text, it’s difficult not to feel that the book could actually be shortened by about another 30% since, in expanding this up from his radio play ‘Will You Make a Bet with Death?’ (1942), Carr has stretched a thin premise now too thin. A lot of the distractions here are simply that: distractions, and the core excellence of the plot is rendered tedious at times when trying to support so many circumlocutions.

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#984: Spill the Jackpot (1941) by A.A. Fair

Spill the Jackpot

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Two days before her wedding to Philip Whitewell, Corla Burke upped and disappeared from her place of work, leaving behind all her personal property: “she simply vanished into thin air, and hasn’t been heard from since”.  Following a slender lead to Las Vegas, the groom-to-almost-was’s father Arthur hires the B. Cool Detective Agency to “find out what happened to Corla, why she disappeared, where she is now”…and so we’re off. And, of course, everything will go to plan for pint-sized investigator Donald Lam and he definitely won’t find himself pursued, beaten up, and accused of murder. No, wait — fry me for an oyster, that’s exactly what happens to him…good lord, however will he get out of this jam?

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#957: Rendezvous in Black (1948) by Cornell Woolrich

Rendezvous in Black

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One of the things that struck me as I got into the works of Freeman Wills Crofts is how, from book to book, he always finds a way to subtly alter the nature of the plot he is writing so that he never covers the exact same ground twice. This was evidently not so much of a concern for Cornell Woolrich, who could so readily imagine so many nightmarish possibilities bristling from any setup that he often had to use the same core idea more than once just to explore the principles that struck him. ‘All At Once, No Alice’ (1937) shares a sizeable chunk of DNA with the novel Phantom Lady (1942), and today’s read Rendezvous in Black (1948) harks back to Woolrich’s criminous debut, The Bride Wore Black (1940).

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#954: The Wrong Murder (1940) by Craig Rice

Wrong Murder

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At the bunfight following his marriage to Helene Brand, theatrical agent Jake Justus, reflecting that “he had had more than his fair share of homicides”, is unprepared for Mona McClane boasting that she will kill someone “in broad daylight on the public streets, with…plenty of witnesses”. Surely she can’t be serious? And so a bet is struck — powered, no doubt, by the veneer of alcohol that drives so much of Craig Rice’s wild plotting — that, if Mona commits the murder, Jake will prove her guilty of it. And then a man is shot dead on the busiest corner in Chicago during the Christmas rush, with Mona McClane spotted in the vicinity just moments before.

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#939: The New Sonia Wayward, a.k.a. The Case of Sonia Wayward (1960) by Michael Innes

New Sonia Wayward

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Previous experience with the detective fiction that John Innes Mackintosh Stewart published under the name Michael Innes has universally left me cold, but Aidan’s laudatory review of The New Sonia Wayward (1960) convinced me to give him one more go. I’m glad I did, because I disliked this book immensely and can now strike Innes off my ungrammatically-titled list of Authors To Persevere With and never look back. But, here’s the thing, my dislike here is quite startlingly personal in a way that makes it interesting to me, so I thought I’d struggle through and write it up as a lesson to my future self. You are invited to come along, but I shall not mind (or know) if you refuse.

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#930: Night at the Mocking Widow (1950) by Carter Dickson

Night at the Mocking Widow

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I love a good village poison pen mystery but, as I’ve said before, they’re difficult to write because both the village and the mystery must convince and compel. Night at the Mocking Widow (1950), the twentieth book written under John Dickson Carr’s Carter Dickson nom de plume to feature Churchillian sleuth Sir Henry ‘H.M.’ Merrivale, starts off seeming like a great example of both…but once we hit the halfway stage and the impossible appearance and vanishing of the sinister Widow presents itself, the life rather goes out of things. From that point on, it feels more like a writing exercise than a novel, and one that Carr is forcing himself to complete.

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