#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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#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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#968: Going Home – A Drink Before the War (1994) by Dennis Lehane

By the time Dennis Lehane started garnering public attention and huge critical praise for the likes of Mystic River (2001) and Shutter Island (2003) — helped, no doubt, by those two novels being filmed — I couldn’t help but feeling that he’d already done his best work with his first five novels, which featured Boston P.I.s Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro.

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#865: There Is Nothing Either Good or Bad, But Thinking Makes It So – Examining the Haycraft-Queen Cornerstones List

If you’ve met me, firstly I apologise, and secondly it’ll come as no surprise that I have a tendency to ruminate on that which many others pass over without so much as a backward glance. Previously this resulted in me writing something in the region of 25,000 words on the Knox Decalogue, and today I’m going to turn my eye upon the Haycraft-Queen Cornerstones list. Prepare thyself…

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#245: Death Has Many Doors (1951) by Fredric Brown

Death Has Many Doors 1stYou know the score: a tough-guy PI in a business slump, sitting in his office typing out a letter using one finger (real men don’t type), when in walks a knockout redhead with “everything that should go with red hair”.  She needs his help, he’s her last chance.  Well of course, sweets, what seems to be the problem?  She’s being hunted, y’see, someone wants to kill her.  Calm down, baby doll what’s his name?  Well, that’s the problem; she’s being hunted by…Martians.  It’s a lovely little moment of confounded expectations early on in Brown’s pulpy tale and sets the tone for the number of conventions he refuses to conform to as things progress.  And, since he’s far from smug about it, it works very well indeed.

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#82: The Blushing Monkey (1953) by Roman McDougald

Okay, I’ve had nearly two months off and have been promising this review for that whole time, so let’s see if I can remember how this works…

Blushing Monkey, TheAnimals and their involvement in impossible crimes enjoy a long history, from the works of Edgar Allan Poe and Arthur Conan Doyle all the way up to the Jonathan Creek episode The House of Monkeys.  Approximately halfway between these two we have Roman McDougald’s mandrill Geva, resident of your classical American Millionaire’s Household and on hand when said millionaire is found murdered in frankly baffling circumstances: in his office, stabbed in the back, with both doors into the room unlocked.  Yes, unlocked.  And yet he failed to leave the room while being attacked – the trail of blood he left leads from his desk to one door, then the other, and halfway back again – or raise the alarm in any way before the killer escaped.

This book would have completely passed me by but for  TomCat’s list of favourite locked room novels over at Beneath the Stains of Time, which has proved a launching pad for my investigations into some of the less-heralded authors who dabbled in our shared passion.  However, that erudite locked room expert and I are going to disagree on this one: I don’t really rate it.  The puzzle of an unlocked room is a fantastic notion, and the later locked room murder of one of the suspects is a nice addition (if rather basic, and likely to infuriate S.S. van Dine), but mainly this is slightly over-long and moderately dull standard fare that offers little you can’t afford to miss.

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