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Archive for April, 2021

Mystery Monday – Red Threads

Monday, April 12th, 2021

Red Threads by Rex Stout

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

The Barnes & Noble website touts its e-book version as “An Inspector Cramer Mystery” as if Stout made the hard-boiled head of NYPD homicide a series hero. Cramer was never a series hero. Cramer usually played the flatfoot foil in Stout’s classic mysteries starring the PI duo of Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin. And in this 1939 novel, he merely assists the heroine trap the perp.

This mystery contains the prototypical elements of a story from the so-called golden age of detective fiction. The reader catches a whiff of the spiritualism and mysticism that was common in the 20 years after World War I. The color prejudice – involving American Indians – is about what we would expect for the late Thirties. The whodunit snobbery is on display. The glamorous characters are well-off and famous in the arts, design and technology. The victim is a millionaire, killed in the ostentatious tomb of his wife, which is located on the grounds of his swanky country estate. As for the last check-box, what can we say about the prose:

He stopped, gazing at her, and put out a hand and took it back again. “No,” he said. “I’m not going to plead with you. I did that, and what good did it do? But all the same, I won’t tolerate it – what you’re doing with Guy Carew. Now that the fortune is his – the wings for your ambition. I know you can do it – he’s a half-primitive infant – may be you’ve already done it – but I won’t tolerate it and I won’t allow it. I won’t, Portia! You’re mine! By God, you are!”

Pee-yew, is what I’d say, but not unamusing in small doses. To be charitable, he wrote this in 1939, just after the excellent outing with Wolfe and Archie, Some Buried Ceasar. Too much to expect two home runs in a row.

On the credit side, Stout is an old-school feminist whose female characters work hard and enjoy success on their own terms. A textile artist and fashion designer upstages Inspector Cramer by using a peach pit, a red thread from an antique weave, and the call of a whippoorwill to solve the mystery. Stout’s wife was in the cloth business so there’s always smart references to fabric.

In the tradition of Golden Age mysteries, the reveal tests patience and credulity in terms of to what degree will we accept silly and over the top. I can recommend this one only to hard-core fans who have already read a fistful of Nero Wolfe mysteries and, bless us reading gluttons one and all, even reading an Alphabet Hicks or a Doll Bonner or a Tecumseh Fox.

 

 

Mystery Monday – The D A Calls It Murder

Monday, April 5th, 2021

The D.A. Calls it Murder by Erle Stanley Gardner

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

This is the first book featuring DA Doug Selby who appeared in nine mysteries from 1937 to 1949. It opens with Selby and his friend Sheriff Max Brandon flushed with victory in their recent election to office in Madison City, about 100 miles north of Hollywood. As Brandon is a faithful pard right out of pulp Westerns, Selby’s GF Sylvia Martin is a typical Gardnerian heroine along the lines of Della Street: shrewd, ready for action, and devoted.

A corpse is discovered in a hotel. Besides getting involved in the homicide investigation, Selby takes up detecting duties to gather details about an envelope containing $5,000, a lawsuit over an estate, and a movie scenario of an unintentionally hilarious melodrama titled Lest Ye Be Judged (for us cynics who assumed Gardner didn’t have satire in him). Also involved are a high-tech camera and a poisoned dog (take it easy – Gardner was a dog lover so the pooch is going to be okay).

Selby questions a movie star who lays a lot of New Age California woo-woo on him. Selby also comes within an ace of being hypnotized by the motion picture actress. The scene in which they come to an agreement about where their relationship is going will call to mind scenes between, say, Ida Lupino and Ronald Colman.

The subplots get tangled, the characters act improbably. Happily, Gardner’s readable prose drives the story. We readers can always trust his stories to hustle.