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Mystery Monday – 8 Faces at 3

8 Faces At 3 by Craig Rice


Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)


This story, published in 1939, is the first of eleven mysteries starring lawyer John J. Malone.  A mean old aunt, who wrote a mean old will, is done in with her own letter-opener. The cops suspect her niece Holly. She claims a nightmare woke her up. While wandering the house, she noticed that all the clocks stopped at 3 o’clock. When she stumbled upon her aunt’s corpse, she fainted. Publicity agent Jake Justus and his love interest heiress Helene Brand are convinced of Holly’s innocence and work with copper John J. Malone to find the real killer.

This is a screwball mystery along the lines of movie version of The Thin Man. Meaning that alcohol is both the fuel and exhaust of the humor.  Helene likes speeding on Chicago’s icy streets:

They spun west into Wacker Drive, turned south again, swung suddenly into a parking lot, struck a patch of ice, skidded around once, grazed the corner of filling station, and came to full stop beside a startled attendant. Jake reached for a cigarette, his hands shaking.

“Baby,” he said admiringly, ”baby, that was as skillful drunken driving as I’ve ever seen.”

I know, isn’t this appalling? Levity. Vulgarity. Smoking.  DWI. Plus, we are subjected to cynical Depression-era wisecracks: “If there was such a thing as ethics among human beings, there wouldn’t be any need for lawyers.” The quips are more Groucho Marx than Oscar Wilde:

If your sister has committed this crime….

If she has, it’s all the more reason for getting a good lawyer.

Again, just disgraceful. But it’s funny as heck too.  Jake Justus and Helene Brand make a Nick and Nora-like couple. Neither one can be described as a thinker. Practical Jake is so impulsive and active that he punches out the DA. To test a theory, Helene jumps down a laundry chute. These are just two examples of the bizarre antics in this nutty plot. One critic at Southern Illinois University said, Justus and Helene “apply their own snoop and blunder technique of investigation to the affair.”

So like I hinted, our more evolved generation, which sees wine more as medicine than “bottled poetry,” may reject with scorn and horror the reckless and unhealthy choices made in this vintage mystery. However, readers who like Damon Runyon or Ellery Queen or antique wiseacre Americana  will enjoy.



1. Fun Fact #63: In 1946, Craig Rice was the first mystery writer to appear on the cover of Time Magazine.

2. The phrase “bottled poetry” is by Robert Lewis Stevenson, author of Treasure Island.



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One Response to “Mystery Monday – 8 Faces at 3”

  1. […] was Millar’s third novel. She had been working in the Craig Rice tradition of the comic mystery. But with this 1942 book, probably because of her education in those […]

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