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Mystery Monday Review – The Birthday Murder

The Birthday Murder by Lange Lewis

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)


This 1945 mystery is the second of five that starred series hero Lieutenant Richard Tuck of the LA Homicide Squad and his faithful assistant E. Byron “Duck Butt” Froody.

A cozy with the elements of a police procedural, it is narrated from the third-person limited point of view of career woman Victoria Hime, who writes novels, plays, and scripts. She’s also the chief suspect since circumstantial evidence points to her as the poisoner of her husband Albert Hime, a producer of B movies. It doesn’t help Victoria that the kind of poison used was the same chemical used to kill a husband in one of her novels. Tuck and Froody, however, can identify no motive that would have driven Victoria to snuff her quiet easy-going husband. Plus, Victoria’s independence of mind and knowledge of people impress Tuck, who is a combination of hard-headed and soul-deep himself.

The persons of interest to be interviewed by Tuck are three. Bernice Saxe is Victoria’s childhood friend with a raft of marital problems of her own making. Plus, we know how complicated friendships, especially long-time ones, can be. Moira Hastings is an ambitious starlet, willing to slander Victoria as jealous and back-biting because Victoria said Moira was not mature or good enough for movie part. Sawn Hariss is Victoria’s first husband, showing up like a bad penny for the first time in ten years. His immature personality has failed to improve even after active participation in World War II, only glancingly referred to in the story.

There is cringe-worthy content related to race, class, and gender but it takes up only a fraction of the novel. And plenty of references to the intricacies of female friendships and the importance of clothes, shoes, jewels, and hats may be over the head of the male reader. But these issues are balanced by the excellent prose and the breezy wit of a confident writer. This was included by Barzun and Taylor in their list of 50 great mysteries. It was reprinted in paperback the early 1980s by Harper Perennial Mystery Library. Highly recommended.




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