Sunday, February 26, 2012
Murder in Shinbone Alley - Helen Reilly
For the first few chapters this is a fairly routine detective novel that I expected to have more insight into 1940s era police work. But truly it's more of a traditional fair play detective novel than it is police procedural. I was worried when the first few clues turn out to be tired cliches of the genre (a initialed handkerchief, used match sticks, for example) that it would continue down the pathway of the hackneyed. Then the theft of an Indian dagger used by one of the life models is stolen. McKee fears that the dagger will be used on one of the suspects who he is sure saw something on the terrace, but is unwilling to reveal his secret to the police. At this point the story picks up in pace and interest and all my fears of a lackluster story filled with familiar elements were assuaged.
Highlights of the book include the scenes devoted to the minor police characters' contributions to the murder investigation. Todhunter, a mousey nearly invisible cop, has an uncanny ability to transform himself into other personae. He does a mean drunk impersonation and uses that skill to gain access to Nairn English and gets her to confide in him without letting on he is actually a policeman. Another officer, Captain Pierson, has a great scene where her pursues Nairn though the cemetery at Barbara Baron's funeral. He falls in a shallow grave muddying himself, loses his subject, picks up her trail again and finally tails her to Mountain's hiding place. It was one of the most cinematic set pieces in the book reminding me of a similar graveyard chase on foot in Hitchcock's Family Plot.
AVAILABILITY: Luckily, this is a book that was reprinted in paperback edition by Macfadden and it went into two printings. Multiple copies of one or the other are available online ranging from $2 to $15. Not bad when I usually recommend books that 1. you can't find or 2. will cost you the equivalent of a winter month's heating bill.
This marks seventh book in the first part of my three part 2012 Vintage Mystery Reading Challenge sponsored by Bev at My Reader's Block. Links to the previously reviewed books are listed below.
Part I. Perilous Policemen
The Case of the Beautiful Body - Jonathan Craig
Murder by the Clock - Rufus King
The Death of Laurence Vining - Alan Thomas
The Moon Murders - Nigel Morland
Killer's Wedge - Ed McBain
Exit Charlie - Alex Atkinson