Thursday, May 17, 2012

A First Class Murder: Review

It's 1938 and Europe stands on the brink of war--Hitler is preparing to take over the Sudentland and will do so while our action takes place.  First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt has traveled to France to  receive the Médaille de Grande Honneur from the Société Humaniste de France.  She plans to return the US on an American ship in a comfortable, but non-ostentatious stateroom.  But the French government insists on sending her home on their flagship the Normandie in one of four palatial suites. Joining Mrs. Roosevelt aboard ship is a veritable Who's Who of the 1930s--from Jack Benny and Mary Livingstone to Josephine Baker and Henry Luce to Charles Lindbergh and a young John F. Kennedy.  Also on board are the Russian Ambassador Troyanoskii and his companion, a tiny ballerina by the name of Nina Rozanov....and a czar's ransom in jewels.

Before the voyage is over, the ambassador will be poisoned and a member of the crew will be stabbed, a murderous attempt will be made on Nina and another crew member, and the jewels will do a vanishing act from the ship's safe.  Mrs. Roosevelt, aided by Kennedy, is determined to help the ship's detective solve the mystery before the Normandie reaches New York, but just discovering how the strychnine got into Troyanoskii's glass is going to be difficult enough. 

A First Class Murder is the ninth in the series of mysteries starring the First Lady and the first one that I've sampled.  I saw it sitting on the shelf in the Friends of the Library Bookstore and decided, after seeing the line-up of characters, that I ought to give the Roosevelt books a try.  I can't say that this is a first class mystery.  A nice little cozy--yes.  An interesting murder method--yes.  Stellar story--not really.  It's a decent crime, but the characters fall a little flat.  They almost all sound the same to me--except the French crew and the Russian entourage all speak English (broken and not-so-broken) with odd little inflections...that's how you tell the difference.  Nobody's personality, not even that of the formidable First Lady, really stands out--although hers, the French detective and Kennedy's stand out the best.  And one irritating bit....apparently Elliot Roosevelt doesn't think his average reader will have ever had the experience of hearing a French-speaking person's accent in English.  He constantly puts the phonetic version of various words spoken by M. Ouzoulias in parentheses.  Thanks, Elliot, but I watch David Suchet's Poirot quite regularly (yes, he's Belgian, I know--but a French-speaker) and I've got the accent in my head.  If you're doing it right, you don't have to pound the fact that your ship's detective is French into your reader's head.

Three stars for a decent read.  Will I read another Eleanor Roosevelt mystery?  If it comes my way, probably.  But I can't say I'm going to be hunting them down.  

1 comment:

Peter Reynard said...

Wow, I never realized people work actual historical figures so completely into their stories. Although, it sounds like the book might have been better served as a short story or a novella.