Sunday, March 24, 2013

Unhappy Hooligan: Review

YM: ...who is she to talk, a woman with a past like hers!
HR: So. Everybody has a past, especially any woman as attractive as Mavis. You yourself are probably working on a past.
~Yvonne McFarley; Howie Rook (p. 17)

Unhappy Hooligan is the first of two novels by Stuart Palmer to feature ex-newspaperman, Howie Rook.  Rook has always given the police a hard time over their investigative methods--claiming that he has a bunch of clippings that prove...whatever it is Howie wants to prove.  But he's never had to put his theories of detection into practice--until now.  James McFarley was a retired businessman with lots of money; a beautiful young wife from whom he was separated; a plump little stepdaughter who is his heir; and several hobbies--including a desire to play the clown in a real live circus.  

He gets his wish, but winds up dead from a gunshot wound in his apartment after only a few days under the Big Top.   He is dressed in full clown makeup and the doors are locked and it would take a human fly to get up the side of the building and through the window.  The police are all ready to call the death a suicide, but McFarley's widow, Mavis, refuses to believe that her darling would kill himself. Of course, it's to her advantage if he didn't...there's a hefty insurance claim that won't be paid out if McFarley did take his own life.  

Mavis is familiar with Rook's articles and letters to the editor regarding police procedures and calls on him to don a clown suit and follow in her husband's footsteps to prove that McFarley was murdered.  But someone doesn't take too kindly to Rook's snooping and Howie will have to be quick to finger the villain before the villain arranges for a similar grand finale for the circus's newest clown.

This one is sort of a mixed bag for me.  I like Howie Rook quite a lot.  I thoroughly enjoyed him going undercover in the circus and learning a great deal about how things operate behind the scenes.  I also enjoyed Howie's interactions with various characters in the book from the curvy Mavis to the delightful trapeze artist Mary Kelly du Mond to Speedy Nondello a winsome young circus brat who's major longing is to be a Girl Scout in the US. I think Palmer does a marvelous job setting up the hierarchies within the circus and showing Rook's interactions with them all.

The actual mystery...I'm not entirely sold on.  The locked room is explained, sortof.  But I'm still not sure how it could have been accomplished without there having been a more obvious clue when the room was examined.  And--as mentioned on GA Detection--while there are clues to be had and a cipher to be decoded (without the reader really being involved), the denouement isn't really much beyond a trick to get the culprit to reveal himself.  Rook doesn't have substantial proof.  And, in fact, he's still groping his way along throughout the final scenes.  Decent mystery; not quite as well-played as the Miss Withers stories.  Excellent characters and character interactions.  Three stars overall.

Challenges: Vintage Mystery Challenge, 150 Plus Reading Challenge, Mount TBR Challenge, Off the Shelf, Outdo Yourself, Embarrassment of Riches, What's in a Name, Book Bingo, Mystery & Crime Challenge, Monthly Mix-up Mania


J F Norris said...

Why did Palmer writer two books with such similar titles? I thought I was going to read a review of a Hildegarde Eithers book, but the one is called The Puzzle of the HAPPY Hooligan. It's like Craig Rice with THE RIGHT MURDER and THE WRONG MURDER which for a long time I always confused.

Anyway, good review of a book I obviously was confusing with another. I don't think I've ever seen this one in any edition. Cool paperback cover!

Ryan said...

I adore the cover since that's what I think should happen to all clowns.

Bev Hankins said...

John: I thought that too when I first found this (it had been too long since I had read the Miss Wither's story to remember if there was a clown in it)--but I would have bought the book anyway because it's a pocket-size edition (which I adore). I'm glad I did, because I'd never heard of his Howie Rook books before.

Ryan: Unfortunately (from your point of view) it's not a real clown that gets knocked off....