Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Holiday Homicide: Review

While most of New York City rings in the New Year with parties and hoop-la, Death celebrates the changing of the calendar with a party of its own.  But instead of laughter and drinking, murder is on the agenda in Rufus King's vintage mystery Holiday Homicide. Real estate magnate, Myron Jettwick, invites friends and family to his boat on New Year's Eve in preparation for a yachting trip to Tortuagas. He invites his ex-wife and step-son, his sister, a rival in real estate and her daughter, and is joined by secretary and the boat's captain and crew. 

All goes well until his stepson Bruce (who is incidentally also his nephew) gets a telephone call at 3 am.  The voice says that it is Jettwick and asks Bruce to come to his cabin.  When Bruce gets there he finds Jettwick dead from a gunshot wound in the head. Rather than raise the alarm, Bruce goes back to his room to wait for someone else to discover the body.  Once the murder is discovered, he belatedly remembers that he has left fingerprints on a mirror in Jettwick's cabin (a mirror which he used to see if the man was still breathing) and this sends him out on deck to have a good think while waiting for the police to arrive.

On the yacht anchored nearby is Cotton Moon, a wealthy private detective with a weakness for exotic nuts who will immediately put the reader in mind of one Nero Wolfe and his prize orchids.  Moon comes equipped with a wise-cracking right-hand man--Bert Stanley, a jewel of a cook, and team of investigators that he can call on for extra legwork.  Bruce absent-mindedly throws a rare sapucaia nut and hits Moon with it--gaining the detective's attention on two counts...the nut itself and the early morning antics of his neighbor dressed in pajamas and a robe while pacing in the New Year's snow.

As soon as Moon hears the set-up...and Bruce's aunt Emma Jettwick dangles $30,000 plus expenses in front of him...he's on the case.  There's a curious collection of botany books, hard and icy spots under the newly fallen snow, nut shells where they shouldn't be, and a mysterious black box that isn't where it should be.  There's an ex-lover of Jettwick's ex to find and complainant in a robbery case to track down.  Moon will hire a diver and filch a few important papers....and in the end will decide that the group really needs to take that trip to Tortuagas in order to bring the mystery to a close.

This is an excellent pastiche of Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin and it's so well-done that one doesn't even mind the comparisons to a far more famous detective duo.  King has his own brand of humor and a slick writing style that makes reading this adventure a real pleasure.  I thoroughly enjoyed meeting Moon and Stanley and watching how they dealt with suspects and policemen alike.  Like, Wolfe, Moon is completely sure of himself and doesn't mind sailing a bit close to the wind when it comes to methods.  He's sure the D.A. won't mind if he bends the rules just a bit.

I have just a couple of quibbles with King's plot.  The first is fair-play....well, there isn't as much as I'd like.  There's one major clue that the reader doesn't even know about until the end.  There's a hint that Moon has somebody on hand to track down that particular sort of clue, but the reader isn't shown it and has no way to hook it up with a suspect.  The second is the big reveal of the culprit.  I can't explain properly without giving it away....but I just don't see how the who was where they were. Not unless they had an accomplice.

But, overall, a fun little jaunt with a couple of detectives that I wouldn't mind seeing more of.  Four stars.

Walter brought in the hot spiced rums, and Moon told young Jettwick to drink one of them and calm down, and under no circumstances ever to admit to a willingness to have committed a murder which has just been done. (p. 11)

Her face had the regulation number of features, and would have been a distinct pleasure to look at if she had wiped off the careworn, haggard look of seventeen which, she later told me, was imperative for a girl's first season. (p. 23)

Well, I have always said that nothing can be more lethal in a nice way than a nice woman when she turns tiger in defense of her young. (p. 36)

Everybody's a little screwy here or there, don't you think? (Jepson McRoss, pp. 43-4)

Challenges: Vintage Mystery Challenge, Outdo Yourself, What's in a Name, Mount TBR Challenge, Off the Shelf, 150 Plus Reading Challenge, 52 Books in 52 Weeks, A-Z Reading Challenge, Embarrassment of Riches, Mystery/Crime Challenge, A-Z Mystery Author Challenge, Monthly Mix-up Mania


Ryan said...

Sounds like a lot of fun. Was it intended to be a pastiche?

Bev Hankins said...

Ryan: I'm not sure. I couldn't find a lot of info on it out on the interwebs....

J F Norris said...

In all of my reference books when HOMICIDE HOLIDAY is mentioned the critics think Moon was most definitely intended as a send-up of Nero Wolfe.

Bev Hankins said...

Thanks for the info, John!

TracyK said...

I was just thinking as I read your review...oooh, I need this book. A skull on the cover and a good mystery. Then I check my book catalog system, and I do have it. Will have to read it this year for sure.

Rick Mills said...

Having received this book from you as a challenge prize (Thanks!!!!) it has languished on my shelf until the approach of the corresponding holiday. (I just can't "get into" seasonal books out of season). So now we are 30 days out from New Year's and it is timely. From your review, looks like a lot of characters and action and I shall have to pay close attention.

Bev Hankins said...

Rick: Hope you enjoy it!!