Sunday, June 28, 2015

Murder on Her Mind: Review

For the TBR First Lines square on the Golden Vintage Bingo card, I needed to pick out four books from the TBR stacks and, based on reading only the first line of each, decide on my next read. Here are the books I decided to sample.

Cocktails & the Killer by Peter Cheyney: Even today I don't know much about her.

Murder on Her Mind by Vechel Howard: It was some high-ranking saint's day, or maybe national carpenters' or mechanics' or bricklayers' day.

The Summer School Mystery by Josephine Bell: The two girls climbed down from the front seat of the lorry, and turned to lift out their belongings.

Death Lifts the Latch by Anthony Gilbert: The fog, that had begun as a grey mist about three o'clock, thickened as the afternoon drew on, until by night it hung, a thick grey blanket, obscuring London and the outlying suburbs.

Which first line strikes your fancy? As my post title indicates, I was struck by Vechel Howard's Murder on Her Mind (1959). I do have to confess--I couldn't keep my eyes from taking in the next line as well: Anyhow, it was one of those Mexican mornings when the dawn was shattered by a frantic tolling of church bells and fusillades of cannon crackers and gunfire. How could I resist? 

But, having now read the book, I think the most compelling quote comes from page 64: 

Death, in a silk suit, had just passed and the music of the wheel and the merry-go-round now sounded strictly like a dirge.

Private Eye Johnny Church is in Mexico--hired by Mrs. O'Dell in San Francisco to find out who killed her son with a .32 bullet in the forehead. There were three lovely ladies sharing his bed who might have had reason to kill him. A young, luscious blonde, a fiery redhead, and a smouldering brunette. Questioning those three closely is a hard job--requiring the personal touch--but Johnny is definitely up for the job. If you know what I mean. There is also O'Dell's ex-wife and his lawyer. She inherits everything upon his death and the lawyer may have had his hand in the till beforehand. There are whiffs of blackmail and a missing ex-convict. And there is someone taking potshots at Johnny as he makes his investigative rounds. There's also the little matter of the shadow who follows him wherever he goes. Johnny will hop in and out of a few beds, run through several theories, and find another dead body or two before he finally gets to the bottom of the case.

I'm afraid that this medium-boiled private eye story just isn't my particular cup of tea. I don't run to hard-boiled detective stories in general, but there have been a few that I've enjoyed. This one didn't go down quite as well. There isn't much detecting going on. And quite frankly I didn't see many clues hanging about for Johnny to pick up. When he talks about his various theories, he seems to be making them up out of thin air---an accusation thrown at him by one of the suspects. Most of the action involves Johnny's interactions with the various females in the story. And while the sex isn't graphic, it certainly is plentiful. ★★ --primarily for getting the book off the TBR pile and counting it for several challenges. But I will also give Howard credit for excellent descriptions and some apt turns of phrases.


J F Norris said...

I've read a lot of these kinds of private eye/noir novels and tend to have the same reaction to them. The only thing that makes me pick up a new one is a unique setting or background. I also have a weakness for what I call "carny noir" and will read any book of this style with a carnival, amusement park or similar setting. But I'll know to pass on this particular one in the future.

Bev Hankins said...

Well, John, there is a carnival (or fiesta or some such) going on...but I don't think you'd find it worth it.

fredamans said...

I like them all, but Cocktails and The Killer call out to me. Great review!