Saturday, January 16, 2016

Hardly a Man Is Now Alive: Review

In Hardly a Man Is Now Alive (1950) Reynold Frame, one of Herbert Brean's two series characters, is off to Concord, Massachusetts to marry his fiancee, Constance Wilder. Frame is a world-class photographer who also has an assignment to do a little job before he and Connie are married by the 104-year-old minister who married her great-grandparents.

Frame gets a bit side-tracked by rumors of a ghostly British soldier who is said to haunt his room in a rooming house and then when he and his bride-to-be discover the body of a man in the well behind the house it looks like his amateur sleuth tendencies may hold up the wedding. The man has been hit with the proverbial blunt instrument before being bundled into the well. But the race is on to discover why the man was murdered, who is really behind the "hauntings," and what secret the murdered man had discovered in the town of Emerson, Thoreau and one of the earliest battles of the Revolution in time to marry the girl of his dreams. There is also another race against time--the elderly minister disappears and Frame must rush to find him before it's too late. But what could the villain of the piece want with the man who is the last living link to an authentic story of the Revolutionary War? Before he is done, Frame will not only solve a modern murder and kidnapping, but he will also solve two historical mysteries....and still make it to the church in time to transform Miss Wilder into Mrs. Frame.

Reynold Frame and Connie Wilder are fun characters--and well-known to me since I have also read the other books in the series. They have a lighter banter than Nick and Nora Charles and make a good couple. The most interesting character--and one I would have liked having more of--is Dr. Annandale, the elderly minister. He may be 104, a bit bleary-eyed and a bit hard of hearing, but his mind is sharp as a tack and he tells a good tale.

There is a lot of historical detail in this one--all of it vital to the mystery. Details in both the stories of the original battle and the death of the British soldier (who supposedly haunts the bedroom) help Frame find threads which help him weave the stories behind the murder, kidnapping and historical puzzles. Clues are plentiful and so are the red-herrings. Several people in the rooming house and in the town are behaving oddly and/or suspiciously and I kept changing my mind on the culprit. I did manage to land on the correct one just prior to Frame's explanatory letter to the police--after all he didn't want to get held up at the police station giving lengthy explanations when he was supposed to be at the church.

Readers who are looking for a fun, cozy-style mystery with a historical back drop will surely enjoy this one. Brean provides interesting historical details--backed up by facts and fully explained in footnotes. A nice peek at the beginning of the Revolutionary War and solid mystery all in one. ★★

With its back cover, this fulfills the "Bottle of Poison" category on the Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt card (though there is no poison to be found in the story....) as well as the "Beat the Clock" category in the Mystery Reporter Challenge. This is also my third entry in Rich's January 2016 Crimes of Century feature. Got any 1950 mysteries on tap this month? Come join us!


fredamans said...

I love when you get a dose of nonfiction while reading fiction. Sounds like a great read.

Patrick Murtha said...

I love this a priori for the title alone (a phrase from Longfellow's poem "Paul Revere's Ride").