Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The April Robin Murders: Review

As he stared at her, the only thought that flashed through Bingo's mind was that only that afternoon he'd promised Handsome that they were never going to be involved in any more murders in the future!

The April Robin Murders (1958) by Craig Rice [Georgiana Ann Randolph] & Ed McBain is a screwball mystery starring Rice's photographers with a penchant for landing in the middle of murder, Bingo Riggs and Handsome Kuzak. Bingo and Handsome, late of New York, have decided to head west to seek fortune and fame in Hollywood. Handsome has the added talent of being able to remember everything he has ever read (especially in newspapers).

The first thing they do is buy a house. Bingo is determined to own a mansion previously owned by a movie star and they manage to luck into an option on the moldering, monstrous mansion which once belonged to the legendary silent screen star April Robin. Winds up that they get much more than they bargained for--all kinds of mystery surrounds the house and its owners. First, there's April. Everybody remembers her. Everybody says she was gorgeous. Nobody knows what happened to her. She just disappeared. Drove off in her car one day and was gone. And Handsome is worried that he's losing his memory because he can't remember anything about her.

After April disappeared, the next owners were Julien and Lois Lattimer. They've both disappeared too--as well as a bundle of money. Everybody believes that Lois killed her husband and ran off with the dough. Except there's no body. The police have searched high and low--for the body, for the money, for Lois. Nothing. Then along come our boys from New York. A con man posing as a real estate agent sells them the house--with an apparently genuine Julien Lattimer signature on the paperwork. 

"According to our top handwriting expert, he did," Perroni [a police detective] said. "And when Clark Sellers says a signature is genuine, the signature is genuine."

The night Handsome and Bingo move in a body is found. But not Julien's. The caretaker/housekeeper--who dies from inhaling the poisonous fumes of dry cleaning fluid. Perroni and his partner Hendenfleder kind of wonder about that. They wonder about a lot of things. Who is this guy Courtney Budlong who sold the house to the boys? Why are there so many guys running around with the initials C. B.? Why does one of them (Chester Baxter) wind up dead in an alley with his throat cut? And how much do Handsome and Bingo know about it all?

But don't get me wrong. I don't disbelieve you. I don't disbelieve anybody. It don't pay. Especially here in Hollywood.

This is a fun read. A definite screwball comedy/mystery that I could see as a movie starring Martin & Lewis or Abbott & Costello. You've got con men running in and out the picture, gorgeous dames, possibly shady lawyers, the good cop/bad cop pair, the nosy neighbor, and our slightly dim but likable protagonists who manage to bumble their way into a solution to all the mysteries as well as landing a motion picture deal that will make them that fortune they were seeking. Slow-moving for the first half or so, but it picks up speed as it hurtles to the finish. Not an incredibly clever solution, but it works and makes for an enjoyable and solid read. ★★

Fulfills the "Redhead" category on the Vintage Golden Scavenger card. It also fulfills the "at least three different people killed by three different means category in the Mystery Reporter Challenge.

1st death: poisoned by fumes of dry cleaning fluid
2nd death: throat cut
3rd death: run over by automobile


fredamans said...

I like the cover, so that pulled me in, but it sounds like quite a gas to read too! I like light mysteries if they have humor as a trade-off.

Anne@HeadFullofBooks said...

Do you own this book? THe cover cracks me up! and 35 cents! What a bargain.

Bev Hankins said...

Anne, yes, the cover shown is the edition that I own. I love those old pulp-edition covers.