Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Norths Meet Murder: Review

Nobody is going to that much trouble to get murdered. But if you're going to murder somebody, you expect to go to a lot of trouble. I would. [Pam North]

The Norths Meet Murder (1940) is a lovely beginning to Frances & Richard Lockridge's series which features (to varying degrees) Pam and Jerry North as the slightly "screwy," yet classy amateur sleuth husband and wife team and the sharp Lieutenant (later Captain) Bill Weigand and his faithful, often confused sidekick Detective Aloysius Mullins. This first outing is a bit more police procedural than later installments and we spend a great deal of time following Weigand and Mullins around as they hunt down clues and interview suspects. Pam and Jerry appear at the beginning and well as popping up now and again throughout, but this is really Weigand's book.

The story opens with Jerry returning home from work in a rather grumpy mood to find that Pam has decided that they need to throw a party. And the empty apartment on the top floor of their building will be the perfect location "because there was so much room and she had just thought of it." She had already gone up earlier that day and checked out the space (just to be sure) and had cleared the idea with their landlady, Mrs. Buano. All she needs now is for Jerry to tell her what a fine idea it is and to go upstairs with her so she explain all the important details (like where they'll place the bar, for instance). Once he has downed enough cocktails, he is persuaded to go upstairs. But instead of visualizing the party arrangements and the expected guests, he and Pam find an unexpected guest already lounging in the bathtub. Naked. And very dead.

This brings the cops. Lots of cops

"Six cars, every which way," Mrs. North called, excitedly. "They don't pay any attention to one-way streets. Seven cars, and there's going to be a crowd."

It also brings Lieutenant Bill Weigand and Sergeant Mullins. It isn't long before the body is identified and it is discovered that the man moved within some of the same social circles as the Norths. Which gives them a bit of a motive--albeit tenuous. Weigand will sift the clues to find those that point to the true villain of the piece.

It was a great delight to read this once again. I first read it about twenty years ago or so--from the library. And have since gotten my very own copy. When the Mystery Reporter Challenge called for a book that involved a party, I decided it was time to revisit my friends, the Norths. The book is a lot of fun. The dialogue and the descriptions are breezy and delightful. Pam's apparent  non sequiturs keep Jerry, Weigand, and Mullins on their toes. This time around, I was struck by how much I love Mullins and his distrust of screwy murders and even screwier witnesses. I was also struck by the racism in Mullins's treatment of a Japanese servant. I hadn't remembered that from the first reading. I'm convinced that it had a great deal to do with the fact that this book came out during World War II and I hope I'm remembering correctly that there is little of it in later books.

The police procedural nature of the book is decent--although the clues are not quite fair play. There is an interesting alibi involved and the wrap-up has a medium-sized dose of female in jeopardy when Pam realizes who the murderer must be and s/he realizes that Pam has had a "light bulb" moment. Overall, great fun and light entertainment at its best. I originally gave this five stars. This time round, I'm giving it ★★★★ and a half--with a small deduction for the small amount of racism.

In addition to the Mystery Reporter Challenge, this also counts for the "Cat" category on the Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt card.

 Mr. North came home early that Tuesday afternoon, and as soon as he came in Mrs. North realized he was in a mood. (p. 1)

[about discovering a dead body] Things happen too quickly to have feelings about them, don't they? I mean, by the time things are over, and you begin to have feelings about the kind of feelings you had. (Pam North, p. 14)

Mr. North himself was now entirely convinced that it had been the murderer who had pretended to be Western Union looking for Mr. Shavely, although he could see that Lieutenant Weigand might, quite reasonably, remain unpersuaded. The lieutenant would, Mr. North thought again, simply have to learn. (p. 32)

[about Lt. Weigand]
PN: I thought derby hats and cigars. But he's just like anybody. You wouldn't think he was."
JN: That's what he keeps Mullins for. Mullins couldn't be anything else and he guarantees Weigand. (Pam & Jerry North, p.37)

[Weigand] speculated on the desirability of another martini. There was, after all, Deputy Chief Inspector Artemus O'Malley. Artemus was no teetotaler; on the other hand, he would view any tendency to stagger with disapproval. (p. 39)

With a blasting you know where you are, and can just round guys up. (Mullins, p. 40)

Thus, although not an unamiable man as Deputy Chief Inspectors go, he growled at Weigand when the lieutenant entered and wanted to know, profanely, where he had been. Weigand said he had stopped ffor a bit of dinner; he tried to make it sound as if he had scooped a sandwich off a counter and chewed as he ran after clues. (p. 43)

Then she decided [Lt. Weigand] was like, more than anyone else, an associate professor at Columbia they had met a few weeks before and who had turned out to be, for a professor at any rate, amazingly gay and frolicsome. (p. 74)

It was unfortunate that murderers were not always unattractive people one could enjoy arresting. (p. 138)

There was, Mullins knew by experience, a time in every case when the Loot began to suspect everybody. It came when things got too screwy even for the Loot, who could take things a lot screwier than Mullins could. Mullins suffered this period, but he understood it. In his idle moments--never as numerous as Mullins would have liked--he experimented with crossword puzzles, and they were always too much for him at a certain point. Then, he had long since decided, the way he felt must be about the way the Loot felt now. (p. 150)

JN: But we couldn't help it. It just happened. It was just the party. And, after all, you can't let murderers just--well run loose. You have to think of that.
PN: But that is theoretical. Just "murderers." But people you know aren't just murderers." She paused, and thought. "Even if they are." (Jerry & Pam; pp 207-8)

...once he knew where to crack, it would be easy. Somewhere in a what he had already discovered, and heard, there was, he felt, a weak spot, if he could find it. But the trouble was that, as a policeman, you had to know first. You knew, and then you proved; once in a great while you knew, but couldn't prove. But evidence was raw, scattered stuff until you could shape it with knowledge. (p. 211)

Weigand remembered Mrs. North's happy assumption that the murderer had left his name; and grinned over it. Murderer's didn't, in his experience, leave their names. Certainly not intentionally; certainly not if they were men as astute as he suspected [redacted] to be. (p. 247)


Brad (ahsweetmystery) said...

Funny thing, Bev: I'm sitting at Starbucks reading your review, and right beside me is a copy of The Frightened Stiff, which seems to be Kelley Roos' version of the same plot! I haven't tried the Norths, but we should definitely add detective couples to our list of TNB themes!

Bev Hankins said...

Yes! Detective couples are a great idea for the TNB.

fredamans said...

I like the idea of a husband and wife team for sleuths. Not sure I have read any stories with that premise yet.