Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The Tuesday Night Bloggers: A PInch of Poison

For the month of July The Tuesday Night Bloggers have chosen a theme with a bit of bite to it. We will be examining poisons, poisoners, poisonous atmospheres, maybe even poison pens--if it can be connected to poison in any way, it can be talked bout this month. Once again I will be collecting the essays here at the Block. If you'd like to join us as we focus on a month of poisonous mayhem, please stop by for group discussion and I'll add your posts to the list. We tend to focus on the Golden Age of crime fiction--generally accepted as published between the World Wars, but everyone seems to have a slightly different definition and we're pretty flexible. Essays on more recent crime fiction are welcome as well.

This week's Poison Experts:
Kate at crossexaminingcrime: "11 Poisonous Purposes in Dectective Fiction"
Brad at ahsweetmysteryblog: "No Friendly Drop: Agatha Christie & Poison"
JJ at The Invisible Event: "The Problem with Poison via 'Poison Can be Puzzling' (1944) by Max Afford"
John at Pretty Sinister Books: "What's Your Poison?"
Curtis at The Passing Tramp: "Hold the Oysters! R in the Month (1950) by Nancy Spain"
Helen at Your Freedom and Ours: "Poison Through the Skin"

And my contribution. I thought it appropriate to start out my deadly concoctions with a review of the book that inspired our July logo: A Pinch of Poison (1941) by Frances & Richard Lockridge. For the record...I am quite envious of that cover I converted for the TNB logo...mine isn't nearly as nifty.  

"A pinch," Mrs. North told him. "Like a pinch of salt. Only in this case, a pinch of poison." (p. 60)

Lieutenant Bill Weigand starts out quite convinced that the murder in this case has nothing to do with Pam and Jerry North. That his friends won't need to be involved. That Sergeant Mullins won't have to worry about this being another "screwy" one. That Deputy Chief Inspector Artemus O'Malley won't think that his lieutenant is making things more complicated than they need to be. Unfortunately, he's wrong on all counts.

O'Malley glared at Weigand, and said that Weigand looked to him like turning out to be one of the bright boys. "Making things complicated," he said. "Not seeing the noses on their faces."

But the nose on the face this time looks a little too obvious to Weigand. Lois Winston, a young society girl with a conscience, had been volunteering with a children's placement foundation--and doing good work for them and showing a lot of interest in those involved. She also took an interest in her younger brother's (half-brother--as he's quick to point out) affairs. Maybe too much interest. Her decisions in both realms carry a lot of weight and could affect people--for the good, certainly, but some might label her interest as meddling and take offense. Somebody certainly took offense to something, because it looks like somebody took advantage of the time while Lois was dancing on the rooftop of the Ritz-Plaza to add a little something extra to her drink. A little something poisonous. 

Little brother was on the rooftop too. And he just happened to wander over to Lois's table while she was dancing. Plenty of opportunity to drop a bit of atropine into her drink. There's the nose that O'Malley thinks is so huge on the face of murder. Except the autopsy can't pinpoint when the poison was administered. And the drinks (thoughtfully gathered up by a crime-enthusiast waiter) don't show any evidence of doctoring. So...how was Miss Wintson poisoned? And who did it? 

The Lockridges spend a bit of time educating Weigand (and the reader) about the attributes of atropine. He learns that it doesn't take much (quantity-wise) and the killer could have carried it in a convenient little paper. He learns that it affects people differently and it might take effect in minutes or hours.

It wasn't satisfactory, Weigand decided. Lois might have got the poison before she left home; she might have got it at the restaurant table shortly before she collapsed.

But that's one of the advantages of poison. The killer doesn't necessarily have to be on the spot when death occurs. One can be elsewhere doing completely innocent things. The question Weigand must answer is: did this particular killer have to be on the spot? Was she or he one of the crowd up on the rooftop? Because Lois's little brother wasn't the only suspect hanging out at the restaurant--there are others just as much in the running. Not to mention folks at home who might have set her up with a deadly little drink before she left.

This is another very entertaining entry in the Lockridge series. And once again (just like my previous read, The Norths Meet Murder) Pam & Jerry North are more spectators than participants popping in and out throughout. They appear in fairly substantial bookend scenes--Weigand and his new girl Dorian are having dinner with the Norths when he gets the call in the opening. And Pam and Dorian play a vital role in the denouement with a final wrap-up scene following in the Norths' apartment. But this is ultimately Weigand's book--with helpful assists from Mullins and various supporting policemen. This story has the advantage over the first book because there is no racial commentary--earning this police procedural with a light touch the full ★★★★ that I gave it when I first read it from the library over 20 years ago.

Since I bought my very own copy in 2012 specifically so I could own and reread it, this counts for the Mount TBR challenge. It also counts for the "Drinking Glass" category on the Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt card.

"It's possible," Pam pointed out, "that I've--oh, built all this up; made a story out of it--out of something Miss Crane let drop. I do you know."
She said it without apology, and not defensively. It was merely one of the things Pam North knew about Pam North, and expected others to know. (p. 25) 

Weigand said it looked like poison. O'Malley made sounds disapproving poison, which he evidently regarded as unfair to policemen. (p. 28)

It's a very popular crime, Loot. Very popular. Except the war sorta gets in the way, of course. (Sgt. Mullins; p. 60)

"The brother," [O'Malley] said, all having been made plain. "He figured the girl was going to tell their mother all about the marriage...What do you want?"
"Well," Weigand said mildly, "a little evidence wouldn't hurt. Like an identification of little brother buying poison." (p. 63)

JN: Only she isn't an old dame. Or not very.
BW: Listen, Gerald. You're getting to talk like Pam.
JN (prayerfully): My god. Thanks for telling me, Bill. 
(Jerry North; Bill Weigand; p. 65)

He seemed merely a spoiled, sulky young man, but spoiled and sulky young men were not badly adapted for murder. They lacked consideration, for one thing, and a murderer must be ruthless of others for his own ends. (p. 88)

And so he, a police lieutenant who ought, from experience to know that in police matters the most obvious is the most likely, was in a far corner of the Bronx pursuing the ghosts of notions-- (p. 88)

He was tired of seeing people. He would go down to Headquarters and look at some papers. Papers didn't stir you up. It was easy to be a cop when you could do it on paper. (p. 107)

Weigand waited until O'Malley blew over. He was not particularly alarmed by the chance that O'Malley might leave his desk. O'Malley like a place to put his feet. (p. 108)


J F Norris said...

Just emailed you my link. Will you please add it above? Off to the the theater tonight. I''ll read everyone's posts either on my way or when I get home.

Clothes In Books said...

This sounds fun! I don't think I've ever read anything from this series - must make good on that soon.

Bev Hankins said...

Moira, I really like the North books. Not always quite as fair play as we might want from vintage mysteries--but a lot of fun. The characterizations and dialogue are tops.

fredamans said...

Sounds like a fun and interesting read!