Saturday, September 3, 2016

The Wheelchair Corpse: Review

Carl V. has opened his annual R. (eaders) I. (mbibing) P. (eril)  Event and have I got a doozy to kick off my contributions to R.I.P. XI. The Wheelchair Corpse (1930; aka Murder on the Palisades) provides the reader with a murder spree to satisfy the most blood-thirsty vintage mystery tastes. Someone seems to have it in for the family of Dr. Manx, a famous diagnostician and four of them will die (with a fifth one promised) before Jimmy Hale, newshound and amateur sleuth, and his friend, the gifted scientist Professor Brierly, can put together all the clues leading to the villain.

As the book opens, "Iron Man" Hite, city editor for a New York newspaper, is weeding out the anonymous tips and crazy communications that often cross his desk when he comes across one that is different enough to make him pause with his hand over the trash can.

Conrad Manx , Jr. will die of meningitis. He will be Number One.

And the "Number One" is given using the Hebrew Alphabet. Not your average crackpot. But how could anyone predict a case of meningitis? Hite decides to play a hunch and asks Hale to investigate the Manx family and see what interesting tidbits he can dig up. But there's nothing doing. The most scandalous thing Jimmy can find on the Manx clan is that Dr. Manx apparently married his second wife an indecently short time after her husband died. And so Hite throws away the note. Three weeks go by. And an undertaker submits an obituary notice announcing the death of Conrod Manx, Jr. Cause of death? Meningitis.

The sleuthing reporter is back on the case and gathers as much information as he can before consulting Professor Brierly. The gruff scientist isn't interested until a second message is received which declares that a second Manx is going to die. This time the anonymous writer names no names and gives no method of dispatch--but Hite and Hale take it seriously none-the-less.  And this time Jimmy has Brierly's attention--he collects the professor and his assistant Matthews on his way to the Manx estate in New Jersey--making friends with Connors, the local chief of detectives along the way. Dr. Manx doesn't exactly welcome them with open arms and after listening to their story, he orders them to leave. The men have barely shut the door behind them when they hear a loud crash and a rasping sound half-way between a groan and a cry. When they re-enter the room, they find Dr. Manx dead from a horrible wound in the back of his head and the window and shutters broken.

It has every appearance of an impossible crime. Hale, Brierly, and company were outside the only usable entrance to the room (there is another door, but a stack of heavy chairs blocks it). There is no object in the room capable of  causing such damage to a human skull. And when they rush to the window (mere moments after bursting into the room), there is no one near enough to have done the deed. Manx number two is gone. Two more will join these unfortunate men before Professor Brierly begins to gather the evidence necessary to unravel this mystery. And it isn't until a fifth is predicted that he has everything he needs to explain who is behind this evil plot to eradicate the Manx clan.

This is a delightfully fun murderous romp. Sure, folks are dying through the most outlandish means. Yeah, there's a bit of esoteric scientific knowledge necessary for the solution that the average Joe or Jane probably doesn't have. There's a rather unbelievable bit of (redacted so I won't give away a plot point) going on.  But it doesn't matter. This is just fun. The characters are engaging and book moves along at a terrific pace and before you know it, you're at the end of the story with the plot all wrapped up and Professor Brierly bemoaning the lack of perspicacity of his companions. ★★★★

With the red brick wall, this counts for the "Red Object" on the Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt card. It is also my first entry in the 1930 edition of Rich's Crimes of Century over at Past Offenses. If you have any 1930 crime fiction hanging out on your shelves, then come join us!



Natalie~Coffee and a Book Chick said...

Oh, my goodness! This definitely sounds like a great pick for the RIP Challenge, not to mention I've been going through a bit of a vintage-inspired movie and tv series themed weekend with films set in the 1950s and even the tv series Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Might have to put this down on the list!

fredamans said...

I'm quite intrigued by this book as well!

J F Norris said...

Wow! I never expected a rave on this book. My memory is that it was so over-the-top on so many levels that it became a self-parody. The denouement is really rather hard to swallow, IMO. And the stuff with the Hebrew letters and that special book and all the rest of it is too outlandish for words. I'm glad you decided to add this to your list fo rth e"1930 Book " meme. You now belong to a select group and been initiated into the world of Prof. Brierley and Will Levinrew. He has two others you might stumble across in your book hunting that are fairly common since they are part of the Mystery League series: FOR SALE--MURDER and DEATH POINTS A FINGER.

Bev Hankins said...

But, John, it's so much fun! Outlandish, yes. But fun! Glad to join an elite group. :-)

Tarissa said...

Sounds fascinating! I would definitely be interested in reading more 1930's crime fiction, and this one appeals to me. Thanks for sharing!