Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Do Not Murder Before Christmas: Review

In Do Not Murder Before Christmas (1949) by Jack Iams somebody doesn't heed that advice. Toymaker Piet Van Der Vant, known as Uncle Poot to children who have grown up in Shady Hollow's underprivileged neighborhood, is killed on Christmas Eve--apparently for the wads of cash he has trustingly kept stuffed in the drawers of his toy shop. Uncle Poot's toy shop is a favorite of all the kids--because his store is the first place their parents take them and because each year on Christmas Day he opens his shop for a Christmas party and lets the kids from the town's poorest families pick out any toy that is left in the shop after the Christmas buying rush.

Uncle Poot has a quaint ritual for the kids when they come to visit--they either sign their name in his registry books or leave some other mark if they can't write (fingerprints and sometimes even sweet little kiss marks from tiny lips). And upon each visit the kids make he records in those books whether the children have been good or not (for Santa). But when Uncle Poot is found dead in his shop late Christmas Eve, it becomes apparent that he must have known a little too much about somebody. There is a hint of a connection to a wealthy family, but these are the days where money could buy anything, including a quick hushing up of inconvenient stories...and, of course, it helps that a pipe with the fingerprints of a dim-witted young man is found to be the murder weapon. A quick, easy solution that will permanently hush up the wagging tongues.

Enter Stanley "Rocky" Rockwell, crusading newspaperman with a permanent grudge against the wealthy, but corrupt Malloys. Originally, sent to Shady Hollow to interview the new social worker at the Malloys' "generously" gifted community center--given to the poor section of town, he remembers stopping by to see Uncle Poot and the old toy maker's comments about a mysterious visitor to whom he may have said too much. Rocky starts digging and with the help of Lt. Bill Hammer, the only policeman who's not in the Malloys' pockets, he manages to find evidence that Loppy (the poor, dim-witted young man) has been framed. But with pressures on Hammer from above and a street brawl between Rocky and Marty Malloy threatens both Hammer's badge and Rocky's freedom. Will they be able to catch the real killer before Hammer is out of job and Rocky finds a temporary home in the local jail?

There is also a nice little love interest (and romantic triangle--Rocky-->Jane Hewes-->Marty) to distract our crusading hero and add a bit of suspense. At one point Jane disappears, apparently held captive. But it isn't Rocky who comes to her rescue--it's Debbie Mayfair, the society columnist (also known as Mrs. Pickett, 40-something and not nearly as staid as people might think). Mrs. Picket hides in a rumble seat and beards lions in the den of iniquity (a local hot-spot with nearly naked show girls) in order to rescue our damsel in distress. It's worth the price of admission just to hear Mrs. Pickett's story of her adventures.

Jack Iams is a brand-new author for me and I'm glad I have two more of his titles sitting on my TBR stacks. I plan to savor them. This is an extraordinarily fun American mystery from the 40s. I caught on quickly to the motive behind the murder and the culprit, but Iams does such a good job with his characters and the narration that it doesn't matter so much. This is a perfect mystery for the holiday season--set at the right time and a quick, fun read that fits nicely between all the seasonal activities--present-buying, card-writing, decorating, etc. Highly recommended for those looking for an interesting, light mystery for the holidays. ★★★★

******
This counts for the "Christmas Decoration" category on the Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt card. The book has also been reviewed by Curtis over at The Passing Tramp. Stop by and take a look at what he has to say.

1 comment:

Laura Thomas said...

I'm still laughing over the name, Uncle Poot! LOL This sounds fun. And the love the Norman Rockwell look of the cover.