Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Tuesday Night Bloggers: A Very Screwy Beginning

January is a rough month for me--so I'm either going to miss out on the Tuesday Night gatherings altogether or I am (as I am tonight) going to me late to the Tuesday Night Blogger's party each week. Most likely when I do pop in for a bit of tea and scones, it will be with an offering of a previous review. 

January is hosted by Kate over at Cross Examining Crime and as she says:

It is the start of a new year and with January being the first month, we at the Tuesday Night Bloggers (a group of eccentric eclectic crime fiction bloggers) decided to have firsts as this month’s theme. Such a theme is wide open to interpretation so over this month posts may be touching on first books by authors and first appearances of our favourite sleuths, as well as a host of other crime fiction firsts.

If you haven't already done so, you'll want to head over to Kate's and see what other "firsts" have been offered up this week and in the previous January gatherings.

I decided that this week I would take us back to the beginnings our featured authors's detective career (in January's TNB logo at left) and give you all a peek at the very first Mr. and Mr North book by Frances and Richard Lockridge--The Norths Meet Murder (1940). It 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 end...as well as popping up now and again throughout, but this is really Weigand's book.

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 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 back in spring of 2016. I first read it about twenty years ago or so--from the library. And have since gotten my very own copy. When a reading 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.

1 comment:

Clothes In Books said...

Nice review - and I really ought to catch up on these sleuths, who didn't feature in my formative crime-reading years.