Monday, March 27, 2017

Fit to Kill: Review

Have you ever wanted to take a graduate course on solving murders? Hans C. Owen offers you the chance with his 1937 murder mystery Fit to Kill. Set at an unnamed (but very Harvard-like) Eastern university, Professor Percival Trout sets out to teach Sergeant Salvadore "Sally" Cusani--and the reader--a thing or two about the finer points of ratiocination.

Judge Albert Somers comes to "Tap Day" at the university to watch (with pride) as his son is preparing to take part in the the annual tradition by which juniors are chosen (tapped out) for Senior Clubs and Honor Societies. He stands at Bob Somers's window overlooking the courtyard where the ceremony takes place and periodically waves encouragement to his son below. Just moments before Bob is tapped for the highest honor, he glances up and is saddened to see that his father is gone. "He's disappointed and has given it up," he thinks to himself. But when he and Tom Gregory, the senior who taps him as top man for Hammer and Coffin (the oldest of the societies), go to his room to share the news, they find that disappointment wasn't the cause for the judge's disappearance--someone has taken advantage of the fireworks being shot off in random celebration and shot Bob's father.

Sally Cusani arrives at the scene to find several people already on the spot--from Bob and Tom to Dean Mather, an old friend of the Judge's, to President (of the College) Donavan and Professor Percival Trout. Trout has apparently been helpful in mysterious matters before and Sally is eager for his help. Between the two of them, they discover several mysterious items in need of explanation. These include the odd number of hats which have gone in and out of the room, the significance of the chipped brick in the fireplace, the bullet lodged in the leather chair, the missing second bullet, and the apparent murder weapon found in the corpse's trouser pocket. More brutal murders follow and the indications are that they have all been perpetrated by the same hand even though the deaths are  different--death by shooting and two deaths by bludgeoning. It will take some clever ratiocination on the part of both Sally and the professor to bring this murderer to justice.

This short novel looked to tick off quite a few boxes in my mystery lover's wish list--vintage mystery, academic mystery, humor, quirky characters. And, for the most part, it was an enjoyable read. The interactions between Sally and the rest of the characters, particularly Professor Trout, are quite fun. The professor gets to lecture a bit on detection without overdoing it and there is plenty of action to move the story along. Just a couple of items prevent this from the four- or five-star range. The racial and social stereotyping (particularly of Italians this time round) is one difficulty for the modern reader. It's not blatantly derogatory, but it does detract from the enjoyment. The other difficulty is the solution. Without giving too much away, I think I can safely say that readers well-acquainted with the tropes of detective fiction will recognize the use of a common solution. The breezy style and humor of the author makes the acceptance of such a common solution a little easier. ★★ for a solid, entertaining read.

[Finished on 3/22/17] **************
This counts for the "Graveyard" category on the Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt card as well as my second entry in Rich's 1937 edition of the Crimes of the Century over at Past Offences. If you've got a 1937 mystery on tap, hurry and join us before March ends!

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