Monday, March 6, 2017

The Body Missed the Boat: Review

In 1947, when The Body Missed the Boat  by Jack Iams was published, the story was set in Brazzaville in French Equatorial Africa [now the Republic of the Congo]. It features the employees at the American Consulate in Brazzaville from the titular Body in the person of the American Consul, Warren Mallory, to our narrator Freddy Benson, the American vice-consul; from Jimmy Beach, the American cipher clerk, to Ma'amselle Yvette Armenois, the luscious Gallic secretary who much prefers taking dictation on Freddy's knees to doing so under the eye of the rigid Mallory. Also in the mix are Hilary Judd, a clever and attractive British woman who has worked for the BBC; Phillippa Darrow, professional big game huntress who is missing one large gorilla by the name of Mama Bu-Bu; Larry Brune, the voice of Radio Brazzaville and although American thinks nothing of making the U.S. State Department look like fools; Hilda Weissman, a harrassed German Jewish refugee, & her devoted boyfriend Boris Chor, a hot-headed young zealot; and Dr. Gailbraith, an elderly missionary with an unrepentant heart when it comes to long-simmering grudges.

Warren Mallory was pretty much universally hated and/or despised. He managed to irritate not only his staff, but the British Consul and British subjects in the area as well as the native inhabitants of French Equatorial Africa. Nobody is really dismayed when he winds up poisoned. They're not even really surprised. But they are surprised that his body has been found stuffed in the cage of Phillipa Darrow's beloved gorilla Mama Bu-Bu. If all had gone according the the murderer's plans, the covered cage would have been loaded onto a boat and been far out to sea by the time Mallory's body was discovered. But the best-laid plans so often go awry and Phillipa Darrow comes to Freddy Benson--breathing fire. She's not the least bit upset that she's got a dead Consul on her hands, but she is incensed that someone let her gorilla loose. And what is Freddy going to do about that?! She's not particularly delighted that Freddy seems more interested in his boss's death than her missing primate. 

The French authorities are called in--in the person of Commissaire Anatole Mauclerc, the "Maigret of Africa." And the hunt is on...for a murderer, not a gorilla. Meanwhile, Freddy has reported the death to his superiors and their answer is not to elevate him to Consul, but to send Ethelbert Stone, Consul to Luanda, to serve as Acting Consul until the matter is cleared up. An FBI man by the name of Flannagan is also rushed out from the States to help Mauclerc clear things up. Flannagan is a big help--ill-prepared for the African climate and soon laid out flat by a good ol' blunt object to the head. It begins to look like someone really doesn't want this murder solved. But everyone contributes a clue here and a tidbit there until Larry Brune provides a surprise radio broadcast to help make all things clear.

This is a fun, light-hearted mystery that is very good for an evening's entertainment. Iams is brilliant at dialogue, characterization, and comedy with a light touch. The setting is unusual and so is the crime. The mystery is intriguing and I might have given the book a full four stars, or possibly more, if there had been more fair play in the solution. If there are clues pointing to the particulars of the whys and wherefores, then I completely missed them. But I don't think so. ★★ and a half.

This lovely Dell Mapback counts for the "Map/Chart" category on the Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt card.

1 comment:

J F Norris said...

I like the sound of this one! Just like those old movies with a gorilla in the story. I have so many of these Mapbacks I don't think I'll ever be able to read them all. Every now and then I choose one of the odder ones by a writer no one knows just like Jack Iams. I think I may have a copy of this one. I'll have to dig it out and read it in April or May.