Friday, July 14, 2017

Death Before Bedtime: Review

Death Before Bedtime (1953) is the second of three mystery novels written by Gore Vidal under the name of Edgar Box. After his novel The City and the Pillar (1948) which featured descriptions of homosexuality that caused him to be blacklisted by The New York Times, Vidal donned the Box pseudonym and used it to produce the three novels for cold, hard cash. His series stars Peter Cutler Sargeant III, a publicity man turned amateur detective when his business lands him in the middle of three murder cases.

Death Before Bedtime is modeled after the Golden Age penchant for country house murders but has a very political twist. It is set at the lavish Washington DC home of a conservative Midwestern Senator. Senator Leander Rhodes decides to make a bid for the White House and hires Sargeant to handle his publicity--starting with his announcement to run which is planned to occur during his speech before the National Margarine Council. Sargeant meets the Senator for the first time, sits down for dinner with the Senator and a houseful of guests, has a cozy little chat with Rhodes about getting the campaign wagons rolling, toddles off to bed after a nightcap and another cozy chat with one of the ladies staying for the week, and is prevented from going to sleep by a house-shaking explosion. The Senator has been blown up by explosives hidden in his fireplace.

As far as the police are concerned, the logical culprit is Roger Pomeroy who is vitally concerned with a brand-new, top-secret explosive. But then the Senator's secretary is found dead from an apparent suicide and papers are found that implicate him in some nefarious doings. Again, the police are all set to wrap the case up and call it a day. But Sargeant is not convinced that it was suicide and decides to do a little sleuthing on his own. He plays detective and starts interviewing all of the members of the household and the guests. But what he discovers doesn't make him particularly happy and he's ready to let the police have their way. Until the murderer decides Sargeant has been just a little bit too nosy and tries to arrange another it's personal and Sargeant won't rest till he's able to hand the murderer over to The Lieutenant.

Gore Vidal is no Agatha Christie. The plot is adequate. The characters are relatively fine. The setting is okay too. But there's no pizazz. There's nothing special to grab the mystery reader's attention. And honestly, I didn't much care for Sargeant's on-again, off-again approach to amateur sleuthing. He's all about showing up the Lieutenant when he first decides it's murder and the police have it all wrong. Then he decides, Nah, I'm not so into sleuthing after all. I'll let the cops think the wrong guy killed the Senator and then killed himself. Then he's all hot to sleuth again when the murderer tries to knock him off. Not exactly the ideal detective for a county house style mystery.

I realize that Vidal whipped these stories out pretty quickly. So, given that, it's really not a bad mystery at all and a decent day's read...which is how long it took me. ★★

[finished on 7/9/17]
This counts for the "Typewriter" category on the Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt card.


Bookhound said...

"Death in the fifth position" (not surprisingly a ballet related mystery) is my only encounter with "Edgar Box". Like "Death before bedtime" it was an enjoyable day's read, must find more Box.

Bev Hankins said...

I've also got Death in the Fifth Position and his third book, Death Likes It Hot. I'll be checking those out as well.