Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Payoff for the Banker: Review

Pam and Jerry North find themselves plunged into their eighth murder mystery in Payoff for the Banker (1945) and this time there really isn't a good reason. Pam is at home minding her own business--finishing a bath--when the phone rings, rather insistently she thinks. She quite sure it must be Jerry, but when she reaches the phone it is the high and strained voice of Mary Hunter--a war widow that the Norths met briefly at a party just a week ago.

Mary had just walked into her new apartment after a long day at work to find a dead body sitting and waiting for her. Upon closer examination, it is the body of the George Merle, big-time banker and father of a man that Mary once thought she'd marry. The George Merle who once made her feel small and worthless and drove her away from his son because he thought she was a fortune hunter. And now he's been shot to death in her apartment and she's scared. She immediately thinks of the Norths and their penchant for getting involved with murder and she knows they know a policeman...and maybe, somehow, that will help her.

But their policeman, Bill Weigand, can't help but suspect her. After all, it's her apartment. And she knew the dead man. And Bill knows that she's not telling all she knows. But Pamela North hears something and sees something in Mary's face and immediately takes her under her wing. So, Bill also knows that Pam will be doing her darnedest to find a different suspect and will, in the words of Sergeant Mullins, make things screwy again. Besides, Bill Weigand is a good cop and it doesn't take him long to realize that there are others who might have wanted George Merle out of the way--from the son who may have discovered dear old dad's meddling in his love life or who may have just wanted to speed up his inheritance to the woman Merle has been playing around with and who claims to be having his child to his secretary who covered his boss's tracks and played husband to Merle's bit of skirt (and who may not have been just playing after all). 

Pam and Jerry aren't the only amateurs dabbling in detective work, Mr. Wickersham Potts, organist at the local church, has a way of seeing through people and he knows the leading suspects better than most. But the murderer isn't going to let the insightful Potts set the police on his/her trail and Potts joins an ever-growing list of victims. Bill must work fast to prevent a final corpse from being added to the tally.

This is a nicely plotted mystery and, much as I love Pam & Jerry, it was definitely nice to see Bill Weigand get the solution before Pam. She thinks she knows who did it, but forgets that her clue could point in another direction. Lots of good fun in a well-loved series. I enjoy looking back at New York in the 1940s and 50s with the Lockridges. The atmosphere is well-done and the stories are told with a light touch.

[Finished on 3/15/18]
For a girl of twenty-three there had been plenty that was not restful. Even before Rick; back when she was nineteen and had hated a man because of what he had done to her through another man. And that, of course, should have shown her that things do not last forever, even including hate and love. Because now it was absurd that she had ever hated the old boy and thought that he had destroyed her....It appeared now that healthy your women were not "destroyed" at nineteen, or even at twenty-three. (p. 9)

Jerry North and Bill [Weigand] looked at each other, Pam had, not for the first time, extended asylum to the frightened. Pam had become an advocate. (p. 29.)

His expressions and movements were plain enough now; they represented a loyal employee, and possibly a friend, who was bewildered and grieved by sudden death. His attitude was correct, which did not prove that the small gestures and muscular movements, the look in the eyes, the hand touching the forehead--that all these did not grow out of emotions sincerely felt. Mr. Murdock appeared a man who did things in order, which did not prove insincerity. (p. 45)

Weigand wished it were quite clear, really. He wished he knew how he was going to keep Murdock from getting in touch with Laurel Burke--how he was going to find out if Murdock did. There was just a chance that Murdock might credit him with clairvoyance and be afraid to risk it. (p. 48)

Under a case, until it was solved, there was always something moving--something in the dark, with purposes of its own; something that slipped away from under the hand; something with purposes as clear to it, and as mysterious to others, as the burrowings of a mole, as the twisting and turning of a mole's tunnel through the earth. If you knew the direction a mole was going and put your hand down to the path, the soil pressed up against your hand. Signifying mole at work. In an investigation such a movement as surely signified murderer at work. (p. 55)

He wondered what had happened to them--physically and more than physically. Eventually, no doubt, he would find out. You found out so much when you were investigating murders. Particularly so much that did you no good. (p. 59.)

O'Malley's rumble gained in volume, but did not grow more articulate. It was distant thunder on the telephone. Bill waited, making soothing sounds. The rumble subsided somewhat; the voice became almost plaintive. (p. 59)

Weigand grinned into the telephone, but kept the grin out of his voice. He did know Hardy, and that Inspector O'Malley was not really a match for him. Hardy was a good man at his business, which was finding things out whether O'Malley wanted them found out or wanted them kept in or didn't--as was often the case--know precisely what they were. (p. 60)

Weigand listened, dutifully, while the thunder rolled [again]. After some time he was permitted to hang up, on the understanding that he had to solve the murder of George Merle within minutes--fifteen at the outside--get Mary Hunter away from Mr. and Mrs. North and Mr. and Mrs. North out of the case, and send Sergeant Mullins immediately downtown with a report of progress for the press. (p. 61)

You see, Mrs. Hunter, you're not out of it. I don't know how to explain--you shouldn't have brought us in, perhaps. We're not detectives and--I hardly know how to say this--we--we aren't casual about murder. People can't be, and drop it. And walk away. If you hadn't called Pam--if you hadn't brought us into it at all--that would be different. we wouldn't have any responsibility. ~Jerry North (p. 66)

PN: If you;re going to tell us any more, you'll end by telling us everything more. And not here--perhaps not anywhere. What we know, Bill knows. At least--
JN: Unless Pam decides it would confuse him. Which has happened. But if Pam means that we're not on anybody's side, as she does, she's right. If she means we're not protecting anybody.
PN: Except if they didn't do it. And then, of course we would be. Unless we were wrong, of course.
~Pam North; Jerry North (p. 68)

Inspector O'Malley looked at them all [the newspapermen], and his gaze grew slightly baleful. He looked hard at Sergeant Mullins, present as an emissary from Lieutenant Weigand, and Mullins, who seldom shrank, shrank perceptibly. Mullins was glad at the moment that he was not Lieutenant Weigand; he would have been reasonably contented not to be Sergeant Mullins. He felt like a buffer state. (p. 77)

[on the phone]
Yeah, I know. Sure, Mr. North. All I can say is, you oughta of heard the inspector. I tell you how it is, Mr. North. The inspector knows who did it, like he always does. The loot don't know so easy, like he usually don't. The inspector thinks that's because of you and Mrs. North. And all I can say is, you oughta of heard him. ~Sgt. Mullins (p. 87)

[still on the phone, now with Pam]
SM: Listen, I can't do that, Mrs. North. The inspector wouldn't like it. If the loot's going to see this guy Murdock at the Hotel Main on account of maybe he shot the old boy, the inspector don't want you in on it. That's what the inspector says. He says you make it screwy.
PN: Main? M-A-I-N?
SM: Absolutely. Like I was telling the inspector's secretary, who just came in. I can't tell you where Weigand is. And wouldn't if I could, Mrs. North.
~Sgt. Mullins; Pam North (p. 88)

PN: Look, Bill. You make it sound awful. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to--to--what does Mullins say? Make it screwy. I just happened to notice.
BW: Oh, the truth above everything, Pam. Even if inconvenient. Only I wish you'd happened to notice before I called Art--Inspector O'Malley.
~Pam North; Bill Weigand (p. 94)

Pam North deeply believed, not without evidence, that there was no telling what married people would say to each other when they thought they were alone. (p. 97)

[on the phone to O'Malley]
But here's what I'd like to do, with things the way they are. Let the killer think he's fooled us. Let him think he's pinned it on Murdock. Let him have his little laugh. Maybe he'll be lauging so hard he won't see us coming. And then we tell the newspaper boys sure, we planned it that way right along--a sp--a trap to catch woodcocks.
[after some back and forth]
Right. I think you've got something there, Inspector. We'll let it ride along as is for a while, anyway. And meantime I'll keep on it. Right?
[puts phone down--turns to his wife and the Norths]
"The inspector thinks we'd better not tell the press it wasn't suicide," he reported gravely. "The inspector's got an idea there's no use telling the killer how much we know." He barely smiled. "He also thinks woodcocks are woodchucks. They've been eating his broccoli."
~Bill Weigand (p. 98)

Because it comes down to guesswork--to guessing what we would do if we were in the position some one else is in. We think he would do a certain thing, for a certain reason--meaning that we think we would do that thing for that reason in his place but we're not even sure, most of the time, what we would do. And our guesses about other people--even people we know very well--well, they aren't good enough. ~Bill Weigand (p. 103)

But he added that motives were, at best, odd things--what was a motive for one person wasn't a motive for another. What would hardly irritate one person would lead another to murder--and murder the hard way. (pp. 105-6)

WP: Conscience is a strange thing, don't you think, Lieutenant?
BW: How strange?
WP: I was thinking of conscience as a compulsion. A compulsion to repay--to discharge an obligation. An obligation we may so easily overestimate.
BW: Not the conscience of a murderer. That isn't what you're thinking of?
WP: Not entirely. that would be interesting too, I should suppose.
~Wickersham Potts; Bill Weigand (p. 137)

WP: Personally, I have never committed a murder.
BW: No. A great many people haven't, Mr. Potts. A surprising number of people haven't.
WP: Well, a surprising number of people have. It depends on what surprises you.
BW: Yes. What surprises you, Mr. Potts.
WP: Very little. Very little indeed, Lieutenant. I am sometimes surprised at how many things do not surprise me.
~Wickersham Potts; Bill Weigand (pp. 137-8)

You see, Merle, your father hated Mrs. Hunter's father. He had cheated Mr. Thorgson out of quite a sum of money, I suspect. And often we hate those we wrong--it is a form of self-justification. Your father wasn't going to let Thorgson have the satisfaction of seeing his daughter married to you. ~Weigand (pp. 152-3)

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