Sunday, April 8, 2018

Murder Out of Turn: Review

Bill Weigand finds himself on a busman's holiday in Murder Out of Turn (1941) by Frances & Richard Lockridge, the second in the series featuring Pam and Jerry North as well as their favorite policeman. Having met the Norths in The Norths Meet Murder, Weigand has become friends with the couple and accepted an invitation to join them at their lake cottage cabin on the banks of Lone Lake for a bit of well-deserved R&R. The setting is picturesque, the autumn leaves are colorful and lovely, and the evening hours around the lake are serene and peaceful. He has just gotten introduced to the folks in the neighboring cabins, including the beautiful Dorian Hunt who has a mysterious aversion to policemen (or, as she refers to them, hunters) and attended his first party with them all when he goes out for a bit of fresh air and stumbles upon the body of one of the charming and popular young women.

Helen Wilson has been viciously killed with a knife to the neck and at first it is difficult to see why anyone would have wanted to murder the charming woman. When the State Police arrive--in the person of Lieutenant Merton Heimrich (and crew)--the two policemen beginning digging and discover that there are many people who may have wanted Helen dead--from those who benefit under a will to which she would have been the primary legatee to the beautiful Dorian Hunt whose father was hunted by policeman and was convicted in part by the testimony of his secretary....Helen Wilson. But then a second female camper is killed by a booby-trapped fire and it becomes difficult to decide who should have died first. Did the unpleasant Jean Corbin witness something connected to Helen's death...thus leading to her own fiery death? Or did Helen see somebody setting up the booby trap and have to be eliminated before she could realize the importance of what she saw? In other words, was somebody murdered out of turn?

This a particularly good entry in the North series for a number of reasons. Most importantly, because it introduces both Lt. Heimrich and Dorian Hunt. Heimrich would later feature in his own series with his first book coming out in 1947. It's difficult to decide whether the Lockridges intended for him to become a series character or not in this first outing. I tend to think not--he is most definitely overshadowed by Weigand here, even though Bill is clearly out of his jurisdiction. Heimrich tends to follow the city policeman's lead and Heimrich's characteristic methods of investigation are definitely not on display. I think it a good bet that once the Lockridges had set several mysteries (ten or so) in New York City, they found that it might be good to shake things up with some murder and mayhem in the rural areas.

The book also provides the moment for Bill Weigand to meet his future wife, Dorian. Not a very encouraging introduction to be sure--to find that a young woman pretty much hates the sight of policemen when one just happens to be a policeman. But Bill and Dorian work their way towards a more friendly footing as the book comes to a close and it's easy to see (even for those who don't know a wedding is in the cards) that they will be seeing more of each other in the future.

More things to like about the book: The plot itself. Clues are laid down and the observant reader has every chance to solve it along with Weigand and Heimrich. The characters are interesting and drawn well--even if some of them are more sketches than full portraits. And there's a quite exciting denouement waiting at the end. The biggest drawback--how slow our good lieutenants are to figure out that it just might not be a good idea to hold interviews beside an open window. Just how many times do you need proof that "X" must have overheard your interviews with "A" and "B" and....before you stop providing opportunities for "X" to do that? 

But, overall, a highly entertaining mystery and the Norths do well with their characters out of their natural NYC habitat. ★★

[Finished on 3/27/18]

We meet everyday people who appear, from the outside, to be irrational. It may merely mean that their minds are quicker than ours--that they jump steps, in speech and in action. Inside, to themselves, they are completely rational. we meet emotional people who do things on impulse, and they are usually fine people--people we like, interesting people. And then, if you are a policeman, you meet other people who look much the same, and act on impulses--and when they have an impulse to kill somebody, or set fire to a tenement, they act on that impulse, too. ~Bill Weigand

We talk about motives for murder, but there are no rational motives for murder. The hazard is always greater than any goal, unless you are immediately defending your life. Murder becomes possible only when a motive--and advantage to be gained, that is--swells up irrationally in the mind. Gets out of perspective. When the possible gain swells so that you cannot perceive the risk. You needn't be insane for it to do that, or much more emotionally--well, swept--than the average. It may merely catch you when your resources are weak. ~Bill Weigand

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