Tuesday, March 12, 2019

The Lucky Stiff: Review

"Anna Marie St. Claire died in the electric chair at one minute after midnight this morning, with a smile on her lips..."

In The Lucky Stiff (1945) by Craig Rice (aka Georgiana Ann Randolph Craig), Anna Marie St. Claire is destined for a date with the electric chair for a crime she didn't do. Her lawyer has gone through the appeals process to no avail and the governor has turned a deaf ear to a plea for a reprieve. At the eleventh hour, she's saved from a shocking death (sorry, I couldn't resist...) by a dying gangster's confession. St. Claire, her lawyer, and the warden are the only ones who know she didn't keep her date with the executioner...so Anna Marie insists that they play it like she died and have the newspapers report her death. Because Anna Marie has a plan to haunt a few characters who didn't feel like saving her skin during the trial.

She smiled at him, "Me? I'm dead. So what am I going to do? Guess. I'm going to haunt houses.

Along the way, Anna Marie meets up with some of Rice's favorite characters: John J. Malone, the slightly bent Chicago lawyer; his friend Jake Justus and Justus's beautiful and strong-willed wife, Helene; and Captain Daniel von Flanagan who regrets being a cop every time he gets mixed up in one of these wacky crimes. The five of them spend their time (both separately and together) trying to get to the bottom of the murder of Anna Marie's boyfriend--i.e., who masterminded the gangster's shooting and the frame-up up Anna Marie. Our friendly "ghost" pops in and out of bars, restaurants, and hotels...scaring her targets into indiscreet action. And there are numerous extra bodies piling up--but don't take them to the local funeral parlor. They're liable to get blown up. Really. Buckle up and get ready for a wild and bumpy ride that leads to an interesting denouement....

This was another fun read from Rice (like my first encounter with her in The April Robin Murders). Plenty of screwball comedy with a slightly noirish twist. Malone tries at times to sound like a hard-boiled private eye, but he's got a much softer spot for the ladies and Yogi Berra way with words. I thoroughly enjoyed my trip through the surreal gangster land concocted by Rice's fertile imagination. The mystery is interesting with a nice hook and deft flick of the wrist to land us with a surprise ending. ★★★★

[Finished on 3/1/19]

DvF: But, no, murderers are dumb. They gotta do everything the hard way.
JJM: The hard way for you, the easy way for them. Damn few murderers take into consideration the problems of the homicide squad. [Daniel von Flanagan; John J. Malone; p. 80]

DvF: Nothing to it. With my City Hall connections, you think I couldn't get a license inside of twenty-four hours? And a guy like me, with what I know about psychology? F'instance, here's what I mean. If I'd of been in Joe the Angel's bar last night [when the "ghost" was seen], nobody would of got upset. I'd of used psychology. [Daniel von Flanagan; p. 82]

AMSC: Malone, do you think I'd lie to you?
JJM: Could be. Girls do tell lies. That's why lawyers study up on cross-examining. [Anna Marie St. Claire; John J. Malone; p. 92]

HJ: How do you know?
JJM: I don't know. I told you it was just a feeling.
JJ: It's bad enough you have to be a respectable businessman, on top of that, you have to be psychic.
[Helene Justus; John J. Malone; Jake Justus; pp. 118-9]

DvF: It's a deduction. Psychology and deduction, they go together like the Smith Brothers. [Daniel von Flanagan; p. 126]

DvF: when politics and murder gets mixed up together, there's likely to be trouble. [Flanagan; p. 127]

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