Saturday, November 23, 2019

The Noel Coward Murder Case

The Noel Coward Murder Case (1992) by George Baxt

It is 1935 in New York City. Noel Coward has come to town to make a movie and is convinced (with cold, hard cash) to star in the opening of the brand-new Cascades, a high-falutin' nightclub complete with actual cascading waterfalls. The fancy joint is is owned by "reformed" gangsters by the name of Beethoven, Bizet, and Vivaldi. Joining him onstage will be a rich, would-be cabaret singer Diana Headman (who has bought her place in the limelight), a supposedly authentic voodoo act comprised of Dan Parrish and Electra Howard, and a host of beautiful showgirls. 

Meanwhile, Electra's sister Maxine has been found murdered in Shanghai and Inspector Wang has come to New York to bring her body home as well as to confer with (series) Detective Jacob Singer. He believes she was killed as part of the white slave trade and has his eyes on the owners of the Cascades. Singer has his eye on them well. It's soon discovered that Maxine had been working undercover for the authorities and must have discovered something worth killing to keep quiet. They know they're on the right track when Edna Dore, showgirl at the Cascades and police informant, is killed as well. Or are they? There are others on hand with motives for killing. Singer and Wang with a little help with our star performer will have to sort out the motives before the curtain comes crashing down on them all. 

My previous reading experiences of Baxt's historical Hollywood mysteries have been far more positive. The Humphrey Bogart Murder Case and The Dorothy Parker Murder Case were both fun, witty historical romps filled with lots of word play and quips. This one was far more forced--it read to me like Baxt (through Noel Coward) was working extra hard for the laughs that never came. Or maybe it's just that I am much less familiar with Coward and just didn't get his humor. Baxt has done an excellent job in previous outings in representing the personalities involved (at least as those personalities have been presented to the public). I have to assume that he's done as well with Coward. If that's the case, then I just don't find Coward funny or engaging.

The mystery itself is also a little more over-the-top than the stories have been in the past--especially the grand finale with the building on fire and a machete beheading. I just didn't find the plot at all compelling or entertaining. Baxt did keep the culprit hidden from me--but that isn't due to any extraordinary gift for mystification. There weren't exactly clues in abundance and I convinced myself that it was Suspect A when I should have been focused on Suspect B. But that was my sheer stubbornness and not because Baxt outwitted me. ★★ and I'm not sure that isn't being generous.

Deaths =  4 (two poisoned; two stabbed--one beheaded by machete, actually)

No comments: