Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Stand Up & Die

Stand Up & Die (1953) by Frances & Richard Lockridge is the sixth book featuring Captain M. L. Heimrich, NY State Police. Heimrich was introduced in the second Mr. and Mrs. North book, Murder Out of Turn, working with a vacationing Bill Weigand. He had another "guest appearance" in Death of a Tall Man before the Lockridges started a series he could call his own. Once the Lockridges began developing several investigators (the Norths/Weigand, Heimrich, Lt. Shapiro, etc), it was interesting to find small (and sometimes a little larger) connections between the different "worlds" of each series. In this particular book, the first victim has connections withing New York City, so Heimrich calls on Weigand to dig up some information and even goes to town himself and has lunch with the "Acting Captain."

The story begins with a young man recently released from duty in the Korean War who has found it difficult to settle back in the States. He sets out "bumming" in the country and finds himself wandering down a nice little lane that he "liked the looks of" and discovers something not very nice at all. Virginia Monroe has been stabbed to death in what looks at first glance to be a "sex crime"--that some man who likes to play with knives has gone a bit berserk. But when Captain Heimrich examines the body and the begins talking to the suspects, he finds certain things that just don't add up. And one too many coincidences. As he says in conversation with his right-hand man, Charlie Forniss:

Still, there are coincidences, Charlie. Very annoying things, they can be. Now and then you have to accept one....One. I wouldn't want to accept two, of course. One's two many.

And there are at least two...if not more.

There's Timothy Gates, our veteran, who just happened to have danced with Miss Monroe at one of those parties they're always doing for servicemen--and who just happened to take a walk down the lane where her body was waiting to be found. Then there's the nature of the wounds and a mysterious list of figures that she kept clipped in her checkbook. A list that doesn't seem to match any of the deposits or withdrawals and that doesn't seem to add up to anything that means anything. 

Then when Virginia's grandmother just happens to "stand up and die" before she can be told that her elder granddaughter has died and before she could consider changing the terms of a will that was very strange indeed when it came to her younger granddaughter, Liz. Well, that was an odd coincidence too. Heimrich suspects that he's getting two murders for the price of one...but an autopsy seems to prove him wrong. It will take a call or two to Bill Weigand and a visit to a certain address (also noted among Virginia's things) to help Heimrich clear the path to a final solution.

This Lockridge book has a slightly darker feel to it--from the discovery of the mutilated body of Virginia to fact that neither she nor her grandmother were sympathetic characters to the battle fatigue (read PTSD) of Tim Gates. But that doesn't prevent the story from being enjoyable. One of the Lockridges' strengths is character and they do a particularly good job portraying Tim's state of mind  and his difficulties re-entering civilian life. Heimrich provides a very sympathetic view of him even while questioning and perhaps not believing everything he says. 

I had read this one before (from the library and back in the mists of time pre-blogging) and had a feeling that I knew who the culprit was--though I wasn't 100% sure and couldn't figure out (or remember) exactly how the second death had been engineered. So, it's difficult for me to say how fair the mystery is to the reader. Certain clues seemed quite plain to me, but I honestly don't remember how plain they seemed the first time around. A very pleasant read from one of my go-to series--especially when I've been suffering from reader's block as I have been since the work from home and stay at home thing has been in force. I gave this ★★★★ before and see no reason to alter that rating now.

Vintage Mystery Scattegories 2013 Gold: #4 Leave It To the Professionals
Calendar of Crime: September (Author--Richard--DOB)
Deaths = 3 (one stabbed, one poisoned, one drowned--after driving off road and landing in a reservoir)

First line: The lane is little frequented, except by those who live along it in three big houses.

Last line: But before Captain Heimrich had reached the door, the attention of each focused elsewhere.

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