Saturday, April 4, 2020

Curtain for a Jester

Curtain for a Jester (1953) by Frances & Richard Lockridge was the perfect book for me to read this week. The primary action takes place on April Fool's Day--or rather in the evening. Byron Wilmot lives in the penthouse apartment atop the building where Pam and Jerry North also live. They've "met" Wilmot exactly nod to in an elevator ride. For no discernible reason he invites them to a little party that he's giving in honor of All Fool's Day.

They are well aware of Wilmot's reputation as a practical joker--after all he owns the Novelty Emporium where one can buy all sorts of joke products and costumes. And, as Pam notes in the first line of the book (below), one can expect everything from rubber spiders to snakes with springs in them. One doesn't expect the doorbell to have been turned into a screeching woman or the door to be opened by a man apparently holding his head in his hand. Yes, they know right away that Wilmot's party isn't going to be a typical drinks and dancing affair.

Not everybody enjoys the jokes, however. Two of Wilmot's employees, John Baker and Martha Evitts, arrive in full costume as a boy in rompers and an old witch. Which would be fine if the party had actually been a masquerade ball instead of a formal affair. They were none too pleased with their boss's cruel twist on their age difference. And then there was Clyde Parsons, Wilmot's nephew, who came as he was (quite casually dressed) after an urgent phone call told him that his uncle might be dying and wanted to see him to "make things right." Then, as a climax, the lights go out and it appears that a burglar is on the rooftop outside the french doors. Arthur Monteath, an acquaintance of the Norths, is called upon by Wilmot to help nab him. He's thrown a gun and in the confusion winds up shooting him. Fortunately, it's not a real burglar but a dummy. Wilmot thinks it's uproariously funny that he's made Monteath think he's killed a man. Later that night, there is a killing--but Wilmot's no longer laughing. He's dead with a knife in his chest. 

Pam North winds up making the "squeal" to Acting Captain Bill Weigand. She insists that if he can just find out where a red-haired man fits into the scheme of things that he'll be able to solve the murder. You see, Wilmot had gone to a great deal of trouble with that dummy--he gave it a red wig and a scar. Not that anyone else noticed the scar. As she points out to Weigand, this wasn't meant to look like a dummy; "this was meant to look like a man. That, she said was the point. 'This one was meant to be somebody. Else why the red hair?'" As is the case so many times, Pam is right. But there's more to the plot than just the red-headed Weigand will discover.

The Lockridge books are my light, fluffy mystery reads. They're comfortable and breezy and don't take a lot of brain power. I pick them up when I just want something fun or when I'm having trouble getting into my reading. I had quite a reading slump going there for a while (10 days on the same 190 page book) once the COVID-19 crisis really hit the US and I needed something comfortable. So, I read Stand Up and Die and once that was done pulled out Curtain for a Jester. They were just what the doctor ordered. Fun reads with good character sketches that I could easily read in a day or so and get myself back on track. The ending scene of Jester in the dark novelty shop is a bit over-the-top (could it really be possible that no one thought to turn the lights on before the very end?), but very in keeping with the larger-than-life feel of the practical joke atmosphere and the hole & corner spy thriller aspects that kept creeping in. ★★★★

Vintage Mystery Scattergories 2013 Gold #6 Yankee Doodle Dandy (American)
Calendar of Crime: April (April Fool's Day)
Deaths = 3 (one stabbed; one shot; one fell from height)

First Line: Pamela North came from her bathroom and said, "Rubber spiders."

Last Line: "As Pam says," Jerry noted, "you can always go by cats."

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