Murder by the Book (1963) by Frances & Richard Lockridge
In this last entry in the Mr. and Mrs. North series, Pam & Jerry are on vacation in Key West and naturally Pam stumbles across a dead body. She gets up early one Sunday morning to go fishing for a pair of pelicans that are too lazy (and spoiled by tourists like Pam) to fish for themselves. And there on the end of the pier is the body of Dr. Edmund Piersal, dead from a stab wound.
Pam, of course, feels personally involved. Not only did she discover the body, but she and Jerry had just played tennis with Piersal the day before. Piersal is also from New York where he is well-known as a former Deputy Medical Examiner, but who in Florida would want to kill a doctor whom Pam sums up as "a nice man. A really nice man"? Apparently, a few people. There's the slightly mysterious (in Pam's mind) nature of Dr. Piersal's attendance on a fellow hotel guest who has also died--purportedly of heart disease. But where's the motive for murder in that? There's the daughter of a woman who accused Piersal of malpractice in her husband's death, took him to court, and then was publicly humiliated by the judge in the case. Revenge on her mother's behalf? Not to mention the woman herself who was also in Key West at the relevant time. There's also a couple of small-time con men--one of whom was convicted of an earlier crime and the doctor provided key evidence in the conviction.
Deputy Sheriff Jefferson doesn't know what to make of the Norths--between Pam's non sequiturs and the fancy theories the two spin about the murder, they have his head spinning. If his counterpart, Bill Weigand of the NYPD hadn't assured him of their bona fides, he'd be tempted to think they were leading him astray on purpose. But he'll soon find that Weigand was right, they're very helpful and "when they're around, things seem to turn up. Useful things." After a couple of false starts, while Pam tries to pin down an elusive point that keeps floating in and out of her active mind, Jefferson and the Norths finally get their man.
It's a shame that this is the last of the North books, but it is a pleasant swan song for them. Lounging on the beach, playing a bit of tennis, solving one last murder. I find these books to very soothing and very much comfort reads. The puzzles aren't terribly tricky (I spotted the villain early on), but this one does have a nice variation on the "dying message" trope. Only the doctor didn't know it was a dying message when he wrote it. It's interesting watching Jefferson try to keep up with Pam--Bill Weigand and the NY police force have had a chance to get used to how her mind "jumps"--but Jefferson isn't quite sure how to follow her hops and skips.
As always, an enjoyable, comfy read and a lovely way to spend an afternoon. ★★★★
First line: Gerald North woke up and said, "But pelicans are birds."
"You always," Pam said, "want people to be rational. Mostly they aren't." (p. 86)
This Mrs. North was hard enough to understand when she was there, when you could hear her. (p. 97)
Last line: The Norths got clobbered.
Deaths = 3 (one stabbed; one poisoned; one natural)