Saturday, April 15, 2023

Murder in Miniatures

 Murder in Miniatures (1940) by Sam Merwin, Jr.

"Old Russia and modern New York; a sophisticated debutramp and an enigmatic commissar from the Soviet Union; an advertising agency and a toy replica set of the army that repelled Napoleon"--these are just a few of the ingredients in Merwin's story of intrigue in the Big Apple. Michael Troop (Tropovsky) is co-owner of an advertising agency that's on the brink of landing some big clients--but then murder and international intrigue come knocking. Michael's estranged father was a Russian prince under the old czar and when his father is killed in Shanghai, Michael falls heir to all the trinkets and baubles that his father stashed in America with Michael's mother. Somewhere amongst those forgotten relics hidden in the family's basement is a treasure worth stealing--or killing for.

Michael's cousin Alexis is the first to die (well...the first in New York, that is). And, initially, Michael is the prime suspect after the cousins had a falling out over the very pretty Patricia McBride. But as the bodies start piling up (and Michael has alibis for the deaths), Sergeant Lanning begins to think there must be some connection between the deaths and the Russian toy soldiers that are part of Michael's heritage. But are toys really worth killing for? Some collectors might think so...

Poor Michael...he keeps getting into scrapes. First suspect of murder. Then blackmailed by a pushy dame who just wants him because of his title and because she thinks he's dangerous. When she determines that he's not really the killer, she drops him like a hot potato (some women are so strange...). Then he's slipped a Mickey Finn and wakes up to discover that [redacted] is really the killer and has this weird plot to make money off of it. So...I like Michael. I like his relationship with other people in the story--Patricia, Sergeant Lanning, his houseman/bodyguard Jimmie (even though Jimmie doesn't seem to be all that great as a bodyguard--people keep getting into Michael's apartment...). The plot is an interesting one--it's not often you have murder done over toys.{Slight Spoiler Ahead!!!!}

But...seriously, the culprit and their motive just sortof appear out of nowhere. Not that it's a culprit we've never met before (at least Merwin didn't break that Golden Age rule), but they just pop up as the villain of the piece with no real warning that there's any reason to think they might be. Not very satisfactory. But other than that--a fun, quick read. ★★

First line: Though the sun was already nearing the choppy roof tops that composed the western horizon, the big man was still in pajamas.

"Men are silly," he said. "I thought most girls were aware of it." (Sergeant Lanning; p. 76)

Last line: Sergeant Lanning fell backward across the bed.


Deaths = 6 (five stabbed; one shot)


Steve said...


If you read the paperback edition shown, you might want to check if it was abridged. If it was, as those old digest paperbacks often were, it might explain why people pop in and out of the story so frequently.

Or it could be that Merwin just wasn't a very good mystery writer!


Bev Hankins said...

Steve--I'll double-check, but I'm pretty sure this one was unabridged. I do have some of the digests that were.