Saturday, February 24, 2024

Death Takes a Bow

 Death Takes a Bow
(1943) by Frances & Richard Lockridge

This one opens with Jerry in a panic because he has to give a short speech introducing one his publishing company's latest stars, Victor Leeds Sproul. He's quite sure he's going to mess it up...even though, as Pam points out, he's quite a good speaker and he always does fine. Little does he know that his audience isn't going to care one way or the other. Not after Sproul declines to come to the lectern when introduced...or rather is incapable of coming to the lectern because he's dead. 

Of course, since the man died while Jerry was introducing him, Pam naturally thinks that this murder is one of theirs. Oh sure, Lieutenant Weigand and Sergeant Mullins will come along and take charge officially, but they won't really get anywhere if she and Jerry don't give them a little help...and a few martinis here and there. And it soon becomes apparent that help might be appreciated because Sproul wasn't exactly a popular fellow--no matter what his book sales might indicate. He was good at stealing other fellows' wives, holding secrets over his "friends'" heads, gloating about his success to those less fortunate, and generally making himself unloved. But who hated him enough to slip him a deadly dose of morphine before his speech? That's what Weigand, Mullins, and the Norths will have to find out. Muddying the waters even more is the presence of a "little dark man" who Jerry sees slipping away from the stage and who may have taken a few vital clues with him.

Pam has her style cramped a bit by the arrival of her nieces. She thinks she's going to be meeting two little girls at the train, but instead she is saddled with two pre-teen/young teenagers (who look and act a bit older than their years) who seem to be magnets for eligible young servicemen. Keeping the girls occupied and away from the sailors and the marines prevents Pam from getting into as much trouble as usual (no tense moments with the killer holding her hostage this time around), but she does manage to spot the murderer based on one key phrase--just before Bill Weigand does. 

This is another fun and light adventure with the Norths. The Lockridges are really very good with dialogue and it's very entertaining to "listen" to the interactions of Jerry and Pam (and her nieces...Pam's way of thinking/talking seems to run in the family ) as well as Weigand and Mullins. I can't say that the mysteries are ever very taxing to the seasoned crime fiction reader, but they are always interesting and entertaining snapshots of New York during the time period. A great escape read. ★★★★

First line: Mrs. North was consoling. never paid to take people as being altogether what they looked to be. Still, he added to himself, that's about the only thing we have to go on. (p. 20)

"You examined him, Doctor?" the assistant medical examiner asked. Klingman nodded and moved a step nearer. The two physicians withdrew into the medical world, symbolically taking the body with them. They nodded over it. Klingman pointed at the eyes and Francis nodded. Francis flexed the dead fingers and Klingman nodded. The lay world waited. The physicians nodded again, now in evident agreement, and unexpectedly shook hands. Dr. Francis came over to Weigand and Mr. North, who waited anxiously.
   "Well," Dr. Francis said, "he's dead all right." (p. 44)

[about Sproul's sensitivity to morphine] "Maybe somebody didn't know it, and gave him a dose of morphine figuring to put him to sleep. Maybe somebody didn't want to hear him give a speech." (Dr. Francis; p. 45) 

It was true, she thought...that when there were dull things to do, women were ordinarily chosen. If it came down to a choice between murder and nieces, men got the murder and women got the nieces. And you couldn't deny that murder was more interesting than nieces. (p. 52)

Realizing how interesting [murder] was, Pam North felt a little worried about herself. Probably, when you came down to it, it wasn't good for you to be so interested in murders. "Habit-forming," Pam thought. You started out able to take a murder or leave it alone--never dreaming of taking it, really. And one murder led to another, and it became--well, a sort of a game. And it should never be a game; not really a game. (p. 52)

Weigand told him that it was unfortunate. "Murder usually is," Weigand said. "Inconveniences a lot of people. Friends, relatives, business associates, the police. To say nothing of the corpse. You have something to tell me?" (p. 60)

"That was the chief thing about Sproul, come to think of it," he said slowly. "He managed to make almost everybody he met feel, in the end, a little ridiculous. Even me--in the old days, of course. It was--a knack he had. And enjoyed. Yes--enjoyed it very much." (Y. Charles Burden; p. 66)

I am not feeling at all the way I should expect myself to feel. I ought to be stirred up and excited, because of Sproul's murder, and I am merely tired, and rather sleepy and--yes, relaxed....Which merely proved that a man's nerves were shamefully egocentric and that they didn't, really, care at all what happened to other people. (Jerry North's thoughts; p. 108)

He realized that he was holding back; that he had been sure it was murder ever since things had gone bump in the night. But there are some things about lieutenants that inspectors should never learn. (p.122)

This didn't, Weigand thought, looking out the window at the streaming rain, look like being a quick one. There was a good deal, come down to it, to be said for the family murder, with suspects conveniently cooped together. Or, if you were to have murder, for any circumstances similarly constricting. (p.125)

Heinrich was a bona-fide enemy agent, like you read about. About Grade C, but genuine. The F.B.I. followed him about and snaffled  off people he spoke to. Heinrich was being very useful, but not to the Reich. The F.B.I. was enjoying Heinrich very much. (p. 164)

"They [marines] indicated that we were taking rather a risk, leaving nieces about. One of them was very serious. He said--well, he said: 'I don't know whether you know sir, but there are some men who wouldn't understand. Sailors, you know.'" (Jerry--who had been a sailor in the previous war; p.166)

No motive was certain. They didn't have enough; it was not a simple, comfortable murder for money or safety or, so far as they could guess, hatred. But it might be any of these. (p. 169)

But if it were Newark,, now--there had been time enough to get to Newark by tube train and to meet the train which was bringing Mr. Demming. A murderer would have to move briskly, but murderers must expect to make some sacrifices. (p. 203)

He, Weigand, had only to sit, and look at papers, and think. He found the prospect uninviting. Now, he decided, would be a fine time for a hunch. He made himself receptive to hunches. No hunch came. (p. 209)

"How do you feel when you're not feeling well?" Mrs. North repeated. "Surely that's clear enough."
"It sounds all right," Bill Weigand admitted. "Words and everything; even a verb. But it doesn't mean anything. When I don't feel well I just don't feel well." (p. 220)

"Men arrange their own murders," he said. "By being what they are, doing the things they do, meeting the people they meet." (Weigand; p. 230)

Last lines: Beth and Margie both looked radiant as they came in. They both had sailors.
"Those girls," Pam said, "are unfair to the army. They ought to be--they ought to be picketed."
Deaths = 2 (one poisoned; one smothered)


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