Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Murder in Brass

 Murder in Brass
(The Brass Ring; 1946) by Lewis Padgett (Henry Kuttner & C. L. Moore)

Seth Coleman is a private eye oddity. He's a private eye who hates his job. As soon as he got successful enough, he hired men to run his agency and provide him and his wife Eve with a nice, steady income and left the business. Or so he thought. Eve has other ideas. Eve likes it when her man is being all brainy and brawny in equal measures and tracking down crooks. She especially likes it if she gets to hang out on the sidelines and "help." So, when a mystery pops up in her old home town of Raleigh, she wangles things so Seth will be pulled back into the saddle again. He tries to keep out of it, but he's no match for Eve when she's in full throttle.

Off he goes to Raleigh, with his least favorite ex-operative, Art Bedarian, in tow. Eve fixed that up somehow as well. It seems that Bruce Farr, twenty-something son of a man who used to be brass baron--now deceased, went crazy when he found his old man dead a few years ago. Bruce has been fairly well-behaved though he hates brass with a passion and has outbursts when confronted with the stuff, prefers to sit or lay in the dark and not move at all, and won't interact with anyone. Or wouldn't. Now Bruce has disappeared and his mother fears he's gone off the deep end into homicidal tendencies. When Bruce's doctor is found brained with a brass paperweight, it looks like she might be right. And when another man who looks (in the dusk) like one of the men who ruined Bruce's father is murdered it looks like there is a method to his madness. But Seth isn't so sure that Bruce is really the culprit and he follows a trail that leads to stolen keys and blackmail in order to find out the truth.

So...eight years ago I read my first Padgett book. It was a pretty decent suspense novel (not a Seth Coleman book). Nothing extraordinary, but solid. This....well. This is something else. The basic plot is okay. It's even decently clued. But there isn't really a likeable character in the whole book. No one to root for. Eve is a conniving wench who plays Seth for reasons that aren't worth mentioning. Seth allows himself to be played and you don't even get a sense that he loves this woman enough to allow her to do it. Why on earth is he with her? Why should we care if he solves the mystery she's wrestled him into investigating? There's a reason why Bedarian is Seth's least-favorite operative. He won't listen to the man who is paying him. He uses all his money to buy booze. And he's an irritating little snot in the bargain. The best thing he does in aid of the investigation is to lie through his teeth to get the culprit to fess up. Oh, and Bruce's mother is a real piece of work. And even the victims of the blackmailer make it difficult to sympathize with them.

Kuttner & Moore as Padgett seem to like psychology in their mysteries. My earlier read (The Day He Died) featured a woman under psychological assault by someone who seems to be able to enter her apartment at will. And this one, of course, has a certifiable young man as the central suspect. Padgett does make some interesting commentary on the views about and treatment of psychological patients at the time and this, in part, contributes to the few stars I am willing to give out. And, while I don't like Coleman much in general, I do like the sympathy he has with various characters--even when it's misplaced. He seems like he could be a detective with heart. He just doesn't get to display it much. I can't really say that recommend this one. ★★

First line: On Monday I woke late, with a dim recollection of a bell ringing in the night and a familiar voice that told me to go back to sleep.

Last lines: Very gently I put the receiver back. I crossed the hotel lobby and went out to the parked car.

Deaths = 5 (three hit on head; one natural; one overdose)

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