Saturday, May 4, 2024

Write Murder Down

 Write Murder Down (1972) by Richard Lockridge

Once again Lieutenant Nathan Shapiro, the Eeyore of the NYD detective branch, is--according to him--in over his head. Captain Bill Weigand has this tendency to give Shapiro cases where he has to deal with people he just doesn't understand...from artists to actors and now authors. He just doesn't understand what a smart man like Bill Weigand is doing giving these investigations to a man who's just good with a gun. But as Weigand points out to him (for the umpteenth time), he always manages to get his man (or woman as the case may be) without needing his gun.

When Miss A. Jones is found dead in her apartment--an apparent suicide involving pills and slit wrists--homicide detective Nate Shapiro is given the case because of one little detail. The body is chock full of barbiturates and there is nary a pill or pill bottle in the near-empty room. Finding a room key for the Algonquin Hotel leads Shapiro to the discovery that Miss A. Jones is really Miss Jo-An Lacey, a recent best-selling author. Apparently Miss Lacey was using the apartment as a writing hide-away. But the typewriter she worked on and the huge stack of typewritten pages containing what was meant to be her next best-seller have disappeared. Shapiro, assisted by his right-hand man Detective Tony Cook, is going to have to make his way through the foreign world of publishers, agents, options and contracts. A world where someone just might kill to get their hands on a sure-fire best-seller...and most likely has.

Despite his woe-is-me attitude, I like Nate Shapiro. He is a very smart and observant man (his own opinion notwithstanding). He knows when something doesn't look or sound right and when the clues aren't adding up to the obvious solution. But I really like Detective Tony Cook. His work on the cases and his relationship with Rachel really make the Shapiro books for me. It would have been interesting if Lockridge had decided to bring Cook to the forefront in a series of his own. He and Shapiro work very well together and have a good relationship beyond the work. Lockridge is very good with characterization and even characters who aren't on stage for long seem like real people. Since Lacey and her brother (who is on the scene because he had been worried about a lady like his sister being at the mercy of a Northern big city) are Southerners (deep South Southerners--dilapidated family plantation and all), Lockridge is able to provide an interesting contrast to his usual cast, as well as make some subtle comments on race. There are unpleasant racial stereotypes in play--but Lockridge makes it clear where he stands on the subject. Our heroes always look askance at anyone who employs such language and make it clear that they don't hold with such views.

My one complaint about this (and several of the Lockridge books) is the lack of real suspects. There aren't many to choose from, so the mystery itself isn't terribly complex. The real difficulty as far as I can see is proving it. I'm just not sure the District Attorney is going to have a solid case to go to court. ★★ and 1/2

First line: They walked down Sixth Avenue from Charles Restaurant.

Last line:He poured them fresh drinks.

Deaths = 3 (two airplane crash; one stabbed)

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