"Some people bear three kinds of trouble - the ones they've had, the ones they have, and the ones they expect to have."- H.G. Wells.
I'm taking a short detour from insatiably consuming impossible crime stories, which will commence soon after publishing this piece, to finally post the planned follow up to my little critique of Craig Rice's The Wrong Murder (1940) – a review of its aptly entitled sequel, The Right Murder (1941).
To shortly recapitulate, in the previous novel, The Wrong Murder, the newlywed and unemployed Jake Justus makes an unusual bet with Mona McClane, who stakes her far-famed casino on the presumption that she can get away with gunning someone down on a packed street and getting away with it. At first, everyone takes it as a joke, but then a murder is committed that conforms to the rules of the bet and the sporting woman was seen near the scene of the crime! Jake, Helene and Malone go out of their way to pin this murder on Mona, but the inevitable conclusion is that they have been solving someone else's murder and their prime suspect confirms their fruitless pursuit of the wrong corpse.
The Right Murder picks up the story not long after the point where The Wrong Murder left off, and we find a very lonely John J. Malone, on New Years Eve, trying to get drunk at Joe the Angel's City Hall Bar – when his sentimental musings are broken by a man who staggered into the barroom. He asks for Malone, thrusts a key in his hands and dies on the spot! Someone had poked him in the back with a knife. But a dead man, stumbling into a bar room and unburdening himself of an inquisitive item before collapsing, is a relatively sane thing to happen contrasted against the other events in this story.
Yeah, this another one of Craig Rice's booze fuelled madcap mysteries, in which Chicago's trinity of trouble kidnap and plaster a witness, who claims to have killed two men when he's piss-drunk but draws a complete blank when stone cold sober, to help him jug his memory – and even hook him up to a polygraph machine after a drinking binge! You really tend to feel sorry for the poor psychoanalyst conducting the test and will no doubt be haunted by this consult for the rest of his professional life.
The second victim, by the way, dies at the home of Mona McClane, dispatched in a way that suggests the same hand at work as the one that cut-short the life of the man in the bar, and that puts her right back in the crosshairs of Jake, Helene and Malone. But will the heap of bizarre events and clues, which includes an extraordinary coincidence concerning names and two disturbed graves, lead them to a solution that will earn them the deed of Mona's casino or is their aim once again off-target – and following the wrong stiff to another murderer they weren't trying to find?
This story takes you on one heck of a ride and has nearly everything you come to expect and love from the Queen of Screwball Mysteries. Unfortunately, the solution does a poor and unconvincing job at explaining all the rummy occurrences and doesn't entirely adhere to the rules of fair play. There are a few clues that make it possible to make an educated guess at some parts of the solution, but when it comes to motive and relationships, between murderer and victims, we're pretty much left in the dark until Malone's revelation – and that left me completely dissatisfied.
The Right Murder may be typical of all things Ricean, but as a detective novel it fails to live up to its predecessor. Still, to be fair, the race towards the final chapter was fun and with Helene driving even exciting. Deadly, but exciting! So if you're already a fan you might as well pick this one up, and find out if they're successful in finally pinning a first-degree murder charge on Mona McClane, but if you're new to her work it's advisable to begin elsewhere – e.g. Home Sweet Homicide (1944) or My Kingdom for a Hearse (1957).
And, as a closing thought: has anyone else ever wondered, imagined even, what would happen if Jake and Helene Justus and Jeff and Haila Troy would enter the same bar room one after the other? Yes, I think that's why one series is set in Chicago and the other in New York. :)