"A theater can be a dangerous place, like all places where crowds of people gather."- Karen Gregg (The Gold Gamble, 1989)
The plot of The Gold Gamble (1989), contrived by that architect of crime, Herbert Resnicow, has a poetic structure – since it's the farewell performance of his golden pair, Alexander and Norma Gold. It's hard to gauge, though, if these final acts were penned with their retirement in mind or whether his commitment to other projects prevented him from returning to them, before his death in 1997, which is not an unlikely scenario, as the 1990s saw him outsourcing his talents to abet the likes of Pelé and Edward I. Koch with their literary aspirations, but on the other hand, the story does read like a best-off compilation of their previous investigations – and they seem to have full-filled nearly everything they set out to do in their first outing.
As I said before, The Gold Gamble bears all the familiar hallmarks of their antecedents with the New York Police Department and the criminal elements that patronized the museums and theatres of Manhattan, from a theatrical backdrop to a locked room conundrum with a solution that relays on the architectural features of the building, but there were also one or two notable changes in the personal situation of the lead roles.
Alexander and Norma amassed considerable wealth as consulting detectives, which is easy enough to do when your primary costumer base consists entirely of billionaires, setting them up for life – but continue to work to keep Alexander's brain cells from accumulating rust. It's, therefore, fitting that their final clients are, more or less, themselves when a murder threatens their $2.5 million investment in a Broadway musical.
Guys and Dolls was a critically acclaimed musical, based on a number of short stories that were penned by Damon Runyon, that premiered on Broadway during the early 1950s and Maxwell Sapphire, a washed up, but not untalented, producer wants to revive the play. It's the last opportunity he has at reestablishing himself as a theatrical producer, but the lack of financial funds keeps Sapphire from brightening his dimming star and ends up knocking on the Gold's door with his hat as a begging bowl in his hands. Well, at first he tries to keep up a front, but this, of course, evolves in a mental sparring match between him and Alexander – in which the intellectual heavyweight knocks him down a peck or two.
I really take delight in these customary, cerebral fencing matches between Alexander and his prospective clients, even though the roles were reversed here, but there was a tell-tale clue stuck between the pages that strongly hinted that you have to be a fan, like me, to appreciate these segments. Whoever owned the copy, I just read, before me left a one-line note that stated, "not bad but hard to get into." Well, I guess I sort of see this persons point, since these conversations do tend to drag on a bit, but I also love how unapologetically these books are in their lighthearted intellectualism and love for the arts. It's as if Resnicow bluntly says: this is a fun, but clever, detective story and you can take it or leave it! Needless to say, I took it!
But back to the story at hand: a financial agreement is reached between them and Sapphire, who, for some reason or other, I envisioned as Vincent Price, pockets the checks needed to set everything in motion, but there's a snag that could bring down the curtain on the show before it even opened – Sapphire's late night snack, Lisa Terrane!
Lisa Terrane is an inexperienced, untalented and spiteful chorine who got herself a small part in the show and is an understudy for the lead role of Adelaide, played by Carol Sands, but that's hardly enough to satisfy that enormous ego or quell her delusions of grandeur! So you would expect that Carol Sands has to be on her toes for dropping chandeliers or poisoned bottles of champagne, but it's her unimportant, easily replaceable understudy who is brutally murdered in her dressing room – killed with a clot of cold cream and a towel (read the book for details). Exeunt Lisa Terrane.
This unexpected exit of Lisa Terrane, should, in theory, have made everything run a lot smoother, but Carol Sands was the only other person on the floor when her understudy was being smothered and this lands her another leading role as the prime suspect in a murder enquiry – and with only three days before the critics' preview everything seems to be crashing down around them.
Alexander and Norma not only have to exonerate their leading star, but also cast someone else in the role of the murderer and figure out how this person was able to sneak pass the doorman, a guy named Pops, without being seen – which is a lot harder than you'd think. As a doorman, Pops appears to be omniscient, all-knowing and all-seeing. He sits in a booth and notes down everyone who comes and goes, even when he seems to be immersed in a complicated crossword puzzle, and sneaking pass him seems as impossible as bolting from a locked room or trotting over a field of virgin snow without leaving footprints. Norma tried and failed miserably. The secret of Pop's apparently super sensitive sensory perception is as clever as it simple and integral to the entirety of the solution to the problem of entering a floor whose entrance was under constant observation. It's not the most ingenious or mind-blowing impossible situation Resnicow dreamed up in this series, but, once again, it's completely original and shows how you can use an entire building to create the illusion of a sealed environment.
Note, however, that tracing the steps from the crime-scene back to the murderer of Lisa Terrane does not, necessarily, mean that they have saved the show and their multi-million dollar investment, because the guilty party can still be another person who can't be missed or replaced on a short-term notice – such as another one of their lead stars or the director. It's the proverbial quagmire and it will take a lot of brainpower to drag them out of it.
All in all, The Gold Gamble is another amusing detective story that provides its reader with an intricate puzzle, set against a background of a musical production in absolute peril, which also does a fairly good job at scattering the clues around the stage and corridors of the theatre – and the only thing I can raise against this book is that the pace is a lot slower than usual and that a map would've been neat feature during the reconstruction of the crime. Nevertheless, the love Resnicow had for both the detective story and the performance arts dazzles like a lead star on opening night, but if you are new to his work I recommend you make the acquaintance, of Alexander and Norma, over the coarse of one of their previous cases.
I have now read all of the Gold Murder Cases, five novels in total, but instead of giving the bibliography in chronologically, I will post them in order of strongest to weakest:
The Gold Deadline (1984) [*****]
The Gold Frame (1986) [****]
The Gold Curse (1986) [****]
The Gold Gamble (1989) [***]
The Gold Solution (1983) [***]
I also reviewed the entire Ed and Warren Bear series:
The Dead Room (1987) [*****]
The Hot Place (1990) [**]
And wrote a short overview of Herbert Resnicow's life and work: