The Private Eyes' Requiem

"The captain, to see me? It's not about my wife, is it? I mean... she likes to have a good time, sometimes she gets carried away..."
- Lt. Columbo (Troubled Waters)
It's a common misconception among layman and even some adepts that the toughies and cozies were domestic products, stories that were typical of either American or British pop-culture, but the alcohol-guzzling, wise-cracking mystery solving husband-and-wife teams, who attract stiffs like they run a funeral parlor, are almost exclusively an American speciality – and not just the case-hardened ones that Dashiell Hammett introduced. The ones I have read were well written, often tightly plotted and whimsical in tone, which could be offered to explain why they're all but forgotten in this day and age: they're fun and don't fit a preconceived notion.

Undeterred by its hardboiled sounding title, Voyage into Violence (1956), a team effort from the spousal tandem of Frances and Richard Lockridge, has everything you expect from a sophisticated British drawing room mystery, from a pair of upper class sleuths, Mr. and Mrs. North, to the closed-circle of suspects, except that two Americans wrote this book.

Pam and Jerry North, alongside police Capt. Bill Weigand and his wife, Dorian, take a well deserved holiday aboard the S.S. Carib Queen, plotting a course for Havana, and their fellow passengers are a motley collection of holidaymakers and soon picture frames hanging in their gallery of suspects. 

There's the Ancient and Respectable Riflemen, founded during the War of 1812 (and Patrick perks up), led by respectable Captain Folsom, the frumpy Hilda Macklin and her bullyrag of a mother, Olivia, a professional dancer named Jules Barron, among others, but the most important one is perhaps J. Orville Marsh – a retired private-eye, or so he says. However, when Marsh is run through with a ceremonial sword, belonging to the Ancient and Respectable Riflemen, evidence pulled from his luggage, like correspondence and photographs of expensive looking jewelry, indicates that he was on a case and may have come too close to closing it. Bill Weigand is put in charge, who, in turn, drags in his socialite buddies, to begin a covert investigation, but soon rumors, like a discrete waiter quietly enquiring if Sir or Madam wants a refill, are whispered from deck chair to deck chair, and before long, they sweep the deck like a tidal wave.

Voyage into Violence is a fine example of the pleasure you can derive from a Busman's Holiday-mystery, when you have writers who can weave patterns with multiple plot threads without getting tied up in it themselves, demonstrating that an extra set of hands at the typewriter can come in handy has its advantages when writing a mystery novel, as well as vividly describing the setting that gives the reader the idea that they are there with them as the Van Dine to Pam and Jerry's Philo Vance. I do fear I might have over praised this book and admit that it's not in the same league as, oh let's say, Agatha Christie's Death on the Nile (1937) or Christianna Brand's Tour de Force (1955), but making a distinction that one is merely “clever” while the others are absolutely "brilliant" is simply arguing semantics. Voyage into Violence is a vividly written mystery with a busy, logical plot and interesting characters, but, more importantly, it was a nice, leisurely summer read.

I want to leave you with this excerpt, from chapter IV, page 59, which I thought was interesting from a modern point of view. I could not imagine a problem like that in this day and age:
"If the Carib Queen were equipped for the dispatch of radio photographs-but that was absurd. (...) It was absurd. The Carib Queen was equipped for many things, some rather more complex than picture transmission. She could look through the darkness, farther than the eye could reach. Electronically, when near the coast-as she was now-the Carib Queen could tell precisely where she was. But she could not dispatch the convoluted signature on note and check to Worcester, Massachusetts, where it would mean something."
Oh, one more thing, I have to make obligatory recommendations when discussing husband-and-wife detective teams: read Kelley Roos' The Frightened Stiff (1942; reprinted by the Rue Morgue Press) and Herbert Resnicow's Alexander and Norma Gold series.


  1. I'll take Jeff and Haila over Pam and Jerry any day. Have you read any of Theodora Dubois' books? She created another little known husband and wife sleuthing team -- Dr. Jeff McNeill and his wife Anne. I barely got through DEATH DINES OUT though and I'm not sure I'll be looking for any of the others. Three of them are available in 1970s paperback reprints from Award Books.

    1. I have not read any of Du Bois' books, but I did look her up just now and Mike Grost has an entire page dedicated to her books. Mike points out that Death Comes to Tea and The Case of the Perfumed Mouse were praised by Boucher.

      I guess we've not heard the last of Du Bois on our blogs! ;)

  2. Thanks for the enlightening review of a book featuring the Norths. I have read a couple of books in the series, and must say they are entertaining, if not at the top of the detective list. Can't expect everything to be a masterpiece.

    1. It's true you can't expect them all to be masterpieces, but it's always nice if one of them delivers something above average.

  3. I have this book sitting in my room. Haven't read one in years but I loved the cover so I picked it up.

  4. I recall enjoying the two or three North books I read. I agree with the consensus that they are not at the highest level, but it's good second-tier stuff. And there's nothing wrong with that.

    I have vague memories of the 1950s TV series -- I need to see if YouTube has any of them.

  5. I adore Frances and Richard Lockridge, and read dozens of the books back in the seventies. I have quite a few tattered copies on my shelves, but I wish I had made a more diligent effort to collect them, because they can be really hard to find. (I hope somebody buys the rights and re-releases them in paperback and ebook soon.)

    Much as I like Pam and Jerry North, though, my favorite of their sleuths was Lt Shapiro, especially in his first few books, which were classic "protagonist in jeopardy" books, where he schlepped around in the background, underappreciated by even himself, and eventually saved the day.

  6. The Rue Morgue Press has reissued quite a lot of mysteries featuring husband-and-wife detective teams, including Kelley Roos and Delano Ames, and therefore the most logical choice to put (the best books by) the Lockridges back on the market.

    I have not read any of the Shapiro novels, but thanks for putting me on his tail. :)