"It's a princely scheme."- Captain Hook (J.M. Barrie's Peter and Wendy, 1911)
I'll probably be returning to that luminous age of detective stories for the next review, having bobbed around in its post-era for the past few weeks, but, for the moment, I'll be flicking a glance at Death in a Deck Chair (1984) by K.K. Beck – praised for her "graceful recreations of the old-fashioned, Golden Age whodunit."
K.K. Beck is an American mystery novelist who debuted in 1984 with Death in a Deck Chair and Death of a Prom Queen, published under the penname "Marie Oliver," followed by a dozen or so detective novels over the next twenty years. Beck had two, short-lived series-characters in her repertoire and one of them was a 19-year-old woman, Iris Cooper, whose adventures are set in the 1920s and invoke the mysteries of the period – laced with gentle, tongue-in-cheek humor.
Death in a Deck Chair takes place aboard the S.S. Irenia bound for the United States and homeward for Iris Cooper, who circled the globe with her aunt, Hermione, and now apprehensive about the future instead of enjoying the last days of the trip. There is, however, no shortage of interesting passengers aboard the ship: Professor Ignacz Probrislow's expertise is the criminal mind and is accompanied by his secretary, Mr. Norman Twist. The professor occasionally interpreters for Cardinal DeLaurenti, who doesn't speak a word of English. Vera Nadi is one of the shining stars of moving pictures and is being dogged by a newspaperman named James Clancy. A German governess, Fräulein Reiter, is charged with looking after two energetic, nosy children aboard and there's British Colonel Marris. There are a bunch of Americans, like the millionaire Mr. Ogle, Judge Omar Griffin and Mrs. Griffin, and a pianist of the orchestra whispers words of warning about one of them to Iris.
All in all, a nice a collective of potential suspects to buzz around the promenade deck at the moment, one of them, expertly pushes a knife in the back of Mr. Twist without being seen. I immediately zoomed-in on the wrong suspect, because the book was listed in Robert Adey's Locked Room Murders (1991) as an impossible stabbing and circumstances lead me to believe Beck had retooled a shopworn trick to be audaciously used in the open-air. That was not the case. Not that the actual method was any less daring, but I wouldn't have tagged the book as a (full) impossible crime novel. The name of the character I suspected also cemented my conviction longer than it should've lasted (look up the authors full name).
Evidently, Death in a Deck Chair is a charming emulation of Agatha Christie, but not necessarily of the titles you’d imagine from the description thus far. There are talks about and connections with a European kingdom that has disappeared from the map in the aftermath of The Great War. The shipboard setting and international cast of characters makes you think of Murder on the Orient Express (1934) and Death on the Nile (1937), but Balkan politics, sinister society names Comrades of a New Dawn, false identities and lost royalty creeping to the foreground places the plot closer to The Secret of Chimneys (1925) – which is a book I hadn't thought about or read in a very, very long time. I was actually surprised I remembered parts of that book.