--Having Wonderful Crime (1943), Craig Rice
|the IPL reprint edition from 1991|
It's fun to get Rice's somewhat wormy take on the Big Apple, and the mystery--involving our heroes with decapitated bodies, male escorts and Greenwich Village artistes--is certainly wacky enough.
Crime opens with a vignette dealing with a phenomenon with which Rice by this time was well-familiar from her own life: recovering from a terrific hangover.
Instead of enjoying his honeymoon in the company of his brand new bride, the wealthy but homely heiress Bertha Lutts, handsome but impecunious Dennis Morrison (formerly of an escort service), gets blind drunk at the hotel bar. Where drinks are chances are you will find the Justuses--and that's what happens in this case. They befriend Morrison and later that day try to help him when Bertha is found beheaded in her bridal chamber. But wait! That's not Bertha's head!
Who is the dead woman then? And where is Bertha? Faced with this confusion, naturally the Justuses call in their great friend, the pugnacious Chicago defense attorney John J. Malone.
This is a typical kooky, boozy and racy Rice mystery, with an amusing look at New York. Rice has some fun with the publishing business (Jake Justus is trying to write a detective novel), manifold sexual foibles (the book is rather ahead of its time in this regard), Greenwich Village intellectuals (a poetess names Wildavine Williams plays a large role) and the New York police (there's a team of three cops--O'Brien, Birnbaum and Schultz--that sounds like they are trying out for the comedy stage).
The mystery plot is involved, with Malone, Helene and Jake all contributing to the solution, though it is Malone as always who puts everything together, so to speak. Rice does provide clues and a actual ratiocinative process for Malone, even if his explanation involves some rather considerable improbabilities! But demanding strict realism of Rice would spoil a great deal of the fun at which the author so excels. An enjoyable mystery for those who don't mind their mysteries sloshed.