I happened to blog the first two Edgar Box mysteries back on May 10 (Gore-y Death) and May 17 (Country House Murders of Edgar Box) of this year. But I never got around to blogging the last Edgar Box novel, Death Likes It Hot (1954), dubbed at the time "a first-rate comedy of manners" by American mystery critic Anthony Boucher. So here I take the opportunity of doing so.
|Box, Mr. Box|
Death Likes It Hot starts off quite quirkily with Vidal discussing the latest New York newspaper death sensation:
The death of Peaches Sandoe the midget at the hands, or rather feet, of a maddened elephant in the sideshow of the circus at Madison Square Garden was at first thought to be an accident, the sort of tragedy you're bound to run into from time to time if you run a circus with both elephants and midgets in it. A few days later, though, there was talk of foul play....
Well, darn it all, in this novel our hero, debonair public relations he-man Peter Sargeant, never does get involved with this particular case!
It seems Mrs. Veering, wealthy Long Island matron, is determined to be the next big thing in Hamptons hostessing, so she hires Sargeant to help her map out a strategy campaign. Soon Sargeant is on the Long Island Cannon Ball Express, on the way to his client's current country house party, where murder quickly strikes (a suspicious ocean drowning of one of the guests).
"Dinner was a forced affair...."
Hot is filled with acidulous humor, as any Edgar Box reader by this time had no doubt come to expect. The novel actually reads rather like the love child, so to speak, of Agatha Christie and Raymond Chandler!
But much of the fun too is in the satirical, sardonic narration of Peter Sargeant, who reminds me of a much less idealistic version of Chandler's great 'tec, Philip Marlowe. It soon emerges that Sargeant's rich client is a pronounced dipsomaniac, rather reminiscent of a character in Chandler's mystery The High Window.
Vidal has a lot of fun describing Mrs. Veering--"a combination of Hetty Green and lush"--and her avid pursuit of liquid refreshment:
Mrs. Veering stirred her orange juice with her forefinger: I wondered what pale firewater it contained. Probably gin, the breakfast drink.
In Death Like It Hot Vidal seems to have it quite in for "lady novelists" in general (Agatha Christie excepted). Another target of his ire is "Francine Karpin Lock" (obviously Frances Parkinson Keyes).
Perhaps Vidal can be accused of a certain sexism in the Hot, but, on the other hand, the author-target in his previous book was Truman Capote! And in Hot the male characters are mocked too (as well as bad grammar):
"What can I do you for?" were, I'm afraid, the first words the bereaved husband said to me when I joined him...."A martini," I said.
As is Hamptons society in general! Here Vidal/Sargeant talks about what makes one part of the "nice" set at the Ladyrock Yacht Club:
Part of being nice means you belong to the Club and deplore the presence in the community of such un-nice elements as Jews, artist, fairies and celebrities, four groups which, given half a chance, will, they feel, sweep all that's nice right out to sea.
Eventually Sargeant collars a killer and order--of a sort--is restored on the Hamptons. The rich can rest easy again. The novel ends with the indication that Peter Sargeant may end up getting involved in that Peaches Sandoe circus midget case after all.
Sadly, however, we never saw from the hand of Gore Vidal a fourth Edgar Box detective novel, entitled, say, Death Clowns Around.
And now we never will. But we at least have the three Edgar Box tales, with their moderately naughty depictions of fifties fun and crimes. RIP Edgar Box.