Saturday, June 7, 2014

Road Show: Having Wonderful Crime (1943), by Craig Rice

"I came here," [Malone] said loudly, "under false pretenses.  You long-distanced me yesterday afternoon and lured me into coming to New York.  You said you had a problem and you needed my help immediately.  You said I could spend a pleasant vacation in New York and have a wonderful time. He paused to drink his beer and relight his cigar. "....I caught the train.  I got here.  And what did I find?...I found some strange drunk with a murder on his hands...."
                                                          --Having Wonderful Crime (1943), Craig Rice

the IPL reprint edition from 1991
Having taken her sleuthing team of Jon J. Malone and Helene and Jake Justus from their native Chicago to small-town Wisconsin in Trial by Fury (1942), where she could draw on her childhood background, in Having Wonderful Crime she marched them off to New York City, the setting of so many American mystery novels.

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.


  1. I think this was the first book by Craig Rice that I ever encountered and I had no idea of what to expect but it was great fun and I loved every minute of the insane goings-on. J J Malone and his casual attitude to money and his love of wine women and song was such a complete change from the sort of Dudley Doright, sobersided detectives that I had been reading it was like a sudden plunge into an icy lake when one has been labouring in the heat. He left me completely invigorated and remains one of my fictional favourites to this day.

  2. Malone is fun; I particularly liked his session with Wildavine Williams here.

  3. I read Trial by Fury years ago, and quite liked it, but not enough to chase her down - it was quite difficult to find Craig Rice books in the UK at that time. I wonder if it easier now? - I feel I should try her again.