Wednesday, June 28, 2017

A Gathering of Gumshoes: Murder in Pastiche (1954), by Marion Mainwaring, Part Two

For the previous post on Marion Mainwaring's Murder in Pastiche, see here.

The fifth detective to horn in on the most perplexing murder case aboard the Florabunda (the slaying of obnoxious syndicated columnist Paul Price) is

Trajan Beare
Most recent Nero Wolfe novel at the time
The Golden Spiders (1953)

It wasn't the group you'd have selected if you wanted a party, unless you hoped for another murder. Pictorially, it had a wide range, from Win and Dolores Despana, neither of them open to any real criticism, to Homer T. Anderson at the other end of the spectrum, looking like something from a 3-D horror film.

Yes, it's an excerpt from the notebook of Archie Goodwin--I mean Ernie Woodbin--right-hand man of Nero Wolfe--make that Trajan Beare.  Mainwaring really captures Archie's pricelessly snappy patter and the structure of the chapter, with Ernie having to cajole Beare into taking up the case and Beare getting all the suspects into his cabin before he announces his deductions, is pure Rex Stout.  Of course by all rights Beare should never have left his New York brownstone domain at all, but, Stout himself managed to break this rule of character a number of times too.

I have the same reaction to that man too sometimes.

Another example of how good Mainwaring is at capturing the authentic nature of "her" sleuths can be seen in the contrasting attitudes of some of the sleuths toward "exotic" actress Dolores Despana. Here's Ernie on the alluring subject:

Beare glared.  He may have recognized her [Dolores] from things I'd said, or he may not.  It didn't matter.  What with his general feeling about women, which is not favourable, and his being away from solid ground, I half expected him to say outright to get out; but he only looked at me in a way that meant I was to say it.

But I ignored him and looked at Dolores.  You could tell that two years ago she'd been buying clothes on Fourteenth Street, and that one year ago she kept a wad of chewing-gum in her cheek; but she was coming along fast and there was certainly nothing wrong with what the eye could see.  I said, "This is Miss Despana," and got her settled in a chair.

Sure Ernie gets in his digs at Dolores, but you get the feeling he might be willing give the actress a whistle, and certainly Ernie knows how to put his lips together and blow.  Broderick Tourneur (aka Roderick Alleyn), on the other hand:

The coarse mockery [from Dolores Despana] grated on Tourneur: nothing else in her composition, he thought, quite matched the miraculous finish of her complexion.  But he sensed something deep underneath the vulgarity.  She is afraid, he told himself.  She is truly, pitifully afraid.

This is in the style of classic Ngaio Marsh, I think: an author for whom murder was not so much a sin, as an error of taste, a social faux pas. Dolores is just too tacky for her oh-so-fastidious sleuth. (Of course by this time he has found a fitting mate in artist Agatha Troy.)

As for Spike Bludgeon's (aka Mike Hammer) reaction to Dolores, read on!

a nice cup of tea
Miss Fan Sliver
Most recent Miss Maud Silver novel at the time
The Silent Pool (1954)

Mr. Waggish looked at Miss Sliver with profound respect.  He asked: "How did you guess it?"
Miss Sliver coughed.  "It was not precisely 'guessing,' Mr. Waggish."

For the record Miss Fan Sliver coughs eleven times in twenty pages, so she more than lives up to her model in that respect.  Mainwaring again captures her sleuth well, but there is less humor in this chapter, probably because Miss Silver just doesn't seem that easy to broadly parody.  I mean, who on earth would dare?

Spike Bludgeon
Most recent Mike Hammer novel at the time
Kiss Me, Deadly (1952)

From the memoirs of Spike Bludgeon:
The fog was like sweat, great and damp and beady, and the ocean was like the grey cold gravy you get in Bowery hash-houses.  Looking in from the deck, the lights in the Lounge were warm and pretty, like twinkly bulbs on a Christmas tree, till you thought about the ship and you saw what it really was, a rotten tub with a cargo of dirt.  Human dirt.  A floating sewer.  The Florabunda.  A place where murder had been done.

Going from Patricia Wentworth to Mickey Spillane is like going from nibbling sandwiches at a ladies church tea to nibbling strippers at the Gold Club, but Mainwaring manages the feat with aplomb.  Her Spike Bludgeon (aka Mike Hammer) chapter is probably the most uproariously funny in the entire book, but then Spillane's psychotic Mike Hammer mysteries virtually compel parody.

All the other sleuths in the story make some contribution to actually solving the case, but Spike Bludgeon...well, read it for yourself.

Spike/Mike sure knows
how to charm a girl
Mainwaring allows Spike to violently twist the mystery into the usual Spillane revenge tale and of course that damn dame Dolores soon falls hard for Spike's irresistible attractions.

"You're so wonderful, Spike," she muttered, "All those ugly scars....your broken nose...and the ear that's chopped off...How could they do it, Spike?  How could anyone bear to hurt you?"
"The ones who did it are dead," I told her.  "People who cross me usually end up that way."

Mrs. Chip-Ebberly is another story, giving Spike "a look a that would have congealed a blast-furnace," so Spike decides to give the haughty Englishwoman "a good lesson in democracy."

Stay tuned for a look at the last two sleuth chapters, which detail the incredible deductions of Mallory King and Lord Simon Quinsey, as well as the novel's amazing conclusion.  Don't worry, it's all spoiler-free!

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