You know the score: a tough-guy PI in a business slump, sitting in his office typing out a letter using one finger (real men don’t type), when in walks a knockout redhead with “everything that should go with red hair”. She needs his help, he’s her last chance. Well of course, sweets, what seems to be the problem? She’s being hunted, y’see, someone wants to kill her. Calm down, baby doll what’s his name? Well, that’s the problem; she’s being hunted by…Martians. It’s a lovely little moment of confounded expectations early on in Brown’s pulpy tale and sets the tone for the number of conventions he refuses to conform to as things progress. And, since he’s far from smug about it, it works very well indeed.
Okay, I’ve had nearly two months off and have been promising this review for that whole time, so let’s see if I can remember how this works…
Animals and their involvement in impossible crimes enjoy a long history, from the works of Edgar Allan Poe and Arthur Conan Doyle all the way up to the Jonathan Creek episode The House of Monkeys. Approximately halfway between these two we have Roman McDougald’s mandrill Geva, resident of your classical American Millionaire’s Household and on hand when said millionaire is found murdered in frankly baffling circumstances: in his office, stabbed in the back, with both doors into the room unlocked. Yes, unlocked. And yet he failed to leave the room while being attacked – the trail of blood he left leads from his desk to one door, then the other, and halfway back again – or raise the alarm in any way before the killer escaped.
This book would have completely passed me by but for TomCat’s list of favourite locked room novels over at Beneath the Stains of Time, which has proved a launching pad for my investigations into some of the less-heralded authors who dabbled in our shared passion. However, that erudite locked room expert and I are going to disagree on this one: I don’t really rate it. The puzzle of an unlocked room is a fantastic notion, and the later locked room murder of one of the suspects is a nice addition (if rather basic, and likely to infuriate S.S. van Dine), but mainly this is slightly over-long and moderately dull standard fare that offers little you can’t afford to miss.