Arnold Emeny was just passing through Florida when he stopped at a fruit stall for an orange. He didn’t expect to find the stall being run by a corpse, propped up on a chair behind the counter. He definitely didn’t expect to find someone else in the stall painting a picture of the corpse. Or a young woman practising the trapeze round the back…
Arnold finds himself getting involved in the lives of those people connected to Lattimer Kell, the victim, shot by the rifle of the local preacher. Nobody particularly cared for Kell, but the local sheriff is convinced that the preacher must be guilty, especially when he disappears. But is anybody’s hatred of Kell enough to inspire them to murder?
The second review on the Countdown to Review 1000, and another Golden Age (ish) author that I’ve not read before. You can blame JJ for this as he enticing reviewed The Voice Of The Corpse, the first of eleven “Corpse” mysteries, so I thought I’d try one and when this lovely dust-jacketed edition caught my eye (for a pittance) I thought, why not? [For info, the twelfth Murray title, Twilight At Dawn, was a biography of sorts of Murray’s father (I think), and was ghost-written by his son. At any rate, it’s not a mystery.]
Well, this is odd. The set-up is even odder when we discover, very early on, that the corpse is behind the counter because the artist wanted a better angle, so picked him up, sat him down and moved the gun. And didn’t call the police. And nobody really seems to make an issue of this…
Reading this book is an odd experience. It’s a whodunit, but not really a clued one. Pretty much anyone could have done it, and they sit around at the end chatting until they sort it all out, which reflects the general laid-back nature of the characters throughout the tale, a nature that adds a layer of unreality to it. It’s like watching events through frosted glass, or after taking a whole bunch of drugs (so I understand – no experience there).
To me, that made the tale somewhat unsatisfying – with everyone behaving like they’re in a sort of fairy tale, it made it hard to get involved with these characters, given you never quite get a handle on how odd it is going to get. It makes it especially hard to get a handle on a possible motive when you have difficulty understanding the characters’ motivations.
So, dear reader, is this a typical Murray title or did I pick the wrong one to start with? Despite the linked titles, these are all standalones with no series sleuth, so you can dive into his work, mostly all available as Green Penguins, at any point, but where should I have started?
I find this one hard to recommend as a mystery, but it’s definitely worth a look, for its oddness if nothing else.
I’m intrigued to read more Murray, but as I’ve said elsewhere I coldn’t fit too many of them into the same year. I’ll try the second one if I track it down, and I can well believe that he may have got tired writing the same sort of thing and this represents the weaker end of his career, but I have no actual basis for that…I can just see the sort of book TVotC was being difficult to keep writing.
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