Eight Faces At Three (1939) by Craig Rice

There was a bizarre atmosphere in the house when Holly Inglehart woke up. As if still in a dream, she wandered the silent, empty house, finding that all of the clocks had for some reason stopped at three o’clock. And then she finds the dead body of her tyrannical aunt…

It seems to be an open and shut case for the police – Holly’s fingerprints were on the knife and she had a motive, given she was about to be disinherited. But she has some people who believe that she might not be guilty – her friend, the debutante Helene Brand and her new husband’s press agent, Jake Justus. They bring in John J Malone, a lawyer notorious for getting guilty clients off of serious charges, but with no viable suspects apart from Holly and a story that nobody quite believes, can even he get Holly off of a murder charge?

I read Trial By Fury, the fifth Malone title, recently and to be honest, I wasn’t desperately excited by it. In particular, Rice didn’t really bother to introduce the three leads in any depth or indicate much of their history, so, after seeing a favourable review of this one over at The Invisible Event, I thought I’d give it a try. And I’m very glad that I did.

The opening chapter is very well done, with a creepy atmosphere as Holly finds stopped clock after stopped clock. Then we gradually get to know Jake and Helene – they are the real leads, Malone just appears to move the plot forward. As such, the reader begins to understand the characters much more than being dropped in cold, and the final scenes with the two of them are rather nice. It’s an odd tone, as it doesn’t feel much like a comedy but some of the events seems to be almost out of a farce – the “jailbreak” for example.

You do have to wonder how Jake and Helene manage to achieve anything given that they are permanently boozing. It reminds me of a sketch from The Mary Whitehouse Experience (old 90s sketch show) about Morse and his drinking – basically on finding a body, he bursts into tears and starts hugging Lewis, claiming he’s his best friend. Funnier than I’m describing it, but it’s not on Youtube. There’s one lovely scene where Helene becomes more determined to work out how to slide a glass safely along a bar, rather than prove her friend’s innocence, but it’s not an isolated occurrence.

All in all, it’s not perfect. There’s an obvious question that isn’t asked for a long time that really should have been which would have sped things up enormously, but the truth, when revealed, is rather clever. I always like a mystery where the writer does something clever with a small circle of suspects, as is the case here. A great place to start the series.

One comment

  1. Thanks for the review. To date I’ve read three novels by Craig Rice, and haven’t been especially gripped. Thankfully, all three turned out better-clued at the end than the zany ride up till the resolution promised. But I’m not always sure I am the right audience for these humorous, somewhat incidentally- (or, if I were to view it positively, subtly-) clued mysteries… JJ’s review of this opening title made me think I should give Rice another shot, so thanks for the reminder. In any case, I feel like I shouldn’t give up on Rice until I read ‘Home Sweet Homicide’.

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