Mr. and Mrs. North and their glam and fab murder life

A few years ago, I read The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett. I had never seen the movie with Myrna Loy and William Powell as Nick and Nora Charles, but I had a mental picture that led me to believe that I would love this book. It would be fabulously glamorous, with sparkle – both in the champagne and the banter – to spare, and a side serving of crime detection.

Unfortunately, that’s not really what I experienced when I actually read the book – although that may well be the aesthetic of the movie.

And then I met Jerry and Pamela North.

First published in 1940, this is the book that I thought I would be reading when I read The Thin Man. Jerry and Pamela are a young couple who live in a Greenwich Village apartment. Jerry ostensibly works, and Pamela ostensibly does not. They don’t yet have children, although there is a cat who figures in the book. Being young, fabulous, moderately financially secure, and otherwise ordinary young people living in 1940’s New York, they like a good cocktail party. Pamela decides that the empty upstairs apartment provides a perfect location for a soiree, and when they jaunt upstairs to check it out, they find a dead body in the tub.

Jerry is fine, but Pamela is a delight – a total firecracker. The Norths meet Detective William Weigand, who inexplicably goes by Loot, and they make friends and commence investigating. I really enjoyed this book.

According to Wikipedia, Charles Silet, in his article Married Sleuths, states as follows:

“The Mr. and Mrs. North novels contain carefully crafted puzzles and the Lockridges usually play fair with their readers. The series also features Pam and Jerry’s warmly humorous domestic environment and the couple’s witty exchanges with the duller members of the police force. Although the Norths remain the focus of the series, the books contain a good deal of political and social commentary, a richly detailed look at the changing life in New York City, as well as glimpses of the outlying suburban counties. Also, the North’s stable marriage relationship presents a marked contrast—and a welcome one—to the traditions of the lone detective characteristic of much other American mystery fiction. Even though the Mr. and Mrs. North novels now may appear overly deliberate in their pacing, they still prove wonderful reading as mysteries, and the glimpses they provide of our past social history give them a nostalgic and authentic period flavor. Aficionados of classic crime fiction have always appreciated this long-running series, and new readers should be encouraged to discover this witty and charming couple.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Following up on The Norths Meet Murder, I checked out the second book in the series, Murder Out Of Turn, which takes place at a summer hideaway in upstate New York, where Jerry and Pamela vacation at a rustic cabin with their friends. We are reintroduced to many of the characters from the first book. The Norths have become quite good friends with Detective Weigand, so they invite him to join them for part of their summer holiday. Naturally, murder ensues, when a friends ends up with knife in the back.

There is a lot of tennis playing, canoeing and other recreation going on in this book, as well as quite a bit of back and forth between the city. Detective Weigand meets Dorian Hunt, who catches his attention and, possibly, also his heart. It was still delightful, although not so delightful as the first book.

The third book in the series steps outside of the North’s close circle of friends – which is good, because otherwise they probably wouldn’t have any friends left. Detective Weigand is trying to figure out if Dorian Hunt, whom he met in the last book, is as interested in him as he is in her, and, simultaneously, gets pulled into the poisoning murder of a socialite that happened on the ever so glamorous rooftop bar of the Ritz Carlton. Pamela, once again, proves that she is as quick-witted (more quick-witted) than any of the men in the story by working out the motive and the murderer before anyone else has it completely solved.

I’ve heard that the fourth book, Death on the Aisle is a terrific mystery. I have it checked out, so I’ll be finding out as soon as I finish up a book or two, so I can continue my acquaintance with the Norths and their very murderous life.

The Secret of Greylands by Annie Haynes

Title: The Secret of Greylands
Author: Annie Haynes
First published in 1924

Plot Summary from Goodreads: “There’s no dirty trick he wouldn’t play—it’s my belief that he wouldn’t even stop at murder!”

Her husband unmasked as a scoundrel, Lady Cynthia Letchingham seeks refuge at her cousin Hannah’s north-country home Greylands. But on Cynthia’s arrival, she finds Hannah an invalid, having recently suffered a mysterious paralysis; the house is devoid of servants, and Hannah’s husband, charming and sinister by turns, keeps watch over everything and everyone. Only the presence of charming Sybil Hammond and a darkly handsome neighbour relieve the atmosphere for Cynthia – but then a dark red stain appears mysteriously on the sleeve of her coat…

This was the first golden age side read for an Agatha Christie group that I started on GR, where we will be reading all 66 of Christie’s full length mysteries in publication order, starting in October in honor the Christie centenary. Prior to nominating Annie Haynes for our first side read, I had never heard of her – I happened upon her when I was googling for information about Christie’s first publisher, Bodley Head, and then I saw that Haynes had been picked up by Dean Street Press, one of my favorite small presses that is reissuing golden age mystery fiction. A little bit more research, and I was in.

If you are in the US, and are so inclined, you could purchase all 12 of her mysteries for your kindle for under $12.00, as they are all priced at .99. I’m not saying that I’ve done that, just that a person could do that. If they wanted to. OK, I confess. I did. I bought them all.

Which is why it’s excellent that I really enjoyed this book – because now I have 11 more to read! It had a wonderful gothic flavor and was just pure entertainment. Set on the well-trod ground of the English moors, it owed a lot of its sensibility to the Bronte sisters, with the mysterious manor house, the creepy husband and the inexplicably ill relative.

The main character is one of those swooning-and-blushing ingenues that we see a lot in early golden age fiction – so desperately dim that she can’t see what’s right in front of her face. She’s the 1920’s version of the cheerleader in the horror flick, who, instead of running away, hides in the shed behind the chainsaws, as Geico so hilariously points out in this commercial.

Drive away in the running car? Terrible idea! Let’s hide behind the chainsaws in the creepy barn!

Anyway, Cynthia’s dim-bulbery notwithstanding, this book is a whole lot of fun. It’s unlikely to fool very many modern readers for even one minute, but the setting and tone are fantastic and it’s a very fast read. I was strongly reminded of some of Patricia Wentworth’s mysteries, which also frequently seem to feature this same sort of young woman with no instinct for self-preservation, particularly The Case is Closed and The Black Cabinet. It felt like a precursor to the gothic romances of the 1960’s and 1970’s written by authors like Victoria Holt and Phyllis Whitney.

What else can you buy for .99 that will provide 3 or so hours of enjoyment? Nothing. That’s what.