Thursday, November 28, 2019

Holiday Homicide by Rufus King (1940)

About the author: Rufus King was an American author of Whodunit crime novels. He created two series of detective stories: the first one with Reginald De Puyster, a sophisticated detective similar to Philo Vance, and the second one with his more famous character, the Lieutenant Valcour. (from Goodreads). Also see this article.

Major characters:

  • Myron Jettwick, nut collector, dead as the story opens
  • Miss Emma Jettwick, his sister
  • Helen Jettwick, his widowed sister-in-law AND ex-wife (see note below).
  • Bruce Jettwick, a.k.a. Bruce Lane, 'The Unknown Troubador' of radio fame; Helen's son
  • Jepson "Spider" McRoss, Myron's secretary
  • Wallace Emberry, Myron's lawyer
  • Cotton Moon, detective
  • Bert Stanley, Moon's assistant, our narrator
Note: Helen Jettwick's first marriage was to Alfred Jettwick. They had a son, Bruce. Alfred was run over by a taxi and died prior to the story. Helen then married Alfred's brother, Myron. This marriage ended in divorce. Helen is unattached in this story.

Locale: New York City and Tortuagas (Florida).

Synopsis: Detective Cotton Moon and his sidekick (and our narrator) Bert Stanley are aboard his boat, Coquilla, docked at Wharf House in Manhattan. The boat in the adjacent dock is Myron Jettwick's Trade Wind. Myron has just been found shot. Myron's sister, Miss Emma Jettwick, hires Moon to find the killer, even before the body has cooled.

Circumstantial evidence points to Bruce Jettwick, last to see him alive. Bruce is Myron's nephew - although for a while he was his stepson (see note above). Bruce has a radio show, "The Unknown Troubador" under the name Bruce Lane.

The trouble seems to stem from the acrimonious breakup of Myron and Helen's marriage (her second). Myron had invited all the parties in the divorce on a pleasant everybody-kiss-and-make-up cruise, but the murder occurred before they could sail. 

Moon decides to make the cruise happen after all, and all parties set forth for Tortuagas (an island in the Florida keys). This brings things to a head when an additional murder occurs.

Review: Bev Hankins, in this review on My Reader's Block, pointed out the similarities of Cotton Moon / Bert Stanley to Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe/Archie Goodwin. So as I read, I looked for some similarities ... let's see:

  • Both narrators are our wise-cracking sidekicks
  • Wolfe collects exotic orchids, Moon collects exotic nuts
  • Both are book lovers: Moon repeatedly plugs a real book, A High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes, and even works some of its text into the plot
  • Both wear yellow pajamas!
  • Both have reserved afternoon "executive time"; Wolfe for his orchids, Moon for his nap
  • Both set in New York City
  • Both hire additional P.I.'s rather than do routine legwork themselves
  • Both manipulate apparent evidence to mislead the authorities
  • Both narrators occasionally speak directly to the reader, posing rhetorical questions
  • Moon is much calmer, and does not exhibit explosive anger like Wolfe
  • Bert Stanley makes up snarky nicknames for people based on their personal appearance, rather lowbrow behavior only since duplicated by Donald Trump
This is the sixth Rufus King I have read, and I am surprised how the writing style varies in each. This one mirrors Rex Stout, with the wise-cracking sidekick narrator who doesn't take things too seriously. An enjoyable book, although the denouement is quite convoluted. Still, a good read especially for those who enjoy Rex Stout.

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