This was the tenth in the long-running series of screwball mysteries featuring Pam and Jerry North, a married couple with (of course) a penchant for solving crimes. He is editing a new book on true crimes and when one of his researchers is poisoned to death the duo go into action. The victim, Amelia Gipson, was an ex school teacher and a very prim and proper lady, with very definite views on everything, including how everybody else should conduct their lives. But has her research for Jerry on old murders resulted in her own?
I submit this review for Bev’s 2015 Golden Age Vintage Mystery Challenge; and Patti Abbott’s Friday’s Forgotten Books meme over at her fab Pattinase blog.
“I thought it was a new suspect, not a new cat,” he said. “Not that I’m not glad you’ve got another cat, Pam.”
It turns out that la Gipson is anything but a harmless old biddy – she was a snoop who made trouble for those who didn’t behave to her strict standards. She got a teacher fired from her old school and several others too before it became apparent that she was making things up and was herself asked to leave. Is it a coincidence that a teacher who lost his job was in the same library when she was poisoned? And what about her nephew and niece, who stood to benefit by her death by inheriting in advance the substantial trust fund she administered on their behalf? Pam and Jerry go to her apartment and immediately detect a perfume that may have belonged to the killer. When the cleaning lady is found murdered, it seems clear that the poison was added to a medicine Gipson regularly took two hours after eating and that murderer used the cleaning lady’s key to enter the apartment. Neither the nephew nor the niece have an alibi for the time the cleaning lady was shot. But could it be that Gipson discovered something about the cases she was researching – or even a secret relating to the writers assigned to turn her notes into chapters for Jerry’s book? Pam certainly thinks it could be all three and comes up with all sorts of ingenious scenarios – is one of them right?
“She was a liar,” the man said. He almost shouted it. “She hurt everybody she could reach. She was a vicious – a vicious, poisonous hag. She …”
The general North formula is adhered to pretty rigidly here – Jerry and Pam get involved as amateurs with support from their friend, Lieutenant Bill Weigand. Pam gets the limelight and goes by hunches that often turn out to be right while making scatterbrained comments along the way, while Jerry tries to keep it all on the straight and narrow. Eventually Pam gets into trouble and has to be rescued, there is a car chase and a final revelation of the villain. The plot is solid and there is plenty of good humour (some of it just a touch risqué in fact) along with Pam usual’s comic asides (we also get a lot of time devoted to the Norths’ new Persian cat, ‘Martini’).
“… there was a great deal of purr for so little cat”
What is also true, and which has stopped me ever really getting into this series, is that the detection is rather plodding (and there is a fairly small circle of suspects, so can;t stretch in too many directions) and the writing (mainly by Richard Lockridge apparently) somewhat pedestrian, distinctly lacking in colour or atmosphere. These books are fun and amusing but I can’t say I have ever managed to get too enthusiastic about them I’m afraid and this one hasn’t changed my opinion.
The Pam and Jerry North Mysteries
- The Norths Meet Murder (1940)
- Murder Out of Turn (1941)
- A Pinch of Poison (1941)
- Death on the Aisle (1942) – reviewed here
- Hanged for a Sheep (1942)
- Death Takes a Bow (1943)
- Killing the Goose (1944)
- Payoff for the Banker (1945)
- Death of a Tall Man (1946)
- Murder Within Murder (1946)
- Untidy Murder (1947)
- Murder Is Served (1948)
- The Dishonest Murderer (1949)
- Murder in a Hurry (1950)
- Murder Comes First (1951)
- Dead As a Dinosaur (1952)
- Curtain for a Jester (1953, aka Death has a small Voice)
- Key to Death (1954)
- Death of an Angel (1955, aka Mr & Mrs North and the Poisoned Playboy)
- Voyage into Violence (1956)
- Long Skeleton (1958)
- Murder Is Suggested (1959)
- The Judge Is Reversed (1960)
- Murder Has Its Points (1962)
- Murder by the Book (1963)
I submit this review for Bev’s 2015 Golden Age Vintage Mystery Challenge bingo in the ‘detective team’ category: