Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Having Wonderful Crime

I'm about halfway through Craig Rice's 1944 novel Having Wonderful Crime. Rice is, of course, the grand dame of mystery mixed with screwball comedy. I hadn't read the novel in thirty years so I came to it fresh. And I was surprised.

Yes, it's larky in its plotting, and usually smart-ass in its dialogue but there are moments that are serious and amazing.

As an alcoholic, I became all too familiar with blackouts and hangovers that kept me in bed for two and three days. Rice opens the book with a long scene involving a man who lacks the strength to get out of bed. He is beseiged by the furies and terrified of what he might have done. This is one of the most powerful morning-after scenes I've ever read. I think most alcoholics would agree with me.

Then there's part of a scene in which Rice (using interior monologue) assess a room full of glamorous people and their worth on the glitz scale. Her observations are worthy of Tom Wolfe at his best and nastiest.

This book makes a good case for what we call today the traditional mystery. It's a pleasure to read as pure entertainment but there's a also a wicked social voice relating the reality of this particular time and this particular strata of society. Despite her reputation, I don't think she's hardboiled. At least not in this book. She's just a very good storyeller reporting back from the eyries of the wealthy and privileged. And laughing up her silk sleeve.

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