Ever notice how often people nicknamed "Tiny" are actually pretty big? I know that some people nicknamed "Slim" can get pretty hefty too, and I have met quite a few named "Shorty" who towered over me. So I guess we shouldn't be surprised when somebody nicknamed "Lucky" turns up as a corpse in a classic mystery novel, his body partly hidden in the middle of a giant strawstack in the Great Plains near Wichita, Kansas. "Lucky" was the nickname of a Kansas oilman named Ralph Loundon, and how he died - and how he wound up in that strawstack - are explained in The Strawstack Murder Case, by Kirke Mechem, a 1936 mystery from America's Golden Age of Detective Fiction - and one of the few of the period to be set in America's heartland, the Great Plains states. The Strawstack Murder Case is the subject of today's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast, and you can listen to the entire review by clicking here.
When the local lawmen, Sheriff Andy Burke and County Attorney Jim Warren, are confronted with the murder of Loundon, they have a hard time juggling all the suspects - there are a great many of them - and keeping the clues straight. Fortunately, they have help, in the person of Steven Steele, an amateur detective with a very good track record at solving this kind of crime. Hey, Steele is known as the Philo Vance of the Great Plains, though I'd say in his defense that he has fewer irritatin' habits than S. S. Van Dine's character. At any rate, Steele must deal with the murder investigation and all kinds of other fascinating and dangerous events, including an oil well fire and another murder. And what exactly are those mysterious clumps of animal hair found near the body and elsewhere around the scene of the crime? Our sleuth will solve it all - even finding time to stop at a White Castle stand for some hamburgers.
Mystery historian Curtis Evans gets credit for calling my attention to The Strawstack Murder Case, and he has contributed an informative and entertaining introduction to the newly-reprinted book from Coachwhip Publications. In that introduction, he notes, "The Strawstack Murder Case merits reprinting today as a fine formal example of a classical Golden Age detective novel that takes modern mystery readers down a road traveled but infrequently in crime genre tales." For fans of the American Golden Age mystery, Kirke Mechem's book makes a fine addition to your collections.