It would be fair to say that Bill Tracy was not having a good day. Tracy, an ex-reporter now writing soap operas for radio, was not happy to pick up a newspaper and read about the murder of his boss, shot by some loon wearing a Santa Claus suit (in New York City in August). The problem for Tracy was simple: the killer had stolen the whole idea of the murder from one of Tracy's new radio scripts. One of his newly-written and still unpublished radio scripts. That was not going to make the police - or Tracy - very happy...
That's the start of a very funny and rather outrageous book called Murder Can Be Fun, by Fredric Brown, first published in 1948 under the title, A Plot for Murder. You can find a full audio review of Murder Can Be Fun on the Classic Mysteries podcast this week, and you can listen to it by clicking here.
As if that murder cribbed from one of his unpublished scripts weren't enough to give Bill a major headache, it quickly got worse: there was soon another murder - this time in Bill's own apartment building - where, once again, the method of murder was one taken directly from another of Bill Tracy's new scripts that had never left his apartment.
If you’re at all familiar with Fredric Brown's mysteries, most of which, sadly, are out of print, you should realize that he had a bizarre sense of humor, and this kind of plot is the kind that he did really well. Tracy, of course, will get deeply involved in the case – the police, after all, are kind of interested in how anyone but Bill might have known what was in his manuscripts. There are all kinds of complications arising from Bill’s "regular" work on the scripts for the soap opera called Millie’s Millions, particularly when he gets an attractive young stenographer to help him write the shows.
And then there's the drinking. Bill (and the other characters, to be sure) put away enough liquor among them to account for the output of a pretty good-sized distillery. I'd say he makes Nick and Nora Charles look like teetotalers. Tracy's usual condition might be described as ranging between slightly inebriated and "good and stinkingly drunk."
What we have, overall, is a fine, complex comic mystery. I think the solution ultimately is a bit weak – but frankly I was laughing too hard to care very much about that. I think you'll enjoy Bill Tracy's company, share his fully justified concerns and fears - and read the book to find out just how the killer DID manage to steal those ideas from Bill's manuscripts. Murder Can Be Fun has been reissued as a Print on Demand trade paperback by Blackmask Online. I think you'll enjoy it.
Murder Can Be Fun is another entry in the My Reader's Block blog Vintage Mystery Bingo reading challenge, fulfilling the requirement on the "Golden" score card for "a book published under more than one title."