On my "From the Vault" feature last week, I offered you a review of a funny mystery - yes, there are plenty of those around. I found The Corpse C.O.D., by Phoebe Atwood Taylor, which was the subject of that review, thoroughly enjoyable. Several other visitors to the blog, mostly members of Facebook's Golden Age Detection group, have found they don't care for it - though most expressed willingness to read more of Taylor's works.
So...as it happens, I just happen to have another of Taylor's novels about Asey Mayo, "the Codfish Sherlock" on hand to review today, called Diplomatic Corpse. It's also the subject of today's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast, and you are welcome to listen to the complete review by clicking here.
Between 1931 and 1951, Phoebe Atwood Taylor wrote two dozen mysteries set on Cape Cod and featuring Asey Mayo, a life-long Cape Cod resident. Asey has been in many jobs over the course of his career, and he seems to have wound up as right-hand man and general assistant to the young man who inherited and now runs a major car manufacturer, Porter Motors. Diplomatic Corpse was the last book in the series, appearing in 1951. The setting is the Cape Cod town of Quanomet, which is involved in putting on one of those "historic re-enactments" pageants. In Quanomet, it was the Quanomet Associates Annual Pageant, Quanomet Through the Ages. It was a huge undertaking, and the rehearsals and preparations were even more chaotic than usual this year. But there was an undercurrent of something sinister going on – it really appeared as if somebody were trying to sabotage the pageant. Maybe it wasn’t a surprise when one of the key organizers was murdered.
Diplomatic Corpse has a remarkably complicated plot, perhaps reflecting the author’s love for chapters that end in cliffhangers. It begins with a visitor to Quanomet – a man named Buff Orpington. (I mean how many mystery authors name a character after a breed of chicken?) It is Orpington who finds the body of one of the pageant organizers, apparently done in with the traditional blunt instrument. Orpington runs into Asey Mayo – and the rest of the book follows Asey’s efforts to figure out what is going on, why the victim was murdered, and whether the pageant itself or any more of its organizers is in danger. In the course of his investigation, he gets himself knocked out (lucky thing he has a pretty solid skull), his car is stolen several times – come to think of it, a lot of the Quanomet residents seem to think nothing of getting into somebody else’s car and driving away with it. That includes Asey. There is a surprisingly large number of people running around wearing false beards – apparently having something to do with making the historical pageant more realistic. And when Asey figures out the killer’s identity and the motive, he still needs to come up with a way to pin it on the right person – which, of course, he does quite cleverly.
It you’re trying to make sense out of all this…my best advice is, don’t bother. Just sit back and enjoy the writing and the humor, which verges on slapstick. Phoebe Atwood Taylor writes some very funny stuff. Diplomatic Corpse isn't my favorite; I think some of Taylor's earlier books are more tightly written with more believable plots. There’s a large field of suspects and other characters, which can be confusing. But as near-screwball comedy mysteries go, it’s pretty funny, and worth a read.