If you were living in a New York City apartment building in 1940, it certainly would have been nice to know there was a vacant apartment nearby - just upstairs from yours, really. Think how convenient that might be if you needed a little extra space for something like...oh...how about a cocktail party? That's why Pam North and her husband, Jerry, decided that the vacant apartment was the perfect place to invite their friends to a party. And, really, it was a lovely place. Well, all right, there were a few hidden flaws. Well, yes, I suppose that dead body in the bathtub would have to be considered a flaw. Luckily, that nice New York City homicide cop, Lt. Weigand, didn't really think the Norths could have had anything to do with the murder. Or at least he didn't take the possibility too seriously. Maybe.
Welcome to the pre-war New York City of Pam and Jerry North, and the Mr. and Mrs. North books written by Frances and Richard Lockridge. The Norths began life as a magazine column, then became the subject of some short stories, but they encountered their first real mystery in 1940, in The Norths Meet Murder. The mysteries proved so popular that the Norths quickly turned into a regular radio series, which ran from 1942 to 1954. That first mystery, The Norths Meet Murder, is the subject of this week's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast, and you can listen to my complete review by clicking here.
The story begins with the Norths trying to find a place to hold a cocktail party for their friends. There is a vacant apartment upstairs in their Greenwich Village building, and the landlady doesn’t mind if the Norths do hold a party in it – after all, nobody’s living there, nobody seems to be very interested in renting it, and the place is unlocked anyway.
So the Norths troop upstairs to check the place out – and that’s when they discover the body of that unknown man. Enter Lieutenant Weigand and his assistant, Detective Mullins. Much of the story is told from Weigand’s point of view, as he interviews suspects (a list that, at first, does include the Norths), collects clues and tries to figure out what’s happening.That's when he decides that the Norths can help him, for the killer most likely would be found in the Norths' social circle.
Weigand develops a healthy respect for Pam North, who is given to making pronouncements that may sound somewhat scatterbrained, requiring frequent logic-defying leaps to reach sometimes breathtaking conclusions - but she usually finds the right solution to the puzzles. Early in the book, for example, the Norths tell Lieutenant Weigand that they had heard someone in the downstairs hall who apparently talked his way into the building on the day of the murder by pretending to be delivering a telegram. Pam North says it was the murderer. The men aren’t so sure and say it might have been the victim.
“Nobody,” Mrs. North said, “is going to that much trouble to get murdered. But if you’re going to murder somebody, you expect to go to a lot of trouble. I would."
“Well,” said Mr. North, and then he looked at Lieutenant Weigand. Lieutenant Weigand was looking at Mrs. North in a startled way and, once again, Mr. North recognized an expression which, he knew, he himself often involuntarily assumed. He had an impulse to help the detective, and then he realized that there was nothing he could do. Lieutenant Weigand would have to learn his own way about, like other men. And when he did, Mr. North thought, he would learn that Mrs. North was very likely right.”
You can expect a fair amount of witty dialogue and a clever plot in The Norths Meet Murder. The real fun of these books is in the characters, beginning with Mr. and Mrs. North themselves and including the police and various friends. It is available now as an ebook from MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Media, who provided me with a copy for this review, and it's a pleasant, light read.