Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Book Review - J.J. Murphy's You Might As Well Die

Your Might As Well Die: Algonquin Round Table Mystery 2 by J.J. Murphy
Published by: Signet
Book provided by the author
Publication Date: December 6th, 2011
Format: Paperback, 336 Pages
Challenge: Mystery and Suspense 2011
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy
Ernie MacGuffin is a truly bad artist. No one likes his art and no one much likes him. He decides to end it all and gives his suicide note to Dorothy Parker figuring she'll understand. Yet Dorothy feels that something is not quite right when she sees the scene of the crime on the Brooklyn Bridge. Something doesn't add up, and to top it off, New York seems to be going cuckoo, now they all love MacGuffin and his work! The paintings values have skyrocketed. Ernie's ex mistress decides to make a little extra for herself claiming that she's a medium and starts holding seances to talk to the deceased Ernie. Parker has Benchley benched for most of her investigation because she has a real seance skeptic to aid her, none other than Harry Houdini! He would give anyone good money to prove that there was contact with the other side. And who's Dorothy to turn up her noise at good money when her credit is no longer good at the local speakeasy.

Detective work is hard, detective work while sober is even harder. Racing around the city trying to figure out all the crosses and double crosses, Dorothy feels like she's in Harpo and Woollcott's famous game of croquet, being played anywhere and everywhere, football fields to rooftops to theatres! While solving the mystery of what truly is going on with MacGuffin is well and good, getting enough money to pay off her bar tap is the final solution.

Again JJ Murphy has delighted me beyond measure. Witty banter, shenanigans, antics, croquet and the sheer joy of a 1920s or 1930s screwball comedy. With the addition of Houdini as a stronger foil than Faulkner in the first installment, the book just hummed along. Also, addressing, even in a sideways manner, Dorothy's struggle with depression and her several attempts at suicide was a nice nod to the fact that Dorothy's life was much more than it appeared on the surface. What really made the book work for me though was two things I have a very strong interest in: art and spiritualism. The whole idea of an artists work being more valuable after their death has led, I am sure, to many artists thinking of pretending to die, I know, I've thought of it, but then, creating a new identity and all that rigmarole, too much effort, especially if the market is soft at the time or if they don't go up in value till a significant time after your "death."

The spiritualism is what also gripped me. I find it interesting that the next book will have Arthur Conan Doyle as the literary guest star, who was a huge proponent of spiritualism, and who in fact was good friends with Houdini, until they clashed over the idea of life after death. Houdini wanted to believe, desperately, but as a showman, he could see through all the hoaxes and tricks better than anyone else. The whole history of this time period, the Cottingly Fairies, the unexplainable versus the people obviously tapping at tables just enthralls me. I went to an exhibit a few years ago at the MET where they showed all these original pictures as "proof" of spirits... while the pictures where interesting, much like Houdini, I think I need some more solid proof. I don't need more proof though as to how much I love this series. It's going to be a long hard wait for that next book, much like Dorothy waiting for a drink.


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