Thursday, November 7, 2013

Book Review: 32 Caliber

This is a short book (a novelette or novella or whatever the preferred term is) of about 120 or so pages (I read it in ebook format, so I'm not sure about pages). It was copyrighted in 1920, and it definitely shows its age – not always charmingly so.

I am a fan of books of this era and am used to racial, class, and gender attitudes that are not in line with current thinking. I generally just shrug it off as an artifact of the times. I did the same with this book, but let me warn you that it took a hell of a lot of shrugging.

Given that the story is rather short, an added problem is that the author seems uncertain whether he is writing a mystery or a romance. I enjoy a mystery that includes some sort of love interest for the protagonist, but in this case, of the 120 pages, the author has split them about sixty pages each between mystery and romance. The result, as you might expect, is that neither element is developed very satisfactorily.

The basic story here is that of the eternal triangle. A young lawyer is having domestic problems and the story begins with his wife telling him she wants a divorce. A nasty scene (overheard by the servants) follows, in which the husband, wife, and boyfriend threaten each other, joined in by the husband’s law partner, who is also the wife’s brother (though he seems to like his partner much better than his sister).

The husband digs up some dirt on the boyfriend’s business dealings and lets him know about it, also telling his wife, who is temporarily still with him. The boyfriend calls and asks for a meeting with the husband, telling him to come – alone – to the country club they all belong to at a specific time. The husband comes, but brings his wife and the car goes off the road on the way, killing him and badly injuring her.

You’ll not be surprised to learn that it was not an accident. He had been shot in the head. Suspicion falls, naturally enough, on the wife, who had a gun of the correct caliber (.32, of course). The law partner investigates, quite ineptly, in order to clear his sister.

The other principal suspect, the boyfriend, has a strong alibi, having been seen at the country club eating his dinner at about the time of the shooting.

There were also a bunch of Bolsheviks thrown in as suspects, one of whom had been convicted of sedition during the war, largely through the victim’s efforts, and had upon his recent release threatened those who had put him away. They just happened to be driving on that road at precisely the time of the killing.

A major no-no for reviews of mysteries is spoilers. So I will give you adequate warning that I am about to tell you how this crime was committed. I am doing so in full confidence that you won’t believe me anyway. What I’ll do, though, is put the spoiler in reverse type – if you want to see the solution, highlight the text that follows:

The villain (the boyfriend, of course) flew a plane, taking off and landing from the fairway of the country club, and machine-gunned the victim from the air. He was not gone long from the dining room because it was near the fairway.

See, I told you you wouldn’t believe it.

Oh, and the reader is also supposed to believe that the police were so slipshod that they never noticed that the car in which the victim was driving had bullet holes in it. A bunch of them. I know cops were supposed to be dumb in a lot of the books of that era, but this seems to be rather stretching things.

To end on a positive note, I enjoyed the book despite the many, many flaws, primarily because it was such an interesting picture of upper-class attitudes of the time (the protagonist is very concerned with maintaining his family’s image), and especially because of the insight into political thinking. Bolsheviks, though they actually played little role in the story (it felt like they were thrown in just to provide another suspect(s), but even the author never seemed to really believe that they could have done it) were very much on people’s minds at the time – the Palmer Red Raids took place in late 1919 and early 1920, while the Sacco-Vanzetti trial was in 1921.

No comments:

Post a Comment