Part of what makes The Lady in the Morgue (1935) so great is the three-way repartee between Crane as his two detective pals, Williams and O'Malley. Doc Williams had a solid role in the first book, Headed for a Hearse, and appeared only briefly in number 3, Murder in the Madhouse. O'Malley makes his first appearance here. Together, they're sort of a cross between the Three Musketeers and the Three Stooges, and if there's another trio like them anywhere in crime fiction, I'd like to know about it.
The story starts, as you might expect, with a lady in the morgue. When her body is stolen, everyone either blames Crane or insists that he find her - and, in the process, find out who she was. Caught between two rival mobsters, a society family, and their demanding boss Colonel Black, Crane and friends drink up half the liquor in Chicago and engage in plenty of good-natured lechery on their quest to solve the mystery.
I'm impressed with every line of Latimer's prose, but I was particularly fond of this single long paragraph in the middle of a party scene:
Somebody had turned up the radio until the music sounded as though it were being played by the United States Marine Band. A girl was dancing on the terrace in an orange-colored chemise. Somebody was smashing crockery in the kitchen. Two men were being dissuaded with difficulty from fighting. A baby-faced blonde borrowed a dollar from Crane for cab fare home. A couple were necking on one of the davenports. Three men were bitterly arguing politics on the other. A man in shirt sleeves asked O'Malley if he was having a good time. O'Malley asked him what the hell business it was of his. The man said he was sorry. He said he wouldn't have asked except that he was giving the party and wanted everybody to have a good time. O'Malley accepted his apology. A baby-faced blonde borrowed a dollar for cab fare home from Williams. Somebody fell over a chair on the terrace. Two girls were wading in the fountain. A gold watch flipped from the pocket of a man trying to Charleston on the terrace, shattered itself on the polished tile. Williams asked the girl in the nightgown which wasn't a nightgown for her telephone number and she tossed him a handkerchief, and what do you think? The number, Superior 7500, in green thread in one corner, so all you had to do was to keep the handkerchief. A baby-faced blonde borrowed a dollar for cab fare home from O'Malley. The redhead, Dolly, passed out and had to be put to bed.
Now that's a party!
Preston Foster starred in a movie version in 1938 - a movie I still hope to see someday. Don't know how good it is, but the ad copy sounds pretty close to the mark:
More Forgotten Books at pattinase!