Friday, June 11, 2010

Forgotten Book: Murder in the Madhouse by Jonathan Latimer

One justification for collecting (or amassing) books is the possibility I’ll want to read them again someday. In most cases, I’m sad to say, that never happens. There are just too many other still unread, too many new ones being published, too many old ones coming to my attention, and too many new interests clamoring to be satisfied.

But once in a while I do pull out an old book for a second go-round, and my usual reaction is, "Damn. Why did I wait so long?"  So it was with Murder In the Madhouse.

Private Detective William Crane (in this book he is never called “Bill”) goes undercover in a private sanitarium to solve the mystery of an inmate’s stolen bonds.  He makes no secret of the fact he is a great detective, dazzling the doctors and staff with a display of deductive reasoning.  “Now,” says Crane, “I insist that you release me.”

“No,” said Dr. Livermore shortly. “There men are going to take you to your room.”

The driver and another man in a white jacket stepped beside Crane. Both had blood on their faces, and the driver’s ear was bandaged. Crane hit him on his bandaged ear. He tossed a Chinese lamp at Dr. Livermore. Then, as his arms were seized, he kicked Dr. Eastman on the jaw. Then he kicked him in the stomach.

Dr. Livermore shouted, “Take him away. Put him in detention.”  Dr. Eastman writhed on the floor.  No one paid any attention to him. At the door William Crane halted his captors by bracing his feet against the wall.

“You can’t lock me up,” he answered earnestly. “I am C. Auguste Dupin.”

So begins my return trip through the complete works of Jonathan Latimer. Along with these two larcenous doctors and the bombshell nurse who leads them both by the nose, the madhouse features a little man who communicates only in gestures, a guy who believes he’s Abe Lincoln, a society dame who thinks Crane may be her dead husband, and a little old lady who likes to get naked. Oh yeah, there’s also a night guard seeking instructions from the archangel Gabriel.

The madness never stops.

Latimer was one of the very best writers of the drunk & funny school of hardboiled detecting, and the good news is he penned four other adventures of William Crane, plus five non-series novels. Don’t be surprised to see me raving about them all as the Almanack rolls merrily along.

Headed for a Hearse (1935) - Crane
The Lady in the Morgue (1935) - Crane
The Search for My Great-Uncle's Head (1937) - as by Peter Coffin
The Dead Don't Care (1938) - Crane
Red Gardenias (1939) - Crane
Dark Memory (1940)
Solomon's Vineyard (1941) - aka The Fifth Grave
Sinners and Shrouds (1955)
Black is the Fashion for Dying (1959) - aka The Mink-Lined Hearse

(More good news. The only one of these not reprinted in the past 25 years is Dark Memory - an African safari novel - and old copies of that are not hard to come by.  This means all these books are semi-readily available.)

Check out Patti Abbott's always-amazing collection of Forgotten Book links on pattinase.


Todd Mason said...

I've been meaning to read Laitmer for something like twenty years...I used to work with a stone fan of his novels, atop his significance and reputation generally...someday, maybe sooner.

Randy Johnson said...

I need to look this one up.

Like you, I very seldom read a book more than once. And for all the same reasons. There are a half dozen that I've read more than twice in my long reading lifetime. Since I started on these Forgotten Books, I'vr e reread more books than ever, mainly to refresh my memory.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Rereading books is something I now do without meaning to.

George said...

And, of course, Art Scott is quoted on the cover of a Jonathan Latimer reprint.

Todd Mason said... did you update your entry date/time-wise so that blogrolls like Bill's accepted it as a new blog entry? When I've tried this, it doesn't work.

Evan Lewis said...

True, Randy. FFBs does encourage rereads, which seems to be a good thing.

Me too, Patti. Deja vu all over again.

Jeez, George, I didn't know about the Art blurb. What words of wisdom did he share with the world?

Well, Todd, I like to put up the next day's posts before I go to bed so I can fix glitches in the formatting. So under "post options" I select "automatic" to put the post up right away. Then I go back to "post options" and select "scheduled at", entering the next morning's time and date. Hope that helps.

Richard R. said...

I too have intended to read Latimer for years without doing so. I don't even have a book of his here, and doubt I'll get one soon due to overload. But this does sound good and a lot of fun.

Todd Mason said...

Thanks, Evan, but for some reason when I do precisely that, it doesn't reappear as a new post on the running blogrolls such as Bill's and yours. Odd.

Me, I just accidentally buy the same issues of fiction magazines twice. I haven't bought any three times yet, afaik.

Richard Prosch said...

I think I'd pick up either of these copies for the cool covers alone. Great post.

Cap'n Bob said...

Coincidentally, I read RED GARDENIAS a few weeks ago. Good stuff.

Rusty James said...

Latimer's books are all now available on Kindle