Friday, December 8, 2017

Forgotten Books: RED GARDENIAS by Jonathan Latimer (1939)

It took me a long time to reread and review all five books in the Bill Crane series. Not because I'm a slow reader (though I suppose I am), but because I wanted to savor each one, and spend some time anticipating the next. And I'm finally finished. And yeah, these books lived up to my first impressions (and then some) and were worth the wait. If anything, I'm more impressed with Latimer than I was on my first journey through his works, some thirty years ago.

That said, Red Gardenias is not his best book. I'm forced to rate it the least enjoyable of the series, which is to say it's not great -- merely good. For me, the series reached its highpoint of hedonistic hilarity with the previous entry, The Dead Don't Care. It's hard for me to imagine Latimer outdoing himself after that one, and I have to suspect he couldn't either. So instead he gave us a slightly more mature Crane -- or at least one feeling the pangs of maturity -- and allowed him to fall in love. 

Crane still does a lot of drinking here, ably abetted by his detecting pal Doc Williams, but he doesn't enjoy it as much. Cherchez la femme, you might say, and you'd be right. The case sends him undercover, with his boss's daughter Ann Fortune pretending to be his wife. That begins well enough, but Ann soon starts acting like a real wife and criticizes his drinking. And as the story unfolds, Crane discovers he cares what she thinks of him and starts acting like a husband. A well-lit husband, to be sure, but still . . .
The case itself is certainly up to Latimer standards, as is the supporting cast. Crane's undercover role is an advertising copywriter for a family-run company that manufactures appliances, a job that would drive just about anyone to drink. One family member is dead, smelling of gardenias, and not everyone believes it was suicide. They believe it even less when the guy's brother dies under similar circumstances, and much of the suspicion falls on the vamp whose had her hooks in every man in the family, and is now sinking them into William Crane. 

My takes on the earlier Crane books are here:
Headed for a Hearse
The Lady in the Morgue
Murder in the Madhouse
The Dead Don't Care


George said...

Jonathan Latimer is an underrated writer. RED GARDENIAS contains plenty of good writing and surprises!

TracyK said...

Oh, my, that is a lovely cover (hardback dust jacket). I will see if I can get an earlier book in the series.