Detective Tales Set In Early 20th Century
Quintet: The Cases of Chase and Delacroix
By Richard A. Lupoff
Crippen & Landru Publishers, 2008, $43/$17
The years are those of the 1920s and 1930s, but the writing of Richard A. Lupoff is contemporary.
A quintet it is not. Six short stories, or short novellas, make up this entertaining volume. Five of the six stories feature the brilliant Akhenaton Beelzebub Chase and his glamorous assistant, Claire Delacroix, who solve puzzling crimes for Capt. Cleland Baxter of the San Francisco Police Department's detective bureau.
The sixth tale, equally baffling, features San Francisco newspaper reporter Burt Van Hopkins, who later becomes Claire's friend and participates in one of the other investigations.
Lupoff is a sly writer, and the atmosphere surrounding the Chase/Delacroix solutions is as luxurious as is the curious quality of each plot. Abel, as Chase is best known, for obvious reasons, and Claire share a mansion in Berkeley, which Lupoff describes in those days as "a sleepy college town."
Their relationship, although cordial, is not sexual, which was standard for murder mysteries of that era. However, they share mutual interests in music and intellectual pursuits, and both move in a hurry when Baxter shows up with an intriguing mystery.
In "The Case of the Dark Star" the pair explores the strange disappearance of a talented movie star who failed to show up for a party hosted by none other than William Randolph Hearst. As they search for a solution, the sleuths learn surprising details about the starlet's background.
Other stories tell of an actor who died, the apparent victim of a vampire, a diver whose underwater equipment surfaces without him, an aviatrix whose passenger is missing when she lands, and the eccentric rare books expert who eats cannoli laced with strychnine.
However, it is the tongue-in-cheek style of Lupoff that makes the stories come alive. Abel and Claire drive a Hispano-Suiza and pilot a gyroplane. Their dress is elegant, they play a variety of instruments, and dine on fine foods and fine wines. Claire has a medical degree, which she does not use. Abel is a university professor.
Lupoff inserts tidbits from history at the beginning of most stories, reminding the reader of little-known details leading up to the Stalinist and Nazi eras and of better-known facts that serve as a backdrop to these diverse plots.
Humorous sidelines are occasions when the erudite and eclectic Abel writes letters of advice to such luminaries as the young baseball great Joe DiMaggio and Enrico Fermi, "father" of the first nuclear reactor.
The author also satisfies the reader by supplying background information, such as the reason why Chase is named for an Egyptian pharaoh and a Babylonian deity and how he and Baxter became friends.
If you can accept such whimsical writing as "he negatived," then you will find this a provocative and readable volume.
Lupoff, who wrote the introduction, is the author of the Hobart Lindsey-Marvia Plum mysteries and "The Great American Paperback" and also writes science fiction. A novel touch is the use of the author's baby picture in lieu of his present visage.
Crippen & Landru Publishers, based in Norfolk, Va., specializes in the reissue of classic mysteries by restoring to print old works by popular writers of early and mid-20th century. Information about securing this and other books is available at www.crippenlandru.com or CrippenLandru@earthlink.net, if they are not available at a local bookstore or library.
Contact Florence Gilkeson at email@example.com.
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