It has been some time since I last read one of Rice’s novels, so I was glad to get around to reading this one. Jake and Helene Justus are married, at long last, and are taking it easy in Jackson, Wisconsin. However, the trivial task of going to get a fishing license at the local courthouse soon disrupts the peaceful holiday they envisaged. Whilst taking a tour around the courthouse, ex-Senator Peveley is murdered. Despite the ridiculousness of it and the fact that the Justus’ have an alibi, the other inhabitants of the courthouse are quick to blame them for the fatality. It doesn’t help that Jake gets on the wrong side of the Sheriff and it is no surprise that Jake and Helene’s friend and reluctant lawyer, John J. Malone has to come out to help them. Yet this is only the beginning of their problem and the beginning of a series of murders – all committed in different ways. As the body count increases, local feelings run high and it is not long before Jake is in real danger of getting lynched. In such chaos and prejudice Malone has to work out what is really going on. There are any surface reasons for Peveley to be murdered, but as Malone discovers the truth runs much deeper.
Having read other earlier novels in the Jake and Helene series, I found this story quite intriguing. There is still a high level of wisecracks, but other than that the humour is much lower key. There is not a screwball comedy like others have been. The only point of humour/ understatement which didn’t work well is when a series of fatalities and injuries are described after the second crime. For me this section seemed to be lacking taste. The characters themselves are also changed to a degree. Their alcohol consumption in the main is much lower, though there is an extended scene where a drunken Malone tries to track down Jake using a bloodhound. I would also say that Helene has changed a bit. Her role this time round is very much concentrated in her wardrobe and in comparison to earlier tales she is much more demure, weaker and less gung ho, which was a bit disappointing.
However there are many positives to this novel. The opening is very effective, as is the ending and the pacing is consistently good throughout. Rice also provides an engagingly complex mystery, with lots to puzzle out, especially as the crimes pile up and the clues are fairly given. The setting of rural small insular town is equally done well and adds to the story as a whole. So overall, although this was not a perfect read, this is still a story with a lot to recommend itself.
The Wrong Murder (1940)
The Corpse Steps Out (1940)
Home Sweet Homicide (1944)