The Right Murder (1941) by Craig Rice

N. B. For readers who hate spoilers, you may wish to read The Wrong Murder (1940) before a) reading this book and b) reading this review, as The Right Murder’s plot cannot be discussed very much if I can’t mention a key point about the culprit is not, in The Wrong Murder. Unusual spoiler I grant you, but I appreciate for some readers this information would be too much.

This book begins on New Year’s Eve, with lawyer John J Malone feeling very sorry for himself, crying into his gin no less. The reason for this is apparently because he misses Jake Justus and Helene so much, who have finally managed to get married and are off on their honeymoon to Bermuda. As I mentioned above today’s read follows on from The Wrong Murder – in which Mona McClane bets Jake her Casino that she can murder someone she has a motive for killing and get away with it, despite shooting them in a public place. In that book a murder is found, yet McClane is shown not to be the killer and she tantalisingly points out that they have ‘followed the wrong corpse.’ The question of who she has killed still hangs over Malone.

However his and our attention is drawn away by the fact that moments before midnight strikes, a man comes into the bar calling Malone’s name and before he falls down dead he leaves a key in the palm of Malone’s hand – though a later drunken fight means he loses it and he has no idea how the victim knew him. The policeman in charge of the case, Daniel von Flanagan, thinks he is lying of course. Yet he is soon joined by the newlyweds, though not together; an argument over money has seen a swift separation between the two and Malone has the unenviable task of working with both of them without letting the other one know. Whilst Malone is trying to figure out the murder at the bar, Jake and Helene are trying to win the bet with McClane and to make things even more complicated there is much more death and near death to follow, making this a complicated mystery for Malone to unravel.

Overall Thoughts

I had mixed feelings about the opening of this book. I didn’t really buy into Malone being overly miserable about missing Jake and Helene, yet on the other hand I enjoyed how the opening murder plays out and equally how we are reminded of the McClane bet, as it generates a lot of cliff hanger tension from the get go: ‘now Malone found himself in the uncomfortable position of knowing that a murder had been committed and knowing the identity of the murderer, without knowing the identity of the victim.’ Neither Malone nor the reader need worry about married life changing Jake and Helen, as they are the same madcap reckless individuals and I enjoyed the social comedy that their discord creates in the story, with Malone helplessly stuck in the middle between the two.

For readers who like a lot of action, this story won’t disappoint as there is a constant medley of events which unfold from the very first page and Rice is able to give her readers a very tantalising and unusual plot. Personally I think the plot stalls/derails for a brief time in the middle of the book, but not badly so. I think this happens because of Rice’s chosen ending. She wants it to be a surprise (obviously), so therefore has to keep a certain amount of information schtum, but then that means that the characters themselves have to be handicapped from finding out too much information in front of the readers. Ultimately the ending is satisfying in some ways as it is very clever and has a good twist, yet I don’t think this is the sort of solution you can figure out for yourself, as it relies a lot on information that Malone receives from certain telephone calls and meetings that we don’t really get too much access to. Rice’s satirical and witty writing style and characterisation fortunately prevent this book thereby becoming annoying and disappointing. Even with such a flaw you can’t help but find the story a fun and an entertaining read, whilst admiring how much alcohol the characters all seem to be able to consume on a daily basis, so I’d still recommend giving it a go.

Rating: 4.25/5

Just the Facts Ma’am (Gold Card): During a recognised holiday

See also:

The Corpse Steps Out (1940)

Trial by Fury (1941)

Home Sweet Homicide (1944)

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12 comments

  1. Thanks for the warning on reading order, etc. I still haven’t read anything by this author, possibly because I had a period where I did not enjoy humorous mysteries. But I do plan to read some of her books someday. I have several of them

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    • Me being me I haven’t read all of these books in order, though thankfully I read The Wrong Murder before this one. Aside from these two you can kind of read them out of sync, but if you have quite a few of them already it might be worthwhile reading the Jake, Helene and Malone ones in order. I’d definitely recommend giving Rice a go as I haven’t ever had a bad read from her.

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  2. Thanks for the review. 🙂 I haven’t read anything by Rice yet, and I’m thinking of starting with ‘Wrong Murder’. I only skimmed the end of this review, so as to avoid spoilers – and it seems like I might enjoy ‘Wrong Murder’ more. In any case, thanks for the warning about the order of reading this novels. I recently read one of Todd Downing’s novels, which made a reference to an earlier case – which, I think, belonged to the novel I was saving for the last. 😦

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    • In terms of humour, characterisation and writing style both books I would say are equal, but I think the plotting of the first one is a bit stronger, so hopefully you should enjoy it. Which Downing novel got spoilt for you?

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  3. schtum? Did you make this up? Is that a typo? Never seen or heard that word. If it is one.

    Rice claimed she never knew who the murderer would be when she wrote books in this series. That may be a slight exaggeration of the truth since was not known to be very truthful about anything related to her life or writing. In some cases I can see that she literally made it up as she went along. THE CORPSE STEPS OUT is a prime example. I think this one too is one of those where the ending just comes out of left field. Whenever I need my mood lifted and don’t want my brain to be taxed these screwball crime novels are fun to read.

    Michael Venning is one of the victims in this book. She later chose that as one of her many pseudonyms. That still makes me laugh. Just uncovered a Michael Venning short story in an old EQMM issue. Hoping to review the entire issue at a later date.

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  4. Regarding the word schtum:
    I just watched episode 3 of Shakespeare and Hathaway (BBC TV). At one point, when Shakespeare suggests that they tell the police, Hathaway says that they “better keep schtum” !

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