The April Robin Murders (1959) by Craig Rice and Ed McBain

Today’s read takes place in Hollywood and has two street photographers – Bingo Riggs and Handsome Kusak, as its protagonists. They have made some money and have decided to relocate to Hollywood and take their business, International Foto, Motion Picture and Television Corporation, up a few notches. Their first step is to find a house to buy and fortune seems to be smiling on them when a happenstance meeting leads to finding out about an empty home; formerly owned by April Robins, a famous actress, which is being sold for peanuts. It also seems too good to be true and I think most readers will accurately predict that these two are set for a fall. It’s only once they have handed the money over, been given some minimal paperwork, with the promise of further to come, that they begin to learn of the house’s sinister past… A suspected murder without a body, a suspect who vanished without a trace, along with a lot of money and to really bring Bingo and Handsome down to earth, they find the caretaker dying on her bedroom floor. As well as bringing them into close proximity with the police, these crimes past and present all seem like they could jeopardise their new home and it remains to be seen whether all of Bingo’s bold moves will help them uncover the culprits behind all of their difficulties, before their money runs out.

Overall Thoughts

I first heard of this novel on the blog, My Reader’s Block and I was intrigued with its production history. At the time of Craig Rice’s death in 1957, this story was unfinished, and Ed McBain was drafted into to complete it. I think McBain does a good job of making the story feel seamless. There isn’t a sense of one writer handing over to another one. Bingo and Handsome are very typical Rice characters and McBain does a reasonable job of developing them. Although I have the feeling that Rice would probably have upped the “zany comedy” levels of the story, as well as the alcohol intake.

Bingo and Handsome are two key assets of the tale, with their complementary but antithetical roles. I also found it interesting how Bingo is introduced on the first page in a much more vulnerable light, than you would expect for the time. Though, this sense of inferiority physically and socially around Handsome peters out once the story gets underway and Bingo gets to make various big decisions for their business, without any disagreement from his associate. Maybe if Rice had written the whole book this might have been maintained for longer. Handsome is more than just a pretty face though, as his unusual talent is his photographic memory which means he can recall a wide range of newspaper articles that he has read and which are often useful for the case.

Bizarrely the plot line for this book, particularly the opening chapters, reminded me of a modern(ish) Nancy Drew film that I saw in my youth, with its house with a past and a spectre like caretaker. The puzzle for this book is composed of several mysterious identities which need to be unpacked, as opposed to a case which is solved through forensic evidence or alibis. A signature on a document in particular poses an interesting number of possibilities. I wouldn’t say the most unusual option is picked, but I think the ending works well, with a sense of drama combined with light comedy. I also enjoyed the way that chapters throughout the novel tended to conclude on a note of intrigue and drama, giving it an almost serialised-tone. I would say this was a good book on the whole and worth looking up if you come across a reasonably priced copy.

Rating: 4.25/5

Just the Facts Ma’am (Gold Card): Photographer

Calendar of Crime: April (1) Month in the Title

6 comments

  1. Lucky timing for the publisher! A couple years later they couldn’t have got McBain. There is a vast amount of Rice in print now; I have read only one, the G-String Murders, long ago. Which of hers did you like best?

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    • Yes I do indeed! Probably why the book stuck in my head. The title of that particularly meme did actually cause, though, a web-user to find my blog when they had google searched for Anything Goes Escort Agency! Feel like they must have been pretty disappointed when they got to my site instead.

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