Today I am reviewing a one-off mystery by Joseph Csida (1912-1996), who according to the Coachwhip website ‘was an author, musician, personal manager, and editor of Billboard, among other pursuits in the recording and entertainment industries.’ It is not surprising that in the sole mystery he penned, Csida utilises some of his work experience, making his Watson narrator a personal manager like himself.
‘The ubiquitous Mr. Tinney proves himself as adept at solving a murder as in giving advice to his millions of radio listeners. So strong is his nose for following a murder trail that he entirely forgets his radio listeners and Wakely’s Soapchips, his sponsor—much to the discomfiture of his assistant, Shelley, who sees his chances of a small fortune fade into the distance while Mr. Tinney goes his merry way. For the clues in the murder of private detective Noel Landry—the perfumed notes and the compromising picture of Carol Wills—set Mr. Tinney’s nostrils to quivering like a bird dog’s on a hot scent. And the strange odor on the notes—the odor of love that has turned to hate—leads him into a mystery as bizarre and thrilling as any he has ever followed.’
One does not need to be Sherlock Holmes to deduce that Csida was heavily influenced by the aforementioned great detective. Stanley Shell a.k.a. Shelley, is well formed within the Watson mould. It is not just that that he chronicles his talent’s case, as this by itself does not make a narrator a Watson. Like the real Watson, who must have done very little doctoring to spend as much time with Holmes as he does, Shelley gave up all his other acts to manage just Desmond Tinney, who certainly takes some managing. Shelley is decidedly a buffer between Tinney and his sponsors, looking after Tinney’s material interests, since Tinney himself has so little interest in them. When it comes to sleuthing the Holmes/Watson relationship is mirrored with Shelley reporting what takes place, all the while being kept in the dark at points by Tinney and on one occasion Shelley ruins an interview with an ill-timed comment which rouses a suspect’s suspicions. Furthermore, Desmond Tinney mysteriously goes off on a trip and works behind the scenes, leaving his assistant to deal with the chaos that ensues in his absence. Tinney is not a complete carbon copy of Holmes, and is probably more comically conceived than the original, which comes through in the way he gives out hints about his interesting, globe-trotting and colourful life. He is also a vegetarian and plays Bing Crosby records incessantly at times.
However, having outlined Doyle’s influence, I was also put in mind of another fictional sleuth, Agatha Christie’s Harlequin. He too solves mysteries but comes at them through the solving of personal relationships. The same occurs with Desmond Tinney. At the start of the novel we are told by Shelley that his employer was a ‘human relations counsellor’ and due to ending a spate of police officer suicides in the New York area, he was made an honorary police captain. Tinney himself says that he is ‘in a very peculiar business […] the business of minding other people’s business.’ Shelley goes on to add that: ‘People with troubles, who knew him, felt better just knowing he was going to step in.’ Tinney’s entry point into the case in the story is through personal relationships, as an old client comes to see him, her marriage being prevented by her fiancé’s father and once she is wrongfully accused of murder, Tinney dives straight into action to prove her innocence.
Murder is a frequent event in this punchy story, which only runs to 124 pages, and Csida is careful to set up a number of motives and suspects quickly. The author also throws in an unusual clue in the form of some oddly worded and scented death threats and perfumery background is utilised well, but not overdone. The solution requires a fair bit of back story that the reader is not privy to, but given the shorter length of the mystery, this becomes less problematic than usual. Desmond Tinney and Stanley Shell are a very appealing duo and it is a shame they didn’t get more outings. I could picture them in a short story series quite easily.
Source: Review Copy (Coachwhip Publications)