Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Death Wears Pink Shoes: Robert James

From the book's dust jacket:
The tenants of 17 Crane Street were a highly combustible lot, and when they came together fireworks usually resulted. A lively display was set off one particular night when Mrs. Gladys O'Leary gave a party with her whining daughter and her handsome, dissolute son. The guests included old Mr. Potterwait; pianist Herman Blode, who brought two girl friends; fat detective Fred Miller with his querulous wife; and Sally, the girl from the basement apartment. who attended mostly out of politeness. They played a game of writing down the names of animals which their fellow residents resembled, and one of the entries was odd. It read 'something dead.' 
Later that night Potterwait was found in his shabby apartment, a bullet through his forehead, and pink ballet slippers wedged awkwardly on his feet.
The paragraphs above do a very good job of describing the set up for this book and giving an overview of the characters. After the murder, two new characters enter the story. Keith Sherman is Mr. Potterwait's nephew, and is the one who discovers the dead body. He had gotten a late-night call from his uncle asking him to come over immediately, and rushed to his apartment to see what the problem was. Inspector Cherney is the investigator who spends a lot of time at the apartment house, talking to the residents and trying to figure out who is most likely to have killed Lawson Potterwait.


This is an interesting and entertaining book in so many ways. I never had a clue who the killer was. Many of the residents were eccentric or antagonistic or unpleasant, but did not seem to be criminally inclined, so it was fun trying to figure out who might be capable of murder. (And just look at that skeleton on the cover!!!)

This story reminded me a lot of a George Bagby book I read in January 2016, Blood Will Tell. In both novels, the setting is New York City. In Blood Will Tell, the death occurs in a swanky apartment building, complete with doorman and well-to-do residents; in this one, the apartment building is on a lower economic level. But it wasn't just the settings that were similar; it was also the focus on the various tenants, their relationships and backgrounds. The two books were published in 1950 and 1952 respectively, both as Crime Club Books.

The author, Iris Little Heitner, who wrote under the pseudonym Robert James, is the sister of Constance and Gwyneth Little, who wrote mysteries in the 30's, 40's and 50's under the pseudonym, Conyth Little. Iris only wrote one other mystery that I am aware of, Board Stiff. I have a copy of that book on order.

Thanks to Moira at Clothes in Books for sending me this book, which she reviewed here. She knows I love any book with a skeleton on the cover, and this one is especially nice. Notice that the sheet that the skeleton wears is decorated with pink Crime Club logos. The book is available in an e-book edition.

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Publisher:   Doubleday, 1952.
Length:       191 pages
Format:      Hardcover
Setting:      New York City
Genre:        Mystery
Source:      A gift.


17 comments:

  1. Good book and review, Tracy. I'm intrigued by the characters as you describe in this book. I always think they're not what they seem to be, which doesn't help because I'm really bad at guessing the identity of the murderer. With that cover, this book ought to be on the shelves.

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    1. I guess we all hide something of ourselves, Prashant, so that is a good point. I always try to guess, but I don't care whether I am right or not.

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  2. I LOVE that cover, Tracy! I am going to look for this one. Sounds really good.

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    1. I know, one of the best vintage covers I have seen, Peggy. Not really representative of anything in the book, but a lot of fun.

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  3. As soon as I saw the cover, Tracy, I thought this one would appeal to you, and I'm very glad that it did. It sounds like an engaging story, and I really like the context. A murder in an apartment building - very effective!

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    1. I like the story a lot, Margot. I think it shows a lot about the attitudes in the 50's.

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  4. That is a particularly fetching skeleton cover...and the book sounds good too. For some reason I really like the apartment block setting...always reminds me of Rear Window (one of my favourite movies)

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    1. I like the movie Rear Window a lot too, Bernadette. Amazing the tension that builds in that movie. I cannot remember in this book why the police focus only on the apartment house residents, but it makes for a very interesting story, anyway.

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  5. Sounds quite good, but I've enough on my plate already. Glad you enjoyed it.

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    1. It was good, Col, but more me than you. I finished The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter this morning and enjoyed it very much. I will get to reading the 2nd book soonish.

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  6. Splendid cover! Splendid review! And, splendidly, the Kindle edition is only two bucks! And now it is mine!

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    1. Thanks, Mathew. Now that I have been so convincing, I hope you enjoy reading it.

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  7. LOVE that cover, Tracy! Added it immediately to my Vintage Murder Pinterest board. :) I like the sound of the book as well. And for two bucks...Kind of reminds me of the Kelly Roos book I recently read and reviewed.

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    1. I haven't read anything by Kelly Roos, Yvette.Haven't even run into any of the books anywhere. I will have to search online bookstores.

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  8. Love that cover. I am starting to become a fan of book covers with skeletons on the cover as well, Tracy. I'll have to look for this one in paper. Thanks for the review. --Keishon

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  9. So glad you liked it Tracy - though really, it wouldn't matter with that cover, which still makes me shake my head in admiration. As you say, not much associated with the contents, but that's OK. And yes, a rooming house or block or apartments is always a great setting.

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    1. You are right, Moira, the book is great just for the cover, but it was a bonus to enjoy the contents too. I am very grateful that you sent me the book, it is one of the best in my collection.

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