Friday, January 31, 2014

Murder à la Stroganoff, Caryl Brahms and S.J. Simon

Caryl Brahms and S.J. Simon's Murder à la Stroganoff (1938; U.K. title Casino for Sale) is the second of three novels to feature the Ballet Stroganoff and inspector Quill, late of Scotland Yard.

Malcom J. Turnbull in “Inspector Quill: Sleuthing in the Ballet and the Balkans” quotes Jane W. Stedman, “It is likely... that readers of these works find less pleasure in clues and unravelment than in the ebullient collusion of fantastically comic characters.”

Turnbull continues, “Certainly the authors persistently subordinate puzzle and sleuthing to humour, yet all three books contain orthodox whodunit properties and conform in a number of regards to classic and Golden Age norms. Brahms and Simon offer readers the obligatory corpses, circles of suspects (all with motives for mayhem), recountings of the investigation process, and climactic revelations of the culprits’ identities.”

Brahms and Simon even poke a little fun at those classic norms, "Quill sighed. Here he was at last presented with one of those cases with all the doors and windows locked which every hard-pushed author resorts to sooner or later."

Brahms and Simon have a great time with characters such as impresario Vladimir Stroganoff, who seems to have succeeded in spite of his efforts, and Quill, who succeeds because of his hard work and in spite of obstacles continually thrown in his path.

Stroganoff speaks in tortured English with a soupçon -- rather a large soupçon, actually -- of French phrases tossed in: "To call the police tout de suite it is not wise. They will ask the question, they will learn that it is I who see Citrolo last and then I will be in prison. At all costs, I say, I must prevent that. The Ballet Stroganoff it need me too much."

Brahms and Simon proceed from the premise that if a joke is funny the first time it will be even funnier the third or fifth time. 

Towards the end of the book, as various plot threads begin to come together, I was reminded of John Kennedy Toole’s Confederacy of Dunces. It wouldn’t be a surprise if Toole has a Brahms & Simon fan.

I bought a Polygonics International, Ltd. reprint via for 75 cents plus shipping.

Three-and-a-half daggers out of four.

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