Friday, September 18, 2015

Jonathan Latimer’s The Dead Don’t Care (1938) is clue-driven humorous noir.

A wealthy Key Largo, Florida, family hires two alcoholic detectives Bill Crane and Thomas O’Malley to find who is sending them ransom notes.

The vague notes, signed “The Eye,” appear in impossible places. Several appear on the threatened man’s pillow when he wakes up in the morning in his locked bedroom. 

Finally, The Eye carries out his threat. He kidnaps Camelia Essex, the twenty-three-year-old major heiress in the family.

Crane and O’Malley investigate. They go to casinos to gamble. They drink at local bars. They become entangled with a Key Largo mobster.

A rival gang assassinates the mobster, probably because of a dispute about slot machines. Along the way, The Eye kills another person in a hard-to-explain way. And, using his well-disguised intelligence, Bill Crane rescues the maiden and explains it all.

Jonathan Latimer fills The Dead Don’t Care with humor. The book opens with Crane and O’Malley nearly fighting a flamingo.

Crane buys O’Malley Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations. He tells O’Malley he’s not uptown enough for these high class digs. O’Malley needs to learn quotations.

For the rest of the book, O’Malley uses exotic quotations in the right circumstances. Finally, Crane tires of hearing the quotations. He buys the book back from O’Malley at five times what Crane paid for it.

Crane and O’Malley are wise-cracking detectives, especially Crane.

The Dead Don’t Care has a little of everything. The notes and the second killing are closed room mysteries. The story ends as a cozy would, with a gathering of the suspects and Crane’s explanation of the clues. And the book has adequate violence and hard-boiled-detective-stuff to make it noir.

As with most of these books, the cover on the earlier editions promises a racier book than the book is.

I learned of this book by reading Patricia Abbott’s blog feature called “Friday’s Forgotten Books.”

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