Books 4/21/06

I just posted, but I figured these books deserved their own post. I finished two more of Ron Goulart’s Groucho Marx mysteries, and while I recommend them, I also recommend spacing them out. Goulart has a tendency to fall into a formula, but I don’t know that it would be so apparent if the books weren’t read in such a short period of time. They’re still amusing, don’t get me wrong; they just feel slightly repetitive.

This is only enforced by Goulart’s love of the word avuncular. I mentioned in a previous post that I was interested to see if he used the word in each book, and while I can’t say for certain (I’m not sure it’s in one of the books, and now that it’s returned to the library I can’t check), I do know that he used it in 4 of the 5 books of his I’ve read thus far, and that he used it twice in one of them, so that should cover the one I’m not sure about. Why am I so obsessed with this, you so rightfully ask? I’m not entirely sure. I think it’s a great word, which is what drew my attention to it originally, and then I just found it amusing that he kept using it, I think. But whereas he limits his use of this great word to once or twice a book, I can’t say the same for the word plump. Man, he uses that word a lot. This is especially noticible in Groucho Marx and the Broadway Murders, wherein every woman who stops Marx to ask for an autograph and gets wittily teased is described as plump. Even the guys are plump. Everyone is plump.

In fact, I would say that Groucho Marx and the Broadway Murders is the weakest of the Groucho Marx bunch. In all of the others, asking questions and tracking down leads is what brings the intrepid detectives to their solution. In the Broadway Murders there’s the addition of a “clue” that reveals who the bad guy is and leads the detectives in the right direction. Except that you don’t find out what the clue is until after the bad guys have confessed, and honestly, the clue is so subtle that I had to go back and comb through the book to find it. It’s only mentioned in one measly little sentence, and the thing that makes them realize that the clue is important isn’t mentioned at all, as far as I could tell.

I realize that’s vague. Basically, the clue is a piece of clothing. Someone mentions that someone is wearing it, but it’s something that the person is only wearing at a certain time. The fact that the person saw them in it proves that they’re the murderer. The only problem is that the only part of that scenario that is actually in the book is the person mentioning it. We never read about the person wearing the piece of clothing, or read about them specifically wearing something else. So there’s no way for the reader to know that the comment is in any way important, or come to any kind of realization themselves. (At least I think this is true, I could have just been incredibly lazy as I was reading and somehow completely missed those points as I was reading. But I don’t think so.) Other than that, and the copious use of the word plump, the book was quite entertaining.

The other book, Elementary, My Dear Groucho, was really quite well done. The director of a new Sherlock Holmes film is killed, and the man playing Holmes challenges Groucho to solve the mystery before he does. It’s great publicity for the studio, as the Holmes actor used to work for Scotland Yard. What follows is a mix of Nazis, studio politics, and adultery, and it flows together really well. The time period in which these books are set is just-pre-World War II, and Goulart does a good job of making Groucho not just funny, but keenly aware of his Jewish-ness and what is going on in the rest of the world. That grounds the book even as the levity of the wit lightens it. It works particularly well in this book, dealing as it does with the Anti-Fascist movements in Hollywood, and the various sentiments of the different factions of the town.

Next up is Daniel Handler’s Adverbs, and I can’t wait. I hope it’s as good as I’m expecting it to be. Then I’ll go back to the last of the Marx mysteries, and see if a break from them softens the formula feel.

Current total: 31
Just Finished: Groucho Marx and the Broadway Murders by Ron Goulart
Next Up: Adverbs by Daniel Handler

One thought on “Books 4/21/06

  1. I really don’t know what you have against the word avuncular. It never hurt anyone!

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