On a hot August day in a big U.S. city after World War II, a man in a Santa Claus suit murders a radio executive in the latter’s office and escapes unidentified. Murder Can Be Fun (aka A Plot for Murder) is a fast-moving, entertaining 1948 mystery novel by the master of combining hardboiled elements with strong puzzle plots, Fredric Brown. It deals with murders in the interesting milieu of old-time radio, in the days before television, when radio was king, and it includes a fascinating forecast of the sexualization of the American workplace.
As always, Brown presents an atmosphere that’s gritty and convincingly menacing while also dispensing a good deal of humor, astute social observations about the times, an interesting and appealing protagonist with a realistic complement of normal human strengths and weaknesses, a varied and insightfully portrayed group of supporting characters, and a strong, compelling plot with plausible motivations.
A historically significant element of the story is the fact that it’s the first novel of which I’m aware in which a female golddigger type pursues her trade through the ruthlessly ambitious pursuit of employment advantages obtained through the dispensing of sexual favors, as opposed to the classic type who tries to snag a man in marriage. As American women hit the workforce in droves during World War II and after and began to see work outside the home as a plausible choice, Brown cleverly saw the possibilities for a vastly increased sexualization of the workplace, which certainly came true in the ensuing decades, sexual harassment laws notwithstanding.
In A Rumpole Christmas, the late John Mortimer’s irascible, raffish, scheming but principled, and likable barrister-detective Horace Rumpole handles five Christmas cases, all previously unpublished in book form. The subject of a long-running and enjoyable BBC TV series, Rumpole sticks up for the underdog in the London courts. The stories appeared in several different British publications between 1997 and 2006 and hew closely to the classic Rumpole formula.
That means Mortimer’s eye for social injustices is prominent, and his leftist sympathies are identifiable, but the stories overcome that because he is willing to present his characters and their situations fairly without overegging the pudding with didactic political messages. Clearly Mortimer liked Rumpole too much to burden him with too obviously canned political messages, and the stories benefit greatly from Mortimer’s seriousness and wisdom, but most of all from his whimsy and delight in the grand pageant that is the British legal system.