Thursday, April 2, 2015

McNally's Puzzle - Lawrence Sanders

   1996; 311 pages.  Book #6 (out of 15) of the Archy McNally series.  New Author? : Yes.  Genre : Crime-Humor.  Overall Rating : 8*/10.

    It’s a puzzling thing.  Hiram Gottschalk is elderly, wealthy, and the owner of Parrots Unlimited, a pet shop in south Florida that specializes in imported parrots.  He’s convinced someone wants to kill him, and he tells Archy McNally why he thinks so.  Someone slashed a photo of him and his late wife, stole their favorite LP, taped a “Mass Card” (it’s a Catholic thing) to his closet door, and strangled his pet mynah.

    But three people from his family and household staff tell a different story – the old man is going dotty.  The photo was dropped and broke.  Hiram imagined the album and Mass Card.  And the mynah died of natural causes.

    The issue eventually resolves itself when somebody murders Hiram by stabbing him in both eyes with a stiletto (ouch!).  But who did it, and why?  It’s kind of funny that so many people who were related to or worked for Hiram tried to dissuade Archy from taking Hiram’s fears seriously.

    It’s McNally’s puzzle now.

What’s To Like...
    This is a new author and murder-mystery series for me.  Archy McNally is kind of an improved blend of P.G. Wodehouse’s Bernie Wooster, and George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman, with Lawrence Sanders taking the best from each of those.  Archy is a bit less obnoxious than Flashman, and a bit less clueless than Bernie.

     The story is written in a first-person POV, and Archy chronicles his investigation with an abundance of wit and Woosterian pseudo-wisdom.  This is also a vocabularian’s delight; see below for just a few of the marvelous words encountered here.

    It’s a  relatively “clean” story – no cussing, sex scenes, etc.  But I can’t quite call it a cozy because there’s a lot of smoking and early-in-the-day drinking, and a couple implied adult situations.  Some of the characters seemed irritatingly stereotyped – the gays, blacks, Asians, etc. – but the author tackles the subject of bipolarity with admirable insight.

    The ending is just so-so; to me it felt a bit contrived and clunky.  But at least Sanders doesm’t use the trite “the parrot squawks the killer’s name” device.

Kewlest New Word. . .
Logy (adj.) : sluggish; dull in thought or action (due to tiredness, etc.  (a Yankeeism)
Others : Bubeleh (n., Yiddishism); Fillip (n.); Megrims (n.); Prolixity (n.);  Bumf (n., Britishism); Adytum (n.); Spavined (adj.); Somnifacient (adj.); Contretemps (n.); Bibulous (adj.); Beamish (adj.); Psittacine (adj.); Chatelaine (n.); Dragoman (n.); Pourboire (n.); Brobdingnagian (adj.); Strigiled (adj.)

    “Archy,” he added soulfully, “I’m in love.”
    “Oh?” I said.  “Which parrot?”
    “No, no.  It’s Bridget Houlihan.”
    “Ah,” I said.  “The Hibernian crumpet.  Fancy her, do you?”
    “She’s such a marvelous female,” he enthused.  “Sweet and charming.  And talented.  She plays the tambourine.”
    “Binky,” I said, “I’m not sure one can play a tambourine.  Don’t you just shake it or bang it?  I mean Brahms never wrote a lullaby for tambourine, did he?”  (pg. 42)

    She finally emerged from the briny and strigiled water from her torso and legs with her palms.
    “That was divine,” she said.
    I was happy she approved of the Atlantic Ocean.
    She strolled ahead of me back to our spread.  I studied her lilting walk in the minuscule bikini plastered to tanned and glistening hide.  Poetry in motion?  Yes indeedy.  But whether it was a sonnet or a limerick I could not have said.  (pg. 114)

 Didn’t someone once say you can cure a man of any folly except vanity?  (pg. 217
    It took me a while to cotton to Archy until about halfway through the book, mostly because of his upper-class attitudes and somewhat cocky wit.  But either Lawrence Sanders “softened” Archy’s demeanor along the way, or I became charmed by his inept yet persistent efforts to get to the bottom of the murder-mystery.  We shall see.  I have another book from this series on my TBR shelf, and there are lots of Lawrence Sanders novels available (both e-book and book-book) at my local library..

    McNally’s Puzzle is Book #6 in this 15-book series.  Lawrence Sanders passed away after writing Book #7; the rest are written by one Vincent Lardo.  I don’t know if this was one of Sanders’s weaker efforts; I picked it up as a $1-Hardback at the local library’s annual book sale.

    8 Stars.  The plusses outweigh the minuses here, and I am sufficiently intrigued to read a couple more books in the series.  I would not be surprised if I warm to Archy even more as I get used to him.  That's how it was with Flashman and me.

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