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WHERE THERE'S SMOKE THERE'S MURDER
By Harry Paul Lonsdale
Avon, (April, 1999) paperback, 210 pages. $5.99.
Review by Victor Gischler
Harry Paul Lonsdale's hopelessly pretentious novel WHERE THERE'S SMOKE THERE'S MURDER reminds me why I don't read the "cozy" style of mystery novels. I suppose Lonsdale's novel is reasonably representative of the subgenre, and Lonsdale's prose style is witty and intelligent while avoiding being overwritten. I thank him for this, for at times, when the plot drags, it seems to be the force of the author himself which pulls the weary reader along.
Here's the deal. Nick Chase is a retired homicide cop from New York. A bullet put him behind a desk. Since Chase isn't a desk kind of guy, he opts to open a cigar store in Cambridge, Massachusetts where a cast of equally cozy friends and acquaintances aid Chase in his coziness: an owner of an antique store, a girlfriend/concert cellist, and, of course, a couple of Harvard professors, one of whom writes mystery novels. When Chase goes to visit Stanley Rupert--loyal cigar customer and the owner of the antique store--he finds his cold corpse sprawled across the floor like an expensive and tasteful Persian carpet. And of course, the good-natured but inadequate local constabulary turns to Chase for his expertise. Somehow, Nazi treasure figures prominently.
I have to admit that I was taken in for a little while. I smoke a cigar or two myself when the wife isn't looking, so I was caught up in the intricacies of the hobby. What kind of cigar goes with what kind of drink on which occasion. Who knew there'd be so many permutations? But after awhile, I wanted to jump into the book and remind these people that they've just found a stiff and they need to get on with the business of solving a murder. I admire the civility with which everyone in the novel doggedly pursues the killer--over a nice meal with the proper wine and of course a fine cigar afterwards. But I kept wishing a hail of bullets would fly through the cigar store. Or that hoods with broken noses would show up and give Chase a beating. Or that a drugged-out blonde nymphomaniac would show up and try to put the moves on Chase to distract him from the fact that the killer is really...
Of course, nothing of the sort happens at all.
WHERE THERE'S SMOKE THERE'S MURDER is a polite, well-mannered mystery in which the killer, once caught, says something like "By, Jove, Chase, I guess you've got me fair and square." That doesn't happen either--but it COULD have. I think even fans of the "cozy" mystery will find this novel a bit too precious.
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