The children of a mystery writer play amateur sleuths and matchmakers
Unoccupied and unsupervised while mother is working, the children of widowed crime writer Marion Carstairs find diversion wherever they can. So when the kids hear gunshots at the house next door, they jump at the chance to launch their own amateur investigationand after all, why shouldn’t they? They know everything the cops do about crime scenes, having read about them in mother’s novels. They know what her literary detectives would do in such a situation, how they would interpret the clues and handle witnesses. Plus, if the children solve the puzzle before the cops, it will do wonders for the sales of mother’s novels. But this crime scene isn’t a game at all; the murder is real, and when its details prove more twisted than anything in mother’s fiction, they’ll have to enlist Marion’s help to sort them out. Or is that just part of their plan to hook her up with the lead detective on the case?
The basis for the 1946 film with the same name, Home Sweet Homicide is the novel that launched Craig Rice to literary fame. The book, a comedic crime story that pokes fun at the conventions of the genre, finds “the Dorothy Parker of detective fiction” at her most entertaining.
|Product dimensions:||5.20(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.10(d)|
About the Author
Craig Rice (1908–1957), born Georgiana Ann Randolph Craig, was an American author of mystery novels, short stories, and screenplays. In 1946, she became the first mystery writer to appear on the cover of Time magazine. Best known for her character John J. Malone, a rumpled Chicago lawyer, Rice’s writing style was unique in its ability to mix gritty, hard-boiled writing with the entertainment of a screwball comedy. She also collaborated with mystery writer Stuart Palmer on screenplays and short stories, and ghost-wrote several titles published under the byline of actor George Sanders.
Otto Penzler, the creator of American Mystery Classics, is also the founder of the Mysterious Press (1975), a literary crime imprint now associated with Grove/Atlantic; Mysterious Press.com (2011), an electronic-book publishing company; and New York City’s Mysterious Bookshop (1979). He has won a Raven, the Ellery Queen Award, two Edgars (for the Encyclopedia of Mystery and Detection, 1977, and The Lineup, 2010), and lifetime achievement awards from Noircon and The Strand Magazine. He has edited more than 70 anthologies and written extensively about mystery fiction.
Read an Excerpt
"Don't talk droopy talk," Archie Carstairs said.
"Mother can't have lost a twelve-pound turkey."
"Oh, can't she!" his older sister Dinah said scornfully. "She lost a grand piano once."
Archie snorted skeptically.
"She really did," April added. "It was when we moved from Eastgate Avenue. Mother forgot to give the piano movers the new address and they got there after everything else had gone, so they just rode the piano around until she phoned the company. And meanwhile Mother had lost their name and address, so she had to call up all the piano movers in the telephone book to find the right one."
There was a little silence. "Mother isn't really absent-minded," Dinah said at last. Her voice was thoughtful.
"She's just busy."
The three young Carstairs sat on the front porch railing, dangling their bare brown legs in the late-afternoon sunshine. From upstairs in the big old stucco house they could hear the faint purr of a typewriter, working at top speed. Marian Carstairs, alias Clark Cameron, alias Andrew Thorpe, alias J. J. Lane, was finishing another mystery novel. When it was done, she would take a day off to have her hair shampooed and to buy presents for the young Carstairs. She would take them extravagantly out to dinner and to the best show in town. Then the next morning she would begin writing another mystery novel.
It was a routine with which the three young Carstairs were thoroughly familiar. Dinah, in fact, claimed that she could remember it as far back as when Archie was in his cradle.
It was a warm, lazy afternoon. In front of the house lay a wooded valley, swimming in a soft haze. Here and there a roof showed through the trees; not many, though. The house had been picked for its quiet seclusion. The only house close by was the pink near-Italian villa of the Wallace Sanfords, a few hundred yards away and set off by a vacant lot, a small grove of trees, and a tall box hedge.
"Archie," April said suddenly, in a dreamy voice, "go look in the sugar bin."
Archie protested, violently. Just because she was twelve and he was only ten, he didn't have to run errands for her. Let her go look in the sugar bin herself. He closed his argument by demanding, "Why?" April said, "Because I say so."
"Archie," Dinah said firmly, with the full authority of her fourteen years, "shove in your clutch."
Archie grumbled, and went. He was small for his age, with unruly brown hair and a face that managed to look innocent and impudent at the same time. He was always just a trifle soiled, save for the five minutes immediately after his bath. Right now one of his tennis sneakers was untied, and there was a small tear in the knee of his corduroy slacks.
Dinah, at fourteen, was what April called scornfully, "The healthy type." She was tall for fourteen, and well proportioned. She had a lot of fluffy-brown hair, enormous brown eyes, and a pretty face that was filled most of the time with either laughter or elder-sisterly anxiety. She was fashionably dressed in a bright-red skirt, a plaid Okie shirt, green bobby socks, and dirty saddle shoes.
April was small, and looked deceptively fragile. Her smooth hair was blonde, and her eyes — also enormous — were a smoky gray. The chances were that she would grow up to be a beauty; even better that she would grow up to be lazy, and she knew it. Her white sharkskin slacks and shirt were immaculate, she had on red laced sandals, and a red geranium was pinned in her hair.
Archie's returning footsteps sounded like a galloping colt. He let out a loud whoop as he slid through the front door and bounded back up on the railing. "I put the turkey in the icebox," he yelped. "How did you know it was in the sugar bin?"
"Simple deduction," April said. "I found the new sack of sugar in the icebox after Mother put away the groceries this morning."
"Are you a brain!" Dinah said. She sighed. "I wish Mother would get handcuffed again. We need a man around the house."
"Poor Mother," April said. "She doesn't have any personal life. She's all alone in the world."
"She's got us," Archie said.
"That isn't what I mean," April said loftily. She gazed dreamily over the valley. "I wish Mother would solve a real life murder," she said. "She'd get a lot of publicity, and then she wouldn't have to write so many books."
Archie kicked his heels against the wall and said, "I wish she'd do both."
Later April declared that Providence obviously had been listening in. Because that was the exact moment when they heard the shots.
There were two of them, close together, and they came from the direction of the Sanford house. April clutched Dinah's arm and gasped, "Listen!"
"Probably Mr. Sanford shooting at birds," Dinah said skeptically.
"He isn't home yet," Archie said.
A car roared past on the road, hidden from the young Carstairs by the shrubbery. Archie slid off the railing and started toward the vacant lot. Dinah grabbed him by the collar of his jersey and hauled him back. A second car went by. Then there was silence, save for the sound of the typewriter from the room upstairs.
"It's a murder!" April said. "Call Mother!"
The three young Carstairs looked at each other. The typewriter was going particularly fast right now.
"You call her," Dinah said. "It's your brain storm."
April shook her head. "Archie, you go."
"Not me," Archie said firmly.
At last the three of them went up the stairs, quietly, like mice. Dinah opened the door to Mother's room a few inches and they peered in.
Mother — J. J. Lane, at this moment — didn't look up. She was half hidden behind a battered brown wood desk which was littered six inches deep with papers, pages of manuscript, notes, reference books, used carbon paper, and empty cigarette packages. Her shoes were off, and her feet were curled around the legs of a small typewriter table which seemed to be fairly dancing as she typed. Her dark hair was pinned up every which way on top of her head, and there was a black smudge on her nose. The room was thick with smoke.
"Not even for a murder," Dinah whispered. She closed the door softly. The three young Carstairs tiptoed down the stairs.
"Never mind," April said confidently. "We'll make the preliminary investigation. I've read all Mother's books, and I know just what to do."
"We ought to call the police," Dinah said.
April shook her head firmly. "Not until we're through investigating. That's the way Don Drexel, in the J. J. Lane books, always does. We may find an important clue to save for Mother." As they started across the lawn she added, "And you, Archie, keep quiet and behave yourself."
Archie jumped up and down and yelled, "I don't hafta."
"Stay home, then," Dinah said.
Archie quieted down and came along.
At the edge of the Sanford grounds, they paused. Beyond the neatly clipped box hedge was a small vine-covered arbor, and, beyond that, a wide, well-kept lawn bordered by a bed of painted daisies. There was gaily colored garden furniture in front of the house, not quite the right color, April reflected, to go well with the pink stucco.
"If there hasn't been a murder," Dinah reflected, "Mrs. Sanford is going to make with a tizzy. She chased us off the lawn once before."
"We heard shots," April said. "Don't back out now." She led the way through the arbor, then paused. "There were two cars," she said speculatively. "Both of them turned into the road from the driveway after the shots. Maybe somebody already knows who the murderer is, and is chasing him." She looked at Archie from the corner of her eye and added, "Maybe the murderer will come back. Maybe he'll think that we were witnesses, and he'll shoot us all."
Archie gave a small squeak. It wasn't a very good job of pretending to be scared. Dinah frowned. "I don't think the murderer would do that."
"Dinah," April said, "you're too literal-minded. Mother always says you are."
They crossed the lawn to the driveway. Its cement was crisscrossed with tire marks.
"We ought to photograph these," April said. "Only we haven't got a camera."
The lawn and garden were deserted. There wasn't a sound or a sign of life from the pink-stucco villa. For a moment the three stood by a corner of the glassed-in sunporch, wondering what the next move should be. Then suddenly a long gray convertible turned into the driveway, and the young Carstairs ducked hastily out of sight, around the corner of the porch.
The young woman who stepped out of the convertible was tall and slender and lovely. Her hair was somewhere between red and gold, and it fell to her shoulders in big, loose curls. She had on a flowered print dress and a wide leghorn hat.
April gasped. "Look!" she whispered. "That's Polly Walker. The actress. Is she a slick chick!"
For a moment the young woman seemed to hesitate, halfway between the car and the house. Then she walked boldly on up to the door and rang the bell. After a long wait, and after pushing the bell several more times, she opened the door and walked in.
The three young Carstairs peered cautiously through the windows of the sunporch, from which they could see dimly into the large living room beyond. Polly Walker came in through the front door, stopped dead just inside, and screamed.
"I told you so," April murmured.
The young woman took a few slow steps into the room and bent down, momentarily out of sight of the watchers. Then she rose, went to the telephone, and picked up the receiver.
"She's calling the cops," Dinah whispered.
"That's okay," April whispered back. "They'll find all the clues and Mother'll interpret them. That's the way Bill Smith works, in the Clark Cameron books."
"That ain't the way Superman works," Archie said, in a shrill, piping voice. "He —"
Dinah clapped a hand over his mouth and hissed fiercely, "Shut up!" Then she said, "In the J. J. Lane books, the detective goes around planting false clues to confuse the police."
"Mother'll do that too," April said. She added prophetically, "And if she doesn't, we will."
Polly Walker, inside the house, put down the telephone, glanced toward the floor, shuddered, and rushed out. A moment later she appeared in the driveway, white-faced and shaken. She ran to her car, ripped off the wide leghorn hat and tossed it onto the front seat, then sat down on the running board, her elbows on her knees, rubbing her hands over her face and through her hair. Then she sat up straight, with a quick little shake of her head, reached in her purse for a cigarette, lit it, took two puffs, and ground it out under her heel. Then she buried her face in her hands.
Dinah said, "Oh!" out loud. It was the same sound she made when Archie fell and skinned his knees and elbows, or April flunked another math exam, or Mother got a letter in the Monday morning mail requesting revisions instead of a check. She ran forward instinctively, almost automatically, plumped down beside the stricken girl on the running board, and put an arm around her shoulders.
Archie's reaction was similar, but it expressed itself in a different way. His big, gray-blue eyes filled with tears, his lip trembled a little, and he said, very softly, "Please don't cry!"
The young actress looked up, her face white. "He killed her. He killed her. She's dead. Oh, why did he do it! It wasn't necessary. He shouldn't have done it. But he killed her." Her voice sounded like a phonograph record running just a little too fast.
"You'd better shut up," April said. "Suppose the police heard you say that. Button your lip, pip."
Polly Walker looked around her and blinked, bewildered. "What on earth — I mean, who are you?"
"We're your friends," Dinah said solemnly.
A small smile moved the corners of Polly Walker's lips. "You'd better run along home. There's been some trouble here."
"Sure," Archie said. "There's been a murder. That's why we're here. Because —" April kicked him savagely on the shin; he yelped once and was silent.
"Who was murdered?" Dinah asked.
"Flora Sanford," Polly Walker breathed. She covered her eyes with her left hand, and moaned, "Oh, Wally, Wally, you stupid fool. How could you!"
"For Pete's sake!" April exploded. "You're going to have to make with fancy answers to the cops practically any minute now, and you can't go into that 'How could you' routine. In the first place, it's corny, and in the second place, he didn't do it."
Polly Walker looked up, stared at April, and said, "Oh!" There was a faint and distant sound of sirens, growing louder and nearer. She straightened up and pushed a strand of hair back into place.
"Powder your nose, too," Dinah said sternly. She looked at April and said, "Who's he?"
April shrugged her shoulders and said, "How should I know?"
The first police car turned into the driveway with a last little moan of its siren. Polly Walker stood up. She murmured, under her breath, "You'd better go home, you three. This may be unpleasant."
"Not for us," April said.
The police car stopped beside the gray convertible and four men got out, all plain-clothes men. Two of them stood looking at the house, waiting for orders. The other two walked around the car and came over to where Polly Walker was standing. One of them was a slender man, of medium height, with thick, straight, graying hair, a deeply tanned face, and bright-blue eyes. He seemed to be a person of authority. The other was a big man, tall and stout, with a round red face, greasy black hair, and a perpetually skeptical look in his eyes.
"Where's the body?" the big man said.
Polly Walker shuddered slightly, and pointed to the house. The big man nodded, motioned to the waiting two, and led the way. The gray-haired man said, "And who are you?"
"Polly Walker. I phoned the police. I found her." She spoke evenly and calmly, but the skin around her mouth was white.
The police officer wrote it down, looked around, and said, "Are these her kids?"
"We live next door," Dinah said with icy dignity.
The big, red-faced man came hurrying out of the house and said, "The dame's dead, all right. Shot."
"Mrs. Sanford invited me over for tea," Polly Walker said. "I rang the bell when I got here, and nobody answered. I went right in and — found her. Then I called the police."
"The maid's out, Lieutenant," the big man said. "Nobody in the house. Could have been prowlers."
"Possibly," the police lieutenant said. The tone of his voice made it plain he didn't think it was. "You notify the medical examiner, O'Hare. Then try to locate her husband."
"Okay," O'Hare said. He went back into the house.
"Now, Miss Walker." He looked at her thoughtfully, offered her a cigarette and a light. "I know this has been a shock. I'm sorry to bother you with questions right now. But —" He smiled, and his face became disarmingly friendly. "Maybe I'd better introduce myself. I'm Lieutenant Smith of the Homicide Bureau."
Dinah interrupted him with a little gasp. "Oh! What's your first name?"
He glanced at her, slightly annoyed. "Bill." Before he could turn back to Polly Walker, Dinah had gasped again, louder. "Why?" he demanded. "What of it?"
"It's such a coincidence!" Dinah said, excitement in her voice.
"My being named Smith? There's millions of people named Smith."
"Yes," Dinah said. "But Bill Smith!"
"All right. There's probably millions of people named Bill Smith, too. What's a coincidence about that?"
Dinah fairly danced up and down. "You're a detective. Mother has a character —" She paused. "Oh, never mind."
He scowled at her. "Listen kid, I've got work to do here. I haven't time to listen to a lot of double talk. Run along now. Beat it."
"I'm sorry," Dinah said contritely. "I didn't mean to bother you. Mr. Smith, are you married?"
"No," he snapped. He opened and shut his mouth two or three times, without making a sound. "Look here. Go on home. Scram. Vamoose. Get the — get out of here."
Not one of the three young Carstairs moved as much as an inch.
Sergeant O'Hare reappeared. "Svenson already called the medical examiner," he reported. "And Mr. Sanford left his office a while ago; he oughta be home soon." He looked from his superior to the three young Carstairs and said, "Never mind, I'll handle 'em. I raised nine kids of my own." He strode up and struck a threatening pose. "What do you think you're doing here?" he roared.
"Don't be rude," April said coldly. She raised herself to a good five foot one, and looked him squarely in the eye. "We came here," she said with magnificent dignity, "because we heard the shots."
Lieutenant Smith and Sergeant O'Hare looked at each other for a long moment. Then the lieutenant said, very gently, "Are you sure they were shots — not backfire?"
April just sniffed, and said nothing.
Excerpted from "Home Sweet Homicide"
Copyright © 1944 Craig Rice.
Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.