"The captain, to see me? It's not about my wife, is it? I mean... she likes to have a good time, sometimes she gets carried away..."- Lt. Columbo (Troubled Waters)
It's a common misconception among layman and even some adepts that the toughies and cozies were domestic products, stories that were typical of either American or British pop-culture, but the alcohol-guzzling, wise-cracking mystery solving husband-and-wife teams, who attract stiffs like they run a funeral parlor, are almost exclusively an American speciality – and not just the case-hardened ones that Dashiell Hammett introduced. The ones I have read were well written, often tightly plotted and whimsical in tone, which could be offered to explain why they're all but forgotten in this day and age: they're fun and don't fit a preconceived notion.
Undeterred by its hardboiled sounding title, Voyage into Violence (1956), a team effort from the spousal tandem of Frances and Richard Lockridge, has everything you expect from a sophisticated British drawing room mystery, from a pair of upper class sleuths, Mr. and Mrs. North, to the closed-circle of suspects, except that two Americans wrote this book.
Pam and Jerry North, alongside police Capt. Bill Weigand and his wife, Dorian, take a well deserved holiday aboard the S.S. Carib Queen, plotting a course for Havana, and their fellow passengers are a motley collection of holidaymakers and soon picture frames hanging in their gallery of suspects.
There's the Ancient and Respectable Riflemen, founded during the War of 1812 (and Patrick perks up), led by respectable Captain Folsom, the frumpy Hilda Macklin and her bullyrag of a mother, Olivia, a professional dancer named Jules Barron, among others, but the most important one is perhaps J. Orville Marsh – a retired private-eye, or so he says. However, when Marsh is run through with a ceremonial sword, belonging to the Ancient and Respectable Riflemen, evidence pulled from his luggage, like correspondence and photographs of expensive looking jewelry, indicates that he was on a case and may have come too close to closing it. Bill Weigand is put in charge, who, in turn, drags in his socialite buddies, to begin a covert investigation, but soon rumors, like a discrete waiter quietly enquiring if Sir or Madam wants a refill, are whispered from deck chair to deck chair, and before long, they sweep the deck like a tidal wave.
Voyage into Violence is a fine example of the pleasure you can derive from a Busman's Holiday-mystery, when you have writers who can weave patterns with multiple plot threads without getting tied up in it themselves, demonstrating that an extra set of hands at the typewriter
can come in handy has its advantages when writing a mystery
novel, as well as vividly describing the setting that gives the reader the idea
that they are there with them as the Van Dine to Pam and Jerry's Philo Vance. I do fear I
might have over praised this book and admit that it's not in the same league as,
oh let's say, Agatha Christie's Death on the Nile (1937) or Christianna
Brand's Tour de Force (1955), but making a distinction that one is merely
“clever” while the others are absolutely "brilliant" is simply arguing
semantics. Voyage into Violence is a vividly written mystery with a busy,
logical plot and interesting characters, but, more importantly, it was a nice,
leisurely summer read.
I want to leave you with this excerpt, from chapter IV, page 59, which I thought was interesting from a modern point of view. I could not imagine a problem like that in this day and age:
"If the Carib Queen were equipped for the dispatch of radio photographs-but that was absurd. (...) It was absurd. The Carib Queen was equipped for many things, some rather more complex than picture transmission. She could look through the darkness, farther than the eye could reach. Electronically, when near the coast-as she was now-the Carib Queen could tell precisely where she was. But she could not dispatch the convoluted signature on note and check to Worcester, Massachusetts, where it would mean something."Oh, one more thing, I have to make obligatory recommendations when discussing husband-and-wife detective teams: read Kelley Roos' The Frightened Stiff (1942; reprinted by the Rue Morgue Press) and Herbert Resnicow's Alexander and Norma Gold series.