Monday, January 6, 2014

Vintage Mystery #1

I read this book for the Vintage Mystery Bingo ReadingChallenge 2014. The challenge is to read 6 or more Vintage Mysteries. All novels must have been originally written before 1960 and be from the mystery category.

I read this for G-1: Read a Book with a Color in the title

Blues for the Prince – Bart Spicer, 1950

Published in the early Fifties, this hardboiled mystery was the second in a series of about a dozen novels starring Philadelphia PI Carney Wilde. Wilde investigates a murder among the members of a band that still plays hot jazz (aka Dixieland) in the face of up-and-coming bebop. Admittedly, this novel has little action or detecting, but its setting, scenes and characterization make this an outstanding read. It is included on many “best mystery” lists (such as here and here).

Spicer was a journalist so that implies he valued an organized plot and fluent understandable language. His style is neither simple like James Cain nor complex like Raymond Chandler, but he strikes a balance between concise and excessively articulate. His dialogue is authentically hard-boiled without being cheesy (Cain’s failing, on his bad days), and his similes and metaphors are not self-conscious or over the top (Chandler’s failing, at times). The character of Wilde doesn’t crack wise nor is he given to mordant urban folk wisdom. His portrait of the weary homicide detective is realistic and humane.

Interesting to readers who like music would be the asides about Early Jazz, the kind of music that Louis Armstrong, Kid Ory, and Joe Oliver played. Obviously, in a book about jazz, race is an unavoidable topic. Spicer makes clear that among the musicians, it was not an issue compared to the artistic judgments of “plays good music” versus “plays lame music.” The critic for the New York Herald Tribune Book Review said that Spicer does an "excellent job . . . showing the relationship between whites and Negroes both in the unbiased world of jazz and the more deeply biased outside world." 

1 comment:

  1. Major: I am making a dedicated effort to go back and take a peek at everyone's reviews for the Vintage Challenge. Sorry it's taken me so long to get here.

    I like the jazz theme to this one. I'm not a usual fan of hard-boiled style--but this definitely sounds like it's worth reading.