A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review by Ellen Nehr:


THE CASE BOOK OF JIMMIE LAVENDER

VINCENT STARRETT – The Case Book of Jimmie Lavender. Gold Label, hardcover, 1944. Hardcover reprint: Bookfinger, 1973.

   Comprising about a fourth of the published cases of Jimmie Lavender, the only sleuth in mystery fiction named for a major-league baseball player, these twelve tales from the Twenties and Thirties are representative examples of the now mostly forgotten detective short stories of Vincent Starrett, better known today as the biographer of Lavender’ s inspiration, Sherlock Holmes.

   By modern standards, none is of the first rank, but most are well-plotted puzzles cast in the classic mold, with a nice blend of cerebral deduction and physical action, and even fifty years and more later they have their attractions.

   Several of the victims in the ten episodes concerned with murder are dispatched in picturesque ways and in a variety of interesting settings. Among the latter: a nightclub, a cruise ship, a golf course, a hospital, a university campus not far from the grounds of the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair, and even an airplane cockpit.

   In one of the tales, a house “vanishes”; in another, the scene of the crime itself disappears; in a third — a locked-room homicide — the case is solved twenty years before it occurs. And every so often the proceedings are enlivened with some typical Chicago-style gunplay.

   Though not as fully realized or memorably limned as some of his more celebrated Golden Age contemporaries, Lavender himself is an engaging protagonist, warm and whimsical throughout, though perhaps a bit too omniscient at times. He is aided in his investigations by his equally likable companion and chronicler, “Gilly” Gilruth, a refreshingly able Watson.

   Taken in small doses, their adventures are still fun to read, both for their own sake and as pleasantly nostalgic reminders of a more innocent era in the history of the crime-fiction genre.

Vincent Starrett

   Starrett also published a number of mystery novels, none of which is particularly distinguished. Three of these feature a detective with the unlikely name of Walter Ghost: Murder on “B” Deck (1929), Dead Man Inside (1931), and The End of Mr. Garment (1932).

   Starrett’s best novel, however, is probably Murder in Peking (1946), which has a nicely evoked Chinese background. Other of Starrett’s criminous short stories can be found in Coffins for Two (1924) and The Blue Door (1930); two of the stories in the later volume feature Jimmie Lavender.

         ———
   Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.