Thu 31 May 2012
JAMES R. McCAHERY – Grave Undertaking. Knightsbridge Bestseller Mystery #12, paperback original; 1st printing, 1990.
This book is bound to be a Collector’s Item, simply because it’s going to be so hard to find. Maybe things were different in your part of the country, but in the central part of Connecticut where I live, it never went on sale, and I know, because I was looking for it. Knightsbridge is a small struggling publisher, and they just didn’t have the oomph to push an author whose first book this is.
The other question is, is the book worth looking for? I think it is, even though it has some problems, but it has some pluses too, the primary one being its lead detective, Mrs. Lavina London, an ex-radio actress in her 70s who finds that even at her age, one can still have her wits about her. Occasional bits of old radio shows are dropped here and there, but — you may be interested to know — they’re nowhere nearly as profuse and possibly underfoot as the mentioning of old mystery writers and their works are in Carolyn Hart’s books.
The plot as to do with graveyards, ha ha, as you would probably have already gathered from the title. The first victim is a wealthy funeral home director who hasn’t made as many friends in this world as he thought he had.
Besides the fact that I learned more about funeral directors, cemetery owners, and florists than I really wanted to — there is more backstabbing possible between funeral directors, cemetery owners, and florists than I ever dreamed there could be — I thought the book itself was rather uneven. It starts well, begins to fade in the middle (as many books do), picks up again to what seems will be a grand finale — and collapses in a final confrontation with the killer that seems to go on forever, although it’s gone on for only 18 pages when the killer says to Lavina: “Well, enough of this chit-chat, Mrs. L. … I don’t want to hang around here too long.”
I also thought for a while that the author Jim McCahery hadn’t played fair with us, but after some consideration I decided that a reasonable amount of clues were there after all. (I probably wasn’t paying attention.) I’d still have trimmed the novel down some, if I’d had any say, but I also say that if you care for “little old lady” fiction at all, you should make a point of picking this one up, if and when you ever find a copy.
February 1991 (slightly revised).
[UPDATE] 05-31-12. Offhand, I don’t know how long Knightsbridge, the publisher of Grave Undertaking, was able to stay around, but I’ll look into it. I don’t think it was more than a couple of years. It was Kensington/Zebra who published Jim’s second book, What Evil Lurks, in 1995.
The latter was also Lavina London’s second appearance, but if there was to be a third, it didn’t happen. Jim McCahery died in 1995, at the far too young age of 61. Although we met only twice, we were friends by mail and through an outfit called DAPA-Em, which until it recently disbanded, published stapled-together compilations of each members’ fanzines every two months for something like 35 years.
We’ve gone digital instead. Many former members leave comments on this blog and/or have their own. Or contribute here from pages of old mailings, with Walter Albert, Dan Stumpf, Marv Lachman, Geoff Bradley and Stan Burns as prime examples.
I possibly exaggerated the scarcity of Grave Undertaking, as there are 24 copies offered for sale on ABE, and considerably more of the second. I hadn’t known until looking just now that the second was published in hardcover before it appeared in paperback. I’m happy to know that.