RICHARD LOCKRIDGE – The Old Die Young. Nathan Shapiro #12. Lippincott & Crowell, hardcover, 1980. No paperback edition.

   In recent weeks a couple of old pros in the world of mystery fiction have shown their fans that they’re both alive and well, which is welcome news indeed. [The second book is by Ngaio Marsh, and it will come up for review in a few days.]

   Each has added a creditable entry to the already sizable list of detective novels that have been produced under their names over the past forty years and more. Separately, I hasten to add, and distinctively.

   Taking the male member of this pair of famous writers first – a small change of pace, and there’s nothing wrong with that, is there? – Richard Lockridge’s actual collaborator for most of his first fifty-five books was, of course, his first wife, Frances. Together, their most famous creation was the celebrated husband-and-wife sleuthing team, Mr. and Mrs. North. When Frances died in 1963, it meant the end of the Norths as a detective team, alas, but the adventures of some of their other characters have never ceased to appear. This is Richard Lockriddge’s twenty-fifth book as a solo act.

   An aptly chosen word, I think. The Lockridge fictional milieu has always been that of Manhattan and the closer suburban environs, but I think that a closer look would show that very often forming the basis for the immediate story has been the Broadway theatre.

   And so it is here. The mysterious death of a leading man a little too old for the part he’s playing draws Lieutenant (soon to be Captain) Nathan Shapiro into the world of bright lights and theatrical temperaments so synonymous with life along the Great White Way.

   Shapiro I picture as a sad basset hound who, no matter what case he finds himself on, invariably thinks of himself as in over his head. There are no sudden flashes of brilliance that come in the solving of his cases. He does not believe in coincidence. A steady flow of evidence accumulates against the killer.

   For all of its brightly crisp dialogue, always a standard Lockridge trademark, and a brief glimpse or two at modern morality, this is a mystery still very much old-fashioned in tone, with little or no action to speak of, but with a good many speaking parts.

Rating: B minus

–Very slightly revised from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 5, No. 1, January-February 1981.

Bibliographic Update: This was, alas, Richard Lockridge’s final book. He died in 1982.