GEORGE BAXT – The Dorothy Parker Murder Case.

International Polygonics; reprint paperback; 1st printing, April 1986. Hardcover edition: St. Martin’s Press, 1984. Trade paperback reprint: IPL, November 1989.


   I’ve been struggling to remember, but I think this is the first book by George Baxt that I’ve ever read. The Dorothy Parker Murder Case is the first of three series of detective novels he wrote, along with five stand-alone works of crime fiction. His series charcaters were:

      1. Pharaoh Love: New York City homicide detective in New York, both black and gay.
      2. Sylvia Plotkin and Max van Larsen: New York City author and police detective.
      3. Jacob Singer: New York City homicide detective, later a 1940s LA private eye, or so I’ve been told.

   While I was reading it, I didn’t realize that Dorothy Parker was Singer’s first recorded case. He and the celebrated Mrs. Parker had met previously when this case begins – that of the mysterious deaths of several Manhattan-based show girls — but when, how, and on what basis it happened they met was never the subject of a mystery novel of its own.

   When Baxt, who died in 2003, was writing the Jacob Singer books, I was going through a phase in which I paid no attention to mystery fiction that had “real people” in them. I had no idea until yesterday that Baxt had written so many of them. (See the complete list at the end of this review.)

   I can’t tell you why I had that particular prejudice. If I had a bad experience with a novel with a real person in it, it’s possible, but I simply don’t remember. Sometimes otherwise normal people do silly things.


   I also have never done any reading about Dorothy Parker and the famed Algonquin Round Table, nor read any but the briefest poems among her huge accumulation of literary work. I suppose there’s enough time left in my life to make up for various deficiencies like this, and instead of writing reviews, I sometimes think maybe I really ought to be doing something about it.

   In this book, which takes place immediately following the tragic death of Rudolph Valentino in 1926, the following real people appear, and I know I’m omitting some: Dorothy Parker, of course; her sleuthing partner, Alexander Woolcott; George S. Kauffman, in whose apartment the first dead girl is found; Robert Benchley; Marc Connelly; Judge Crater; Polly Adler; Edna Ferber; George Raft; Harold Ross; Flo Ziegfeld; Neysa McMein; Horace Liveright; Marie Dressler; Elsa Maxwell; Jeanne Eagels; and more.

   Not that all of these have big parts, but if what George Baxt says about them and their whoring and drinking, it’s remarkable that any of them grew up to be famous. There are puns, zingers and witticisms in this book galore, nearly one on every page.

   Picking a page at random, here’s a long passage that begins by describing Jacob Singer as he walks into Kauffman’s apartment to see the dead girl there in the bed:

    He [Singer] spent money on clothes and general good grooming and forced himself to read Dickens, Henry James, and on one brief depressing occasion, Tolstoy. He attended the theater and concerts as often as possible, but the opera only under the threat of death. Mrs. Parker’s admiration for the man was honest and limitless. “Okay, Mr. Kaufman, what’s the problem?”

    “I’ve got a dead woman in the bedroom.”

    “I’ve had lots of those, but usually they get dressed and go home.”

    They followed him into the bedroom. “Oh boy, oh boy. That is one ugly stiff.”

    “She used to be quite beautiful,” said Kaufman. “Ilona Mercury.”

    Singer pierced the air with a shrill whistle of astonishment. “I’d never guess. Would you believe just the other night I saw her in Ziegfeld’s revue, No Foolin’.”

    “We believe you,” said Mrs. Parker.

    Singer shot her a look. “No Foolin’ is the name of the show. It’s at the Globe.”

    “Oh. I’ve been away.”

    “Let’s get back to the other room. This is too depressing. Imagine a beautiful broad like that turning into such an ugly slab of meat. That’s life.”

    “That’s death,” corrected Mrs. Parker.


    Here’s another:

   [Harold] Ross leaned forward and aimed his mouth at Mrs. Parker. “How come you’re so privy to all this inside dope?”

   A puckish look spread across Benchley’s face. “Oh, tell me privy maiden, are there any more at home like you?”

    He was ignored. Mrs. Parker was struggling with her gloves. “Last night when dining with Mr. Singer, I told him Alec and I were seriously considering collaborating on a series of articles about contemporary murders.”

    Ross looked dubious. “You and Alec collaborating? That’s like crossing a lynx with a mastodon.”

    “And why not?” interjected Woollcott. “Might be fun. Where are you off to, Dottie?”

    “Where are we off to, sweetheart. Why, we’re off to Mrs. Adler’s house of ill repute as Mr. Singer’s companions. He’s picking us up in a squad car in a few minutes. If you’re a good boy, he’ll let you stand on the running board with the wind in your hair.”

    The less said about the mystery the better, and you will have noticed that I’ve already done so. That’s not what you’re paying your money for this time around. For what it’s worth, of the real people above, George Raft fares the worst at the hands of Mr. Baxt’s typewriter. Of the people who weren’t real until Mr. Baxt came along, though, you may be sure that many of them fare much worse.

    In summary, then, in case you’re wondering, do I intend to track down and read the rest of Jacob Singer’s adventures? Yes, indeed I do, and here’s a complete list of them, based on his entry on the Thrilling Detective website. (Not all of these are listed in the Revised Crime Fiction IV. I will pass the information along to Al Hubin.)

* The Dorothy Parker Murder Case (1984)
* The Alfred Hitchcock Murder Case (1986)


* The Tallulah Bankhead Murder Case (1987)


* The Talking Pictures Murder Case (1990)
* The Greta Garbo Murder Case (1992)


* The Noel Coward Murder Case (1992)
* The Marlene Dietrich Murder Case (1993)


* The Mae West Murder Case (1993)


* The Bette Davis Murder Case (1994)
* The Humphrey Bogart Murder Case (1995)
* The William Powell & Myrna Loy Murder Case (1996)
* The Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers Murder (1997)
* The Clark Gable & Carole Lombard Murder (1997)