CRAIG RICE Trial by Fury

CRAIG RICE – Trial by Fury. Simon & Schuster, hardcover, 1941. Paperback reprints include: Pocket 237, 1st printing, October 1943. Dell D187, Great Mystery Library #2, 1957. International Polygonics, 1991.

   Now married (drunkenly ever after?), Jake and Helen Justus are off on a trip to Wisconsin lake country. Stopping in a rural county courthouse to get a fishing license, they soon encounter murder, naturally enough.

   Jake, hailing as he does from the land of Chicago (gangsters!) is immediately suspected of the crime by the local hick sheriff. Soon he is in jail and the family friend, John J. Malone, that brilliant, sodden defense attorney, is called to the rescue by Helene.

   Malone eventually explains all, after several more killings, an explosion and the formation of a lynch mob, but only with the help of Hercules, a Bloodhound-Great Dane mix and one of the author’s most inspired creations.

CRAIG RICE Trial by Fury

   Praised by Anthony Boucher as possibly Rice’s best book, Trial by Fury is quite good. It features some of the standard (and for me shopworn) Rice devices — the idea that drunkenness is inherently hilarious, and that it’s fascinating to read about Helene’s many wardrobe changes — but the portrayal of small-town, pre-WW2 America is original and really enjoyable. (No doubt much of this is drawn from Rice’s own youth?)

   The interaction of her urbanite series characters with the locals is tremendously amusing as well. Perhaps the solution of the mystery doesn’t quite live up to all the involution that preceded it, but all in all, I would say this is one of the finest American detective novels of the Golden Age period (roughly) that I have read.

Previously reviewed on this blog:

      8 Faces at 3 (by Curt Evans)
      Trial By Fury (by David Vineyard)
      People vs. Withers & Malone by Craig Rice & Stuart Palmer (by Bill Pronzini and George Kelley)