KELLEY ROOS – Ghost of a Chance. Dell #266, mapback edition, no date [1948]. Originally published by A. A. Wyn, hardcover, 1947. Hardcover reprint: Detective Book Club, 3-in-1 edition.

   When it comes to married couples who solve detective mysteries in crime fiction, if you’re like me, the first ones to come to mind are Nick and Nora Charles (The Thin Man, 1934), but once I thought about it some more, I decided that Agatha Christie’s Tuppence and Tommy might have come earlier, and I was right: The Secret Adversary (1922).

KELLEY ROOS Ghost of a Chance

   I suspect, as it always happens whenever you try to come up with the first of anything when it comes to mystery fiction, that there were earlier ones, but if there are, I’m willing to wager that they are all obscure. Jeff and Haila Troy, the detective of record in ten entries in Al Hubin’s Crime Fiction IV (including one collection and one novella published separately), came along much later, starting with Made Up to Kill in 1940, and would probably fit very nicely in the obscure category, if the good folks at Rue Morgue Press hadn’t published a few of them in recent years.

   Contemporaneous with the Troys would be Mr. and Mrs. North, whose adventures were written up by Frances and Richard Lockridge. At the time, the Norths were much better known, but I suspect they’re also falling into obscurity, if they haven’t already, sad to say.

   This is the first of the Troys’ adventures that I’ve read, and while I enjoyed it and will read any others that happen to fall into my hands, as a mystery, it’s tame enough that I can see why the Troys were really never rivals to the Norths in terms of popularity, even at the time.

   I may have been told in Ghost of a Chance what either or both of the Troys do for a living, but if so, I’m sorry to say that I missed it. (And I did. The Dell mapback I have in my hands has a descriptive list of the characters on the very first page. Jeff Troy is a photographer. It does not say what Haila does, but from a quick search on the Internet, it appears that she is an actress, or that she was at one time.)

KELLEY ROOS Ghost of a Chance

   Ghost of a Chance is told in a decidedly breezy style, one that does its best, but doesn’t quite succeed, in disguising the fact that there really isn’t a lot of substance to it, but breezy enough that you don’t quite realize it while you’re reading. Only when you’re done do you (or did I) realize how flimsy the plot really was.

   Which involves Jeff and Haila trying their best to prevent a murder from happening, one that an old man does his best to tell them about before he dies unexpectedly in a gruesome subway accident. Only problem is, while they know when the murder is going to happen, they don’t know who the victim is going to be, nor why. (That the old man’s death is no accident, they assume right away.)

   This is where the detection comes in, which is satisfactory, but the case quickly becomes a thriller more than a puzzle novel, which is where my disappointment if not discontent set in. But the locale — here and there and up and down the island of Manhattan in the middle of a vicious snow storm before adjourning briefly to a small vacation town in upstate New York — is both finely described and highly enjoyable.

   As for current married couples who solve mystery cases together, is Beckett going to say yes to Castle’s proposal in last week’s end of season finale? Tune in next fall and find out.