William F. Deeck

  JAMES R. LANGHAM – Sing a Song of Homicide. Simon and Schuster, hardcover, 1940. Popular Library #63, paperback, no date [1945]. Film: Paramount, 1942, as A Night in New Orleans (with Preston Foster & Patricia Morison; screenwriter: Jonathan Latimer; director: William Clemens).

   Gun in hand and chuckling, Samuel Grace Abbott is standing by the recently deceased Harvey Wallace. Wallace is so recently deceased that the three bullet holes around his heart are still bubbling. A blackmailer, Wallace made at least one mistake: He tried to extort money from Abbott’s wife, Ethel. In addition, he was generally just not a nice person.

   As an investigator in the district attorney’s office, Abbott is assigned to aid the police in solving Wallace’s murder. Obscuring his involvement, planting evidence to mislead the police, and staying a step, sometimes two, ahead of the authorities and some crooks that he encounters along the way require nimble brain work. Abbott’s stratagems are most entertaining.

   Perhaps the best part of the book is Ethel, a delightful young lady. Yet if there is a weak point, it is the assumption that Ethel was capable of writing letters containing material that could be employed for blackmail.

   Langham says that once he knew he could do something, it stopped being fun. Though he contends on the back wrapper of the paperback edition of this novel that “writing is still fun,” he wrote just one other mystery. It, too, features the Abbotts, who should not be confused, as I unwittingly did, with Francis Crane’s Pat and Jean Abbott. Langham’s second novel is A Pocket Full of Clues; if it is as good as this one, you should start looking for both of them.

— From The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 13, No. 2, Spring 1991.