JOHN JAY CHICHESTER – The Bigamist. Jimmy “Wiggly” Price #2. Serialized in seven parts in Detective Story Magazine between February 7 and March 14, 1925. Published in hardcover by Chelsea House, 1925. Reprinted by A. L. Burt, hardcover, 1927.

   You shouldn’t expect a detective story published in 1925 to be a modern day mystery, especially one published in Detective Story Magazine, a pulp that didn’t realize that hardboiled detective fiction was coming into play until the very late 1930s, some fifteen years after the fact.

   And yet … and yet … the opening of The Bigamist reminded me of a noirish novel I recently read by Day Keene, I believe, in which the protagonist was mixed up with two women, one in the city and the other, much more innocent, living on a farm (figuratively speaking, if not literally). The bigamist in The Bigamist, is no amoral character however, just a weak one who forsakes the women who loves him (and has waited over ten years for him) and marries a rich women he quickly finds he really doesn’t love.

   Learning that his first love is dying, he hurries home, and so that she can die in peace, still loving him, he goes through a phony marriage ceremony with her — only to have her miraculously recover. Enter a blackmailer, then a killer.

   The detective on the case is not the clown of a cop in the village where Dora lives, but a newspaper reporter from the city by the name of Jimmy “Wiggly” Price, first met in The Porcelain Mask (Chelsea House, 1924). His nickname comes from the fact that when he gets excited, his ears begin to wiggle uncontrollably. (No, I’m not joking. It can be done, but it takes practice.)

   Any hint of this being a noir novel has quickly disappeared by this time, obviously, and the dialogue between the participants is often antiquated at best. Since the number of these participants is strictly limited, if the killer isn’t the obvious one, there’s only one other person it could be. And yet .. and yet … the book is surprisingly readable, and only because the author, I submit, was a natural storyteller, fact that outweighs any other deficiencies he may have had. I have no other explanation.


Bibliographic Notes:   John Jay Chichester was a pen name of Christopher B. Booth, noted in some circles as the author of the Mt. Clackworthy stories, discussed at length on this blog here and here. The third and final Jimmy Price novel was The House of the Moving Room (Chelsea House, 1926).