Reviewed by TONY BAER:


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).

   Sammy Abbott is a detective working out of the DA’s Office.

   Sammy’s wife went to high school with handsome scoundrel Harvey Wallace.

   She wrote him some pretty juicy love notes back in the day. Juicy enough for public embarrassment. And embarrassing enough that Harvey Wallace tries to blackmail her.

   Turns out that Harvey’s been blackmailing all sorts of people all over town. And people don’t seem to like it too much.

   So when Sammy burglarizes Harvey’s home to retrieve the love letters, he encounters Harvey’s fresh, bloody corpse. It makes him happy and he sings a song of homicide.

   Sammy ain’t the most reliable narrator in the world, and makes a habit of lying to everyone constantly: his wife; his boss; his friends. He’s obviously in it for himself. And it’s never clear to the reader, up til the very end, whether in fact Sammy himself is the murderer.

   Sammy spends half his time half-heartedly investigating the murder and the other half concocting false alibis, planting concocted evidence, and rubbing red herrings across the trail of the police lieutenant in charge of the homicide investigation (a ‘red herring’ is literally a stinky fish that hunters would draw across a fox trail to put an end to their hound’s hunt).

   It’s an amusing shaggy dog tale that kept my attention til the end. But while it makes Ken Bruen’s Top 10 all-time noir list [see Comment #1], I don’t see it. In fact, I don’t even think it’s noir. It’s so light you’re afraid the wind might carry it away. But not too afraid as it would not be that great a loss.

   And I’d be shocked if Langham plotted it out ahead of time. It seems like Langham is just making the thing up as his fingers hit the typewriter keys. Up until the very last second you really wouldn’t be surprised to find out that any one of the innumerable characters ‘did it’ — or even to find that the victim wasn’t really dead. All strings are tied up at the end in a haphazard way by way of Sammy making a wild accusation with a crazy story pulled out of the left field bleachers and the accused simply confessing a la a standard episode of Perry Mason. But it really could’ve been anything or anyone.

   So, yeah. It’s okay. It’s entertaining. But disposable. Infinitely disposable. Lemon jello for the mind.

   A more positive review of the book can be found earlier on this blog here.

   I got my copy from Thriftbooks for $8.00. It was a hardcover in its shirtsleeves (i.e. without the jacket) signed by the author with a note to a local record store owner, wishing that they enjoy the book as much as he likes their records.