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A.H.Z CARR. Finding Maubee (1971).

05 May

St. Caro, an irenic patch of sea-girt earth, a minor stone in the jewelry case of U.S. Caribbean possessions, doesn’t exist. Still, it’s just the right place for a murder. Swaying coconut trees, calypso rhythms, intimations of voodoo (called “obeah” in these parts), an unforgiving sun, and the forgiving darkness of sweet island nights—these form an exotic, Eden-like backdrop for homicidal intrigue among a set of pampered, peevish tourists from the mainland. FindingMaubee.jpgThe tourists are white, of course, and their interactions with native Carovians tingle with racial tensions that often carry a sexual overtone as well. Dead at the outset of this tale is Carl Lattner, an arrogant bigwig who made his money back in Cleveland and who made many a female heart break here on St. Caro. Clues found near the corpse, including the ornamental machete that caused a gash in Lattner’s neck, point to David Maubee, a local petty thief and a grand lover of woman in his own right. Maubee haunts the island as a kind of folk hero, and he haunts the mind of Police Chief Xavier Brooke as a kind of alter ego. Brooke comes to believe that they are both pawns in a white man’s game, especially after the island’s governor orders him to stop pestering the tourists with questions and to focus solely on bringing Maubee to justice. Brooke presses on, though, warding off bureaucratic predators and hacking through a dense underbrush of motives, alibis, and red herrings. Carr’s account of that investigation is a masterpiece that blends salty humor with piquant social observation, a formal detective puzzle with a narrative that draws on the best traditions of liberal humanism. The search for Maubee ends in a way that suggests a possible sequel. Alas, there was none: Carr died before he could exercise his literary voodoo again.

[ADDENDUM: My efforts to find anything online about Finding Maubee came almost to naught. Pretty much every link offered by Google relates not to this book, but to the 1989 film adapted from it. Titled Mighty Quinn, the movie features Denzel Washington in the role of Xavier Brooke (here renamed Xavier Quinn, for no apparent reason beyond that of echoing the title of a completely unrelated Bob Dylan song). I watched the film on DVD a while back, and found it to be a pleasant trifle. It offers the swaggering presence of Washington, along with a wealth of sun-ripened Caribbean scenery, but it mostly lacks the acute intelligence and narrative subtlety of the original story.]

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3 Comments

Posted by on May 5, 2011 in American, Novel, Puzzle

 

3 responses to “A.H.Z CARR. Finding Maubee (1971).

  1. TomCat

    May 6, 2011 at 4:45 AM

    Thanks for alerting me to this book! I never heard of A.H.Z. Carr before, but the story you described sounds intriguing – one of those rare post-GAD mysteries that work both as a novel as well as a puzzle plot story.

     
  2. Mike

    May 6, 2011 at 12:42 PM

    It’s been a while since I read this one, and therefore I can’t speak with any precision about how puzzling its puzzle plot actually is. I do recall that the plot isn’t super-complex in the classic manner of Carr, Christie, or Queen–so don’t expect that sort of thing. But the author takes the “Who done it?” part of the story seriously, as too few modern mystery writers do. There are multiple suspects, and clues, and alibis, and all the rest. And if it lacks the intellectual pyrotechnics of a Golden Age tale, it does integrate the puzzle-plot elements into the overall story more seamlessly than a typical GAD effort does. It’s a shame, and to me something of a surprise, that the book has stayed out of print for so long.

     
  3. TomCat

    May 6, 2011 at 12:51 PM

    I can forgive a weak plot from any modern mystery writer if there is, at the very least, an attempt at creating one – which is indeed a rarity among the crop of current “crime writers.”

    Anyway, the title has been jotted down on my never-ending wish list.

     

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