TIMOTHY FULLER. Keep Cool, Mr. Jones (1950).

16 Jul

The people of Saxon, a newly suburbanized village outside of Boston, can’t decide whether they want to retreat from the modern world or to embrace its many amenities. Just now, an old-timey square dance is under way in Jack Maney’s converted barn. In the barn’s basement, meanwhile, Maney has installed a state-of-the-art deep freeze, as big as a living room. KeepCoolJones.jpgIn Fuller’s adroit hands, the freezer becomes a casual metaphor of America in the Age of Anxiety (to borrow W.H. Auden’s phrasing). It also becomes a scene of attempted murder. Jupiter Jones, taking a break from the rigors of homespun recreation, mosies down to the deep freeze and discovers four eminent Saxonites padlocked inside. Immediately, he suspects homicidal intent. Who, he wonders, was the targeted victim? And who would be so cold-blooded as to add three extra victims to his or her kill? Later that night, the town police chief meets with a fatal shotgun blast while investigating the incident. Jones, a gentleman scholar and sometime amateur detective, devotes the next day—the “kind of day one hopes to avoid by moving to the country”—to sorting through the stories and secrets of various town characters. Punctuating his labors are reports of that afternoon’s Red Sox game, and news of Ted Williams’s every at-bat. The resulting tale is a wonderful period piece and a fine novel in its own right, complete with dialogue that proceeds through unforced wit, social insight that combines satire with sympathy, a heavy helping of romance (along with a light salting of sex), a hunt for buried treasure, and a dash of philosophizing on Jones’s part. His comments on the spiritual plight of mid-century Americans are off-the-cuff yet trenchant, and the book’s final word is hard to argue with: “There would always be baseball.”

[ADDENDUM: This novel, unlike some that I’ve reviewed in this space, well and truly deserves to be called a “forgotten book.” Harper Perennial did reissue it back in the 1980s, as part of an excellent line of classic mystery reprints, but that was more than a quarter-century ago. Meanwhile, on the Internet (that magical place that now constitutes our collective memory) the book appears to have left very few traces. The same goes for Fuller and his sleuth, Jupiter Jones. Not even Fuller’s first detective novel, Harvard Has a Homicide (1936), which achieved a fair bit of renown in its own time, seems to have garnered much attention from online commentators. And a search for “Jupiter Jones” mostly turns up references to another fictional detective—one of the teenagers who star in the Three Investigators series, which I recall fondly as my literary way station between Encyclopedia Brown and Agatha Christie.]


Posted by on July 16, 2011 in American, Golden Age, Novel, Puzzle


7 responses to “TIMOTHY FULLER. Keep Cool, Mr. Jones (1950).

  1. Patrick

    July 16, 2011 at 8:02 PM

    I saw “Harvard Has a Homicide” on a bookstore shelf, right beside “Mayhem in B Flat”. I decided to buy the latter, but after much deliberation, left the former, mainly due to its condition which wasn’t the most readable…

  2. Mike

    July 18, 2011 at 12:54 PM

    I haven’t read “Harvard Has a Homicide,” but I do have a nice copy of it–a decent early hardcover printing that I bought when I lived in Boston. It originally belonged to some old Harvardian, or so I imagine. Neatly tucked inside it are a couple of article clippings (one from the Harvard Crimson and one from a Boston daily, if I recall correctly) about the book and its author.

  3. Patrick

    July 18, 2011 at 1:06 PM

    This article has tempted me to return to that store and see if the book is still there- it was only 2 or 3 dollars…

  4. J F Norris

    July 22, 2011 at 9:31 AM

    I am planning to include Jupiter Jones in my not-so-regular feature “Neglected Detectives.” But he’s not coming up until the fall. Ironically, each time I write on one of these characters they are the least commented on of my posts – exactly the opposite effect I want. […sigh…] So far I’ve done Judge Peck, Dr. Palfrey and Maria Black. I have many many more to get to. But since I review the series and not just one book it takes extra effort and research…not to mention re-reading a few to refresh my memory.

    Thanks for bringing Timothy Fuller out of the closet so to speak. He shows up in the pages of The American Magazine every now and then! How about that? So many American mystery writers (outside of Stout, Chandler, Hammet, and the two MacDonalds) really do get overlooked decade after decade in favor of the Brits, the French and now the Scandanvians.

  5. Mike

    July 23, 2011 at 3:43 PM

    I agree with John, of course, about the general neglect of American mystery writers. While the leading lights of the hardboiled school (Hammett and his descendants) continue to have a place in both the critical and the popular imagination, or at any rate they remain in print, there’s a slew of non-hardboiled American writers from the mid 20th century who really get no respect at all, and they deserve better. The mysteries written by these men and women (Rex Stout and Patrick Quentin and Stuart Palmer and Anthony Boucher and Timothy Fuller, for example, as well as my favorite unsung American mystery author, Helen McCloy) were puzzle-driven, but they weren’t at all “cozy,” or at least they weren’t by my reckoning. What distinguishes those works above all else, I think, is their urbanity. That’s a quality that is missing from the detective and mystery stories that get celebrated today. In any case, it’s a quality that I miss.

  6. Patrick

    July 27, 2011 at 3:05 PM

    Just thought you’d be interested- I now own a copy of “Harvard Has a Homicide” thanks to this article. I’ll probably work it into my Crime Kings splurge, as the author is certainly male and, just as certainly, time has been unkind to his work!

  7. Mike

    July 29, 2011 at 1:19 PM

    Again, I haven’t read the “Harvard” novel. I look forward to seeing what Patrick thinks of it. (By the way, given the self-regard that Harvard types are justly known for, I’m surprised that some small press hasn’t published that title as a nostalgia item aimed at the alumni market.)


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