MAX MURRAY. A Neat Little Corpse (1950).

30 Aug

An aura of necromancy, and consequently an air of narrative indeterminacy, linger around this work. In all other respects, though, A Neat Little Corpse begs to be labeled “a neat little mystery.” A well-made tale of murder set in the Caribbean, it has a bit of everything, and every bit nestles pleasantly into a Hollywood-ready plot. (A B-movie adaptation, Jamaica Run, appeared in 1953). NeatLittleCorpse.jpgPatrick Fairlie, a blithe young Englishman, takes his ward, a pint-size would-be pirate whom he calls Captain Bloodshot, to the idyllic environs of Comeback Bay, in Jamaica. With a boat, a full set of diving gear, and a crew of superstitious locals, he signs on to help a fortune-hunting American who aims to haul up a lode of sunken treasure. But what begins as a lark spirals into a very serious business: The fortune-hunter is bludgeoned to death. Fairlie becomes entangled with a prominent Comeback Bay family, the Daceys, all of whom are prime suspects in the murder (and one of whom beguiles Fairlie with her winsome ways). And someone kidnaps doughty Captain Bloodshot, setting off an island-wide boy-hunt. Looming over the entire affair, meanwhile, is the specter of obeah—a form of black magic native to the West Indies.

Murray uses the tropical backdrop to superb effect, and he manages multiple plot strands and shifting points of view with professional flair. Detection (in the sense of formal problem solving) is minimal. Instead, Fairlie and others essentially resolve the case behind the scenes, and readers are left with a solution that clears away most but not all traces of the supernatural.

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Posted by on August 30, 2012 in British, Novel, Puzzle


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