8 Faces At 3 by Craig Rice (1939)

Holly Inglehart is accused of killing her domineering aunt Alexandria. She was found unconscious in the room with the body, and her fingerprints are the only ones on the murder weapon. And, she’s the only one who had a motive. If she got married after her aunt died, she inherits nothing. It her aunt found out she just married bandleader Dick Dayton she’s sure to be disinherited. She looks guilty as hell. Luckily her new husband’s press agent, Jake Justus, knows a lawyer who likes it that way. 

This was Craig Rice’s (pseudonym of Georgiana Ann Randolph Craig) first book, and features Chicago lawyer John J. Malone, press agent Jake Justus and eccentric heiress Helene Brand. The trio feature in a total of eleven books Rice wrote between 1939 and 1957. 

Really quite a good mystery, with murder and the puzzle of 8 clocks all stopped at 3 for the readers to unravel. Then add to that no other alibis, a kidnapping, and a mysterious stranger. Unfortunately, Rice begins cutting her suspect pool down fairly early, so hitting on the culprit isn’t all that hard. 

Rice’s writing style is so much fun to read. While, like most American detective fiction of this time, the tone tends toward the hard-boiled, Rice lightens it with injections of humor through appealing characters, entertaining situations, and dialogue filled with witty, wise-cracking dialogue. 

Justus is a smart aleck, but soft-hearted, press agent. Helene Brand is a gorgeous Chicago socialite who’s more at home in dive bars and brothels than her living room. And Malone is the rumpled lawyer whose specialty is getting his guilty clients off scot-free. Oh, and they are all dedicated drinkers, which is what led to most of the entertaining situations and wise-cracks. And hiding out in brothels run by a madam with a heart of gold, plus fast getaways from the police aided by ex-con chauffeurs is very funny and entertaining. 

I got the humor, I enjoyed the characters, but…I just didn’t see the “zaniness” that everyone else seems to see in it. I’ll admit, the overdependence of alcohol on the plot lessened some of the fun. But more than that, I think I just have an engrained aversion to American detective fiction. It always seems to have a hard edge to it that I can’t get past. But for those looking for a well written story with a good puzzle plot, this one is for you.

N. B. I’ve been trying to find physical copies of Rice’s books for some time now, but have only succeeded to find the Bingo and Handsome series, and Home Sweet Homicide in good condition and at a reasonable price. So, this read was the Mysteriouspress.com Kindle edition and I must say that I was very disappointed. First, because Penzler Publishing chose to publish Rice’s works in ebook format only. And second, because one would think that a major publisher would take more time in making sure their product—ebook format or not—wasn’t riddled with typos. 

My Judgment – 3.5/5

Prior Rulings – Les Blatt @ Classic Mysteries, Curtis Evans’ review @ Mystery*File

Vintage Mystery Extravaganza—2014 Bingo—Read one book with a lawyer, courtroom, or judge, etc.

9 thoughts on “8 Faces At 3 by Craig Rice (1939)

  1. I read this one pre-blog so my memories of it are rather hazy, but I have reviewed quite a few of the later ones. I’m guessing second hand copies are easier to obtain this side of the pond. The Wrong Murder, The Right Murder and Trial by Fury are my favourites from this particular series.

    1. This is the only one in this series that I’ve read, so I can’t really say. I can tell you that in the Bingo & Handsome books Rice refers back to previous books and events in them—with semi spoilers.

    2. There is a usual sense of chronology of the main sleuth falling in love, getting married, going on honeymoon etc. However, you can get away with reading them out of order in that respect. However the two books you need to read in order are The Wrong Murder and The Right Murder – those two have a specific bit of continuity.

  2. JFW

    Thanks for the review, which confirmed my suspicion that I won’t be tracking a copy down… My past few forays into Craig Rice has been that the storyline line is a zany ride – but that isn’t my chief idea of fun. To be fair, her solutions often show that the puzzles are more deliberately crafted and implemented – but I find that this realisation only becomes apparent in retrospect. By the time which I have lost a fair bit of steam…

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