Everything went wrong for Jeff and Haila Troy the night they moved into their new Greenwich Village apartment. There’s no lock on the door, no blinds on the windows, and the truck with their furniture didn’t show on time. While at a restaurant to kill time, Haila overhears an unsavory character arranging a meeting for night in the basement apartment of 39 Gay Street, their new apartment. When Haila next sees the guy, it’s morning, he’s naked—and dead in their garden.
Several weeks ago, after I posted a review of the not so great Board Stiff, JJ (from over at The Invisible Event) mentioned that I shouldn’t let that experience put me off “the similarly death-punning title The Frightened Stiff by Kelley Roos.” I’d read the first of Roos books, Made Up to Kill, and enjoyed it. Plus, JJ hasn’t steered me wrong yet.
The puzzle that the Roos created is a good one. The police have a long list of suspects—everyone living in the building—but Jeff is right at the top. For him the obvious, and most interesting, thing to do is solve the case for them. His investigation, with the often-reluctant help of Haila, centers on the tenants of 39 Gay Street the brownstone, and what connection they had to the dead man. And it offers the Roos the opportunity to fill the building with a number of peculiar characters. Haila’s old roommate Anne, who isn’t very welcoming; Anne’s husband Scott, an artist who’s not always where he should be; a suspicious divorcee restaurateur with a very attentive brother; two spinster sisters with strange tastes in décor; a landlord with a shady past, and an art expert who knows nothing about art.
‘A group of less suspicious looking suspects I have never seen. If this were a cookie-snitching job instead of a murder, I could believe one of them did it.”
There is a sparseness to the narrative that works. While the dialogue is filled with humor that comes in the form of dry, and quite witty, banter, every sentence is structured to move the story forward. And even with the madcap nature of the plot, the Roos are able to create and maintain an atmosphere of unease and tension. There are some very inventive twists and almost everything dovetails in the end. But here’s the thing. While there is one flimsy little clue to the one person that the murderer cannot be, I don’t see how, using any of the information provided anywhere in the story, the murderer can be identified.
This is not only a very well-done mystery, but a funny and entertaining read as well. A “mystery comedy” without the silly slapstick or farce. This is a “death-punning title” that I very much recommend.
My Judgment – 4.25/5
Vintage Mystery Extravaganza—2014 Bingo—Read one book that has been made into a movie [A Night To Remember – released by Columbia Pictures 1942]