|Faherty has a series of Scott Elliott mysteries, of which I’ve only read one so far, In a Teapot. It’s an absolute delight! Set in the late forties, with murder, mystery, and scandal wrapped around a proposed film production of The Tempest, with Ronald Colman (Be still my beating heart!) as Prospero, the book hits high notes for me on two counts: classic-era mysteries and Shakespeare––three, if you count that The Tempest is my favorite of Shakespeare’s oeuvre. Anyway, the intricate plot is clever, with plenty of suspects, all of whom Faherty gives a touch of various 1940s movie players. The writing perfectly captures the experienced yet breezy writing style of a Craig Rice; or, if you want to put it in more cinematic terms, the snappy humor, suspense, and enjoyable characters in Vincent Sherman’s All Through the Night––not so much tough as been around the block a few times. You might say that detective Scott Elliott displays the world-weary wit of Dick Powell’s Phil Marlowe in Murder, My Sweet, without the bitterly cynical edge. Case in point, his describing the after-affects of having fought in WWII: “After you’d spent a few months lobbing howitzer shells at strangers and having them lob a few back at you, everything else, even peeping through keyholes for a living, seemed pretty normal” (11).His fiancée is Ella, a publicist for Warner Brothers. Smart, witty, and capable, she’s one of those noir smart-talking gals in the tradition of Ella Raines, Lucille Ball, Anne Shirley, Joan Bennett, and Clare Trevor (the latter two when they’re outfoxing adversaries, male and female; kicking Nazis in the shins; or pulling the hero’s fat from the fire––not when they go all slinky and femme fatale). Anyway, it’s great to see Scott and Ella play off each other, kidding, working in concert on their pigeons, pushing each other to come up with better conjectures. Like some of the most fun teams in golden-age screen and page, they genuinely like, love, and respect each other. The novel deftly creates a forties ambience of post-war readjustments, classic cars, snazzy night clubs, California dreaming, film studios, and the underworld, removing the tinsel but not wallowing in the filth. Faherty draws comparisons between his characters and actors of the era, but gives the characters enough identity of their own so that his references merely provide context to help you get started knowing them. It’s nice that he’s not afraid to give you people who are still decent and likeable, though they may be humanly rough around the edges. The book is short, but like the compact B-films of the forties coming out of RKO, Columbia, and Warner Brothers, it efficiently packs a wallop from its intricate plotting, believable characterizations, and evocative recreation of an era gone by. I can’t wait to read the rest of the series.
Other works in the series include: Kill Me Again, Come back Dead, and Raise the Devil.
Cover art by Tim Faherty, art by Robin Agnew,, book design by Patricia Prather, © 2005.