A Friendly Game of Murder
by J.J. Murphy
(Obsidian, $7.99, NV) ISBN 978-0-451-23899-3
***
Algonquin wit Dorothy Parker can hold her own in any conversation with her fellow wits, but when it comes to playing a game of Murder at Douglas Fairbanks's star-studded New Year Eve fete in his penthouse suite of the Algonquin she feels a bit like a fish out of water.

Dorothy trades barbs in the lobby with critic Alexander Woollcott while waiting for the object of her crush, Robert Benchley to slip away from his wife. Dr. Hurst announces there is smallpox in the hotel and everyone, including the famous author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, must be quarantined leaving Dorothy and her friends wondering "what fresh hell is this?"

Fairbanks and his wife, Mary Pickford, invite all up to their suite to continue the party, including newly arrived Broadway starlet Bibi Bibelot, whose name, if said out loud sounds like "imbibe a lot," appropriate for what follows; if not intentional on the author's part, a stroke of very good luck. Before going upstairs, Dr. Hurst asks manager Frank Case to put a special locket in the hotel's vault, but Case is unable to do so and Fairbanks offers to keep the locket safe for the doctor.

Upstairs in the suite, the party is in full swing when Bibi saunters through the crowd wearing nothing but the doctor's locket. Climbing into a tub full of champagne, Bibi thinks she is being cute, but most partygoers are appalled. After an argument with the doctor, Bibi is found dead and the police can't come into the hotel due to the quarantine, leaving it up to Dorothy Parker and her friends to uncover a murderer, this time not as part of a party game. As Dorothy and company begin to question the guests, she realizes that the locket Bib wore around her neck may be a big clue to her murder, but there is something she is missing if she can just figure it out before the New Year gets any older.

A fun twist on the traditional locked room cozy, J.J. Murphy ably captures the atmosphere of prohibition in New York and faithfully recreates Dorothy Parker and her friends, bringing a decidedly more human side to Dorothy than is often portrayed. Many colorful characters of the time, both real and fictional, come to life making the Algonquin a lively backdrop for murder. In spite of Dorothy's wisecracks, she is smart and observant, and jumps easily to conclusions, some of which, in this case, point the investigation in the right direction unmasking a most unlikely killer.

--Jennifer Monahan Winberry


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