Tour’s Books Blog

July 5, 2013

Murder Can Be Fun

I was playing in a swap on PBS and asking various trivia and riddle questions (good thing I had the answers on the riddles, because I SUCK at riddles) when I realized I was thinking a lot about my favorite films.  Of course there are some classics like The Maltese Falcon (My question was ‘It’s ‘The stuff dreams are made of.'”) and Casablanca – cheesy sets and all, it’s a brilliant movie – possibly the best movie ever.  But I love my comedies.  AFI loves doing lists of greatest actors, movies, comedies, etc.  I often find myself disagreeing with them totally, but one I was in full agreement with, the best comedy of all time – and it opens with a gangland slaying a la the St Valentine’s Day Massacre.  The film?  Some Like It Hot starring Jack Lemon, Tony Curtis, Marilyn Monroe and a host of famous character actors from the 30’s and 40’s, like George Raft, Joe E Brown, Pat O’Brian and Nehemiah Persoff. On the run from mob hitmen, Lemon and Curtis dress in drag and join an all girls band on its way to play at a Florida resort.  The script, acting, and direction are nothing sort of brilliant.  And it comes full circle when the gangsters have a meeting at the hotel when our two musicians in drag are playing.

Then there are the deliberate over-the-top send ups of all the 30’s and 40’s mysteries based on famous fictional detectives in literature and film written my the award-winning playwright Neil Simon – Murder by Death.  It skewers The Thin Man, Sam Spade, Charlie Chan, Miss Marple, and Hercule Poirot in a broad farce that is NO match for the quality of Some Like It Hot, but is a fun thing to watch for mystery lovers.

Just as not all mystery films are serious, neither are all assassin film filled with CIA or covert ops people being serious about national security – or just killing for money, some are pretty funny.  Think Grosse Pointe Blank or REDS rather than Day of the Jackal (the original, not the awful remake).

Do I like a good laugh with action?  Yup, so here are some good beach book options …………..

Agnes and the Hitman by Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer – stand alone novel

This book was the second collaboration between Jennifer Cruise, a PhD, occasional college instructor, and full time writer, and Bob Mayer, a West Point graduate, former Green Beret, and military action thriller writer.  This off-beat story is a classic blend of humor, action, and mystery set in a sleepy southern town that somehow became to home to a couple of Jersey mob guys, and slightly cranky food writer named Agnes.  One of the mob guys has a nephew …………. a hit man, but for the US Government.  Well, he wants his nephew to ‘take care of his ‘little Agnes’ because she might need protection from some old mob guys.  But what about the guys that need protection from her?  Agnes has some ………….. anger management issues – and a way with heavy skillets and sharp meat forks.

The cast is large, the story complex, hitmen abound, and ending has lots of surprises.  It took me awhile to warm up to this book, but once I did, I fell in love with the quirky characters and far from traditional romance.

Getting Rid of Bradley by Jennifer Cruise – stand alone

Before she teamed with Bob Mayer, Jennifer Cruise wrote what I always thought of as one of her best books, Getting Rid of Bradley.  Like most of her books, except the two she did with Mayer, its short.  And unlike her other books, this one had a mystery woven into the plot.  A case of mistaken identity has the heroine hitting the cop (a plain clothes detective) with a bag filled with high school physics books (she’s a teacher who just had her divorce to Bradley finalized.) when he grabs her in an alley when someone shoots at her.  She thinks he has a demented hero complex.  He thinks she’s nuts.  It’s a short, breezy, fun read perfect for the beach and available in ebook, though print can be hard to find.

The Bombay Assassins Series by Leslie Langtry

Here is a series that kind of defines quirk.  I mean, how many times do assassins try and put together a marketing plan in PowerPoint to get more government jobs because freelancers are undercutting your costs?  Starting with ‘Scuse Me While I Kill This Guy, where an average, car-pooling suburban mom has a contact on a guy guarded by the really hot guy she wants to get to know.  But my favorite is Standby By Your Hitman which has reclusive inventor Missy Bombay shipped off to a cheap Canadian knock-off of Survivor to kill an international arms dealer masquerading as a contestant.  Problem is, the guy she’s given doesn’t seem like a bad guy, and there’s this bartender that really interests her – a LOT, and her twin sons show up and tell her they aren’t sure the ‘vic’ really should be the vic!  Some of the scenes have me laughing hysterically even when I reread the book.  Guns Will Keep Us Together is another good one.

Unfortunately, Dorchester was the publisher of these books, so the Bombay series is mostly out of print, but they are available as Kindle ebooks and and are good beach reads.

Miss Fortune Series by Jana DeLeon

Another refugee from defunct Dorchester us Jana DeLeon who has written a character I fell in love with – ‘Fortune’ Redding, a CIA assassin.  She kills the brother of an arms dealer using the heel of her Prada Shoe and ends up with a huge bounty on her head.  Her boss is convinced there’s a leak in his office that blew her cover, so she shipped off to Sinful, LA as her boss’s niece – a librarian and former beauty queen.  Talk about not fitting the role.

Louisiana Longshot starts the story, but my favorite line is in book 2, Lethal Bayou Beauty, when her former partner Harrison is yelling at her for killing two people (one with a knitting needle!), “Jesus H. Christ!  You’d be less conspicuous as a Wiccan Hooker in Salt Lake City!”  Funny and a good plot to boot.

The John Ceepak Series by Chris Grabenstien

This series feature ultra-straight-arrow and former MP John Ceepak as the new detective on the force of a fictional New Jersey beach town.  Grabenstien was a comic, so his writing has a light hand that he deftly mixes with some very dark plots.  Each title is named for various amusement rides, like Tilt-a-Whirl, Rolling Thunder, and Fun House.  He captures the Jersey boardwalk perfectly and anyone (like me) who has spent time in various NJ beach towns will feel right at home.  The series is kind of hard to come by and it does help to read them in order, but each is a stand-alone and told from the perspective of Ceepak’s ‘partner’, a young local Ceepak has taken under his wing, Danny Boyle.

These are great beach reads and good, if light, mysteries.  Like most series, some hold up better than others, but anyone who associates the shore (in Jersey, we go ‘down the shore’) with carousels, taffy shops, hot dogs, roller coasters and boardwalks lined with food stands and trinket shops will be happy to get lost in these fun mysteries.

Never published in mmpb, they can be bought used on Half.com and other book sites and ebooks are available.

If you want to watch a good movie with a great script, wonderful directing, and some fun acting, see Some Like it Hot.  Then enjoy the lowbrow comedy with Jack Lemon chewing the scenery as Professor Fate, Peter Falk as his henchman Max, both playing the dark foil to Tony Curtis’s The Great Leslie in The Great Race, loosely (very, very loosely) based on the real New York to Paris car race of 1908.  It features not only Edith Head costumes on the comely Natalie Wood, but the best pie fight ever filmed.

Now go and enjoy your summer.  It’s all about FUN!

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