In her day (1908–57), Georgiana Craig Rice was known as the doyenne of the comic mystery. She also had a well-earned reputation for opening her novels with baffling puzzles whose solutions she hadn’t yet worked out. Both tendencies are on display in these dozen stories from the author’s last decade. True, they lack the florid inventiveness of her novels; the cast of stock characters—rye-swilling Chicago criminal attorney John J. Malone, his long-suffering secretary Maggie, his bartender Joe the Angel, his friend and nemesis, Homicide Capt. Daniel von Flanagan, and an interchangeable succession of ineffectual clients and sultry blonds with a mysterious interest in the impecunious little lawyer—and their frantic interactions and jokey conversational gambits are as stylized as Kabuki. But Rice has an unexcelled eye for the arresting opening: the lawyer’s date with dazzling Dolly Dove that’s interrupted by the discovery of a corpse; the death of an undertaker under Malone’s nose during a funeral parade; the locked-room killing of a true-crime writer; the murder of a philanthropist in exactly the way Malone had jokingly suggested. Interestingly, the longer stories here are no more complex than the shorter, and it’s two of the shortest—the psychiatric patient whose homicidal nightmares come true in “Beyond the Shadow of a Dream” and the arsenic-laced anecdote “Wry Highball”—that have endured as minor classics.
Two stories about the much less amusing private eye Melville Fairr show how completely Rice’s seemingly effortless best work depended on the shenanigans of the Malone menagerie.