Here’s the ultimate wisecracking detective, and, yes, it’s Groucho Marx, in person. If you’re a fan of the Marx Brothers classics of the 1930s—Duck Soup, A Night at the Opera, Horsefeathers, Animal Crackers, and the others—you’ll love this fast-paced romp through the dark side of Hollywood. In Groucho Marx Master Detective, prolific novelist and popular culture historian Ron Goulart shows off his ability to mimic the irrepressible jokester. The novel is the first of six in a series that Goulart wrote between 1998 and 2005 featuring Groucho in a role that would cause Philip Marlowe to blush.
Estimated reading time: 3 minutes
Goulart writes dialogue that sounds uncannily like Groucho’s glib patter. “Being dead will take your appetite right away,” Groucho remarks. “Anybody who really wants to lose weight should seriously consider dropping dead. And perhaps that was your husband’s motive, Mrs. Uppercase, because he does look a bit on the pudgy side. Or maybe it’s just the suit. But then who’d want to buy a pudgy suit?”
The novel highlights Groucho’s inimitable patter
Groucho Marx Master Detective is set in 1937 after the Marx Brothers’ career in films had peaked. Groucho is in his late forties. The Dr. Watson to his Sherlock Holmes is young Frank Denby, a Hollywood screenwriter who is working with him on a new radio show named like the title of the novel. When a starlet dies at her home, allegedly a suicide, Groucho resolves to learn what really happened.
The young woman had been one of Groucho’s many extracurricular affairs, and he’s certain she would not have killed herself. So is everyone else except the cops and the executives at the studio where she was angling for a major role in an upcoming movie. Groucho and Frank set out on a madcap investigation that causes them to be kidnapped, shot at, and clubbed on the head more than once. (Have you ever wondered how these fictional characters can repeatedly get knocked on the head without suffering a concussion?)
Groucho Marx Master Detective (Groucho Marx Mysteries #1) by Ron Goulart (1998) 262 pages ★★★★☆
The novel’s primary purpose is to showcase Groucho’s dialogue—well, mainly monologues, if the truth be told—but the plot might have worked as well in a more serious mystery novel. The starlet’s death and its coverup turn out to have been involved in a clusterf*** of lascivious studio executives, bent cops, and gentlemanly mobsters that yields up surprises to the end. The story is fun, but it’s Groucho who, as always, steals the show. The book is at times very, very funny.
For related reading
I’ve reviewed all six of the books in this series at The delightful Groucho Marx Mysteries.
Also, you’ll find this and dozens of other excellent novels at 5 top Los Angeles mysteries and thrillers.
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