For most Americans who recognize the name, Groucho Marx was one of the three Marx Brothers who headlined a series of 1930s Hollywood comedies, most famously Monkey Business, Horse Feathers, Duck Soup, and A Night at the Opera. Yet to me he was the hilarious host of the radio and, later, television quiz show, You Bet Your Life. His wacky, witty performances were one of the highlights of my week growing up in the 1950s and early 60s. And screenwriter Ron Goulart has done him proud in a series of six novels featuring the comedian as an amateur detective. Groucho Marx and the Broadway Murders, the fourth in the series, successfully brings Groucho’s trademark lightning-fast repartee and non sequiturs back to life. And in this frequently comical tale, Groucho solves two murders, not just one.
Groucho Marx and the Broadway Murders (Groucho Marx Mysteries #4) by Ron Goulart (2001) 229 pages @@@@ (4 out of 5)
As the title suggests, much of the action in this novel takes place in New York. But the story is firmly grounded in Hollywood, where the tale begins. Groucho and his Dr. Watson, scriptwriter Frank Denby, are kidnapped and hustled to the lair of Vincent Salerno, “head of mob gambling in Southern California.” The gangster wants them to find out who murdered his henchman, Nick Sanantonio. But both Groucho and Frank, for different reasons, are scheduled to leave for New York and are forced to decline the worrisome invitation. Somehow, they get away with that.
A cast of characters plucked from Hollywood in its prime
Groucho explains to Frank that he’s planning to fly and won’t be able to join him and his cartoonist wife, Jane Danner, on the train. Naturally, however, they find Groucho strumming his guitar and singing a song from the newest Marx Brothers film in the lounge car. And all three soon become embroiled in an attempt on the life of a Hollywood producer who’s shepherding his newest female star to a press conference in the big city. It’s Frank who gets in the way, saving the producer’s life.
Groucho Marx solves two murders
Once the whole cast of characters arrives in the big city— the producer, his new female star, her publicist and bodyguard, as well as Groucho, Frank, and Jane — the plot quickly thickens. Expect to observe the opening of a play on Broadway and both Groucho and Frank getting bopped on the head, as it appears they do in all the novels in this series. It’s a cockamamie story, of course, but Goulart pulls it off with aplomb. The book is set in the summer of 1939 at the height of Hollywood’s glamorous role in American society, and no one should be surprised that one of the biggest stars in “the industry,” Groucho Marx, solves two murders.
For further reading
I’ve reviewed all six of the books in this series at The delightful Groucho Marx Mysteries.
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