Every self-respecting film buff is well acquainted with the Marx Brothers. Both Duck Soup and A Night at the Opera are among the top twelve comic films selected by the American Film Institute, and three others they made join them in the top 100. There were five brothers. But of all five, the only one who built a successful career on television was Groucho. You Bet Your Life, the quiz show that showcased him, ran on radio and TV from 1947 to 1961. With his obvious intelligence and wildly imaginative non sequiturs, he was a natural for the printed page as well. And popular historian and novelist Ron Goulart does him proud in the six Groucho Marx Mysteries published from 1998 to 2005.
In Goulart’s imagination, Groucho teams up with a young scriptwriter named Frank Denby on a radio show in the late 1930s called Groucho Marx, Master Detective. Fiction soon turns to fact, and the pair find themselves solving first one then a second murder. But in the third book, Elementary, My Dear Groucho, the show has been canceled, and the Marx Brothers’s film career is at a standstill. Groucho and Frank are attempting to peddle a script for a new film to Mammoth Pictures when Groucho and Frank discover the body of a famous director on the set of his new film about Sherlock Holmes. And the star of the film, a pompous British actor, announces that he will solve the crime. Which is how, shortly before Christmas 1938, the comedian comes to match wits with Sherlock Holmes.
Elementary, My Dear Groucho (Groucho Marx Mysteries #3) by Ron Goulart (1999) 275 pages @@@@ (4 out of 5)
Groucho Marx versus Sherlock Holmes
Well, obviously now, Groucho and Frank will beat the actor to the punch. No question about it. But getting from the discovery of the body to unmasking the killers takes readers on a hilarious romp through the upper echelons of Hollywood society during its golden age. Frank’s new wife, Jane Danner (“America’s best-looking cartoonist”), joins the team. Together they encounter a German spy, uniformed Nazi thugs, smug British expats, a dog who stars in films, and clueless studio executives. Along the way, they cross paths with Dashiell Hammett, P. G. Wodehouse, Conrad Nagel, and other stars of the age. And, oh, yes, they bring the murderers to justice.
Charm and humor abound in this delightful story
The charm, and humor, of this delightful story comes largely in the dialogue. There’s Groucho, of course, insulting everyone around him and himself with equal abandon. When he learns that his out-of-work partner is married to a woman whose comic strip is generating a lucrative income, he can’t resist commenting. “[I]t’s nice that you’re being kept by such a bright, attractive young lady as Jane. Now, the last woman who kept me insisted on keeping me in a very cramped duffel bag. What with me, my salt and pepper shaker collection, and all those stray duffels in there, it was far from roomy.” There’s lots of this. And now it’s all rubbing off on Frank and Jane, both of whom hold their own with Groucho to hilarious result.
For additional reading
If instead you’re interested in reading mysteries that are often decidedly unfunny, you might also enjoy my posts:
- Top 10 mystery and thriller series;
- 20 excellent standalone mysteries and thrillers;
- Two dozen outstanding detective series from around the world; and
- Top 20 suspenseful detective novels (plus 200 more).
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