DIE LAUGHING AND OTHER MURDEROUS SCHTICK (1985)
by S.S. Rafferty
Reviewed by Barry Ergang
Chick Kelly is a funny guy.
But then, he has to be funny. He's a stand-up comic by trade. Having given up the road to run a night club on Third Avenue with Barry Kantrowitz, his former agent turned business partner, Chick also has a penchant for getting into trouble, frequently of the murderous variety, which always ignites the temper of bullet-headed NYPD Homicide Lieutenant Jaffee. Jaffee would love nothing more than to see him in prison.
Die Laughing collects seven of Chick's escapades, which originally appeared in either Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine or Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine. These first-person narratives are wry, breezy, and so conversational the reader will easily be able to imagine sitting across a table from Chick and being regaled by his predicaments. As in many a real-life conversation, the narrative shifts easily from past to present tense and back again—e.g., "'What in the hell is this about?' Summers asks the two delivery guards. He was agitated because my escort had me in hand and ankle manacles complete with lead chain. I looked like Houdini about to jump in a river."
In "Alectryon Slept," Chick is the prime suspect in the death of Julio Martinez, one of his employees, who owned a valuable fighting gamecock. Julio appears to have been bitten by a poisonous snake. Was he, and is the snake still somewhere in Chick's night club? Or was Julio murdered?
When his young niece and nephew, both of whom were witnesses to the murder of an assistant D.A., go missing, Chick uses his connections among New York City's cabbies to track them down—and identify the murderer—in "Two Tokens to Trouble."
When his headwaiter, Ling, a compulsive gambler, runs up a $50,000 tab with the mob, Chick is approached by Sam Sidlock, "front man for the mob's East Coast gambling operations." Sidlock wants Chick to pay the money so they can return Ling to him. In hock to his eyeballs, Chick doesn't have the money. But he comes up with a wild challenge to Sidlock that could mean big trouble if it backfires in "The Ling Woo Longshot."
"Vodka and Vipers" has Chick accepting an invitation to a Park Avenue society party accompanied by a date, a young performer in a Broadway musical who seems to get the dander up of several guests simply by showing up. When she takes the long hard trip from the penthouse terrace to the pavement, Chick has to prevent the wrong suspect from being arrested by his old enemy, Lieutenant Jaffee. The only way he can do that is to solve the murder himself.
When Chick (nickname for Charles) Kelly comes down with a mild toothache and his regular dentist is on vacation, Barry Kantrowitz's wife Sylvia calls her dental hygienist niece who, in turn, gets Chick an appointment at the office she works for in "Caries Can Kill You." When a patient named Charles Killy dies in the dental chair, Chick has to determine whether he or Killy was the intended target—and who the intender is.
In "Going, Going, Gone and Dead," Chick makes the mistake of telling his sometime paramour, high society dame Tish Loman, and several of her girlfriends that he owns a painting given to him by a deceased artist named Kevin Fleming "to square a bar bill." Fleming's work has become quite valuable, despite the artist's being known for his depravity with regard to some of his subjects, most notably in a painting dubbed The Degraded Madonna. When Chick's cleaning lady, Mrs. Gull, is murdered and the painting stolen from his apartment, he devises an elaborate scheme to solve the murder and recover the painting.
Millionaire church elder Jay Porter Pemberton, a friend of Chick's, has a problem. Having gone up to his summer place in Newport, Rhode Island during the winter storm season to check on the place because of recent severe weather and reports of looting, and having gotten caught in a storm himself, he's staying at the summer home when a woman named Gina Velker pounds on his door. Her car has skidded off the main highway, and she urgently needs shelter. Pemberton puts her up for the weekend—innocently—and then drives her back to New York. Soon after he receives a letter from a lawyer representing Gina's husband, and it appears that the Velkers may have set him up to fleece him for a cash settlement. When the Velkers are murdered and Chick is arrested because of his involvement with Pemberton, professional liar Tall Tommy Tanuka goes into action to prove Chick's innocence in the novelette-length "Tall Tommy and the Millionaire."
I can and do recommend Die Laughing and Other Murderous Schtick to any fan of short mystery fiction who enjoys quick reads leavened with humor and some offbeat characters. My sole complaint is that the book could have used a good proofreader. Misspellings and some punctuation errors abound, which I found odd because the publisher, International Polygonics, Ltd. did immaculate work with many other books they published that I own. Readers who can overlook the errors will get a kick out of Chick Kelly and company.
Barry Ergang © 2011
Formerly the Managing Editor of Futures Mystery Anthology Magazine and First Senior Editor of Mysterical-E, winner of the Short Mystery Fiction Society’s 2007 Derringer Award in the Flash Fiction category, Barry Ergang’s written work has appeared in numerous publications, print and electronic. For links to material available online, and fiction available for e-readers, see Barry’s webpages. Remember, too, that he has books from his personal collection for sale at http://barryergangbooksforsale.yolasite.com/ He'll contribute 20% of the purchase price of the books to our fund, so please have a look at his lists, one of which includes Die Laughing and Other Murderous Schtick.