BY FURY (1941) by Craig Rice
by Barry Ergang
Wanting a break from the hurly-burly of Chicago,
Jake and Helene Justus hie themselves off to Jackson, Wisconsin and the county
courthouse, from which they want to obtain a fishing license. They haven’t been
there very long when vacationus interruptus occurs in the form of ex-Senator
Peveley being shot by a person unknown in what initially seems to be under
impossible conditions since there are six people close by, all of whom are
prominent local officials. None of them have seen the shooter—or so they claim.
The senator is the second murder victim in Jackson
in thirty-two years. This complicates the inept and irascible Sheriff Marvin
Kling’s life considerably, since it’s the first murder he’s ever had to
investigate. It also complicates Jake’s life, because he and Helene are looked
upon as strangers in small-town Jackson, and thus highly suspect. When the
sheriff decides to hold them as material witnesses, Helene sends a telegram to
their old friend, lawyer John J. Malone, in Chicago, tersely apprising him of
their situation—especially Jake’s—and asking him to come help them. After an
exchange of additional telegrams, some of the lawyer’s indicating reluctance,
Malone finally agrees.
Three more murders, each committed in a different
manner, occur. Is Jackson County dealing with one killer or four different
Jake disappears. Is he on the run either from actual
guilt, or simply to elude capture until the crimes are solved? Or has he been
murdered or kidnapped?
It’s up to Malone to resolve matters and reveal the
identity of the actual killer or killers.
I’m pretty sure that this was the first Craig Rice
novel I ever read back in the Dark Ages of my teen years, when a cousin who
learned I was enamored of detective novels gave me a copy. Since so many years
had passed, I decided to reread it.
I can recommend Trial by Fury as an entertaining and reasonably well-paced whodunit, but I wouldn’t classify it as one of Craig Rice’s best. She was an exemplar of the screwball comedy school of mystery, but this particular novel, though it has its share of humorous dialogue, is not nearly as funny as other titles in the Malone/Justus series, where both dialogue and situations result in zanier scenes.
Barry Ergang ©20017, 2021