Friday’s Forgotten Book: Murder Can’t Wait by Richard Lockridge

Frances Davis Lockridge (1896-1963) and Richard Lockridge (1899-1982) were journalists known mostly for their Mr. and Mrs. North mysteries. About 70 books form the lavish Lockridge oeuvre, released between 1936 and 1980. In addition to the books about the Norths and Lt. Bill Weigand of the New York City police, the Lockridges also created stand-alone mysteries and mysteries with Nathan Shapiro, a police detective who worked for Bill Weigand; with Bernie Simmons, an assistant district attorney in New York City; with Paul Lane, a detective in the New York City 19th Precinct; and with Inspector Merton Heimrich of the New York State Police Bureau of Criminal Identification, stationed in upstate New York. Of them all, the books featuring Lt./Capt./Inspector Heimrich are my favorites.

Lt. Heimrich first appears in a North mystery, Death of a Tall Man (1946) and then features in his own book the following year. The Lockridges liked to work their characters hard: Paul Lane pops up in several of the Bernie Simmons books. Professor Emeritus Walter Brinkley shows up in multiple series. Nathan Shapiro appears in Murder Can’t Wait (Lippincott, 1964), billed as a Merton Heimrich story. Bill Weigand emerges briefly, as does Professor Brinkley and his servant Harry Washington.

In Murder Can’t Wait, Shapiro has been assigned to investigate allegations that a point-fixing scandal is brewing at Dyckman University. The police have been approached by Stuart Fleming of North Wellwood, Putnam County, with information. He regrets being unable to visit the police due to a broken leg and asks that they send a representative to receive details. Shapiro drives north from New York, bemoaning the unruly flora and fauna of the countryside. He is a city man through and through, and he doesn’t care for noisy birds and untrimmed grass and unclipped shrubbery. And the curving rural roads leave him in despair. He checks in with the local police to let them know he’s on their turf and to ask where Fleming lives. He’s promptly escorted into Heimrich’s office, where he learns that Fleming was killed earlier that day.

Shapiro’s news creates a larger pool of possible culprits. The local golf pro was upset about the attention he believed Fleming was giving to the golf pro’s pretty and much younger wife. He was known to drink too much and to be quarrelsome. The police were very much interested in his whereabouts at the time of Fleming’s death. However, if someone found Fleming’s plans to report the point-fixing scheme troublesome, as was likely, then that someone had to be identified, located, and interviewed.

As always, Heimrich is thorough and his colleague Charlie Forniss knows people in just the right places to provide background information on some of the characters. Shapiro is diverted into supporting the murder investigation. The interaction between Professor Brinkley and his housekeeper is as always delightful. Highly recommended for lovers of police procedurals and character-driven stories.

Friday’s Forgotten Book: Foggy, Foggy Death by Richard and Frances Lockridge

Foggy, Foggy Death by Richard and Frances Lockridge (J. B. Lippincott, 1950) is the fourth book in the Inspector Heimrich police procedural series, which consists of 24 books released between 1947 and 1977. Heimrich is part of the New York State Police Criminal Investigation Division, and his bailiwick is Westchester County and its surroundings.

In this early entry some of the themes common to the series are evident. The Lockridges wrote about the friction between newcomers to the heretofore exclusive small towns and wealthy country enclaves outside New York City. The sweeping societal changes wrought by the nation’s participation in World War Two created opportunities for the middle class to buy property in areas previously inaccessible to them. The inevitable clashes of values and priorities, at least in the Lockridge books, often lead to murder.

In this particular title, instead of buying the house next door, the encroaching member of the middle class married into an established Westchester family, much to the dismay of the family matriarch. Scott Bromwell met Marta, a Nebraska native, while he was serving in the Army and married her on impulse. The entire family regrets his decision, as Marta has not adapted to the lifestyle or expectations of Scott’s imperious mother. The family is housebound in late January by a dense cold fog that has lasted for days and the unavoidable confinement exacerbates underlying tensions. Marta goes for a walk to escape and is found hours later facedown in a stream on the property.

This is a classic country house mystery with a limited set of suspects due to the weather conditions. Nearly all of the action takes place on the Bromwell estate and most of it within the house. While the homicide forensics team assesses the area around the stream as well as searches the house, Inspector Heimrich and Sgt. Forniss devote most of their time to interviewing the family, the staff, and some incidental visitors who turn out to have a greater involvement with the family than originally supposed. Because of this strict observance of the country house set-up, there is little action and a great deal of talk.

The books in this series seem generally timeless, probably because of the lack of references to technology or other elements that would place the book firmly in a chronological frame. It is one of the reasons this Lockridge series, rather than the Mr. and Mrs. North books, remains among my favorites.