- By Harriette Ashbrook
- First published: US: Coward McCann, 1935
Philately will get you nowhere, it seems. Ashbrook’s fourth detective story involves skulduggery among stamp-collectors (a subgenre exploited by Ellery Queen in “The One-Penny Black” and The Chinese Orange Mystery).
Prentice Crossley is bayoneted; his collection is stolen (including the British Guiana one-cent magenta, the most valuable stamp in the world); and his grand-daughter ends up on Spike Tracy’s doorstep in the middle of a storm. Spike does what any respectable detective would do: learning the young woman is wanted by the police, he hides her, denies any knowledge of her, then covers up for the killer. Meanwhile, the murderer strikes again; each time, a priceless stamp from Crossley’s collection is found on the body…
A Most Immoral Murder is an enjoyable but minor entry in the Tracy series: fast-paced, but somehow less substantial than the previous two, and certainly less clever than Sigurd Sharon. The murderer is rather easy to spot. This is one of those stories where fbzrbar vf gur ivpgvz bs na nccnerag nggrzcgrq zheqre gung gurl fgntrq – a device so transparent it alerts the reader at once. The motive, however, is a moving anti-war statement; the crimes are an attempt at restitution, to repair the damage caused by a death on the Western Front.
1935 Coward McCann
Murder really shouldn’t be taken too seriously. Spike Tracy, who has figured in several homicidal high-jinks, is all for good, clean, bloody fun, so if you haven’t met him before, make his acquaintance now. He’s an insouciant young man with plenty of money, good looks and a sense of humor. The only blight on his life is his stodgy brother, R. Montgomery Tracy, the district attorney. His boon companion is Pug Beasley, a former bantam weight pug now in training to become a gentleman’s gentleman in the Wodehouse manner, and there’s a sister-in-law who goes in for committees and uplift. Oh yes, there’s a murder, too. Don’t get impatient. Two of ’em in fact. It all starts when a beautiful woman stumbles over Spike’s threshold one evening and collapses on his hearth. The next morning he reads that she’s wanted for murder. His good sense tells him he ought to turn her over to the police and brother Richard. But Spike Tracy is not a young man who ever let good sense lead him astray. And anyway, he’s sure brother Richard wouldn’t appreciate her. Richard’s that way. So, believing that the lovely woman who lies in his bedroom raving in delirium is guilty of murder, he sets out to make Richard and the police believe she isn’t. If you insist on international spy rings, and rubies taken from the eye of a Burma idol, or blood spilling all over the lot, better pass this one up. But if you’d like a really intelligent mystery story, with a lot of fun thrown in, A Most Immoral Murder is your meat.