Murder in Retrospect–Reviews of classic crime fiction
Murder With Your Malted–Jerome Barry, Doubleday, 1941
Now for something entirely different, and. . .well, frothy! A Doubleday Crime Club of yore delivers the goods, including; limeades; grilled sandwiches; and a bicarb to wash it all down. What a goofy locale for murder–a drugstore in Times Square, New York City, with a lunch counter circa before I was born. Rife with soda-jerk jargon this snappy little story concerns itself with Tom Knowles reformed playboy, now drugstore/soda fountain owner, in hopes of winning back his model girlfriend’s love. The narrator, Chick Varney, is a soda-jerk, oops, excuse me–they prefer to be called soda-poppers! Chick describes the day to day operations of a soda counter as if it were the inner workings of a mega corporation. The upshot of the story? Customers are becoming ill after eating soda fountain food, and before each incident a note sprinkled with soda-popper shorthand foretells the crime, and ultimately a death. A monster character actor from the silver screen may or may not be a long thought dead cousin of Tom’s-his face has been worked on and no one can tell-Tom’s uncle may be in cahoots with a shifty drugstore competitor selling Tom out; and customers may never get their orders of ‘stretch one and square two’ (a milkshake and pair of donuts;) before the murderer is caught!
I must admit I’ve never encountered a mystery quite like this one. I would love to find a few others featuring Chick as the hero, because sadly, there are no longer any soda fountains in drugstores-hey, there aren’t any REAL drugstores, for that matter, but for a few hours I delighted in the wise cracking up-to-the-minute Broadway sophistication and soda jerk shenanigans the story had to offer.
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