The Girls in the High-Heeled Shoes: An Alexander Brass Mystery
Author: Michael Kurland
Publisher: Titan Books
Disclosure: A free copy of this book was furnished by the publisher for review, but providing a copy did not guarantee a review. This information is provided per the regulations of the Federal Trade Commission.
It’s easy to imagine that this new paperback murder mystery is a reprint of an older whodunit. It does a superbly convincing job of plunging the reader into the Manhattan of 1935. Prohibition has been repealed for less than two years; Louisiana Senator Huey Long has just been shot and isn’t expected to live; and America distrusts Mussolini (Hitler is barely on the horizon yet). The narrator is young Morgan DeWitt, the assistant and legman for Alexander Brass, the famous (fictional) columnist for the New York World, whose “Brass Tacks” column is syndicated in a couple of hundred newspapers around America. Brass is a newspaper columnist in the style of Damon Runyan and Walter Winchell, specializing in covering the Great White Way of Broadway, its theaters and nightclubs. There’s little that he doesn’t know, and when there is, he sends DeWitt out to find out about it.
When a colorful long-time theater hanger-on known as Two-Headed Mary goes missing, Brass mentions her disappearance casually in his column. This leads into the culture of Broadway show business; the revue producers and chorus girls, the behind-the-scenes show backers and the con artists, and of course the murdered bodies and suspicious homicide detectives, and the group of suspects to be narrowed down. Morgan DeWitt combines the personalities of Sherlock Holmes’ Dr. Watson and Nero Wolfe’s Archie Goodwin. He’s young and inexperienced, but not naïve. He thinks and learns fast, often by accompanying the more knowledgeable Brass backstage and into gambling clubs.
“The Girls in the High-Heeled Shoes” (245 pages; $12.95) is an enjoyable read for mystery fans, less for the mystery (which is smoothly told) than for the in-depth mid-‘30s setting. Events like Mussolini’s advancing into Ethiopia and FDR’s controversial New Deal are mentioned in passing, but this is about Broadway: what the hit plays and musicals of the moment were, which were the favorite night clubs of the Smart Set, which notables like Dorothy Parker and Robert Benchley might be seen. Alexander Brass is a newspaper columnist like Perry Mason is a lawyer, not hesitating to investigate himself, with the loyal DeWitt tagging along. This is the second Alexander Brass mystery, following “Too Soon Dead”, by Michael Kurland who already has a mystery series featuring Conan Doyle’s Professor Moriarty as a sympathetic protagonist.