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a perfectly proper murder

7 october 2018

"There are thirty-two burgs between one thousand and two thousand in the state" of South Dakota, says Carl Wilcox as A Perfectly Proper Murder begins (1). And that is what keeps Carl Wilcox in murders to solve. No sooner has he addressed one burg's homicidal tendencies than he's off in his Model T to the next town and the next corpse.

As our story opens, Wilcox is in a town actually called Podunkville – I am not sure if author Harold Adams wants us to believe that there could be a place called "Podunkville," or whether the name is Wilcox's mental substitution to protect the innocent.

Which supposes there's anybody innocent in Podunkville. Practically the first person that Wilcox talks to is far from saintly, and ends up murdered by morning. Carl is Suspect Number One. His ethos alone – he is the Poirot of the prairies, after all – flips him from suspect to investigator.

Who killed Basil Ecke? The pharmacist of the drugstore that the imperious Ecke owns? His partner in an Aquatown hotel? The various women in his employ that he's hit on over the years? Those women's husbands and boyfriends? His former in-laws, simmering with hatred over the death of Ecke's first wife? His current wife, eager for an inheritance? His variously-resentful kids and their own highly motivated suitors? Somebody who just didn't like the look of Ecke? Nobody liked the look of him. Carl Wilcox didn't like the look of Ecke, and his death would be a matter of indifference except that Carl is a born sleuth and must close out his cases.

Fistfights and flirtations, which seem stock elements of the Carl Wilcox mysteries, are judiciously spaced, and there's the same lack of heavy-handed local and historical color that actually makes these books quite pleasant to read. Adams writes from within a culture he knows so well that he doesn't have to show off that knowledge. That makes his skill with plot and character ring all the truer.

Adams, Harold. A Perfectly Proper Murder. New York: Walker, 1993. PS 3551 .D367P46