cover image The Puzzle of the Happy Hooligan

The Puzzle of the Happy Hooligan

Stuart Palmer. Penzler, $15.95 trade paper (216p) ISBN 978-1-61316-104-3

Originally published in 1941, Palmer’s eighth whodunit featuring New York City schoolteacher and amateur sleuth Hildegarde Withers, an entry in Otto Penzler’s American Mystery Classics series, works best as a Hollywood satire. Hildegarde is on vacation in California when she’s approached by agent Harry Wagman, who browbeats her into accepting a job as technical consultant on Mammoth Studios’ movie based on the Lizzie Borden case. The gig introduces her to a slew of eccentrics, including producer Thorwald L. Nincom, who considers removing the murders of Lizzie’s parents from the story, and left-wing writer Willy Abend, who proposes that the notorious axe murders were motivated by Lizzie’s ire at her father’s mistreatment of the crews of the Borden family whaling ships. Of course, Hildegarde soon has another homicide to solve—that of Saul Stafford, a writer who expressed his fear of being killed shortly before someone broke his neck. The apparent impossibility of an aspect of the crime hasn’t aged well, and the ultimate reveal proves less interesting than the characters and atmosphere. (Oct.)