On a break from the Windy City, aspiring crime novelist Jake Justus and his wife, Helene, are acquainting themselves with Manhattan’s finest cocktail lounges when they befriend Dennis Morrison, a blind-drunk groom. The handsome former male escort thought he’d found his bounty in homely heiress Bertha Lutts, but while their wedding night may have been a bust, the morning after turned out to be the real horror. It seems Bertha has vanished from their bridal suite and in her place is an unidentified beheaded woman. Having taken a shine to Dennis, Jake and Helene call on his best defense: Chicago attorney John J. Malone.
Winding his way through both the city’s low lives and its high society, Malone quickly discovers a link between the nameless victim, the missing bride, and a slick gigolo: a bohemian Greenwich Village poetess who is free with her verse, knows more than she realizes, and is becoming more frightened with every New York minute. But when Dennis disappears as well, Malone’s left with the itchy feeling that another dead end is right around the corner.
The basis for the 1945 film starring Carole Landis and Pat O’Brien, Having Wonderful Crime is “a pleasure to read as pure entertainment but there’s a also a wicked social voice reporting back from the eyries of the wealthy and privileged. [Rice’s] observations are worthy of Tom Wolfe at his best and nastiest” (Ed Gorman).
Having Wonderful Crime is the 3rd book in the John J. Malone Mysteries, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order.
About the Author
Craig Rice (1908–1957), born Georgiana Ann Randolph Craig, was an American author of mystery novels and short stories described as “the Dorothy Parker of detective fiction.” In 1946, she became the first mystery writer to appear on the cover of Time magazine. Best known for her character John J. Malone, a rumpled Chicago lawyer, Rice’s writing style was both gritty and humorous. She also collaborated with mystery writer Stuart Palmer on screenplays and short stories, as well as with Ed McBain on the novel The April Robin Murders.
Read an Excerpt
The Bridegroom's Morning After
There was always one hour of the day when he believed, acutely, in hell. It came very early in the morning, just before sunrise. It was a time of torment, of fears, apprehensions, and occasional regrets, of tortured half-waking, half-sleeping dreams, memories he'd tried over and over to bury, and premonitions of a future he didn't like to face. Then, too, there was a persistent, throbbing pain in his head, and a burning, terrible thirst.
He'd learned that if he could only get back to sleep, and stay asleep for a few more hours, he'd wake feeling himself again, a little on edge, perhaps, and with no appetite for breakfast, but himself. After those few hours he could go out into the world again, the charming, amusing young man who did, occasionally, get a trifle high at parties (but not often, nor objectionably) and did, now and then, win or lose at poker games (but only once in a while, and never too much).
So there would always be the desperate struggle to get back to sleep again, closing his eyes and burying his face in the pillow. Sometimes an aspirin and a glass of milk would do the trick, when he could goad himself into getting out of bed and going to the refrigerator. Or, a bottle of cold beer would invariably work, though that was likely to leave him with an unpleasant, crawling sensation in his stomach when he woke later.
In that hour of awful waking, though, his desire to sleep again had little to do with how he would feel and act when he got out of bed, two or three hours later. Rather it was a desperate need to escape from the things that plagued his mind. This morning, though, was going to be the last. He turned over in bed, his eyes still closed, and put one arm across his face to shut out the light. Beginning today, from this morning, this moment on, he was on the wagon, and completely on the wagon, a drinker of tomato juice and ginger ale.
It wasn't an ordinary hangover resolution, to be broken by eleven in the morning. He'd never made any of those since he was nineteen, being enough of a realist to know how little they meant. No, he was becoming a teetotaler from pure necessity. After yesterday, he had to. He'd gone on last night's bender for the same reason. He had to.
He took the arm away from his face and slowly and uncomfortably opened his eyes. This wasn't his own bed he was in. This wasn't his room. It was a place he'd never seen before. It wasn't his room, but it was a gorgeous one. Even in his present state of mind and body, he could appreciate it. It was obviously a hotel room, in one of the best and most expensive hotels. The furniture was handsome and restrained. The walls and draperies were pleasantly unobtrusive. The pictures were tactfully chosen. The bed was swell.
Obviously, he'd fallen in with very charming people last night — not that he could have felt any worse right now if he'd fallen in with bums and wakened with his face on the wet paving of an alley. One of the charming people was a woman. The mauve satin-covered down comforter didn't belong to the hotel, nor did the monogrammed pillow slips. A woman of taste and refinement and wealth, who carried her personal linens and comforters with her when she traveled. He wondered if she was beautiful and susceptible and unmarried, and then reminded himself that it wouldn't matter to him any more, not after yesterday.
He closed his eyes again and reminded himself that he had to sleep, trying to pretend that it was still dark. Sleep, beautiful sleep, dreamless and inviolate, sleep like death, that was the thing. He tried thinking of everything that was darkness, black velvet, a black cat, ebony, the bottom of a mine. He tried to pretend that he was on a fine private yacht, preferably his own, bound for Havana, and that he could hear the soft lapping of waves. He tried to pretend that he was in a hospital room — with nothing serious, of course, a sprained ankle, perhaps — white-walled and hushed, with nurses and doctors to care for him and protect him against the world. He tried to pretend that he was back on Grampa's farm, in the little attic room, that it was just past dusk and that he could hear the crickets under the whispering trees. He tried to do everything but remember the night before. That was always disastrous, in the terrible early morning hour.
But this time, he couldn't help remembering. This was one morning when he wasn't going to get back to sleep.
With a groan, he pushed himself up in bed and swung his legs over the edge. His hands and feet were cold; for a moment he was trembling and half sick. But his mind was wonderfully clear, now. The first few steps were always difficult. Then his feet and his mind began to coordinate again. He crossed the room and stared at himself in the dressing-table mirror.
He looked like hell. His thin, handsome face was pasty and pale, his dark hair rumpled and greasy. There was a small bruise on his cheek; he must have got that by tripping over some crack in the sidewalk. His protuberant, light-blue eyes were bloodshot and staring.
But his host had excellent taste in pajamas. His host also had excellent taste in dressing gowns. He picked up the brown brocade one that had been left on the foot of the bed, put it on, and tied the cord. Then he went into the bathroom and splashed cold water on his face and brushed back his hair. He felt a little wobbly, but he was good-looking again.
There was coffee in the next room. He could smell it. He pushed open the door into the next room and stood for a moment, looking, trying to remember when and where and how he'd met its occupants. The most beautiful blonde girl he'd ever seen was stretched out on one end of the sofa, sipping at a cup of steaming coffee. Her hair was straight and shining and almost the color of strained honey. Her delicate-featured face was luminously pale. She was tall, and long-legged, and graceful. She wore a pale-green lamé dinner dress and a pair of ostrich-feather mules. She smiled up at him as he came in and said, "Hello. Have some coffee."
The man sprawled at the other end of the sofa was big and bony and ungainly. He had badly mussed red hair, surprisingly blue eyes, freckles, and a friendly grin. He looked up and said, "Boy, I bet you feel terrible."
The third person in the room didn't even stir. He was short and stocky, with thick shoulders. Someone had been playing tick-tacktoe on his shirt front, and his necktie was under one ear. His round face was reddish and perspiring, a lock of black hair fell over his forehead. He was beginning to need a shave. He was slumped in a big easy chair, snoring.
The blonde girl poured a cup of coffee, held it out, and said, "Sit down. I'm Helene Justus. This is my husband, Jake Justus. He runs a saloon in Chicago; he won it on a bet. That's John J. Malone over there, the best criminal lawyer in forty-eight states. If you ever commit a murder, let him know."
The young man took the coffee, felt for a chair, and said, "I'm Dennis Morrison. Thanks for bringing me home with you. I —" He took a sip of the coffee, put the cup down suddenly on the table, jumped up, and said, "My wife!"
"She'll forgive you," Jake said easily. "They always do."
"You don't understand," Dennis Morrison said. "We were just married yesterday. At four o'clock. We had dinner. Then we came here, to the hotel." He realized that the little red-faced man, John J. Malone, was awake now, looking at him with wise, almost sardonic eyes. "Bertha had a little unpacking to do. I felt — well, not embarrassed, but — Oh hell, you know what I mean."
The blonde, Helene, smiled at him sympathetically, and her husband, Jake Justus, said warmly, "I certainly do."
"Well," the young man said, "well, I thought I needed a drink. And I thought maybe she wanted to be alone. You know. So I went down to the bar to get a drink. I had a couple. Then I met some people. We had a couple more. And then," he paused, frowning, "I'm not very sure what did happen. I remember something about a floor show in some night club. It wasn't a very good floor show. And riding in a taxi, I remember that. But I don't remember meeting you, or coming here, or anything —" He paused, and said, "Bertha!"
"Young man," said John J. Malone, "what you need is a drink now. There's some bourbon in the bathroom."
He poured an inch and a half of bourbon into a water glass, handed it over, and said, "I've never been married myself, but this stuff fixes anything."
Dennis Morrison said, "Thanks," and gulped. The raw liquor went down like water and hit like liquid fire. But his nerves began to settle down to something almost near normal. He shuddered and said, "Guhhhh."
"See," the blonde girl said brightly. "You feel better already."
He managed to smile at her. "I know this sounds silly," he said, "but where did we meet?"
"Downstairs in the lobby," she said. "You were trying to steal the lilies from the flower display to take upstairs as a present to the most beautiful girl in the world, and the room clerk was being a little difficult about it. You looked sort of helpless, so we adopted you."
"Oh," Dennis Morrison said. He looked down at the rug. "I don't know what you think of me, doing a thing like this, on my wedding night."
"Think nothing of it," Jake Justus said. "On our wedding night, Helene was in jail for reckless driving."
"And assaulting an officer in the attempt to do his duty," Helene said proudly. "The next night, Jake got mixed up with some Southern moonshine and didn't get home for eighteen hours."
"Stop reminiscing," John J. Malone said wearily, "his young man has to get home to his bride. What is he going to tell her?"
Dennis Morrison looked up at him, groaned, buried his head in his hands, and said, "I'm a louse."
"That is not the thing to tell a bride," Helene said sternly. "You were kidnaped."
"You had an attack of amnesia," John J. Malone said.
"You were shanghaied," Jake said.
There was a little silence. Then Helene rose, smiled, and said, "Oh hell, tell her the truth. She won't care. We'll all go with you and convince her it's the truth."
The young man looked up, a gleam of hope in his eyes. "Would you? Really?"
"Sure," Helene said. "But put your clothes on first. We won't take you home to your bride in Jake's pajamas."
"You're very good to me," he said. "I don't know why you should be so good to me."
Helene said, "Because you're so beautiful, and because we're so kind, and because you're so helpless. Now go put your pants on."
He pulled himself to his feet and stumbled into the bedroom. Jake waited till he was out of sight and then said sternly to Helene, "Now look. We didn't come to New York to get mixed up in other people's troubles."
Helene looked at him for a long time before she said quietly, "No, we didn't. We have enough of our own."
Jake looked away and turned a trifle pale. Malone got up again, swayed toward the window, and looked dismally at Fifth Avenue, ten stories below. "I don't like New York," he said unhappily. "I want to go home."
The door to the bedroom opened and Dennis Morrison came out. His face was white, but he was smiling. His dinner jacket didn't fit him very well, but, even so, it was becoming. "I'm really not worried about what Bertha will think," he said. His voice was unconvincing.
"But you'd like us all to go along and back up your story," Helene said. "O.K. We'll make it a parade."
Jake and Malone went with her to the door. The young man stopped them there, one hand on the knob. "I don't want you to think," he said, and then paused. "I mean, I want you to understand," he began again, "you see, Bertha —"
There was a thunderous knock outside the door. Jake and Helene glanced at each other, and then Jake threw it open. There were two policemen there, and a house detective. They looked from Jake to Malone to the young man, and one of the policemen said, "Which one of you's Dennis Morrison?"
The young man said, "I am. Why?"
The two policemen looked at each other and one of them said in a low voice, "O.K., so the elevator boy was right." He turned to Dennis Morrison. "You in suite 713?" Dennis Morrison nodded. "Got a wife?"
Dennis Morrison nodded again. "Bertha. What — Is she all right?"
"I'm afraid not," the policeman said. His voice was rough, but kind. "I'm sorry, boy, but I'm afraid she's dead."
There was a silence, and then Dennis Morrison said, "Oh God, no!" His face was dead white and perfectly expressionless. He swayed a little.
Helene reached a hand out to grasp his arm, looked at the policeman, and said, "This isn't any time to make jokes."
Dennis Morrison shook himself loose. He stared at the policeman and said, "No!"
"Pull yourself together, boy," the policeman said. He sounded almost gentle now as he spoke. "Because I'm sorry, boy, but I'm afraid she's been murdered."
The Formal Identification
"If I hadn't gone out," Dennis Morrison said in that flat, emotionless voice, "if I hadn't left her alone. I just went downstairs to get a drink. If I'd only come right back upstairs again. I could have fought him off. I could have protected her. But I wasn't here. It must have been a robber. It must have been a maniac. It couldn't have been anything else. Because everybody loved Bertha. Nobody would have wanted to kill her. Only a robber." He drew in a long breath and began again, "If I hadn't gone out. If I hadn't left her alone."
"That's enough," Helene said sharply. "You're a big boy now." Her face was pale; her eyes were big and dark and shadowed. She smiled at him.
"But we'd just been married," he said. "Only yesterday. And she had some unpacking to do, and I went downstairs to get a drink, and I met some people. If I hadn't left her, it wouldn't have happened. I could have fought him off." There wasn't any emotion in his voice.
"You'd better have a drink, fella," John J. Malone said. He reached down behind the sofa cushions and pulled out the gin bottle he'd carried from Jake and Helene's suite, concealed under his coat. There wasn't any glass in sight, so he held the bottle to the young man's lips.
"Thanks," Dennis Morrison said automatically. He shuddered. Then he began again, as though someone had dropped the needle back on a phonograph record. "Crazy accident. Why did it have to happen to us? We were only married yesterday. We hadn't even — you know what I mean. Bertha hadn't an enemy in the world. She was sweet. Everybody loved her. With all the rooms there are in this hotel, why did a fiend have to break into this one? Why us? We'd only been married yesterday. If I only hadn't left her alone —"
"If you don't shut up," Jake Justus said grimly, "I'm going to smack you square in the kisser."
Dennis Morrison looked up at him, and said, "I'm sorry." He glanced at the closed door to the bedroom and said, "Damn it, why don't they get through in there?" Then he drew a long, gasping breath, and said, "Bertha!"
The door opened and the young man from the Homicide Bureau came out. Arthur Peterson. He was slender and not very tall. His light hair was thinning on his dome-shaped head, his skin was an unhealthy yellow, and he wore thick-lensed glasses. But his eyes were friendly and for just a moment he seemed almost embarrassed at speaking to the man who'd been a widower before he'd been a bridegroom.
"Tell me," Dennis Morrison said. "Was she —?"
"No," Arthur Peterson said. "No, it wasn't that." He managed not to look at Dennis Morrison even for a moment. "Your wife was a very wealthy woman, wasn't she?"
"I guess she was well fixed," Dennis Morrison said. "I never asked."
Arthur Peterson looked at the ceiling and said, "I'm sorry to have to bother you with all these questions, at a time like this. But you understand, it's purely a matter of routine. You aren't exactly wealthy, are you?"
"My God," Dennis Morrison said, "are you suggesting I married her for her money?"
"Nothing of the sort," the pale man said hastily. "But you will inherit it, won't you?"
Dennis Morrison said, "I have no idea."
John J. Malone couldn't stand it any more. He stepped up and said, "If you're going to examine this young man, I insist on his lawyer being present."
Helene whispered, "Attaboy, Malone."
The man from the Homicide Bureau looked at him and said, "Indeed. And who is his lawyer?"
"Me," John J. Malone said, drawing a long breath.
"That's fine," Arthur Peterson said. "And you are present, so we can go right ahead." He raised his thin eyebrows. "Assuming you are a lawyer."
"I am the damnedest fine lawyer that ever came down the pike since Portia," John J. Malone said a trifle thickly. "And if you attempt to intimidate my client, you'd better stay away from the city zoo in the future. Because I'll make such a monkey out of you that they'll be chasing you with butterfly nets." He pulled the gin bottle out from behind the cushion and said, "Shall we drink to it?"
"No thanks," Arthur Peterson said, wincing. "Liquor is poison to my stomach."
"Routine questions," said John J. Malone. "That's all I'll let him answer."
Excerpted from "Having Wonderful Crime"
Copyright © 1943 Craig Rice.
Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1. The Bridegroom's Morning After,
2. The Formal Identification,
3. A Murder on His Hands,
4. Unfortunate Lack of Knowledge,
5. Signed UU. UU.,
6. Enter O'Brien, Birnbaum, and Schultz,
7. Wildavine's Whereabouts,
8. Life Story of an Escort,
9. The Man He Was Looking For,
10. A Creature of Whims,
11. On the Trail,
12. "I Want to See Arthur Peterson",
13. Literary Material for Jake,
14. Two Telephone Calls,
16. Social Significance,
17. Four Double Whiskies,
18. Just Looking Around,
19. Body Number 147,
20. The Wrong Note,
21. For You to Figure Out,
22. "Once I'm Hired —",
23. Dearest Sweetheart,
24. A Nice Quiet Little Night Club,
25. "I'm an Honest Businessman",
26. Assault with Attempt to Kill,
27. "We Are Deliriously Happy",
28. Jake Goes to Staten Island,
29. Helene Sells a Poem,
30. Good Reason to Find a Murderer,
31. A Snare and a Delusion,
32. A Beautiful Case of Self-Defense,
33. The Pay-Off,
34. It Had Better Be Good,
35. A Friendly Little Poker Game,