Crime On My Hands by George Sanders
After years of playing detectives in the Falcon and Saint series of films, actor George Sanders is fed up and looking for a change. Fortunately his agent has lined up a role in a historical epic which is not only lucrative, it is exactly the sort of part George is itching to play.
At first everything is going well but during a big battle scene an extra is discovered shot to death behind the cameras. George suspects that this is no accident, particularly once it is revealed that the murder weapon was one of the guns he was wearing during that scene, and starts his own investigation.
The murderer will not stop with just one body and before the end of the book several other characters will be dead. It’s Shere Khan-age!
Before I share my own (rather limited) thoughts on this book, I’d like to suggest that you read this post by TomCat about the authorship of the two George Sanders mysteries and the identities of his ghost writers. I can’t offer any insight about the authorship of the book myself but, for what it’s worth, I think the ghosts do a pretty good job here of making the prose read like Sanders albeit with the occasional noir-y turn of phrase or expression.
The setup for the mystery is fun and does provide a semi-credible reason for George to get involved as a sleuth, even if it is predicated a little on George making some foolish choices early on and having to live with them.
While I think you do not need to know Sanders’ work in order to enjoy this story, those who are familiar with him will doubtlessly get the most out of the novel. Though Sanders may not have really done much of the writing himself, the novel does touch upon some of his other talents resulting in a book that feels like it was based around Sanders rather than a mystery story in which a famous name was just grafted onto a pre-existing narrative. In short, this feels like it actually reflects Sanders’ personality in a meaningful way.
It is also pretty funny. One of the running gags throughout the novel is that everyone expects George will be an excellent detective based on his screen performances including George himself. For instance, when he first investigates Severance Flynne’s corpse he gets into a squatting position near the body and seems to expect that a clue will just leap out at him. He also frequently attempts to lay traps for the murderer but none of these seem to go to plan, often seeming to only make him seem more suspicious to the local Sheriff.
This make for fun amateur detective fare and I think it should appeal to those who enjoy the actorly, theatrical aspects of Simon Brett’s Charles Paris series or who liked Alan Melville’s Quick Curtain. Crime on my Hands is more satisfying as a detective story than Melville’s adventure manages to be but the solution is less interesting than the journey. Part of the reason for this is that there is little surprise in the way this story is resolved as a key part of the ending is signposted throughout the novel.
While I think this is a little disappointing, I found the journey to get to that ending to be highly enjoyable. If you come to this book not expecting a great puzzle mystery but just an entertaining adventure story I think you are unlikely to be disappointed.
Incidentally, on a related note, if you are unfamiliar with Sanders’ work I can heartily recommend A Scandal in Paris. It’s a historical comical adventure set in France that loosely retells the story of Eugene Vidocq who would become the first director of the Sûreté Nationale and head of the first private detective agency. It is Sanders at his most charming and funny.
The same director also collaborated with Sanders on the superb film Lured which starred Lucille Ball as an actress who goes undercover to find a murderer. Sanders plays a revue producer who becomes a key suspect in that film and while his role is more limited in that film, it is thoroughly enjoyable.
Vintage Mysteries Challenge: During a performance of any sort (When)