Book Review: The Humphrey Bogart Murder Case by George Baxt
First of all, I apologize for taking some time off. I’ve just been feeling tired and stressed lately, and when one feels that way, writing hardly ever turns out good. But on the plus side, I was able to finish up this book and The William Powell and Myrna Loy Murder Case so I hope to get two reviews out today!
The Humphrey Bogart Murder Case was one of the most uninspired books in Baxt’s series. Even though The Mae West Murder Case was ridiculous with its vampires and witches, but at least it was something that came out of Baxt’s brain. The title of The Humphrey Bogart Murder Case should be changed to The Really Bad Maltese Falcon Knockoff Murder Case. Because that’s precisely what this book is.
The plot: It’s 1941. Humphrey Bogart is married to his third wife, actress Mayo Methot, and is starting work on his new film, The Maltese Falcon. Meanwhile, a contessa from Italy comes to Hollywood, along with her entourage, to find a Chinese cornucopia full of priceless gems dating back to the time of Marco Polo. The cornucopia was apparently entrusted to her father by Mayo’s father, who was a sea captain (the contessa’s father was part of Capt. Methot’s crew). Suddenly, Mayo’s mother’s apartment is ransacked, and a day later the Bogarts’ home is ransacked and their housekeeper is found dead. Of course, there is more murder, more incessant name-dropping, and more weird characters than in Alice in Wonderland. Except they’re not lovably weird, they’re keep-away-from-my-house weird.
Before I begin tearing this book apart, I have to point out that all my copies of these books are used. They’re out of print (and rightly so), so I had no choice when ordering them. Therefore, they aren’t in the most pristine condition, which bothers me, but a dame’s gotta do what a dame’s gotta do. Rips, scuffs, and yellowing pages are expected. However, my copy of this book was covered in what appeared to be BLOODSTAINS. Almost every other page had something reddish brown smeared on it! It smelled funny to boot. None of the other books had this funky odor wafting from it, but this one did. I read it wearing latex gloves so I don’t touch the blood and holding it at arm’s length so I don’t smell the smell. Did the previous owner commit suicide while reading this book? If they did, I certainly don’t blame them. It was a stinker, literally and figuratively.
Of course, the plot is a blatant ripoff of the far superior Maltese Falcon. Instead of a falcon, you got a cornucopia. Instead of Sam Spade, you got Humphrey Bogart and that dumb detective Herb Villon, who isn’t anything special. Instead of fat Casper Gutmann, you got fat Contessa di Marcopolo. And instead of Joel Cairo, you got Marco Amati, the Contessa’s hot Italian boyfriend with an even hotter temper. Instead of femme fatale Brigid O’Shaughnessy, you got a femme fatale wannabe named Nell Dickens, who owns a junk shop with her “father” on Venice beach called the Old Curiosity Shop and of course claims to be directly descended from Charles Dickens, just like the way the contessa claims to be descended from the explorer Marco Polo. And if Baxt’s made-up characters are lackluster and flat, you can expect even worse from the real celebrities he integrates into the book. Mayo Methot does nothing but attempt to kill Bogart, Lillian Hellman does nothing but drink and behave boorishly, Dashiell Hammett does nothing but follow Hellman around like a ghost, Theda Bara (yes, Theda Bara of all people is in this book) does nothing but sit around and be exotic, and of course, Baxt fails to understand that Humphrey Bogart and Sam Spade are two different people and fails to give Bogart a personality of his own. Also, Dorothy Parker is in this book, but only to drink and hang around Lillian Hellman and Dashiell Hammett. She perhaps appears and disappears in every Baxt book I’ve read thus far. She’s like the Baxt version of the Alfred Hitchcock cameo appearance.
Just like in The Marlene Dietrich Murder Case, you have A LOT of characters in this book with the same or similar name. There’s a lot of talk about Marco Polo, since he found the cornucopia to begin with, then there’s the contessa di Marcopolo, then there’s Marco Amati. I hope Baxt knows there are other Italian men’s names besides “Marco.” Now there’s nothing wrong with the name Marco, it’s quite a romantic name, but you know what they say: it was too much of a good thing.
I also hate how dumb Baxt thinks Hollywood was. Almost every celebrity in the book had to stupidly ask “What’s a cornucopia?” before having it explained to them by Herb Villon. The only foreigners in the book were the contessa and her crew. The other celebrities in the book: Bogart, Methot, Bara, Hellman, Hammett, etc. are AMERICANS. And any American KINDERGARTENER can tell you what a cornucopia is because every AMERICAN knows the story of the first Thanksgiving! Gee whizz, if Baxt thought Old Hollywood was dumb, he would probably find new Hollywood to pretty much be subhuman one-celled critters with the mental capacity of a headless Barbie doll. I have absolutely no idea what I just said, but it sounds interesting so I’ll leave it there for you to figure out.
Of course, this book was also rife with grammatical errors and such. No commas where you need them and commas where you don’t, failing to capitalize the beginning of a sentence, saying “him” when it should say “her,” using an exclamation point instead of a question mark and a question mark instead of a period…your usual never-ending list of grammatical errors in these books. But what really surprised me here was the constant mix-up between Herb’s girlfriend, gossipmonger Hazel Dickson and creepy Nell Dickens. Baxt mixes up their names more than once, getting only the “dick” part right, which, considering how trashy these books are, isn’t surprising at all.
Another thing that irked me about this book was that all the action took place in ONE STINKIN DAY. The entire book went a little like this: Herb Villon and Humphrey Bogart think that X has the cornucopia. They go to visit X. X says that they lent it to Y. They go to Y. Y is broke so they sold the cornucopia to Z for thirty bucks. They go to Z, etc. etc. It was one never-ending chain of people playing hot potato with this priceless cornucopia. WHO WOULD EVEN SELL SOMETHING THEY BORROWED ANYWAY!? Every time Bogie and Villon had to visit yet another eccentric to find this dingus (anyone get my reference?) I rolled my eyes to the heavens and crossed myself because it wasn’t so much a mystery as it was a wild goose chase. They were literally driving from Venice Beach to Hollywood and back and forth and back and forth all in one day! How they did that, I have no idea. Vintage cars aren’t exactly speed demons. Then again, I think you have to suspend your disbelief if you want to enjoy these Baxt books, something I clearly have trouble doing, since this book is supposed to deal with facts. In the end, I was expecting them to find the thing in a random dumpster in some deserted alleyway. But here’s a hint as to how it ends: this book was ripped off The Maltese Falcon, remember?