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The Canary Murder Case

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Van Dine, SS - The Canary Murder Case (1927)


The "Canary" Murder Case deals with the murders of a sexy nightclub singer known as the Canary, and eventually, that of her boyfriend. Van Dine's subject here is sexual love, symbolized by the Canary and her boyfriend, and its destruction at the hands of American Puritanism. The Canary's relationship, and love nest living quarters, are described with Van Dine's remarkable skillful prose, and form an ideal archetype of romantic, sexual love. Vance is able to identify the Canary's killer, but unable of course to bring her or her boyfriend back to life. The killer is motivated by the Puritanism that has had such a chilling effect on American life.


The "Canary" Murder Case contains beautiful descriptions of the Canary's luxurious surroundings; it also emphasizes the romantic physical appeal of both the Canary and her boyfriend. It is the most sensual novel ever to appear as a Golden Age mystery story, in the full meaning of that term. The novel is a powerful, romantic portrait of both the beauty of physical love, and its snuffing out in the icy American climate of romantic repression. This is the book that made Van Dine famous, becoming an immense best seller; it also started a popular series of films, with William Powell as Vance.


Mike Grost

Broadway beauty Margaret Odell, dubbed The Canary after her rise to fame playing that yellow avian at the Follies, is found murdered in her flat. The only way to enter or exit her building after 6 pm, when the side door is bolted, is through the front entrance, clearly visible from a telephone switchboard manned 24 hours a day. The side door is still bolted when Miss Odell is discovered strangled, her flat ransacked, and valuable jewelry missing. Yet nobody was seen entering or leaving her home during the relevant period.


Miss Odell has kept company with a number of admirers at one time or another and their ranks provide the suspects: socialite Charles Cleaver, wealthy manufacturer Kenneth Spotswoode, fur importer Louis Mannix, and neurologist Dr Lindquist, not to mention professional burglar Tony Skeel. Philo Vance investigates to the babble of his usual erudite running commentary, seeking answers to such questions as how did the murderer get into Miss Odell's flat without being observed? What was the motive? Could more than one person be involved?


My verdict: The novels in this series always require some suspension of belief, what with Vance and his biographer/narrator Van Dine traipsing around crime scenes with the connivance of DA Markham, in this entry to the extent of lying about in Miss Odell's flat smoking themselves silly. Then there's the question of Vance being permitted to participate in police interviews. But if you lock your disbelief in the cupboard the story rattles along quite well, or at least until the closing stages wherein the identity of the murderer is deduced via a poker game in DA Markham's home, a daring stroke of plotting, I admit, but somehow it felt curiously flat. This is probably because I'm not a poker player so the lengthy explanation needed acted as a brake on the action for me. And how did the murderer get into the locked flat unseen? GAD fans will probably know the method from elsewhere but my gripe is Vance coneals the necessary information from Markham *and* the reader until very late in the game. So ultimately a bit of a disappointment for this reviewer at least.




Mary R

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