Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A Midget, an Elephant, and Gore Vidal

Today's featured dust jacket wraps around the mystery of a circus midget killed in the line of duty.

by Stephen J. Gertz

[VIDAL, Gore]. BOX, Edgar. Death Likes It Hot.
First edition. New York: Dutton, 1954. 187 pp.

Five years before the release of Billy Wilder's Some Like It Hot (1959), the question of who, exactly, likes it hot was specifically addressed by a mystery novel by Edgar Box aka Gore Vidal.

And just who likes it hot? Thanatos, the Grim Reaper - with an eye, apparently, on the eternal sweat-box down below.

The death of Peaches Sandoe, the midget, at the hands, or rather feet, of a maddened elephant in the sideshow of the circus at Madison Square Garden was at first thought to be an accident, the sort of tragedy you’re bound to run into from time to time if you run a circus with both elephants and midgets in it.

And so begins this appropriately hot pot-boiler. Having never run a circus, I take Gore Vidal at his word. It's a "recipe for a chic murder," as the jacket blurb declares. And Vidal cooks it well. "Take a social-climbing dowager; a house-party full of bright, brittle, amoral idlers; let simmer for a long hot summer weekend, and you get the fanciest killing of the season," our blurbster continues.

How a social-climbing dowager, amoral idlers, a midget, and an elephant who may or may not be a murderer wind up between the covers of the same book is the real mystery. Yet Vidal pulls it off with the panache of a gifted writer in on his joke but not showing his hand.

The Saturday Review touted it as "Spillane In Mink," as if Mickey would ever be caught dead in a deceased animal's fur, unless, of course, he killed the beast himself with his heater and wore the hide as a trophy. "The mink was some doll. But I don't trust dolls any farther than I can throw them. So to be on the safe side I plugged it and smiled as a  trail of putrid-smelling blood oozed out of the Mustela vison's anal gland, the result of my calling card's deadly hello."

The dust jacket designer/artist, alas, remains unknown.

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