Monday, February 14, 2011

Books You Oughta Read -- The Hog Murders by William L. DeAndrea

That has to be one of the best-designed paperback mystery covers of the Seventies. Look at it. That is one bad-ass swine in a business suit.

William L. DeAndrea made a big splash in the crime genre when he won back-to-back Edgars in 1979 and 1980: a Best First Novel for "Killed in the Ratings" and a Best Paperback Original for "The Hog Murders."  DeAndrea went on to publish nearly 20 other novels and won another Edgar for his non-fiction "Encyclopedia Mysteriosa." He died of a rare form of brain cancer in 1996.

Set in upstate New York during a bitter winter, "The Hog Murders" opens with a horrific traffic accident, in which a freeway sign falls on a carload of young women, killing two of them and leaving one badly injured. Within a short span, an old man dies from a fall down a staircase, and small boy is nearly decapitated by a falling icicle. The deaths seems unrelated and accidental -- until the local newspaper starts receiving taunting letters from someone who signs his name as HOG, has information only the killer could know and claims responsibility for each of the murders.

DeAndrea was an enthusiastic fan of Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe books, and "The Hog Murders" is very much a homage to The Great Detective and his ilk. In this case, the eccentric detective is one Nicolo Benedetti, an elderly professor of philosopher who enjoys flirting with women of a certain age, is a notorious cheapskate and demands as his fee the right to interview the culprit alone for two hours.

As the body count increases, Benedetti and his right-hand man, private investigator Ron Gentry, work with the local cops to catch the killer. At times, it seems as if everyone in the town of Sparta is somehow connected to the deaths; at others, the crimes seem utterly impossible.

"The Hog Murders" isn't a book that rewards re-reading. It's designed to work once and deliver a short, sharp shock at the end. It does so with cleverness and precision. The final line is a stunner, so don't peek.

No comments: