Underground Reading: Something Burning by Norman Daniels
Girls in Trouble!

Underground Reading: The Late Mrs Five by Richard Wormser

The Late Mrs. Five The Late Mrs. Five, by Richard Wormser, is a clever 'falsely accused' mystery published as a Gold Medal original in 1962. 

The hero, Paul Porter, is a traveling salesman in the wrong place at the wrong time. While paying a visit to the small, Midwestern town of Lowdesburg, he finds a promising client and a more promising flirtation, but then winds up accused of murder.

It seems that Porter isn't the only outsider in town - his ex-wife, she of the long legs and greedy mitts - has preceded him. As much as he'd like to ignore her existence, this swiftly proves impossible - what with her untimely murder and all.

The circumstantial evidence is well-stacked against Porter. The police chief is determined to see Porter fry as well - partially out of his own insecurities, and partially because Porter is getting a little too chummy with his foxy daughter. Fortunately, the daughter proves a worthy ally, as does Porter's suave defense attorney. Another helping hand comes in the form of the police chief's own father - a crotchety old curmudgeon that admires Porter's spunk (in-between complaints about having to eat soup all day). 

Porter evidences all the typical stupidities of a man in his situation - at least, as far as books of this genre go. He runs when he should stay put and stays put when he should run. He trusts the wrong people and is surprised by the right ones. Fortunately, the same karmic lottery that put him in this situations spins in his favor at the end - while Porter goes bounding off to find the 'real killer', his capable companions are actually solving the crime.

The best vignette, incidentally, is Porter's encounter with Mr. Five - the recently bereaved. The eccentric millionaire is a scene-stealer. He's part coward, part lunatic and, ultimately, a complete throwaway with no relevance to the plot. Still, his conversation with Porter is one of the book's finest moments. Porter - feverish with self-righteous passion - has broken into Mr Five's home to find clues. Mr. Five, however, is more interested in getting a discount on farm machinery.

Wormser writes Paul Porter well, so, although Porter's behaviour is clearly contrived to advance the plot, the reader still has no choice but to like the guy. The love interest - Andy (a girl - this isn't that progressive) - is competent, intelligent and surprisingly capable. The police chief nemesis is both frustrating and endearing. He's clearly smart enough to see reason, if only he wanted to. It is a credit to Wormser that this cast manages to credibly co-exist. Everyone has their own, plot-controlled motivations, and they manage to skillfully intermingle in a fun, if theatrical, way.

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