His name was Jay Otto. He was not quite three feet tall. He was an entertainer, performing as "The Big Midget." The audiences, apparently, loved him. As for the people around him...well, here's what one woman had to say:
"He looked exactly like any other peson, only tiny. And he hated everybody. He hated everybody so much that the hate seemed to ooze out of him, like sweat."
So perhaps it wasn't surprising that Jay Otto was murdered. And that's when he really started making trouble for Chicago lawyer John J. Malone and his two close friends, Jake and Helene Justus, in one of Craig Rice's screwball comedy-mysteries from 1942 called The Big Midget Murders. It's the subject of today's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast, and you can listen to the entire review by clicking here.
Jake and Helene are now the owners of a Chicago casino, and Jay Otto is performing there when he is murdered backstage. Now we all know the first thing one is supposed to do on discovering a murder scene is call the police – and never to touch the body or disturb the crime scene. That rule is pretty well ignored by Malone, Jake and Helene, who don’t want a dead body discovered in their casino. So they put the body into a case designed for a big bass fiddle – I told you this was a screwball comedy mystery – and go outside to discuss what to do next. When they go back inside, they discover that the fiddle case – and the body – have disappeared. And that's just the beginning of the complications. Somehow, Rice manages to keep us laughing - though the laughter often has a very dark edge - while increasingly surreal events surround the "now-you-see-it, now-you-don't" appearances and disappearances of the body. it’s to her credit that she maintains the black comedy while providing an interesting and complex plot and a fair number of memorable characters.
"The Big Midget Murders" appears to be out of print, but there is an e-book version available. It's grim but funny, as with so many of Rice's books. If you're in the mood for something a little off the beaten path, this book deserves your consideration.
The 2015 Bingo Challenge
As you probably know by now, I am participating in the 2015 Vintage Mystery Bingo challenge. The Bingo card has 36 squares to be filled by reading a book appropriate to each square's instructions. The Big Midget Murders is my entry for the square (second row, fourth column) which calls for a book with a lawyer, courtroom, judge, etc. Malone will fill that square very nicely.