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You Might As Well Die: An Algonquin Round Table Mystery by J.J. Murphy
Review by Verna Suit
Signet Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780451235329
Date: 06 December 2011 List Price $7.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /

This second installment of the Algonquin Round Table Mystery series opens with mediocre painter Ernie MacGuffin giving Dorothy Parker his suicide note and telling her not to read it before midnight. She does, of course, but arrives too late to stop him from jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge. Would-be publisher Harold Ross invites Parker and her pal Robert Benchley to write a story about the incident for the inaugural issue of his new magazine, to be called The New Yorker. They agree to, but only because the fee will cover their huge outstanding bar tab at their favorite speakeasy.

The Algonquin Round Table of the 1920s was a salon of sorts, where a subset of New York's literary and art world met for lunch daily in their "desperate pursuit of fun". Any suspicion that You Might As Well Die is a serious mystery is dispelled by the doomed painter's name. He is indeed the MacGuffin that motivates the book's characters and propels the narrative along. Parker and Benchley need to research his life for their story and get some perspective on why he offed himself. To do this they enlist the help of their officemate Robert Sherwood and also Harry Houdini, who happens to be in town.

Throughout the story, everyone's paths cross with that of Alexander Woollcott and Harpo Marx, who are pursuing a robust game of urban croquet. A sub-theme is Parker's and Benchley's continual frustration with trying to get a drink in Prohibition New York, now that they’ve been banned from the speakeasies because of unpaid bills. Another is Parker's struggle with her feelings for her best friend Benchley, a faithfully married man.

You Might As Well Die is pure entertainment with some very funny scenes. At times it reads like a vaudeville routine as characters trade one-liners. The real fun of the book is having all these "outrageous and outsized personalities of the Roaring Twenties" as characters in a traditional mystery. It's like watching a movie where the cast are all famous and well-loved actors.

Well researched and well-written, You Might As Well Die shows author J.J. Murphy to be a talented and intelligent writer, whose fictional characters remain true to the spirits of their originals. As a bonus, an end note provides a welcome and fascinating explanation of what was real and what is fictional. You Might As Well Die and its predecessor, Murder Your Darlings, are bonbons for fans of the 1920s.

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