Series: Peter Cutler Sargeant II #3
Published by Vintage Crime/Black Lizard on March 22, 2011 (first published 1954)
Genres: Vintage Mystery
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In Death Likes it Hot, dashing P.R. man Peter Sargeant travels out to a posh beach community to help a wealthy socialite plan an end-of-summer party. His enjoyment of the sun, the surf, and the company of a lovely young fashion reporter is interrupted by the death of the socialite's niece: she mysteriously drowns while swimming on a crowded beach. No one suspects murder until the police find a lethal dose of sleeping pills in her system. As Sargeant watches the police's investigation unfold, he keeps an eye on the grieving socialite; the victim's famous painter husband; a suspiciously cheery brother and sister; and a garrulous tabloid columnist. Now, instead of planning guest lists, wine choices, and menus, Sargeant is faced with a killer unlike he's ever faced: highly sophisticated, devilishly clever, and just as smooth as he is.
Death Like It Hot was a fun look at summer in the Hamptons in the 50s, in addition to being a decent mystery. I have to admit I liked Peter Sargeant, even if he was a bit chauvinistic. He was smart and funny and a good observer, an outsider who sees all the quirks and tensions. And the rich and comfortable have a lot of quirks. This is the only one of the three in the series I’ve read, but it stood on its own well.
The mystery was okay. I think the author played fairly, that we knew most of the clues along with Peter. It felt like a standard mystery, which is fine. I like guest house mysteries, whether they be in the Hamptons or the English countryside. I did guess the killer, but only because it was the best option, not because I had it all figured out.
The book was bit racier than I would have expected, more so than most mysteries I’ve read from the era. Even though women aren’t exactly strong characters, they aren’t weak either. They respect social niceties, but aren’t necessarily tied to expectations.
Overall, it’s an enjoyable story, funny, light and quick, a good summer read.
Edgar Box is Gore Vidal, whose books/essays I’ve never read and don’t really plan on reading. Apparently, the mysteries were written after Vidal’s third literary novel, The City and the Pillar, about a homosexual love affair, was rejected by The New York Times on moral grounds. The Times also declined to review his next five novels. He turned to mysteries at the suggestion of Victor Weybright, an editor at Dutton who was known for publishing mass paperback series of novels by authors who ranged from William Faulkner to Mickey Spillane.