I curled up with Too Soon Dead by Michael Kurland on a cold Sunday afternoon. From the cover and from what I had read on the back, it seemed exactly the kind of book for a pleasant Sunday read. And it was.
The book begins when a peculiar tipster hands Alexander Brass, 1930s newspaper columnist extraordinaire, an envelope of photos – photos of some very prominent people, doing some very private things. Immediately calculating the consequences should such photos emerge, Brass is reluctant to do anything except keep them out of the public eye. But when dead bodies start to pile up, he feels a sense of responsibility to find the killer and uses his vast resources to do so.
Even before I had read the ‘About Author’ section in the back, it was obvious that this book pays serious homage to Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. Brass (Holmes) throughout remains a somewhat mysterious figure, brilliant and intriguing, while Morgan DeWitt (Watson), his faithful assistant, narrates the story.
A classic whodunnit, this book excels not in its plot but rather in its characters, prose and dialogue. Often I found myself smiling, smirking and even laughing out loud at the turn of phrase and wit of Brass and DeWitt. (Hmm, perhaps a deliberate choice of last name?)
The book’s setting, 1930s New York, gave the story a wonderful ‘old world’ feel that I really enjoyed. In fact, Michael Kurland does a fabulous job adding in touches that bring the era to life without forcing the setting. This was especially true when it comes to the characters. For instance, Brass is a person of exceptional morals, impeccable taste and a knack for being discreet, even while being privy to everybody’s business. This sort of reserved, dignified character isn’t one you find much in today’s crime novels and I enjoyed the novelty. Even the minor characters added colour and interest, especially the eccentric anti-Nazi immigrants and the brassy, smart women.
Got a free Sunday or a plane ride coming up? This is the perfect book.