“Playing the Devil”
Author: R. J. Lee
Publisher: Kensington Books
Price: $15.95 (paper)
Bridge-based Mystery Creates Multiple Suspects for Murdered Malefactor
Murder mysteries lately come not singly, but in battalions, bound loosely by a theme or idea or a location. The Noodle Shop Mysteries—"Wonton Terror,” “Egg Drop Dead”—are set in Asia Village, a shopping plaza in Cleveland. Another, with titles like “Death on Tap,” “Pint of No Return” and “Beyond a Reasonable Stout” is situated in a bunch of taverns in fictional Leavenworth, Washington.
This is R. J. Lee’s second “Bridge to Death” novel, and the theme, glue, one might say, that holds the series together, very lightly, is the card game.
Young Wendy Winchester is working as an investigative reporter for the local paper, the Rosalie “Citizen.” Rosalie, an historic port town on the Mississippi River, seems to be a fictional Natchez.
In the series debut, “The Grand Slam Murders,” which I haven’t read, Wendy thinks the local country club offerings could be enhanced by having an active bridge scene. She organizes a bridge foursome, but catastrophe strikes. Four “wealthy society matrons,” the “gin girls,” are murdered. Wendy solves the case, with the aid, as it happens, of her father, the local chief of police, and her boyfriend, detective Ross Rierson.
Undeterred by this setback, in this story, “Playing the Devil,” Wendy tries again. She organizes a foursome at the club, a revival of the Country Club Bridge Bunch. They meet for the first time on the Thursday afternoon before Halloween.
It is a dark afternoon, threatening rain.
As the thunderstorm begins, three men rush in from the ninth hole.
They are Tip Jarvis, a portly dentist, Connor James, a balding pediatrician, and Brent Ogle, successful personal injury lawyer. The men commence drinking. At the end of nine holes, Brent was, unusually, not winning and is in a foul mood.
In any mystery, it is important that there be more than one person who would want the victim dead. In this mystery, nearly everyone in the room might have killed the obnoxious lawyer.
With decades of torment and abuse he has driven his wife, Carly, to drink.
He is sarcastic and bullying to the club director, Delia Dorothy Hornesby, called “Deedah.”
A classic chauvinist, Brent can’t stand women in any position of power and threatens to withhold his large contributions to the club’s upkeep, and that WOULD matter.
Deedah's son, Hollis, an artist, recently returned from the French Quarter, is present. Hollis is Truman Capote gay, wearing sandals in October. Brent is scornful and cruel—calls him “Miss Hollis.” Brent is also a xenophobe, viciously rude to Carlos, the Cuban-American bartender, calling him “Chico” and “Pablo” and putting on a fake Spanish accent.
“Hey Chico, stop posing over there and come take our coldo drinko orders.”
Brent hates it that the new golf pro, Mitzy Stone, is a woman and is angry at the greenskeeper for letting the rough grow too high for his taste.
Drinking heavily, Brent brags to his companions that he and his father cheated against their team in the big high school game 30 years ago by bribing the timekeeper. Brent got a scholarship to LSU.
Cheating at Football in a small Mississippi town—that’s what can bring men to violence.
Fisticuffs ensue. Shortly afterwards, there is a brief power blackout. When the lights come on, Brent is found dead.
“Playing the Devil” is pretty close to being a cozy so there is no serious on-stage violence and very little blood.
Wendy and the police, with eight suspects, go to work. Everyone is interviewed. Of course, we learn a good deal about upper-middle-class life in Rosalie, Mississippi and life among the country club set. This does not arouse much envy in the reader.
The killing itself, though first appearing simple, might have required two people. But, which team of two? Mother and son? Club director and club pro? The two golfing partners?
As it was, I thought for a while it might be “Murder on the Orient Express” and they ALL killed him.
In a perfect fantasy world I would have entered the book and killed him myself.
Don Noble’s newest book is Alabama Noir, a collection of original stories by Winston Groom, Ace Atkins, Carolyn Haines, Brad Watson, and eleven other Alabama authors.