Thursday, January 27, 2011

Mother Finds A Body (What a Mother! What a Body!)

You really can have no idea how distraught I am that Gypsy Rose Lee (and whoever her collaborators may have been), penned only two mystery novels and now I've read both. Ever since my reckless youth, when I swallowed the oeuvres of both Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers whole, I promised myself I would be more careful in the future. But what can one do with only two books except read them? Nothing, that's what.

I adored her first The G-String Murders, and this one was almost as good. It's set during Gypsy and Biff's (her comedian boyfriend, now husband) very peculiar Honeymoon. Seemingly half the burlesque population of New York has hitched a ride with the newlyweds in their vacation trailer: burlesque dancers, comics, Gypsy's mother, and one corpse hidden in a bathtub.

Of particular interest, of course, is Gypsy's mother. As portrayed in the musical Gypsy she's an overbearing nightmare of a stage parent. Here, well, she's more subtle in her methods. She's a champion emotional blackmailer who manages to charm her way out of anything. When she exhibits a shocking level of callousness and fearlessness, Gypsy tells a remarkable story about her being a direct descendent of the Donners. Yes, those Donners. It's kind of amazing.
The setting is a vacation trailer park outside of a honky-tonk Texas town. The description of the floor show in the local saloon is alone worth the read. In it, Gypsy has just started to make a little money in movies, but she is still pretty much ensconced in the world of burlesque: dancers and comics and sleazy management and booze. It's both honestly hard-boiled and light hearted which is a pretty neat trick to pull off. The setting is gritty and down at the heel and makes you think twice about any thought of being a burlesque queen in the 30s and 40s. But the people are funny and the writing is kind of great in its pulpy way.

I wish she'd written more.

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