You Might As Well Die
J.J. Murphy

ISBN-13: 978-0451235329
Publisher: Penguin Group
Line: Signet
Release Date: Dec 6, 2011
Pages: 336
Retail Price: 7.99

Genre: Mystery

When second-rate illustrator Ernie MacGuffin's artistic works triple in value following his apparent suicide off the Brooklyn Bridge, Dorothy Parker smells something fishy. Enlisting the help of magician and skeptic Harry Houdini, she goes to a séance held by MacGuffin's mistress, where Ernie's ghostly voice seems hauntingly real...

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Everyone’s shocked when decidedly mediocre illustrator Ernie MacGuffin slips a suicide note into Dorothy Parker’s purse and takes a leap off the Brooklyn Bridge; MacGuffin may not have been a successful artist, but at least he was a happy one.  Perhaps even more surprising than the man’s death, however, is his posthumous success:  as soon as the news of his suicide hits the wire, his work triples in value and the editor of The New Yorker wants Dorothy and fellow Algonquin Round Table member Robert Benchley to write an article about MacGuffin for their inaugural issue.

The pair accepts the assignment, but the more they look into MacGuffin’s life, the stranger they find the circumstances surrounding his death.  For example, the market is now being flooded with new MacGuffin originals, but where are they all coming from?  Why isn’t MacGuffin’s widow more grief-stricken?  And what’s with the mysterious clairvoyant who’s holding nightly séances in order to communicate with MacGuffin’s spirit?

You Might as Well Die is the follow-up to author J. J. Murphy’s stellar first Algonquin Round Table Mystery, Murder Your Darlings.  I’ll admit, this book made me nervous.  I mean, I flat-out adored Murder Your Darlings; what if Murphy was unable to capture lighting in a bottle a second time?  It turns out I worried for naught, though; You Might as Well Die is a madcap tale of murder, lies, mystery, and intrigue, with some bootleg gin thrown in for good measure, and it doesn’t disappoint.  (Think Dashiell Hammett’s The Thin Man meets—well, any of P.G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves & Wooster novels, and you’ve got the picture.)  Murphy’s prose is witty and graceful, his imagery is striking, and his story positively drips with atmosphere.  The mystery is cleverly plotted, and though I both anticipated Murphy’s plot twist and correctly guessed the identity of his killer, the ride was no less enjoyable for it.  And while we don’t get to spend quite as much of this book lunching with the Vicious Circle or drinking in Tony Soma’s speakeasy as I might have liked, getting to watch Alexander Woollcott and Harpo Marx wreak havoc on the streets of New York with their own unique brand of extreme croquet and witnessing Houdini perform the halftime show of the very first NFL game ever played fills the void quite nicely.

The humor in this second Algonquin Round Table Mystery is less Dorothy Parker than it is “Who’s on first?”-era Abbott & Costello, but Murphy prevents things from becoming too vaudevillian by tackling some heavier issues than you might expect to find in a traditional mystery.  From discussions of suicide to lonely moments spent in the special hell that is unrequited love, Murphy knows exactly when to undercut a serious scene with humor and when to just let that moment be, and he does so here with grace and aplomb.

And then, of course, there’s Dorothy Parker.  In my review of Murder Your Darlings, I complimented Murphy on the way he managed to humanize Parker without diminishing her, and with You Might as Well Die, that compliment still stands.  Murphy paints Parker as equal parts caustic and insecure.  Readers are just as likely to identify with her as they are to sit in awe of her, and in my mind, you can’t hope for much more from a heroine.

The best books don’t merely entertain, they transport, and in You Might as Well Die, J.J. Murphy has created a time machine you’ll want to fire up again and again.

Reviewed by Kat