Well, here's this woman, Marian Carstairs, who writes mystery novels for a living. She's got three of the nicest, smartest kids you ever saw — Dinah, aged fifteen, April, who's thirteen, and Archie, the ten year old man of the family. They're getting along fine, even though Mother has to turn out about five books a year under different names in order to pay the rent and buy the meat and potatoes and all the stuff that three kids have to have. Then, all of a sudden, there's this murder right next door — so close that when the kids hear the two shots they get there almost in time to catch the murderer. So naturally, the kids figure that if Mother can solve the murder and get all the publicity...well, it's obvious. Her books will sell better and she won't have to work so hard. And when Mother refuses to have anything to do with real crime, it's up to the kids. They've just got to do it for her. After all, they've read all her books. They know just how to go about it.
That's the bare outline of Home Sweet Homicide — and a bare outline is just about all any description of this novel could be. It takes a book to do justice to the three young Carstairs, to their charm, their humor, their originality, and lovableness. For example, their own private language, a method of secret communication in public; their tolerant handling of Mother and her absent-mindedness; their astute methods with the police; their simple and direct understanding of over-complicated adults; activities that furnish hilarious reading to any adult. Dinah, April, and Archie are world champions at breaking in and out of lions' dens. In the first place, they're hot on the scent of the murderer right from the start and much too close for comfort at that. It is they who find the package of blackmail letters after both the murderer and the police had searched for it desperately. It is they who find the second bullet after all the homicide squad experts had given up in despair. It is they who discover that the innocuous French artist is a lot more than he seems to be. In fact, it is the three kids who patch up one romance, instigate another, hide the wrong murderer, put the finger on the right one, and wind up the whole affair to everyone's complete satisfaction.
All "hash-e-lul-squared" breaks out when a mystery writer's three kids try to solve a murder. That's "hell" in the King Tut alphabet used by the three Carstairs children, Dinah, April, and Archie, who feel that life will be a lot better if their overworked widowed mystery-writing mother can only solve a murder and get some much needed publicity for her books. And if she happens to land a husband in the process...well, that's just gravy. So when shots ring out in the neighborhood, the kids make up a story to throw the cops off track while hiding the chief suspect out in Archie's playhouse. Dinah provides the brains while April uses her charms to worm information out of a cop. Archie — the only member of the family capable of saving money — bankrolls the operation and talks his gang, "the Mob," into creating a diversion so Dinah and April can check out the crime scene. In the meantime, Marian Carstairs is up in her room, pounding away on her typewriter, unaware that her kids are setting a trap for a murderer as well as a different sort of trap for a handsome, single homicide investigator.
First published in 1944, Home Sweet Homicide is one of the most honored mystery novels of the first half of the twentieth century, appearing on the Haycraft-Queen Cornerstone list, James Sandoe's Reader's Guide to Crime, and Melvyn Barnes' Murder in Print. It was filmed in 1946 with Peggy Ann Garner, Randolph Scott, Dean Stockwell, and James Gleason.