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Home Sweet Homicide by Craig Rice

Home Sweet Homicide (1944)

by Craig Rice

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Probably only deserves 3.5* but despite some extremely improbable situations, I enjoyed this a lot. ( )
  leslie.98 | Jun 20, 2016 |
A sweet murder story (!) about three children trying to better their mom's life as they solve crime. Their mother, Marian Carstairs, is a mystery writer and widowed. She spends most of her time stuck behind the typewriter - because this was written way back in the day - to support her family. Her kids, which are definitely fiction constructs as they are super supportive of their mom's work and tend to do the cooking, cleaning, and supervising for her, without being asked and without ever a begrudging thought, just wish that their mom can catch a break and not have to work so hard. Accordingly, one morning April wishes out loud that her mom could help the police solve a crime and thereby gain publicity for her books, and her brother, Archie, wishes that she could find a husband to help take care of her. Right after they speak these words, they hear two shots from next door. The detective who comes to investigate, Bill Smith, is handsome and single. According to April, providence must have been listening in.

So begins a fun romp of a mystery with the children as central characters. Rice uses an omniscient third person point of view, and enters the head of a wide variety of the characters, including the mom and the detective and even suspects, but the spotlight swings back on the three children most of all. They have several ambitions of their own, and will help the police or cross the police in the investigation, depending on what they are scheming at the moment. They have the single minded selfishness of real children; they are sweet, and good, but can be ruthless when is suits their needs and the needs of their mother. They're also not above practical jokes that drive the police crazy, like placing a flower in the bullet hole at the crime scene and writing "Warning" in lipstick on a knife. They can get away with their crazy antics and secret sleuthing because, as kids, the cops don't think they are much more than a nuisance and can't cause real harm or discover real clues. Of course, they do find all the clues before the cops have pieced it together.

Lieutenant Bill Smith is not a dull witted policeman; in fact, he seems sharper than his peers, which is probably why he's the one in charge. He's the only one who suspects that the kids know more than they pretend. However, he has the habit of losing his focus whenever their mother, Marian, is around, playing right into the ploys of the children. They split their time between setting Lieutenant Smith up and discovering who killed their neighbor, Mrs. Sanford.

The mystery is more interesting than complex. The children discover that Mrs. Sanford was a horrible person, blackmailing just about anyone she can find with a little dirt on them, and therefore making lots of enemies with a motive for murder. The abundance of suspects and the intriguing set up starts off promising, but the story is more about the children's ridiculous and clever antics than developing the mystery. Rice keeps the story upbeat from beginning to end - sweet kids, Archie and his mischievous mob, chocolate malts, slang from the Depression era, romance and happy domestic scenes. Even the deaths aren't too upsetting, since both victims are awful people. The book is not meant for children to read, but is meant for adults who are children at heart.

The introduction mentions that mysteries written in the same period are referred to as gin soaked zany mysteries. They were written during the Depression era, when people needed a pick me up, and mysteries were about clever detectives (usually drunk) and laughs. This story has the same silly approach to the mystery genre, without the gin, of course. I enjoyed this story. A feel good murder mystery! The kids were cute. The romance between Marian Carstairs and Bill Smith was sweet. The mystery was appealing enough to serve as the secondary story. I recommend rediscovering this vintage mystery. - By the way, this was another book I learned about in Death on Demand, a story which I liked on its own merits, but might have to rate higher because of all the great mysteries it recommended within the story. ( )
  nmhale | Jun 4, 2011 |
Scrambled rather than hardboiled is how the writers of the Introduction so aptly describe this book. It is in the domestic life of Marian Carstairs and her three kids,rather than in the crime aspect of this story that it shines.
Marian is a writer of crime-fiction who is fully occupied with her work. Most of the day to day running of the house is done willingly by her doting two daughters and younger son.
It is around these children that the story revolves as they become involved in attempting to solve a murder and credit their busy mother with its solution. They are also trying to marry her off to the detective leading the official investigation.
The three kids are Dinah,the eldest at 14,April is 12 and Archie the youngest is 10. All are well written and rounded characters.
This is a one-off story by Rice,which is rather a shame,as a lot more could have been written about this kookie but very appealing family. ( )
  devenish | Feb 25, 2010 |
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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.

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