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The Case of the Solid Key by Anthony Boucher
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The Case of the Solid Key (1941)

by Anthony Boucher

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Blackmailer, fraud, and all-round crook, Rupert Carruthers deserved to die — and he did, violently. But private eye Fergus O'Breen had a secret assignment tied to Carruthers — and that meant he had to expose the killer nobody wanted to find. $ 1.65 was Norman Harker's entrance fee to a maze of murder and terror. When he paid a lunch check for lovely, mysterious — and broke — Sarah, he took the first step on the twisting path that led to: a faceless body in a locked room, a disappearing girl friend, a fantastic impersonation, a murder from the past, and the incredible solution to the case of the solid key. A locked-room murder among a crowd of Hollywood personalities.

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The Locale is Hollywood — the glittering Hollywood where Rita La Marr gets a weekly salary in four figures for looking glamorous before the cameras, and the struggling Hollywood where Sarah Plunk gets nothing in the Carruthers Little Theater.

The Cast includes Norman Harker, young Oklahoma playwright who comes to Hollywood to make his fortune and finds something definitely peculiar in the setup of the Carruthers Little Theatre. He plays Watson to private detective Fergus O'Breen when the sinister Rupert Carruthers is found "accidentally" dead in a locked room with a solid key beside him.

The Story: As always, Anthony Boucher can be depended on for robust humor, biting characterization. As always, he is primarily interested in an air-tight deductive puzzle designed for an intelligent, tough-minded audience that will be eager to learn the answers to such questions as:

Why did Rupert Carruthers, who was a racketeer rather than a theater lover, undertake to produce Lewis Jordan's play, which was obviously no money maker?

Why did Lewis Jordan, explorer, idealist, one of the truly great men of our time, take out a joint life insurance policy with the shady Carruthers?

Why did Hilary Vane, who was an accomplished actor, allow himself to be exploited by the Carruthers Little Theatre? And why did he handle a gun like a professional?

Why did Sarah lure Norman Harker out of Hollywood on the one night he should have been there?

Although Lieutenant Jackson of the Los Angeles Police and Fergus O'Breen do their best, the mystery of the Carruthers Little Theatre is not solved until a second "accident" results in death — and they finally understand the clue of the solid key.

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