Friday, May 01, 2009

Forgotten Books: BLUES FOR THE PRINCE -- Bart Spicer

If Bart Spicer's been forgotten, it's a real shame. He was one of the best writers of private-eye fiction in the last century. Blues for the Prince, Spicer's second novel about p.i. Carney Wilde shows you why.

Start with the writing: smooth, literate, and assured. Characters? Real as can be. Plotting? Way above the usual. The Prince (Harold Prince is his name) is a black jazzman, murdered, it seems, by an arranger who worked for him. Open and shut. But (you guessed it) there's a lot more too it than that. When he's arrested, the arranger has documents that seem to prove he wrote all the songs credited to Prince. The fiance of Prince's daughter, a doctor, hires Wilde to look into things. Complications ensue.

This book was published 59 years ago this April. Spicer's take on race is considerably ahead of its time, as you'll discover. It took a while for other mystery writers to catch up with him. And Spicer knows his music. If you like jazz, you should like this book.

Carney Wilde is unlike a lot of fictional private-eyes in that he starts out as a one-man operation and eventually starts making money. By the end of the series, he's got a fairly sizeable agency. His love life advances, too, believe it or not. He even gets married.

Spicer went on to write big standalone novels, but the books in the Carney Wilde series remain my favorites among his works. If you haven't read them, you've missed something.

5 comments:

  1. I've known of Spicer, but I'm not sure I've ever read any of his. And a Prince can certainly keep company with a Duke or a Count, much less the Kings of Swing or (koff) Jazz. Time to go seeking.

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  2. Bart Spicer was one of the great private eye writers. And, as you point out, his character evolved and changed over the series of Carney Wilde novels. Some small press should reprint these fine books.

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  3. Now *this* is a series I can get behind. Mixing jazz, music, and mystery is a wonderful way to get through a story. I've wondered, in my pompous moments, if a story couldn't be created based on the movements of a symphony or the changes to a particular jazz tune. I'm going to head on over to Bookland today and see if they have any of these books.

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  4. They're not easy to find, and this one's the only one with the music background. They're all worth looking for, though.

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  5. Scott--yes, basically. Musician-writers such as Barry Malzberg, R. A. Lafferty, and others have certainly done just that.

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