Weighing in at 338 pages, The Hearse Case Scenario is Tim Cockey’s third Hitchcock Sewell mystery. One would think that since Hitch is an undertaker the novel would be brimming with bodies. After all, this sleuth doesn’t stumble over dead bodies, they’re delivered to him. Alas, a mere three murders pepper this mystery.
It all begins with a phone call from Shrimp Martin, a sleazy jazz club owner who is married to Lucy, Hitch’s childhood friend. Shrimp tells Hitch that Lucy has shot him. Fortunately, he survives the gunshot wound; unfortunately, someone stabs Shrimp as he lays in his hospital bed. Was it Lucy? Was it the pretty boy reporter whose face Shrimp recently remodelled with a shovel? The list of suspects is long, and they’re all linked in some way. The fun part is that the narrative is chockful of witty banter reminiscent of Nick and Nora Charles. But oh, does Cockey string us along for pages on end. I thought about making a flowchart of characters. Each time I picked up the book I had to back track and reread several pages in order to remind myself of who was who and what had just happened. Two characters named Mary and enough skeletons to fill a walk-in closet.
The atmosphere that Cockey creates is reminiscent of a Bogart/Sam Spade movie: film noir at its noirest, with a smoky jazz club, a hot-tempered private eye, a smoldering jazz singer, and some illegal bookmaking. Don’t get me wrong; I enjoyed Hitch’s sense of humourous narrative ramblings, but too much of a good thing does not make it better. This banter does not propel the plot, it does not turn it into a fast paced zippy whodunit (see: Lawrence Block, Richard Stark, Agatha Christie). I’m not a reader with a short attention span, or one who dislikes depth – I’ve read Moby Dick and enjoyed it. But the juiciest piece of writing doesn’t appear until page 223, a revelation about Pete Munger, Hitch’s newest crime-solving buddy.
I liked Pete Munger, a 50 year old unhappily married private detective. Cockey seems to have devoted much thought in creating Munger. I only wish he had done the same with the rest of the characters. One grows tired of Hitch reminding me that he’s gorgeous and that his ex-wife Julia is the sexiest woman on earth. Hitch refers to his physical charms and Julia’s much too often. Imagine Nick and Nora played by Ken and Barbie – it doesn't work. Hitch’s quips are vintage 1940s Hollywood, but his way with the ladies is pure James Bond. This doesn’t ring true. I like my amateur detectives to be average-looking, socially inept, and get more strikes than hits when it comes to the opposite sex. In other words, more like me.
The bottom line is that I liked The Hearse Case Scenario but I would have liked it more if it were 40 pages shorter. Note to Cockey’s editor: don’t be afraid to use the red pen. I hope Cockey gives Pete Munger his own novel; he deserves it -- he’s a complex character and one I’d love to read about. Perhaps a Pete Munger Mystery will be forthcoming. Let’s hope so.