Monday, July 21, 2014


I know I've read THE BRASS CUPCAKE before. It's John D. MacDonald's first novel, originally published in 1950 and recently reissued by Random House in a handsome trade paperback edition. I'm sure I read it sometime back in the 1980s when I read for the first time almost everything MacDonald ever wrote. But I until I re-read it the other day, I couldn't have told you for the life of me what the book was about.

THE BRASS CUPCAKE is a hard-boiled crime novel that would have made a perfect early '50s film noir. The action takes place in Florence City, Florida, a town steeped in corruption. Our hero is one Cliff Bartells, an ex-cop who got booted off of the force for being too straight and narrow (he refused to take a bribe). Cliff works as an insurance investigator and he's got a doozy of a case on his hands.

An old woman is the victim of a jewel robbery gone bad. The women ends up dead and a small fortune in jewels are missing. Cliff's company (who carries the policy on the jewels), wants to pay off the thieves and buy back the jewels for a fraction of their real value. Then there's the dead woman's niece, the luscious Melody Chance, the sole beneficiary of the dead woman's estate, who stands to inherit a great deal of money. Melody has a would-be suitor, Furness Trumbull, who's named in a codicil to the will, who could also benefit, should he and Melody become husband and wife.

Melody wants nothing to do with Furness but sparks fly between her and Cliff (naturally). Meanwhile, Cliff has to deal with the mob boss who runs the town, the husband and wife servants of the dead woman, several crooked and vicious cops and his old partner on the force (the only honest cop in Florence City). Cliff comes up with a daring plan to retrieve the jewels and expose the corruption at police headquarters and city hall . I won't give the details of how things play out except to say that Cliff's plan involves the 1950s science fiction tropes of radioactivity and a Geiger counter.

THE BRASS CUPCAKE isn't the best novel that John D. MacDonald ever wrote but it's an extremely entertaining read that moves at a fast pace. There's plenty of action, some tastefully recounted sex scenes, a believable plot, a good sense of place, and colorfully drawn supporting players (good and bad). I can see Charles McGraw as Cliff in the movie version with maybe Gloria Grahame as Melody. Recommended for fans of MacDonald and hard-boiled, mid-century crime novels.

No comments:

Post a Comment