But there are exceptions. Even where there’s crime.
Sir Henry Merrivale comes to mind. I was introduced to him by an Australian acquaintance when I had a Fulbright there. This baronet, barrister, magician and doctor is an older fellow created by Carter Dickson (John Dickson Carr). He never met a locked room mystery he couldn’t solve, after the requisite 300 pages.
When I started another one of his tales I could not wait to see what antics he’d be up to. I remember one from a novel I read over 60 years ago. He was visiting New York City and was fascinated by its subway system, especially the turnstiles into which you deposited a coin and thereby gained access to the trains.
One day Merrivale joined the line entering a station, waiting for his turn at the rotating guard. The second person in front dropped his coin and entered. Then the one immediately preceding him. When it was his turn he approached the device and confidently walked right through after depositing zilch. People were astounded. The man following Merrivale realized a good thing and proceeded to follow the baronet’s example. Except the turnstile was resolute in blocking the way, until the man dutifully deposited the correct change.
The reader was to learn that at some earlier time Merrivale had managed to drop a coin in the unit but not enter the station. From that moment on all prospective riders had honorably deposited their coin and passed through. Until Merrivale. The system had recorded it had an extra coin, allowing Merrivale to employ it during his dramatic entrance.
I never experimented to see if the system actually worked that way, but it was fun reading about it, and all the other Merrivale tricks.
A modern example is the Stephanie Plum books by Janet Evanovich. Stephanie is a bounty hunter working in Trenton, New Jersey for her bail bondsman cousin Vinnie. She lives with her pet hamster Rex, spending occasional overnights in the company of vice cop Joe or security company C.E.O. Ranger.
Visits to her childhood home for meals allow her to be with Grandma Mazur who packs a gun and enjoys social outings to the funeral of anyone, acquaintance or not. Her mother takes to the bottle when things with Grandma get too bizarre and her father escapes Grandma with a second job driving a cab.
Lulu is a large, black former hooker addicted to unhealthy food. She favors spandex, sized significantly smaller than her body. Often accompanying Stephanie on her adventures, Lulu has to be constantly reminded, “Don’t shoot anybody!”
These and other oddball characters provide a steady stream of humor lasting from page one until the final leaf is turned. When a new member of the series appears, I devour it.
But the absolute funniest book I’ve read, maybe ever, is The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson. Living in a nursing home and limited in his permitted intake of vodka, the man decides to skip a celebration of his 100th birthday and take off. We get to follow his adventures and learn of his, well, let’s just say unusual life.
Now I read this book via audio, and that is what I recommend. I suspect reading it on paper would be equally hilarious, but I know for a fact that the audio approach had me reeling. I’d be listening while walking my dog, often breaking out in loud laughter and observing others on the sidewalk cautiously retreat.
If you have been to the movie version of this book, I’m sorry. After reading it, I could not wait to see the movie. Frankly, it doesn’t come close to doing justice to the original. So if you’ve seen only the movie and thought it a so-so story, please treat yourself to the book.
And if you want a little humor from my scribblings, get acquainted with Elmo Sherwin in Math Is Murder, Murder By the Numbers and You’re Almost There.