The Brass Ring (aka Murder in Brass) by "Lewis Padgett" (Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore) (1946)
Although Seth Colman owns a successful detective agancy he hates being a detective because he gets too emotionally involved in his cases. He now lets others run his agency while he sits back, does no work, and reaps the profits. His beautiful wife Eve, however, loves the idea of Seth being a detective. She finds it exciting and she loves to involve herelf in his cases, which is why she railroads Seth into taking a case involving a missing mental,patient.
Bruce Farr has been in a catatonic state for five years. Presumably, his condition stemmed from finding his father's body after he committed suicide. He was being cared for at his mother's large house.when he somehow knocked his nurse out and ran away. His mother, for some reason, fears that Bruce is homicidal and hires Seth to find him. Soon the local doctor is found murdered. Then a retired actor, who happens to have a passing resemblance to the father of Bruce's ex-fiance, is murdered at night outside the ex-fiance's home. Numerous searches throughout the small town fil to find the missing man. Seth also discovers that the small town is also hiding a blackmailer -- one who is blackmailing Seth's own wife.
There's a lot about this case that doesn't add up. Why did Angela Farr fear her son was homicidal? How did Bruce break out of his catonic state? How could a madman think reasonably enough to leave no fingerprints at the murder scenes? Did Bruce's father really commit suicide? How does everything tie in with the death of a spinster several weeks before? Why does the sight of anything brass upset Bruce so much? Who is the blackmailer. does he or she have anything to do with the murders and the missing man, and what hold does the blackmailer have on Eve Colman?
Aiding Seth is Art Bedarian, a man who was let go from Seth's agency because of his unreliability, his drinking problem, and his obsession with women. Bedarian also claims to possess a form of ESP, which often allows him to hone in on murders. While this sixth sense, if it exists, has solved a lot of cases, it has failed enough times to put its existence in doubt.
The Brass Ring is clearly embedded in the world of seventy years ago and some references may escape today's reader. Kuttner and Moore's first description of Anglea Farr as "a woman who belonged in a Peter Arno cartoon" struck me as completely spot on and clearly defined the character; I'm not sure how someone unfamiliar with Arno would read it.
The Brass Ring moves smoothly through complicated twists and turns as Seth struggles to put the puzzle pieces together. The book straddles a fine line between the hard-boiled private eye story and the screwball mystery. The comic moments, although overused, work well. The dark, tough prose displays a depth of character. The combination results in an enjoyable, although not outstanding book.
Although best known for their work in the science fiction and fantasy genres (both alone and in collaboration), Kuttner and Moore produced seven mystery novels, of which this is the first. As far as I can tell, The Brass Ring had one hardcover edition (Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1946) and one paperback edition (as Murder in Brass, Bantam #107, 1947). The book cries out to be reprinted.