Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Thursday, March 23, 2023


 A Streak of Light by Richard Lockridge (1976)

Richard Lockridge (1898-1982) and his wife Frances (1896-1962) are best remembered for their long series of detective novels featuring Mr. and Mrs. North; that series ended with 1964's Murder by the Book.  (Before their detecting adventures began, the Norths were created by Richard for a series of popular humorous sketches in The New Yorker.)   The Lockridges also penned a series of sixteen novels about Inspector Merton Heinrich of the New York State Police; following Frances's death, Richard continued with eight further books about the character.  (Richard later married writer Hildegarde Dolson, although I do not believe they ever collaborated on a novel.)  The Lockridges also created the character of police Captain Bill Wiegand, a close friend of Pam and Jerry North, and who is featured in at least one solo novel.   One of Wiegand's underlings is Lieutenant Nathan Shapiro, featured in at least thrre books by the Lockridges, and in eight solo novels by Richard. including one in which he teams up with Mertoin Heinrich.  Shapiro is the detective in A Streak of Light.

Shapiro is an easy-going, rather plain-looking man, deeply in love with his wife, a high school prinicpal who had just days before the action in this book began had earned her doctorate.  Shapiro appears to be a plodder, one who is not totally convinced of his abilities as a detective, despite the opinios of Wiegand and of Shapiro's assistant Detective Tony Cook.   But Shapiro will stick stubbonly to a case until everything makes sense.  Shapiro has a strong sense of duty and of justice.  In this case, the fact that he is a Jew does not make is any easier when investigating a nest of rabid right-wing bigots.  One of the victims may have been an unpleasant racist blanketyblank, but that cannot detract from or hinder Shapiro's efforts to solve the murders.

The first victim was Roger Claye, a nationally syndicated columnist and admitted John Bircher, who had been shot in his office at the Sentinel newspaper.  Claye had made a career of baiting "leftists," which earned him the approval of Russel Perryman, the owner and publisher of the newspaper.  If Claye was a rabid right-winger, Perryman made him look like an altar boy.  Perrymen went so far as to order Associated Press articles expurgated of anything that had what he imagined was a leftist bias; truth took a back seat in Perryman's paper.  The managing editor of the paper, Leroy Sampson was also a bad person -- a deeply bigoted Alabaman who ruled the editorial side of the paper with a cruel streak.  All three, as well as Craye's wife and Sampson's wife, were part of an elitist regime which brooked no dissent and offered no quarter.  (And, yes, there is a clear liberal bias throughout the novel but it does not affect the quality of the writing or the plot.)

Shortly after Craye's murder, publisher Perryman was shot in his private elevator.  Shapiro found the wounded man and gave first aid until an ambulance could arrive and take the comatose victim to the hospital, where he lingered between life and death for several days.  Then a mysterious figure took a shot at Sampson in the men's room. missing him and wounding a urinal, making the urinal the most likable victim in the book.  Sampson did not get off so easily, however -- later his body was found on a park bench, shot in the heart.

What was behind the assaults?  Was it, as much of the top brass on the newspaper insisted, a flare-up of violence from the "radical left"?  Could Cray's widow -- young, dry-eyed, and seemingly unaffected by her husband's murder, have anything to do with it?  She had been seen in the company of a successful playwright whom Craye had attacked in print, and who had been a staff member on the Sentinel just years before.  Or could the young "leftist" son of Perryman been involved?  He stood to inherit everything if his father died, and he was known to stronly disagree with everything his father did?  Or could it be an unknown member of the Sentinel staff, many of whom had put up with years of abuse and belittlement?

Shapiro must make sense of this tangled mess before more persons are hurt.  This he does with quiet humility and a deep sense of sympathy (I'm tempted to say grace).  Nathan Shapiro is an engaging and nteresting character who is forced to put aside his liberal tendancies to see justice done, no matter how painful it might be.

I want to read more books about this character.  


  1. Does sound interesting...I've read a M/M North short or two, but not any of their novels. And, of course, to oppose reactionaries and fascists is not to oppose conservatives, per se...just reactionaries and fascists, usually clutching their torn and bloodied "conservative" banners to their chests, but nonetheless lying. (As someone rather to the left of nearly anyone who can be called, usefully, liberal, these distinctions aren't too difficult to make.)

  2. I read a good number of books by the Lockridges when I was younger, and I remember the Captain Heimrich character. And I liked the Bill Wiegand character in the North books.

    I have a couple of Nathan Shapiro books and a couple of Heimrich books on the Kindle, and I know I would enjoy them if I could just get myself used to reading ebooks.