|Jun 10 2023
She was bound to have trouble.
1953's Give the Little Corpse a Great Big Hand by George Bagby, aka Aaron Marc Stein, is a murder tale in classic whodunnit style about a burlesque performer named Goldie Gibbs who's debuting a routine at the famed but fictive Limehouse Club in which she's wrapped like a mummy and carried onstage in a golden coffin from which she rises and strips. Unfortunately, Goldie never rises because she's been murdered. On the case is New York City homicide inspector No-First-Name Schmidt.
Schmidt had been a franchise character for Babgy since 1936 and would eventually star in fifty-plus novels, the last in 1983. Here he cycles through various suspects with incisive questioning, and soon finds links between the murder, the local organized crime kingpin, and a spate of jewel robberies that happened the same night, while also learning that a colleague's daughter who sings at the Limehouse Club has some connection to the crime—unwittingly, beyond a doubt, because she's a “sweet kid.”
This and the other Schmidt books are narrated not by the inspector, but by a journalist named George Bagby—yes, same as the author—who publishes the tales in a magazine. From first person point-of-view Bagby gives readers the procedural details of the case, while also admiring his friend's great intelligence. Give the Little Corpse a Great Big Hand is mostly interrogations and speculations. While we've grown to prefer authors who build books a bit more around action, Bagby/Stein's all-brains approach works fine, and for whodunnit fans we'd call this a necessary read.
Moving on to the cover, it was painted by Victor Kalin and it's a nice effort, capturing the doomed Gibbs' shimmery gold mummy wrapping as described in the text, but taking a non-literal approach otherwise. We guess painting a dead woman in a coffin wasn't considered enticing, so Kalin came up with this moment that doesn't occur in the story but mirrors her distress. He made the right decision, and the result is eye-catching, as usual with his work. Check here, here, and here for examples.