A Friendly Game of Murder by J. J. Murphy

Review by Chris Redmond

This light and pleasant mystery novel is the third in a series of “Algonquin Round Table Mysteries” by J. J. Murphy. Most of its characters are the entirely authentic members of the legendary Round Table that talked, drank and cavorted in the lobby of New York's Algonquin Hotel in the 1920s, including Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, and Alexander Woollcott (an early Sherlockian, though not on very good terms with the pioneering Baker Street Irregulars). In this episode of the Algonquin adventures, Murphy also brings in Harpo Marx, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, and — which makes it of particular interest to Sherlockian readers — Arthur Conan Doyle during one of his lecture visits to North America.

The events take place on a snowy New Year's Eve and New Year's Day. For a review to summarize the plot would do neither the author nor the potential reader any kindness; suffice it to say that the Algonquin hosts some serious partying, with a naked actress as the scandalous centre of attention, and that members of the Round Table get involved in solving a mystery as a natural extension of the game of “Murder” that they really did sometimes play. (One wonders why contemporary Sherlockians have not embraced this game; it would enliven many a scion society meeting and many a con.)

Doyle's role in the events is relatively minor, but he is portrayed sympathetically and fairly accurately, with some emphasis on the annoyance he often felt when he was asked to talk about Sherlock Holmes rather than topics he thought were of more significance. The narrative as a whole is largely slapstick, but there are gentler touches of humour as well, including Woollcott's extended failure to recognize Doyle as a more prominent and talented writer than himself. No one could call A Friendly Game of Murder, great literature, but it's definitely fun to read.