When a paleontologist is murdered, Mr. and Mrs. North go digging for his killer
The office of Dr. Orpheus Preson is filled with remains, the bones of long dead dinosaurs. He waves one of them at the NYPD detective, demanding the police stop the person who’s been sending workmen to his house—an endless parade of bricklayers, butlers, French tutors, and tree surgeons, none of whom Preson hired, and all of whom expect payment. There’s nothing law enforcement can do, which means it’s time to call the only two people in New York who can help: Pamela and Jerry North.
A fashionable literary couple who’s made a habit of solving mysteries between martinis, the Norths have known Dr. Preson since Jerry published his first book. The amateur detectives vow to do what they can for the perturbed paleontologist, but it’s too little too late. When Dr. Preson is found murdered, the Norths will find that the poor man had more than one kind of skeleton in his closet.
Dead as a Dinosaur is the 16th book in the Mr. and Mrs. North Mysteries, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order.
Cover blurb from 2016 digital reprint by MysteriousPress.com. Above cover from original 1952 edition.
You can never judge a book by its cover. Case in point, the murder victim of Dead as a Dinosaur is a paleontologist specializing in ancient mammals, not dinosaurs. But I guess “Dead as a Fossil Mammal” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.
Dead as a Dinosaur is the 16th novel in a series of mysteries featuring husband-and-wife amateur detectives Mr. and Mrs. North. Jerry North is a book publisher whose wife Pamela has an ear for gossip and generally takes the lead in the couple’s investigations. The series was popular back in the 1940s and 50s, spawning a TV series, radio plays, a Broadway play and a motion picture. Most of the novels were written by husband-and-wife team Frances and Richard Lockridge, ending when Frances died in 1963. The books are your quintessential “cozy mystery” stories, set among New York City high society and never getting particularly violent despite the subject matter.
The novel opens with Jerry learning about a strange series of pranks being played on one of his authors, paleontologist Orpheus Preson. The pranks are harmless but consistent, with the effect of making the already irritable Preson even more bad-tempered. Things take a turn for the worse when Preson is found dead, likely from poisoning. Was it a prank gone wrong? Or did someone intentionally set out to make Preson’s life hell before murdering him?
As far as mysteries go, Dead as a Dinosaur isn’t particularly complex. The list of suspects is small and resolution to the crime straightforward. The characters also are on the bland side, with only the paleontologist having any real quirks. Sadly paleontology plays almost no role in the plot, aside from the fact the concluding chapters are set in a fictitious natural history museum. I’m honestly baffled why the authors chose not to set the novel in the American Museum of Natural History, which would be a great location for a New York City-based murder mystery.
I haven’t read any other Mr. and Mrs. North stories so I can’t say how this compares to other books in the series. But compared to other mysteries I’ve read – including ones for this blog – it was very vanilla.
The Internet Archive has a collection of both Mr. and Mrs. North radio plays and TV episodes. As far as I know, Dead as a Dinosaur was never adapted for radio or screen.