Sailor, Take Warning – Kelley Roos (1944)

SailorTakeWarningThe husband/wife writing team behind the Kelley Roos name put out a series of light hearted mysteries/thrillers staring the husband/wife amateur sleuths Jeff and Haila Troy.  At least two of these mysteries that I’m aware of – The Frightened Stiff and Sailor, Take Warning – feature an impossible crime, and so I’ve been snatching them up as the opportunity arises.

Sailor, Take Warning is set following the events of The Frightened Stiff.  Don’t worry, you don’t need to read them in order, but it is The Frightened Stiff that establishes the Troys as a detective couple of some notoriety.  The “sailor” in the title refers to a model yacht club that sails their boats in a lake in New York City’s famed Central Park.

A few pages in and we’re faced with a murder that’s positioned as impossible, although I’m reluctant to classify it as so.  A member of the yacht club is found stabbed through the neck while sitting on a park bench on a hill overlooking the lake.  His position was under constant observation, and the fact that no one was observed coming near him seems to rule out anything other than some wild projectile scheme – a possibility entertained but nearly immediately discarded by the police.

My own reaction to the crime was “oh no, this can’t be what I think it is”, followed by the horrifying realization that I had 180 pages to go before the inevitably dreadful solution.  And I was right.  That may have colored my interpretation of the rest of the book, but I don’t really think so.

I don’t quite get what Kelley Roos was trying to do with this story.  The choice of a Central Park model yacht club as the centerpiece didn’t exactly capture my interest.  Top that off with a cast that is completely forgettable – as in, forgettable while reading – and there just didn’t seem to be a point to it.

The Troy’s are fun though – to a degree.  I enjoy that the authors made Haila the narrator instead of Jeff, and there are enough wry observations to make this a bit fun.  There’s also a fair share of threats of domestic violence that are sold as funny but may make the modern reader wonder if there’s any substance behind them.  The Troys bounce around New York on various escapades, with the story learning much more towards thriller than mystery.  It’s fun, and yet I found myself wishing I was reading something else.

SailorTakeWarningBackThe authors actually manage to pull things together a bit in the end.  Yes, the solution to the impossible crime was the atrocity that I had anticipated, but the explanation of it all was good enough.  There are some far fetched aspects that are very much of the particular time the book was published, but enough seemingly meaningless threads are woven together enough that I was semi-satisfied.

I doubt that I’ll return to Kelley Roos in the future.  That’s a bit unfortunate because there are fine moments.  Maybe if I stumble upon some nice vintage editions at a book store for under the $5 mark I’d end up giving them a go, but I won’t be rushing to read them.

The location

I’ve only been to New York City a handful of times, but I spend nearly every free moment I can in Central Park.  Still, I’m no expert on the sprawling landscape, and found myself curious about where the crime would have taken place.  Wikipedia suggests that model boat sailing would take place at Conservatory Water, but the illustration on the rear of my Dell map back had me thinking of The Pond (based on the massive hill).  The story settles it though – we’re clearly just off of 5th Avenue, and Haila mentions that 59th Street is fifteen blocks to the south.  That places us on 74th Street – smack dab at Conservatory Water.  I’ll be sure to look out for a hill my next time there.

My edition

I’ve partly been excited to read this because of the Dell map back edition that I came across a year ago.  This is one of my favorite maps – a nice deviation from the standard floor plan.  A downside to a Dell map back is that the story tends to be abridged.  In this case I don’t care – I can’t imagine what any extra pages would have leant to the story other than unnecessarily dragging it out.

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7 thoughts on “Sailor, Take Warning – Kelley Roos (1944)”

  1. Admittedly, the impossible stabbing in Sailor, Take Warning! can hardly be described as a classic of its form with a solution derived from a very well-known short story, but I wouldn’t call it atrocious. I’ve read some truly atrocious, horribly botched and executed impossible crime stories, but Sailor, Take Warning! was not one of them. Uninspired? Absolutely. An atrocity? Not even close.

    My problem with the plot is that the motive was pulled out of thin-air, which you didn’t mention, but is something that damaged the story as a fair play detective story. A much graver sin than having an uninspired and obvious impossible crime.

    I recommend you try the first two titles in the series, Made Up to Kill and If the Shroud Fits, which were written as straightforward mysteries with barely any comedic distractions. Particularly the latter is quite dark by the Roos’ own standards. So you might appreciate them more than their crime comedies.

    The Frightened Stiff is still one of my all-time favorite (comedic) mystery novels. 😀

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    1. Yes, the motive does indeed come out of thin air, and fits into a category that I don’t particularly care for. With that said, it did allow for a few nice touches in how elements of the end came together.

      Maybe I’m a bit harsh on the impossibility, but having seen through it immediately, it was horrifying to think that I still had to read nearly the full novel before I’d get to such a weak solution.

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  2. Yeah, the problem is a disappointment, no question, but I do find the Troys so very, very charming and would love to see more of their repertoire in print — even when the myserties aren’t that hot (and, of the first four the Rue morgue Press reprinted, only really The Frightened Stiff has a great mystery) the cast is fun, the dialogue sharp, and the situations full of menace. Kelley Roos are one of the all-too-few examples of authors who, to my eye, could write an actual comical plot without resorting to a sort of scattershot, pell-mell approach to the comedy, and that goes a long way for me, since a “comedy mystery” usually means a few jokes in the opening chapter and then the plot kicks in.

    But, as I say, the overall mystery and solution here undoubtedly lacks, I’m not going to disagree with you there.

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    1. Realize that you risk a two way spoiler. If you haven’t read Sailor, Take Warning, it may be spoiled for you by knowing the short story. Likewise, if you have, the short story may be ruined for you if you haven’t read it. Here is your answer in rot-13:

      Gur fubeg fgbel vf Gur Vaivfvoyr Zna ol Purfgregba. V’z crefbanyyl abg n sna bs vg.

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