Friday, October 14, 2016

"The Chocolate Falcon Fraud" by JoAnna Carl

This month marks the 75th anniversary of the 3rd adaptation of Dashiell Hammett's epic detective novel, The Maltese Falcon...the one with Humphrey Bogart and the statue of a bird. All kidding aside, The Maltese Falcon should rank among the top 2 greatest mystery novels of all time (the other being The Hound of The Baskervilles) and the film actually improves on it, particularly with the ending, which leaves out an additional scene in the book that sort-of cheapens our conclusions about the character of Sam Spade by implying that he's already over the drama, whereas the Bogart version of Spade is not likely to forget what happened after "..a couple of rough nights.." If you haven't seen it, please do.

Now...I realize the only surviving participant in the 1941 film is the prop falcon statue. There are two in existence. They both have aged to the point where they appear to be made of solid milk chocolate, in color and texture - like a chocolate bunny. Some replicas of this prop are gold-plated, so they resemble a solid chocolate falcon wrapped in gold foil..

With this train of thought in mind, it was easy for me to see the appeal of a mystery novel with a title that includes the words "Falcon" and "Chocolate". Right off the bat, I will say that there is no chocolate Maltese Falcon statue in the book, even though the protagonist specializes in designing original gourmet chocolate confections. The only chocolate falcons we get are described in a way that resembles those holiday chocolate candies Russell Stover offers - marshmallow-filled chocolates in the shape of Santa Claus, Halloween pumpkins and Easter eggs. These Falcon candies are offered by our heroine at a Maltese Falcon film festival/fan expo, a convention you might think would exist, given the popularity of the film, but is made-up for the plot of the book.

The Chocolate Falcon Fraud is a cozy - a sub-genre of mystery novel in which there's a puzzle to be solved, but it's not a tough puzzle; the real appeal is that the heroine (always a female protagonist; the closest you get to a male cozy detective series is M.C. Beaton's Hamish Macbeth novels and Lawrence Block's Bernie Rhoddenbar books, which are mostly classified as police procedural and caper novels, respectively, but Hamish is a constable in a cozy Highland village and Bernie's a thief that owns a shop, so they fit in there) runs a shop that makes gourmet chocolate with her aunt, so the author gets to better her books with recipes and trivia about fudge and chocolate foodstuffs for chocoholics. It could be adapted into a film for the Hallmark Movies and Mysteries channel. More on that in a bit, but getting back to what a cozy is...they're light in subject matter and not too explicit in violent content. It's Miss Marple and Murder, She Wrote territory, where a headline on the front page of the New York Daily News might actually read, "Murder Stymies Cops!"

Lee Woodyard is our eager amateur sleuth. Her stepson from a former marriage has come back into town to become the target of an elaborate kidnapping plot by a group of con artists baiting him with a ruse about a possible 3rd falcon prop statue used in the 1941 film that he wants to purchase. Doppelgangers for Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre and Mary Astor show up. Gawdy keychain-size replicas of the falcon pop up. This is good stuff, but my big gripe (aside from the lack of a proper falcon statue made of solid milk chocolate) is that the cool Falcon riffs kick in halfway through the second half of this book. Most of what we get is teen soap opera about Jeff, the aforementioned stepson/scapegoat, whose transformation from ne'r-do-well emo teen punk to nerdy film buff/movie memorabillia tchotchke collector with a girlfriend is sincere...or if he's on the shenanigans.

The book is okay...but JoAnna Carl (a pseudonym used by Eve K. Sandstrom) dropped the ball by overlooking the most obvious gag a mystery novel with a title like that could have. It has a lot of nice ideas..I do wish there was a bigger fandom for The Maltese Falcon.

Should The Chocolate Falcon Fraud be adapted into a film for Hallmark Movies and Mysteries? Yeah! It would be terrific! I would like to suggest Danielle Harris play Lee Woodyard. I can easily picture her in a mystery involving a popular genre film, a fan convention and collectors and tchotchkes...and Will Wheaton could play her love interest, because Danielle's husband in real-life kind-of resembles Wheaton..if Wheaton was pumping iron a bit. And Jennifer Tilly could play Lee's Aunt Nettie, so yeah, this would be awesome.

And there will be a falcon statue made of solid milk chocolate..with marshmallow center, of course.

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