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The Complete Arabella & Andy Mysteries    by Richard Powell order for
Complete Arabella & Andy Mysteries
by Richard Powell
Order:  USA  Can
Xlibris, 2008 (2008)
Hardcover, Softcover
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Richard Powell is probably best known for The Philadelphian (made into the 1959 Oscar-nominated film, The Young Philadelphians, starring Paul Newman and Robert Vaughn). One of my all-time favorite authors, Powell also wrote Don Quixote, U.S.A., Pioneer, Go Home, The Soldier - and many others - in a wonderful, wisecracking, self-deprecating style that adds hilarity to both his contemporary and mystery novels.

Aside from A Shot in the Dark, my favorites of his mysteries are his cozy Arab & Andy books, set during and immediately after World War II. Andy Blake is a laid back antique dealer and army reservist. His wife Arabella is a spirited blonde ex-debutante sharpshooter. Now, thanks to the efforts of Richard Powell's daughter Dorothy Quigley, the entire series of five books has been reissued in an omnibus edition of The Complete Arabella & Andy Mysteries, including Don't Catch Me, All Over But The Shooting, Lay That Pistol Down, Shoot If You Must, and And Hope To Die.

In Don't Catch Me, charming and carefree newlyweds Arab and Andy stumble upon - and buy - a fake Chippendale chair on a Sunday outing through the Pennsylvania Dutch country. Of course, Arab being involved, this leads to a burglary, a shooting spree, housebreaking a castle, arson, saving Arab's best friend - and foiling the plans of Nazi agents to extort a million bucks, and use that money against the U.S..

The mismatched (in investigative style only) pair also face Nazis in All Over But The Shooting. After Arab joins Andy in war-time Washington, they uncover a nest of Axis agents who are about to reveal Allied D-Day plans to the enemy. This one ends with Andy so battered that Arab promises to be a mouse in future. Andy's rejoinder? 'If you're going to be a mouse ... God help the cats.'

Lay That Pistol Down begins with a bidding war for an eighteenth century coach pistol at an auction. After the duo plays musical pistols for a while, Andy uncovers a Czech connection involving steel, industrial diamonds and a hidden treasure. As always, Arab and Andy romp their way through flying bullets to solve the case.

Shoot If You Must features a post-War neo-Nazi revival attempt in Virginia, using war loot - after all, 'Nobody would think of looking for a major cell of the Nazi underground within sight of the spire of Washington Monument.' While trying to extricate himself from the army, Andy is repeatedly strangled by a smooth villain who considers himself the reincarnation of the brilliant (though murderous) goldsmith Benvenuto Cellini, and with some cause.

This wonderfully wacky series ends with And Hope To Die, set in Florida where the perpetually endangered couple dare to take a summer vacation. When they go fishing (not Andy's idea!) they almost end up as shark bait, while tracking down a gang bringing in illegal aliens - French ex-collaborators (and one young stowaway who tells the tallest tales) - from Cuba.

Though the settings and year vary in these mysteries, they share common threads of amusing jealousy and misunderstandings as Arab flirts with the bad guys and Andy fends off femmes fatales. Arab is consistent in behaving recklessly, dragging Andy willy-nilly into the fray, after which her damaged, but still loving, spouse picks up the pieces. As Andy says, living with Arabella is 'like living on a bullseye in a rifle range.' If you enjoy Agatha Christie's Tommy and Tuppence books and haven't discovered Richard Powell's Arab and Andy yet, then you have a quintuple treat in store with The Complete Arabella & Andy Mysteries!

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