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Lay That Pistol Down    by Richard Powell order for
Lay That Pistol Down
by Richard Powell
Order:  USA  Can
Bantam, 1947 (1946)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Richard Powell's Arab and Andy (who star in a thoroughly engaging series of cozy mysteries published in the 1940s) have always reminded me of Agatha Christie's Tommy and Tuppence. They're just as charming and carefree, and their interaction is always great fun.

Andy Blake was an antique dealer before World War II. As Lay That Pistol Down opens, he's just beginning a six-day leave from the War Department, at the same time as his impulsive wife Arabella (a blonde ex-debutante sharpshooter who's - literally - dynamite in the kitchen) has a break from her job as an Ordnance Branch clerk (Arab is an expert on firearms). After a minor contretemps in which Arab's attempt to cook up a batch of gunpowder almost blows up their house, she drags Andy out to a local antiques auction - which is where the fun begins.

A bidding war begins between a lovely green-eyed redhead and 'a jockey-sized guy with a starved face and ears that looked like handlebars from a bicycle' for an eighteenth century coach pistol. After the bids go way over the pistol's value, the redhead chases the little guy out of the building. Andy thinks the episode is over. But Arab - as always - jumps in the deep end. The pistol comes home with them but doesn't stay still for long. After their house is burgled, it keeps coming and going, in and out of their lives, to Andy's dismay.

Though Andy wants nothing to do with the mystery, his wife is even more determined to get them in the thick of things. Which leads them to encounters with the handsome but larcenous Stuart, 'a hell of a 4-F to turn loose on the girls they left behind', a crooked dealer who's also on the trail of coach pistols. Soon Andy uncovers a Czech connection involving steel, industrial diamonds, and a hidden treasure, and this dynamic duo romps their (often separate) way through flying bullets to solve the case.

Andy is laid back and lazy, and the fact that Arab is his extreme opposite makes for great banter between them (as when she asks if he's angry, and he replies 'Just hurt, that's all. It discourages a man to find he has a mind as keen as a butter knife') and riotous plot twists. I love this series. The back cover of my 1947 edition tells us that Bantam was 'proud as punch' to release Lay That Pistol Down. And so they should have been. It's a highly entertaining read.

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