by Josh Pachter
KRL readers might perhaps know me as the editor of a recent series of “inspired by” anthologies: The Beat of Black Wings: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Joni Mitchell (Untreed Reads, 2020), Only the Good Die Young: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Billy Joel (Untreed Reads, 2021), and The Great Filling Station Holdup: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Jimmy Buffett (Down and Out Books, 2021).
About a year ago, I was talking with Only the Good Die Young contributor Jeff Cohen, and the conversation turned to the Marx Brothers, whose work I love and Jeff practically worships. One of us—he says it was me, but I’m pretty sure it was him—suggested there ought to be a book of stories inspired by the Marxes’ films, and by the time we hung up the phone, we’d agreed that I would roll up my sleeves and edit one.
The resulting volume—Monkey Business: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Films of the Marx Brothers—will be published by Untreed Reads on September 19, exactly ninety years to the day after the Chicago premiere of Monkey Business, the fourth or fifth film starring Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Zeppo Marx.
Fourth or fifth? That depends on whether or not you include Humor Risk, a silent film the brothers shot for the Caravel Comedy Company in 1921. Legend has it that Humor Risk was previewed once for an audience of children, who were so unimpressed by it that Caravel decided not to release it. No print of it is known to exist, and it remains today one of filmdom’s Holy Grails.
The first person I invited to contribute a story to Monkey Business was my friend Barb Goffman, who is well known and much lauded for writing funny. She told me she was happy to be asked, but admitted that she hates the Marx Brothers! I hadn’t known she was a Philistine, but I suggested she use Humor Risk as her inspiration. Since the film doesn’t exist, I reasoned, she could take her story in any direction she liked. Barb took up the challenge, and her story, which opens the book, revolves around the slapstick search for a reported long-lost print of the Marx Brothers’ first-ever film.
A dozen other writers—Donna Andrews, Frankie Y. Bailey, Jeff Cohen, Lesley A. Diehl, Brendan DuBois, Terence Faherty, Joseph Goodrich, Robert Lopresti, Sandra Murphy, Robert J. Randisi, Marilyn Todd, and Joseph S. Walker—contributed stories, and I wrote (as I did for Jimmy, Joni, and Billy) the title story myself. Some of the stories are LOL funny, while in others the humor is more subtle. There are tales of thievery, betrayal, espionage, deceit—and of course plenty of murders…at the opera, at the races, at the circus, and elsewhere. You’ll meet Marxian characters like Sidney P. Sturgeon, private eye, there’ll be pauses now and then for a completely gratuitous piano or harp solo, and even the Marxes themselves make an occasional cameo appearance.
If I say so myself, paraphrasing the great Groucho: outside of a dog, this book will be your best friend. (Inside of a dog, of course, it’s too dark to read.)
You can preorder the book from Amazon using the link below, or directly from Untreed Reads here.
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