Monkey Business: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Films of the Marx Brothers

Sep 15, 2021 | 2021 Articles, Mysteryrat's Maze

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.

Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & mystery short stories in our mystery section. And join our mystery Facebook group to keep up with everything mystery we post, and have a chance at some extra giveaways. Be sure to check out our new mystery podcast too with mystery short stories, and first chapters read by local actors. A new episode just went up this week.

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Josh Pachter is an author, editor, and translator. His short crime fiction has been appearing in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and elsewhere since the late 1960s, and in 2020 he received the Short Mystery Fiction Society’s Golden Derringer Award for Lifetime Achievement. You can find him online at www.joshpachter.com.

Disclosure: This post contains links to an affiliate program, for which we receive a few cents if you make purchases. KRL also receives free copies of most of the books that it reviews, that are provided in exchange for an honest review of the book.

4 Comments

  1. 1. No, Josh, it was definitely me who suggested the Marx book. I totally take credit/blame for that.
    2. MONKEY BUSINESS is the third or fourth Marx movie depending on if HUMOR RISK is counted. The first two (sans HUMOR RISK) were THE COCOANUTS and ANIMAL CRACKERS, adaptations of the brothers’ Broadway shows.
    3. I am honored to be included in this book.

    Reply
  2. 1. See, I knew it was you!

    2. Well, it was fourth or fifth if you count THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT, in which the brothers put in an appearance … but I don’t, and nobody *ever* said they “starred” in THTSB, so I miscounted, and I’m wrong. I hate it when that happens!

    3. I am honored and delighted to have you, and your story is one of the book’s highlights. Thanks, Jeff!

    Reply
  3. I read this article, then went to amazon. Since I had pretty much “gotten” the premise, I skipped lightly over your introduction and went straight to the first story in the “LOOK INSIDE!” area. Barb writes that someone is eating a slice. Cheese only. “As God intended” I slapped down my money right then. First sentence. And – I am one who LIKES other ingredients on my pizza! It just struck me that a man so purposeful and sure of himself would be…an interesting character. And I look forward to all the OTHER stories. This will be fun.

    Reply
    • I’m glad you liked the review enough to go look at the book, Maggie-Beth, and then bought it. Yes, Barb’s story has that authenticity that warrants a full read of her story. And I think the others hold up well also.

      Reply

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