In less than two decades, Craig Rice successfully overturned many of the time-honored traditions of the detective story in most of her twenty-eight books. (The number is an estimate because some may have been ghostwritten for her.) In a genre in which death can be a game of men walking down mean streets unafraid to meet their doom, she wrote of men whose fearlessness came from a bottle—from several bottles, in fact—and made it seem comical. At heart, the drinking in her books is the social drinking of Mr. and Mrs. North or Topper.
Rice’s blend of humor with homicide and mirth with mayhem works because her stories have a foundation in a realistic crime situation. Eventually the situation reaches a point at which readers must laugh or lose their minds. Crime, Rice insists, is not funny, but her characters are funny by contrast because of their reactions and because they closely resemble characters in the screwball comedies of the 1930’s. Eternally optimistic, they never take themselves any more seriously than is called for. Her style allies her more with Damon Runyon than with Dashiell Hammett. A unique and original writer, Rice has never been imitated successfully.