The Lockridges’ most popular characters, Pam and Jerry North, appeared in nonmystery genres before they became amateur sleuths. Richard Lockridge first wrote of the experiences of a couple similar to his wife and himself in a series of short pieces for the New York Sun. Later, the Norths resurfaced in the short domestic comedies that he wrote for The New Yorker. Their surname, their creator said, “was merely lifted from the somewhat amorphous, and frequently inept, people who played the North hands in bridge problems.” In their initial existence, the couple did not have first names, and neither had an occupation.
Mr. and Mrs. North Series
The Norths’ final passage to amateur-sleuth status came when Frances Lockridge decided to write a mystery during one summer vacation. Her husband became interested, and together they worked out a story. Because the Norths were well-established characters by then, the Lockridges kept them as the main characters and retained the humorous tone previously used in North stories. According to Frances, her own role was to contribute interesting characters and her husband’s was to kill them off. After their story conferences and the joint preparation of outlines and summaries, Richard did all the writing.
When Richard continued writing other series after the death of Frances, reviewers suggested that his style had changed, a claim that seemed to baffle and amuse him. The style of the collaborative Lockridge books, praised as quiet, understated, graceful, and easy to read, certainly is consistent, though the novels featuring characters other than the Norths seem more serious in tone. The North novels were initially admired for their infectious humor. They are a delightful blend of urbane chic (somewhat reminiscent of the tone of motion-picture screwball comedies) and an attention to social issues, a legacy of the authors’ journalistic training.
The Lockridges fall into the category of detective-fiction writers who consider it their job to play fair with the reader in producing interesting puzzles to solve. Among his rules, Richard Lockridge said, were that butlers and detectives are never the criminals, that there is only one murderer, and that the detective must disclose all the clues. It is this last requirement that occasions the frequent meals and dry martinis in the North series. Pam and Jerry, often with their police-officer friend Bill Weigand and his wife, Dorian, discuss cases over meals at elegant restaurants or at home. A whimsical fascination with the activities of cats adds to the comic charm of the novels. Pam’s thought processes are sometimes relayed in her conversations with the assorted cats that appear throughout the series. These monologues, like the scenes of socializing, serve a dual purpose, adding a warm, sometimes comic touch of characterization and deftly passing on information to the reader.
Another unwavering source of amusement for the reader is the ire the Norths arouse in Inspector O’Malley, Bill Weigand’s superior. “Those Norths!” he sputters whenever he discovers that they are in the thick of the latest homicide. A running gag is the obligatory suspicion that falls on the Norths themselves: Why do they so often find the bodies? the inspector wonders. Though on an intensive diet of the North books this comic touch becomes rather wearying, it is nevertheless true that, as with characters in a situation comedy or any other kind of series, these predictable touches are part of the appeal.
Though Richard Lockridge found the casting of Gracie Allen as Pam North in the film featuring the Norths a “triumph of miscasting,” there is a distinct aura of the daffy charm of George Burns and Gracie Allen about Pam and Jerry North. Like Gracie Allen, Pam is much...
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