Some Like It Hot-Buttered
Since I enjoyed Jeff Cohen’s The Question of the Missing Head, I thought I’d check out another comedy mystery he’d written. Some Like It Hot-Buttered is the first of three in the “Comedy Tonight” series, named after the theater the protagonist runs that only shows comedies. (The other two are It Happened One Knife and A Night at the Operation.)
It’s the story of Elliot Freed, a divorced Jersey guy who wrote a book that became a bad movie. He turned his profits and savings into the Comedy Tonight movie theater, a one-screen revival house that runs double bills, one classic and one modern (which Freed, and by extension one assumes Cohen, is universally dismissive of). While the classics are named — including Young Frankenstein, Horse Feathers, and Help! — the modern are parodies, non-real pictures that still sound oddly familiar.
Freed is barely making a go of it, assisted by Anthony, a college student/film buff/projectionist, and Sophie, Goth-lite ticket and snack seller. Things aren’t helped when a patron is discovered dead in his seat after a showing. Then the cops find a whole bunch of pirated DVDs in the basement.
As events unspool, the cast widens to include a friendly chief of police, a very friendly blonde officer, Freed’s ex-wife, his father, and a film professor at the local college. It’s an entertaining mystery, with a lot of larger-than-life characters and a strong sense of place. You’d better like, or at least sympathize with, Freed to get through it, though, because we spend a lot of time in his head. I tried to focus on his good qualities, mostly his love of movies, to balance the less-entertaining bits about having to live on his own and never bothering to buy furniture for his apartment.
The denouement turns on a convenient coincidence, although it had been subtly foreshadowed through the book, and I enjoyed the setting enough that I’ll be looking for the other two.