Jeffrey Cohen: It Happened One Knife

There are a ton of “cozies” out there, and we sell a ton of them, but some of them, while pleasant enough, are almost instantly forgettable. This is not the case with Jeffrey Cohen’s “Double Feature” series which has such an original idea behind it (and such an original voice telling the story) that the books stick with you for awhile after you read them. This is the second book about hapless theater owner Elliot Freed, who owns a struggling, old fashioned movie house that only shows comedies. At the end of the books, there’s usually an annotated list of some of Jeff’s favorite comedies, which is always fun to browse through.

In this installment, the divorced Elliot has made some inroads with his ex-wife, Sharon; is having the usual type of troubles an employer has with a young (student age) staff; and he has the bill of his dreams on his marqee: a showing of the 1958 comedy, “Cracked Ice”, starring Freed’s favorite movie stars, Harry Lillis and Les Townes. You’d have to be a more serious movie buff than I am to get where Cohen came up with the names of his fictitious characters, but it really doesn’t matter—it’ll give you something else to look forward to at the end of the book.

The plot is a delightful one and showcases Cohen’s true joy in the movies. Lillis, it turns out, actually lives near Elliot’s New Jersey movie theater, and he’s agreed to come and open the showing of a rare copy of “Cracked Ice”, his most famous film. Elliot is overwhelmed to meet his idol in person, and even more flabbergasted when Lillis’ partner, Les Townes, also shows up. It’s the best night of his life.

At the end of the evening, as Lillis is on his way home, Lillis mentions to Elliot that Townes murdered his wife back in 1958. With that, Lillis is gone, and Elliot is instantly obsessed. Despite the best advice of all and sundry, Elliot persists in looking into Lillis’ charge against Townes, and the book is a nice meditation on friendships, old, new, bent, and broken. The biggest acts of violence are a smashed snow globe and a smushed bicycle so you can sit back and relax and totally enjoy this mystery. You’ll be rooting for Elliot all the way.