Coachwhip Publications © 2017; reprint of 1937 original
Alexander Williams (who, according to one source was born in 1894 and died in 1952) wrote this and at least three other mysteries [The Hex Murder, The Jinx Theatre Murder (1933), and Death over Newark (1933)]. This is described (at Amazon) as a "golden age" mystery; you can consider it as such if you take as the baseline the hard-drinking, hit-them-over-the-head mystery as "golden age." Or maybe American "golden age," not British "golden age."
Murder in the WPA is narrated by James Moore, who has been sent by Works Progress Administration executive Ben Cook to look into the WPA’s operations in an unnamed city. This assignment has been prompted by a telegram sent by the WPA’s administrator, Commodore Ireton, alleging the presence of communist infiltrators and calling for the suspension of the WPA’s white collar programs (largely in the visual and performing arts, and some others). (The WPA was established in 1935 and dissolved in 1943.) Shortly after Moore arrives, Ireton is murdered—strangled—in his office during a demonstration both outside and inside the WPA’s offices.
Moore’s outsider status, and his appointment of acting WPA administrator for the district, makes him a natural to work with the police officer (Detective Lieutenant Pietro Tonelli, who also appears in The Jinx Theatre Murder and Death Over Newark, both, apparently—I have read neither of them—set in New York). Given the disruption at the time of the murder, it’s difficult to determine immediately a motive, or to identify a small group of suspects. Within short order, Ireton’s lover is also murdered, in her apartment, again in circumstances that fail to eliminate anyone or to focus suspicion on anyone.
Complicating the situation is the existence of an organization calling itself Four-Square For America (an obviously fascist organization); many of the WPA workers seem to be members. Another complication is that Ireton’s daughter (Jaze) and one of the people in the theatre section (Larry) are in love, and trying to keep it a secret.
There’s much drinking, a fair number of people bopped on the head (including Moore more than once), and much confusion. Little in the way of detection occurs, until we have a climactic scene in a farmhouse some distance from the city. In fact, we discover some of the information relevant to the solution of the murders when Tonelli explains all to Moore at the end of the book.
There’s a fair amount to like in the book. Williams obviously knew a lot about the organization and operation of the WPA arts programs, and the story is fast-paced and more-or-less in the screwball comedy category of mysteries. I would not call it a fair-play mystery though. I’ll probably read the two previous books (The Hex Murder is also available; Tonelli does not appear in it, so I’ll wait on that). But these are also not going to be keepers.