Sunday, October 21, 2018

This Death Was Murder by March Evermay (1940)

No dust jacket photo found.

About the author (from encyclopedia.com): Pseudonym of Mathilde Eiker (1893-1982). As March Evermay, Eiker wrote three detective novels. Like British contemporaries, she minimizes brutality to emphasize motive and intellectual process. In They Talked of Poison (1938), scrupulous, sentimental Inspector Glover patiently solves a murder for a university seminar of expert suspects. In This Death Was Murder (1940), he explains three suspicious deaths despite the jealous quarrels and loyal deceptions of five sibling heirs. A final mystery, Red Light for Murder (1951), ended Eiker's writing career See also this biography.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Murder by the Clock by Rufus King (1929)

dustjackets.com

About the author: Rufus King was an American author of Whodunit crime novels. He created two series of detective stories: the first one with Reginald De Puyster, a sophisticated detective similar to Philo Vance, and the second one with his more famous character, the Lieutenant Valcour. (from Goodreads). Also see this article.

Major characters:


  • Herbert Endicott, the victim
  • Mrs. Endicott, his wife
  • Mrs. Siddons, their gaunt housekeeper
  • Miss Roberts, a maid
  • Dr. Sanford Worth, their personal physician
  • Nurse Murrow
  • Nurse Vickers, who chose a bad time to go make coffee
  • Marge Myles, the other woman
  • Madame Miramar Velasquez, her mother
  • Thomas Hollander, the old war buddy, Herbert's only friend
  • Jerry Smith, Hollander's roommate
  • Lieutenant Valcour, police detective
Locale: New York City

Synopsis: Mrs. Herbert Endicott fears for her husband Herbert's safety, although he has only been gone two hours - but to see his girlfriend Marge Myles. Mrs. Endicott calls the police and Lieutenant Valcour stops in. He looks around and discovers Endicott's body stuffed in his closet, the door closed. Mrs. Endicott takes it quite calmly, as if it happens every day.

Dr. Sanford Worth is summoned to pronounce him dead, and he attributes the death to his poor heart (but if so, how did he get shut in the closet?). Apparently someone startled him, causing his death. They move the body to the bed. Dr. Worth decides to try to revive him with a shot of adrenaline to the heart, which works.

Endicott's old war buddy, Thomas Hollander, is called in to sit at bedside until Endicott regains consciousness. The police keep a close watch, and Hollander produces a stiletto and begins to approach Endicott with it. The police shoot and wound Hollander. Endicott is found dead - again - this time from a gunshot wound. Hollander didn't have a gun, and it wasn't a police bullet, so what happened?

Review:

Well, this was my first read of Rufus King, and hopefully not my last. This book is a lot of fun with some crazy happenings, plus exquisite use of language:

"There it was again: that wretched wave of hearsay showing its baffling crest above the placid sea of established fact."

and this one wins the Best Simile award: "Her voice was as disagreeable as the clash of dishes in a cheap restaurant."

The entire story takes place over a 24-hour period, as we watch the authorities deal with an investigation instead of getting some sleep. First the police respond to a call from Mrs. Endicott because her husband has been missing for two hours - plus she knows just where he is - with the "other woman" (try that and see what happens).  Then Endicott is found dead, revived, and murdered all in the space of a couple hours. His wife isn't too concerned about it anyway, just another day. It takes a long time for the doctor to prepare for the "operation" which consists of giving the dead man a shot; and requires a big cast of nurses and others to administer.

It is enjoyable to follow the thoughts of Lieutenant Valcour, whose mind wanders away a lot. He likes to challenge suspects with made-up explanations just to see their reaction.

The ending is quite ironic and enjoyable, and brings up deja vu for the reader.

The "Murder By The Clock" title only refers to the various time stamps on the chapter titles, and has nothing to do with the plot.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

The Second Shot by Anthony Berkeley (1930)

dustjackets.com

About the author:  Anthony Berkeley Cox was an English crime writer. He wrote under several pen-names, including Francis Iles, Anthony Berkeley and A. Monmouth Platts. One of the founders of The Detection Club (from Goodreads)

Major characters:

  • Cyril "Pinkie" Pinkerton, our narrator
  • John Hillyard, the host - farmer and detective story author
  • Ethyl Hillyard, his wife
  • Elsa Verity - a "charming pretty little thing"
  • Eric Scott-Davies, a cad - and the victim
  • Armorel Scott-Davies, his cousin
  • Sylvia de Ravel, wealthy society woman
  • Paul de Ravel, her puppy-dog husband
  • Roger Sheringham, a private investigator



Locale: England

Synopsis: This is a story-within-a-story, as narrator Cyril "Pinkie" Pinkerton is writing a novel describing how a murder mystery party goes wrong with one of the guests actually winding up murdered. His novel, which he calls the 'manuscript' comprises the text of this book, which he had buried in a box but the police recovered and are reading as we go along. This manuscript is bookended by a prologue and an epilogue, in which he describes to the reader the setup for his writing it; and delivers the denouement at the end. Once you get your head around this awkward concept, it progresses as follows.

John and Ethyl Hillyard operate Minton Deeps Farm - which, not being too profitable, is supplemented by John's writing of detective stories. At a gathering, it is suggested they put on a murder mystery evening for fun. Our narrator, Cyril 'Pinkie' Pinkerton, is one of the guests.

Eric Scott-Davies, a wealthy ne'er do well, being a thoroughly annoying bully and disliked by all, is cast as the victim. Just before the play acting begins, he announces his engagement to girl-next-door Elsa Verrity - stealing her away from Cyril. The play acting begins, and, surprise, after two gunshots are heard he is found dead. John Hillyard admits fired one innocent shot into the air as part of the theatrics, but who fired #2 which took out Scott-Davies?

It turns out that all the guests had motive to do away with him. Since the body was found by Cyril, and he has the strongest motive (the engagement to Elsa Verrity), suspicion points at him. He calls in old friend investigator Roger Sheringham to help clear him. His love interest gets complex as he now ignores Elsa and begins taking up with Armorel Scott-Davies, cousin to the deceased Eric.

As the investigation gets under way, we are treated to confessions from no less than four of the guests!

Review:

It takes a bit of concentration to follow which of the account is the play-acting script, and which is the actual murder; but once we get the concept the book moves right along. I call Roger Sheringham a private investigator, but it is never stated who he really is. Since he is a series character, perhaps this occurred in an earlier novel. 

The narrowing down of suspects involves figuring who-where-when, and fortunately a sketch map is provided in my 1931 Crime Club edition.

The retrospective narration in the prologue/epilogue is a precursor to the same technique in a couple of favorite noir movies: Double Indemnity (1944) and Sunset Boulevard (1950). If you enjoy those films, you will love this book!

I am looking for more by this author - inexpensive paperback reprints are widely available but the original hardcovers are scarce.