Friday, June 29, 2018

The D.A.'s Daughter by Herman Petersen (1943)

Pretty Sinister Books

About the author: Petersen was born in Utica, New York on September 9, 1893; he sold his first story, “ The seven gilded balls, ” to Black Mask in June 1922. Petersen's best times in the pulp business were between 1922-33; Petersen did not depend on the pulps for his livelihood, as he worked for Utica newspapers and in 1943 became a fourth-class postmaster for Poolville, New York; he sold his first full length mystery novel, Murder in the Making, in 1940; other novels include Murder R.F.D.Old Bones, and The D.A.'s Daughter; he also published a humorous autobiography titled, Country Chronicle (1945); his historical novel, The Covered Bridge (1950), was later adapted for television and aired in 1952; his final mystery novel was The House in the Wilderness (1957) Petersen died July 1973. Source: Online Archive of California. adds "Petersen’s only other mystery novel, “The House in the Wilderness,” was published serially in 1957 and did not see book publication." 

About this title: This is also published as Dell Mapback #55. I have three books by Herman Petersen (my other two are Murder RFD and Old Bones). The spelling of his name is Petersen on two, and Peterson on the other, 'Petersen' is correct. If you search for his books, try both spellings. He also wrote Murder in the Making which I have yet to locate at an affordable price.

As this enjoyable book takes place in the countryside during haying season, it has been my tradition* to reread it every summer here as soon as the first hay is being cut. This summer (2018) will be my 11th reading!

Major Characters:
  • Henry "Hank" Wilbur", narrator, putting himself thru college by selling life insurance
  • Lydia Bannock, Hank's girl-next-door, daughter of the D.A.
  • Charles Bannock, the D.A.
  • Charles Andrews, who bought a home/pond in Pleasant Hollow, he is dead before the story begins.
  • Sara Andrews, 36-year old charming blonde cougar, widow of Charles
  • Clarabelle Thompson, the rugged dairy farmer
  • George Tanner, fishing friend of Hank
  • Big Joe Hustin, hard-drinking lug who likes to pick fights
  • Horace Phelps, secretary of the Andrews family
  • Simon Blake, attorney for the late Charles Andrews, owns a horse farm
  • Sergeant Baker of the State Troopers
  • Trooper Nolan
Locale: fictional Pleasant Hollow in upstate New York


Hank Wilbur, our narrator, is selling life insurance to pay for college in the fall. He has become quite cozy with blonde widow Sara Andrews, hanging out with her and giving her swimming lessons. Since the death of her husband Charles Andrews, local lug Big Joe Hustin has taken it upon himself to be Sara's protector, and slugs any men who show interest in her.

Sara drives home alone after a community supper. Later, Hank and girl-next-door Lydia Bannock drive the same way, to find a broken guard rail, and Sara's car overturned in the river. Hank dives in to try to assist, but she is already dead. Police find a skid mark indicating the car's brakes have been tampered with. She had just purchased a $100,000 life insurance policy from Hank - with Avery Hayden as beneficiary. This is a A-1 motive for murder, but just who is Avery Hayden? Turns out he is a inmate of Sing Sing, serving a life sentence - a watertight (forgive the water reference) alibi.

Hank and Lydia try to find the motive, and narrow down the suspects. Lydia, with her exposure to her D.A. father, leads the way as Hank tries to keep up.

Favorite quotations:

"Let's drive around the square," Lydia suggested. "I need a breath of night air."
"What have you been breathing since sundown?"

Lydia: "Plant a good looking blonde widow anywhere and you've sown the seed of murder."

Trooper Nolan: "What'd he [Charles Andrews] die of?
Hank: "I think it was his heart."
Trooper Nolan: "Stopped, eh?"
Hank: "I think it stopped."
Trooper Nolan: "It usually does. It's a common cause of death."


This is one of the most enjoyable books I have encountered (having read it 11 times). Herman Petersen was a master of perfect, musical sentence construction ("Peaceful was the countryside over which the shadows of evening grew long.") and irony - too bad he only authored four books; of which I have obtained three. 

The scene of the sleepy rural village is well portrayed. Petersen was a rural letter carrier in upstate New York, and perfectly captures the countryside. 

There are hints of a potential relationship building between 21-year old** Hank and 36-year old Sara - today she would termed a "cougar". It is a surprise when she turns out to be the victim early on. There are also hints that Lydia has her eye on Hank as well. The repartee between them is enjoyable.

This is a perfect book for summer reading in a hammock, with the sound of a tractor cutting hay in a nearby field.

Please also see this synopsis/review by J F Norris.

*My other seasonal reading tradition is to read Deep Lay the Dead by Frederick C. Davis during a blizzard, as it takes place in a country house being buried in snow.

**inferred - Sara states she is 36 when making the insurance application, and Lydia mentions that Sara is 15 years older than Hank.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

The Jade Venus by George Harmon Coxe (1945)

Major characters:

Kent Murdock, Army captain, former news photographer
Lt. Bacon, Homicide

Erloff and Leo, the abductors
Professor Albert Andrada
Louise Andrada, widow of the Professor's nephew, Donoto
Carl Watrous, theatre producer
Arlene, the Andrada maid
Barry Gould, newspaperman
Gail Roberts, niece/assistant to Professor Andrada, girlfriend of Roger Carroll
Roger Carroll, artist
George Damon, owner of the Art Mart gallery 
Tony Lorello, guitar player, the messenger

Locale: Boston, Massachusetts


Kent Murdock is coming home to Boston on leave by train. Murdock is in the Fine Arts Division of the AMG (Army Materials Group) which inventories artwork in Europe for restoration after the war. He is briefly abducted by Erloff and Leo, who borrow his ID to impersonate him to Professor Andrada; who has acquired three odd paintings shipped from Italy. However, Andrada knows Murdock by sight, and sees through the imposter. Erloff and Leo were after one specific painting, called The Jade Venus.

Erloff and Leo smack the professor and make off with the painting. Soon after, the professor is found dead. Murdock finds a letter describing the shipment, which implies that The Jade Venus was a diversion painted over a map showing the location of an art treasure trove in Italy. Tony Lorello, the messenger who delivered the letter is then also found dead.

The Jade Venus shows up in a gallery, the Art Mart, a gallery owned by George Damon. However, it turns out to be a copy painted by Roger Carroll. The hunt for the original continues.


Kent Murdock is a believable character, and the story takes place during WWII when he is home on leave. His search for a painting turns into a search for a murderer. His newspaper background and contacts provide the experience for him to chase down the murderer. The action is nonstop, and the book is a page-turner. The book also provides much insight into the Nazi plundering of European artworks, and the efforts that were made to protect them for posterity. 

Also see this review by Bev Hankins.

Introduction and Title List

This blog is for the discussion of various Golden Age (generally, the period between WW1 and WW2) mysteries. The intent is to document individual books. I also have several blogs devoted to specific authors, linked here:
(Jan 12 2021: There used to be an index here, but since I figured out how to do the Labels thing, we don't need it any more - RM).

To see the complete list of all books read/reviewed by author (compiled in one place from all the above blogs and others) see this web page.