Monday, May 6, 2019

Feathers Left Around by Carolyn Wells (1922)

About the author: Carolyn Wells (1862-1942) was married to Hadwin Houghton, the heir of the Houghton-Mifflin publishing empire. Like Mary Roberts Rinehart, being in a publishing family created an easy pipeline for getting her works into print. She wrote a total of more than 170 books, including 61 Fleming Stone detective stories. See this Wikipedia article.

Carolyn Wells

Major characters:
  • Ned Knox, a writer of short stories
  • "Little Anna" Knox, his vixen wife
  • Valentine Loft, lawyer, architect, financier; host of the gathering
  • Pauline Fuller, Valentine's fiancée
  • "Angel" Bob Baldwin, rare book dealer
  • Hugh Curran, (real name Hugh Dwyer), author of detective stories
  • Hetty Dwyer, Curran's sister
  • Miss Fitzgerald, Curran's fiancée
  • Stella Lawrence, psychic
  • Jack Meredith
  • -- Meredith, his wife
  • Countess Galaski, a Russian
  • Roly Mears, the amateur detective
  • Binns, the butler
  • Detective Kinney, of the police
  • Fleming Stone, private detective
  • Terence McGuire ("Fibsy") his urchin assistant

Locale: Westchester County, New York; and Springfield, Massachusetts

Synopsis: Writer Ned Knox and Valentine Loft have a discussion on how to best write detective stories. As a result of this discussion, Loft hosts a dinner party with Hugh Curran, succesful writer of detective stories, as guest of honor; at which he will lead a discussion on the topic. The discussion focuses on methods, motives, and locked-room mysteries.

The next morning, Curran fails to show for breakfast. He is discovered - dead - locked in his bedroom. He has been poisoned.

Detective Kinney arrives to investigate. With his permission, Angel Bob Baldwin, Val Loft, Ned Knox, and Roly Mears look for clues on their own; yet spend much time accusing each other. The one significant clue is that Curran's pocket watch has been taken, and it is known to contain a woman's photo.

Review: When a group gets together to discuss the best method of performing an undetectable murder in a story, you just know what is going to happen.

This follows a standard Wells pattern: the amateur detective (Roly Mears) flails around for most of the book exploring different motive theories, and near the end, Fleming Stone arrives on the scene with an assistant ("Fibsy") who runs down the vital clues; allowing Stone to pull off the denouement.

The plot is well made, with the fiancée disappearing immediately to become suspect #1. The middle part of running down various theories gets a bit tedious, but the arrival of Stone and Fibsy perk it up again. Fibsy is a character, a bit rough around the edges; and creates some amusing repartee when he winds up seated next to a countess at dinner. Nevertheless, he figures out how to flush out the missing fiancée all by himself. Stone and Fisby remind me of Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin.

Note: Contains one use of pejorative slang term (d****) for persons of African-American ancestry; as well as their imagined dialog rendered in stereotyped phonetics. Distasteful to today's readers, but an indication of norms of the time.

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