Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Murder R.F.D. by Herman Petersen (1942)

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 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: I have three books by Herman Petersen (my other two are The D.A.'s Daughter 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).

Correction: The blurb for this title on the inside cover states that Charlie Russell (killed by a bull) was also found to have a bullet in his head. This is incorrect, the character killed by a bullet is someone else - Tom Wykeham.

Major characters:
  • Ben Wayne, our narrator
  • Marian Wayne
  • Willie Wales, son of the Wayne's housekeeper; a simple man who enjoys tracking 
  • Louis Telford, a neighbor
  • Mrs. Hudson, Telford's housekeeper
  • Charlie Russell, killed by Deuel's bull
  • "Doc" Miller
  • Orville Deuel
  • Agatha Deuel, his wife
  • Cristine Nelson, Agatha Deuel's niece
  • Pat Gordon, Deuel's farm hand
  • Jimmy Kinney, Deuel's farm hand
  • Tom Wykeham, a loner
  • Paul Burns, D.A.

Locale: not specified, but likely rural upstate New York

Synopsis: Narrator Ben Wayne and his wife Marian live in Dark House. They hear Orville Deuel's bull has gored a man (Charlie Russell) to death and run off. Wayne and neighbor Louis Telford track down the bull with the help of Willie Wales; and return him to Deuel's farm. Suspicion mounts against farm hand Jimmy Kinney, who had been heard threatening to turn the bull on Russell earlier.

No sooner had this happened, when Tom Wykeham is found dead on his property. Rumors abound of a love affair between him and Agatha Deuel.

Jimmy Kinney and fellow farm hand Pat Gordon have disappeared. In the search for them, Agatha is also found murdered.

Review:  Herman Petersen is a pleasure to read, and I wish he had more titles. He captures the peaceful rural countryside perfectly. He is a master of language, as well. 

Our narrator, Ben Wayne, is cut from the same cloth as Hank Wilbur in The D.A.'s Daughter. We follow his thoughts in detail as he works his way through the mystery of Tom Wykeham's death. Many of the themes are similar to The D.A.'s Daughter.  There is the illicit December-May romance, and the climax of searching underwater for a murder weapon. Observations of nature lead to an important clue when Ben Wayne casually observes the activities of some ants. Simple Willie Wales is a fascinating character, with his Indian-like insights. 

Modern readers may need some help understanding the world of the 1940's with party-line telephones (a shared system where each subscriber has a unique ring signal, and the ability to eavesdrop on others' conversations) and the R.F.D. (Rural Free Delivery) mail system.

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