Friday, August 16, 2019

The Man Next Door by Mignon Eberhart (1942) 

About the author: (from Goodreads): Mignon Good (1899-1996) was born in Lincoln, Nebraska. In 1929 her first crime novel was published featuring 'Sarah Keate', a nurse and 'Lance O'Leary', a police detective. This couple appeared in another four novels. Over the next forty years she wrote a novel nearly every year. In 1971 she won the Grand Master award from the Mystery Writers of America. 

Major characters:
  • Maida Lovell, our protagonist, secretary to Steve Blake
  • Steve Blake, head of a government wartime (WWII) project
  • Bill Skeffington, his assistant
  • Christine (née Favor) Blake, Steve's sister-in-law, a war widow
  • Angela Favor, Christine's high-maintenance younger sister
  • Walsh Rantoul, the effeminate boarder
  • Nollie Lister, a nosy neighbor
  • "Smith", a foreign agent
Locale: Washington DC

Synopsis: Pretty Maida Lovell, secretary to war department executive Steve Blake, stops by Christine Blake's house (his widowed sister-in-law) where he is living and has his home office. She is to pick up some notes for his radio speech later that evening. She is in love with him, and jealous that Blake has been spending time with Christine's elegant penthouse-lifestyle sister, Angela Favor. She encounters - and rebuffs - prissy Walsh Rantoul in the house, who is mixing drinks and coming on to her. She goes upstairs to retrieve the notes, and Blake stops in at the same time. After Blake departs for his meeting, Maida goes downstairs to find Blake gone and Rantoul dead in the kitchen. It looks like Blake has murdered him, since they had words earlier.

A stranger who calls himself "Smith" enters. In order to protect Blake from discovery, he offers to dispose of Rantoul's body and the evidence, if Maida will find information about airplane movements for him. The information he asks for is to be public knowledge anyway, so she complies. Now she is trapped. Smith is obviously an enemy spy and he has a hold on Maida to find out more and more intelligence on wartime materiel and personnel movements.

Review: A riveting murder/spy mystery and love story all rolled into one. As in many of Eberhart's books, the protagonist is the cute brunette girl-next-door caught up in intrigue as she also faces losing the man she loves to a high-maintenance blonde. The descriptions of Washington DC set the tone of the story, as well as emphasizes how much of the progress there occurs not in Congress, but behind closed doors at cocktail parties. The WWII restrictions add to the flavor. This is a tight novel, with a small cast of characters. She outwitted me as usual. Three or four times I predicted how this was going to work out, but I was wrong every time. Even the title misled me, I thought "the man next door" referred to a certain person, but again, wrong.

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