Wednesday, November 20, 2019

The Steps to Murder by Rufus King (1960)

This is a collection of seven short stories previously published in The Saint Detective Magazine and Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. The stories, mostly set in Florida, include:

The Steps to Murder: Mabel Gervais is a ruthless ladder-climber who will stop at nothing to gain the post of ambassador. She steps on various people on her way up, and the final obstacle is her own husband.

The Patron Saint of the Impossible: Elise Hoffman and her husband (no first name given) live in Halcyon, Florida, along with their niece Candice. Candice plans to run off and marry their neighbor, Raul; of which Hoffman objects. Elise comes home to find Hoffman dead, Candice hospitalized, and Raul missing. Is he the killer? Neighbor Monsignor Lavigny figures it out for the police.

Murder on Her Mind: Psychologist Helmut Seibermann has a comfortable practice in Florida. Enter two sisters: Carlotta Zaleski and Florence Pike. Each inherited half of a sizable estate, and now Carlotta has burned through her half and has her eyes set on getting Florence's half. She cooks up a scheme to use Seibermann to get it... whoever dies last, wins.

A Little Cloud ... Like a Man's Hand: An accountant, Mr. Burd, was quite an amateur chef. While he was out, another accountant, Miss Ott, stops in his office and finds some notes about an embezzlement plan. Sure enough, lots of money is missing. But who is the embezzler?

Rendezvous with Death: Lily Verta was on her way to being a spinster. She gets a surprise medical diagnosis she has but a few months to live. She meets up with Duke Hart, jumps into marriage, and tries to cram a lot of living into her remaining time. Someone has plans to do away with her even faster.

A Borderline Case: Jackson, a Florida bank manager, embezzles $230,000. He is found out by another employee, Parker. There's only one thing to do: kill Parker. The complication is that Jackson is afraid of being caught and executed. He finds Rhode Island has no death penalty, and has the idea to perform the killing there. Now he just has to lure Parker all the way to Rhode Island.

The Tigress of the Chateau Plage: Madame Dufour owns a luxury hotel. An old acquaintance, Mr. Henri Pazz, arrives from Canada and Madame gets him placed in a certain room. Pazz turns out to be a blackmailer, and there is only way to deal with a blackmailer.


The Steps to Murder is about a woman so nasty you can't look away, but the karma at the end is satisfying. The Patron Saint of the Impossible uses a trick similar to the famous trick in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, and any Christie fan will see through it immediately. Murder on Her Mind I found hard to follow, only a few characters but hopelessly tangled up.

A Little Cloud ... Like a Man's Hand, Rendezvous with Death, Borderline Case, and The Tigress of the Chateau Plage are all nice tight stories, and far surpass the first three.

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