Saturday, December 7, 2019

The Clue of the Rising Moon by Valentine Williams (1935)

Valentine Williams

About the author: Valentine Williams (1883–1946) was an English journalist and writer of popular fiction. Williams was awarded the Military Cross as a soldier and wrote two autobiographical books about his war-time experiences. In the aftermath of war, he travelled widely as a reporter.  It was during this period that he began writing thrillers and around 1926 he gave up his post at the Daily Mail to pursue a full-time career as an author. (Wikipedia)

Major characters:

At the lake house:
  1. Victor Haversley, rich Illinois brewer
  2. Graziella Haversley, his wife
  3. Miss Barbara Ingersoll, his secretary
  4. Dave Jarvis, engaged to Sara Carruthers
  5. Sara Carruthers, engaged to Dave Jarvis, Edith Lunsden's niece
  6. Peter Blakeney, playwright, our narrator
  7. Charles Lumsden, owner of the camp and host
  8. Edith Lumsden, his wife
  9. Dickie Lumsden, their teenage son
  10. Cynthia Lumsden, their teenage daughter
  11. Buster Leighton
  12. Myrtle Fletcher
  13. Dr. Oscar Bracegirdle, retired physician
  14. Miss Janet Ryder
  • Jake Harper, local hillbilly farmer
  • Fritz Waters, Graziella's old flame
  • Eben Hicks, an old hunter
  • Ed Wharton, a New York gunman
  • George Martin, escaped convict
  • Hank Wells, sheriff
  • Detective Sergeant Trevor Dene of Scotland Yard
Locale: Wolf Lake, in the Adirondack mountains of New York

Synopsis: Charles and Edith Lumsden have a sprawling lakeside "camp" in the Adirondacks, consisting of several individual cottages as well as their main house. Wealthy Victor and Graziella Haversley are there, and their marriage is already on the rocks. Graziella seems quite interested in old flame Fritz Waters who is hanging around.

Playwright Peter Blakeney (our narrator) has the guests stage a reading of his latest play. He wants to test his theory that Graziella and Waters are lovers, and assigns them the lovers' roles. When the big kiss moment comes, Victor is enraged, argues with Graziella, and injures her. Fritz threatens to kill him. He's not the only one out for Victor - he has enemies from the labor unions who represent workers at his brewery.

A shot is heard at 11 PM, and Victor is found dead in the "Trapper's Cabin". He is initially thought a suicide. Sheriff Hank Wells and Detective Sergeant Trevor Dene find the scene was "tidied up" after the shot, therefore it must be murder. Motives abound - an estranged wife, her lover bent on revenge, labor unionists, and a couple of random toughs - an escaped convict and a shadowy gunman.


It is a bit odd to have a Scotland Yard detective at a New York wilderness camp, but it does work out. We have the isolated camp populated with drama, and the added complexity that the village (and the sheriff) are only accessible by boat - although there is a road to the village as well; but the boat is the preferred mode of travel. 

The solution rests in building a timeline of the crime and verifying alibis one by one. This gets a bit tedious but it does slowly narrow the suspect pool. Measuring the oil remaining in the oil lamp is a bit of fine-combing of clues, the sort that would be put to use later by Erle Stanley Gardner and his routine examination of candles and lamps in his stories. 

A map of the camp would have been helpful. Perhaps the original has one, but my Collier reprint does not. Here is a sketch made from the text which seems to fit:

click to enlarge

Overall, a good mystery to take to your camp on the lake!

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