Saturday, March 21, 2020

The Boudoir Murder by Milton M. Propper (1931)

About the author: See Mystery Monday: Who was Milton Propper? by Linda Shenton Matchett

Major characters:
  • Tommy Rankin, police detective
  • Lester Gordon, Rankin's assistant
  • William Condon, P.A. announcer at Broad Street railroad station
  • George Stokes, who didn't answer a page
  • Mr. Lippincott, manager of the Quaker Hotel
  • Ann Craig, a.k.a. Lillian Kennedy, the deceased
  • Horace Montgomery, host of the hotel's dinner dance
  • Mrs. Horace Montgomery, confined to bed
  • Andrew Montgomery, his son
  • Grace Thayer, Andrew's fiancĂ©e
  • Hugo Evans, Montgomery's butler
  • Mrs. Gorman, Montgomery's cook

Locale: Philadelphia, PA

Synopsis: William Condon is at work at Broad Street railroad station, announcing the trains. He receives a frantic call from a woman, begging that he page George Stokes to the phone - a matter of life and death. Condon makes the page - but no George Stokes replies. Condon returns to the phone call to hear the unmistakable sounds of a struggle before the phone is hung up.

Condon reports the incident to police, and detective Tommy Rankin traces the call to room 822 of the Quaker Hotel. He and hotel manager Mr. Lippincott enter the room to find a woman, registered as Lillian Kennedy, strangled. They find calls had been placed from that room to Horace Montgomery, who at the time was hosting a dinner dance in the hotel's ballroom in honor of the engagement of his son, Andrew Montgomery to Grace Thayer.

It quickly becomes evident the Montgomery household is deeply involved. Horace goes to view the body, and is surprised to find it is his maid, Ann Craig, who had left employment just that morning. Rankin interviews the domestic staff to find:
  • George Stokes was Ann Craig's suitor and departed after an argument, 
  • butler Hugo Evans was apparently eloping with her, and 
  • son Andrew had been seen kissing her (a Montgomery kissing a servant? shocking!)
With three men all vying for Ann Craig, motives abound.

Review: I do like a mystery with starts right out with some action, and this early police procedural jumps right in. Our victim is dead by page five. Tommy Rankin is cast as the young up-and-coming detective who relies upon speedy, yet proper police procedures. The action continues without pause as Rankin zeroes in on the Montgomery household and the Thayer household in turn.

I like following Rankin's thought processes, all neatly detailed and recorded, as he decides which clues are important enough for him to follow, and which to delegate to others. 

I laughed out loud when reading Propper's backhand compliment of Rankin's assistant, Lester Gordon: "Gordon, while neither particularly clever nor able, was persistent. Once set on a trail which had been ferreted out for him by another, he could be counted on to follow it to its very end." It immediately brought to mind Knox's Ten Commandments of Detective Fiction (1929) which has as commandment #9: "The "sidekick" of the detective, the Watson ... his intelligence must be slightly, but very slightly, below that of the average reader." 

I was a bit disappointed that Rankin is such a sterile character - we learn nothing about him. Is he married? single? where does he live? Does ever eat? drink? smoke? All unknown, perhaps revealed in another book. He is a machine, on the job 24/7. I will keep an eye out for more Milton Propper titles.

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