Monday, November 23, 2020

Faulkner's Folly by Carolyn Wells (1917)


About the author: Carolyn Wells (1862-1942) was married to Hadwin Houghton, the heir of the Houghton-Mifflin publishing empire. Like Mary Roberts Rinehart, being in a publishing family created an easy pipeline for getting her works into print. She wrote a total of more than 170 books. See this Wikipedia article.

Major characters:

  • The late James Faulkner, builder of Faulkner's Folly
  • Beatrice Faulkner, his widow
  • Eric Stannard, artist, dying as story opens
  • Joyce Stannard, his wife
  • Barry Stannard, his son by previous marriage
  • Natalie Vernon, the voluptuous live-in model
  • Blake, the footman
  • Annette, the maid
  • Eugene Courteney, neighbor
  • Mr. Wadsworth, widower
  • Mr. & Mrs. Truxton, jewel collectors
  • Coroner Lamson
  • Detective Bobsy Roberts
  • Orienta, a clairvoyant
  • Alan Ford, professional detective

Locale: Long Island, NY

Synopsis: James Faulkner had built an opulent mansion. He ran out of money in the process, and so it became known as Faulkner's Folly. He passed away two years ago, and his widow, Beatrice Faulkner, has sold the mansion to Eric and Joyce Stannard.

Eric Stannard is an artist and employs Natalie Vernon, a cute young blonde thing as his live-in model; much to the annoyance of wife Joyce. Stannard was also working on a portrait of Beatrice Faulkner, which was part of the purchase price of the house. She is visiting to pose as usual, and comes down the grand staircase to find excitement in the studio: Eric is found stabbed to death in his chair, with wife Joyce and model Natalie standing behind him looking at each other.

Not only is he dead, but his priceless emerald collection is missing. Local detective Robert "Bobsy" Roberts investigates, but cannot figure out which woman is guilty. A local clarivoyant, Orienta, offers her services. After demonstrating her prowess of reading notes inside sealed envelopes in the dark, she proceeds to describe the murder - and murderer - in great detail. To the shock of the family, she exonerates Joyce and Natalie, and reveals the murderer is a man, and describes him, but cannot put a name to him.

The family becomes frustrated with Bobsy's lack of progress, and hires professional detective Alan Ford. After briefly interviewing the principals, he reveals the murderer.

Review: This Carolyn Wells follows the usual Fleming Stone formula of the ace detective (but this time, Alan Ford) showing up in the final chapter to take a quick sniff around and then reveal everything which should have been obvious to the locals. This is an excellent plot, and there are several parallel mysteries:
  • Who killed Eric?
  • How did the murderer enter/exit the room?
  • Where did the emeralds go?
  • How does Orienta read sealed notes in the dark?
The plot is complicated by four love connections which are gradually revealed. All four mysteries noted above are solved. I was beginning to suspect some fair play issues, but there are none. All the hints were revealed. 

A crime scene map is provided which is valuable in understanding the setup.

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