Saturday, February 20, 2021

Death Came Dancing by Kathleen Moore Knight (1948)

Major characters:
  • Barbara Locke, assistant to Tod Richmond
  • Tod Richmond, owner of Tropical Tourist Agency
  • Liane Richmond, his predatory wife
  • Peter Scotland, newspaper reporter, friend of Tod
  • Sidney Bonfield, British diplomat
  • Mark Fleming, banker
  • Carol Fleming, his pregnant wife
  • Dr. Lucius Lear
  • Julia Lear, his wife
  • Eric Thurman, antique dealer
  • Gustav Nilsson, a trader
  • Elisha Macomber, investigator
  • Police Judge Urriola
Locale: Panama City

Synopsis: Barbara Locke, our protagonist, has come to Panama seeking glamour and excitement. She takes a job at Tropical Tourist Agency, as an assistant to owner Tod Richmond. Tod's wife, Liane, is a predator and has her eyes and claws out toward various possibilities: Sidney Bonfield, British diplomat; and Mark Fleming. 

Preparations are underway for a gala evening: the Pollera Ball. At a pre-gala cocktail gathering, Liane mentions she will be wearing her Tembleques, a priceless Panamanian gold hair ornament. The pairings for the ball indicate the dysfunction of the Richmond marriage: Tod is taking Barbara (instead of his wife), while Sidney Bonfield is taking Liane. After the ball, Barbara returns to her room to find Liane is dead and the Tembleques gone.

Elderly Julia Lear (Liane's aunt) is aghast, she is more upset that the tembleques are missing than her niece is dead. Later she receives a package with the tembleques in it, and is instructed to attend the carnival that night to find out who killed Liane. Julia wears the templeques to the carnival, and she is killed also; and the tembleques she is wearing are found to be a copy.

Elisha Macomber is still in Panama on vacation, and is urged to investigate.

Review: This novel is a sequel to The Tainted TokenWhile it is a standalone story, The Tainted Token sets up the locale and the background for why Elisha Macomber is in Panama, and his relationship with the authorities.

Knight has, again, set up the atmosphere of Panama well; and in a similar household setting as The Tainted Token. The characters all inhabit a common version of an apartment building, a hollow single-story square with a balcony around the outside and a common courtyard in the center.

There are two intertwined mysteries: the two killings, and the situation of the original and the copy of the tembleques. They turn out connected, and the solution revealed satisfactorily. The ending seems to me hastened, with the killer bowing out of the story suddenly, and the love story between Peter and Barbara coming to an ambiguous ending.

The two stories should be read together, in sequence, for the best experience.

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