Wednesday, July 14, 2021

The Beautiful Derelict by Carolyn Wells (1935)



This is Fleming Stone #39.

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:
  • Fleming Stone, detective
  • Barry Wayne, yacht owner
  • Daniel Wayne, Barry's father
  • Patrick Wayne, Berry's uncle (Daniel's brother)
  • Elkins Van Zandt, yacht guest, lawyer
  • Jane Holt, Barry's fiancée
  • Samfari Wing, claiming to be Daniel's other son
  • U.S. Attorney Demarest
Locale: primarily Nantucket Island, Massachusetts

Synopsis: Fleming Stone is aboard the S. S. Nokomis bound from Yarmouth, Nova Scotia to New York City. Captain Gregg sights a 40-foot yacht, The Hotspur, drifting, and sends some men, including Stone, to assist.

The men find two dead men aboard the yacht: Barry Wayne, below in the engine room, dead from a head wound; and Elkins Van Zandt on deck, dead from no obvious cause. There is no one else aboard.

The yacht is towed to port in New London, CT, and turned over to the Coast Guard. 

It is found that Barry Wayne is the owner of the yacht, and son of Daniel Wayne. Daniel, his brother Patrick Wayne, and Barry live on Nantucket Island (off Cape Cod, Massachusetts). Barry had planned to go sailing with his fiancée, Jane Holt, but her father protested against the two of them going alone, so Elkins Van Zandt went along instead.

Autopsies are performed to find Barry dead of his head wound, as expected, and Van Zandt dead from cancerious stomach ulcers. The mystery is: what happened? Is this a murder case, or accident; and was there anyone else involved? Then a mysterious person, Samfari Wing, appears on the scene and claims he is Daniel's other son.

Review: For once, we get our money's worth of Fleming Stone! Instead of appearing near the end of the novel as is his wont, he appears in the first sentence! This is an enjoyable novel, with lots of action and Fleming Stone in an active role throughout. Fleming Stone improves with age - so seeking out the later books in the series is recommended.

The third - and final - death occurs in a locked room, so the reader gets two separate enigmas to figure out. The method of entry to the locked room is telegraphed by the author as Fleming Stone considers the unique construction of the house, and an alert reader will have an inkling of how it was done.

The writing is lively, and the best parts are when the family members get testy with the coroner's interviews:

Coroner: "I have an odd idea, Mr. Wayne, that the tragic death last night was the work of a woman, rather than that of a man."

There was a silent pause.

"Did you hear me, Mr. Wayne?"

"Certainly," Pat replied, "I am not at all deaf."

"Then why did you not answer?"

"You didn't ask me any question."

"I made an observation."

"Am I supposed to comment on all your observations? Very well, then, I do not agree with you. I think [the victim]  was stabbed to death by a man."

"And how did your hypothetical man enter the locked room?"

"The same way your hypothetical woman did!"

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