Friday, November 5, 2021

The Other Bullet by Nancy Barr Mavity (1930)

About the author:  Nancy Barr Mavity (1890 - 1959) is the author of a series of mystery novels about crime reporter James Aloysius "Peter" PiperNancy Barr Mavity taught philosophy at Connecticut College, New London, Connecticut. She was a newspaper woman. She was a feature writer of the Oakland Tribune. In this capacity, she was the first woman to spend a night in Folsom State Prison, where she had gone to cover the pardon hearing of Warren K Billings. She lectured extensively and contributed to magazines. (from a Wikipedia article). You can read about her history here

This is Peter Piper #3 (of 6). The full series is:
Major characters:
  • Peter Piper, reporter for The Herald
  • Barbara Piper, his wife
  • Jimmy Sears, city editor for The Herald
  • Jake Carter, hotel keeper
  • Don Mortison, ranch manager, the victim
  • Max Everett, construction manager
  • Aline Everett, his stylish wife
  • Mrs. Coak, ranch housekeeper
  • Julio, ranch herder/gardener
  • Marjorie, Aline's sister
  • Bill Simpson, sheriff
  • Emile Kurtner, criminologist
  • Jerome de la Montanya
  • David de la Montanya
  • Cousin Maria de la Montanya
Locale: Hangtown, California - ranch country

Synopsis: Reporter Peter Piper and his wife Barbara are on vacation in California's ranch country, staying in a quiet hotel run by Jake Carter. No sooner have they arrived, when Mrs. Coak, housekeeper from a nearby ranch, staggers in to report a murder. Piper and Carter go to the scene to find Don Mortison, the ranch manager, shot dead in his cabin. Stylish, high-maintenance Aline Everett immediately confesses that she shot him, in revenge for his affair with her sister Marjorie. The only hitch is that he was shot twice, by two different guns, and she is adamant she only shot him once. Who made the second shot? Was he killed by the first shot or the second? Sheriff Bill Simpson arrives and immediately jails all the players, including Aline's husband, Max Everett, citing Max's motive is that Mortison was having an affair with Aline (two sisters? oh, wow!)

Aline, having confessed to one of the shots, is brought up for trial on the murder charge, and acquitted.

Peter Piper suspects the authorities are going to let the case drop, and, like O.J., vows to find the real killer. He learns an emerald ring had been stolen from the murder room, and tracks it down with the help of his newspaper friends. This leads him to the de la Montanya family, and a cozy meeting with matriarch Cousin Maria; who provides the full story.

Review: This book consists of three distinct sections. 
  1. The murder and interviews of all concerned
  2. The courtroom trial of Aline Everett
  3. Peter Piper's search for the emerald ring, and finding the de la Montanyas
The murder setup reminded me of an Erle Stanley Gardner switcheroo - a man shot with two bullets, but who and which one killed him? I was surprised when the courtroom scene (traditionally toward the end of a novel) came in less than halfway through. Once that was over, I was pleased to find the story move into the chaotic newsroom scenes typical of the Peter Piper stories. 

Piper traces the chain of possession of the emerald ring, and the chain has way too many links. It got a bit tedious as he followed all the intermediate links - these could have reduced without affecting the story. Finally the chain gets to the de la Montanyas, and Cousin Maria is a charmer, reminiscent of Miss Jane Marple. 

These stories require a bit of suspension of disbelief, as reporter Piper gets pretty free rein in the investigation - privy to all police secrets and even being allowed to take evidence away, such as the murder gun - to make his own comparison shots. But that's part of the fun.

This is #3 of 6 Peter Pipers, and I am fortunate in having found all six. Three more to go!

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