First published: J.B. Lippincott, 1942
Carolyn Well’s 82nd and final mystery.
“Carolyn Wells might have wished the long legend of her tale spinning to turn out in just this way,” Will Cuppy wrote.
“She left behind one of her best stories in many years, a mystery full of her special qualities and one that all her loyal fans will cherish. It is a Fleming Stone case, of course, and it’s a model of Wellsian entertainment in every department—clever puzzle, wise suspicion-casting, elegant detection.”
Given Wells’ reputation as the Florence Foster Jenkins of the detective story, that may well be a backhanded compliment.
Society matron Alma McCleod is smothered at a house party on Long Island.
All the guests are swells, but little else is.
The mystery resolves itself to: Four men entered a room in which order? Which of them killed her? (Obvious answer: None of them.)
The detection is what Marsh’s detractors imagine her books to be like: chapters of repetitive serial interviewing, yielding little information.
As Don D’Ammassa points out, characters contradict themselves throughout, and the policeman has no idea how to conduct an investigation – refusing to follow up leads, out of deference to the gentry.
That’s not enough plot for a novel, so two-thirds through, there’s a sub-plot about a search for a missing heiress.
The one surprise is a Chinese butler who speaks “vellee muchee” pidgin – then reveals a paragraph later that he’s an educated man who talks like that to amuse his employer, and entertain her guests.