First published: US, Doubleday, 1937. UK, Collins, 1937, as No Flowers by Request.
Kudos to Palmer for trying something new, even if it doesn’t quite work.
No Hildegarde Withers here; it’s one of those atmospheric jobs seen from the suspects’ perspective.
Grasping relatives descend on elderly eccentric Uncle Joel; he (apparently?) goes up in flames.
As in all cases of fire: 1) is he really dead?; 2) if not, where is he?; and 3) is it murder?
The book doesn’t engage until halfway through, and many of the suspects remain sketchy. Try telling Ely Waldron and Alger Ely apart, or Evelyn, Mabel, and Fay. A detective story doesn’t have to be psychologically penetrating, but the characters should be vivid.
The Christmas gathering of the clan Cameron was a weird event. They came from all directions, spurred on by a telegram addressed from Potter’s Field, and sent in the name of a man six months dead. They arrived at Prospice, the grotesque house of their patriarch, located in the midst of a ghost city, and were met by the eccentric Joel Martin Cameron in a cavernous drawing room, beside a dust-covered and cobweb-festooned Christmas tree which still bore the tawdry decorations that had hung from its branches when the family had last foregathered fifteen years earlier.
This, then, was the setting of the strange fire that consumed the remains of Uncle Joel. Was it murder or was it suicide? Whichever it was, how could the remains be officially identified as the body of Uncle Joel? This was the question which most occupied the minds of the heirs clamouring for their share of Joel’s estate.
Todd Cameron, the family black-sheep, took it upon himself to answer these two questions. And his startling investigations led in the end to the baring of a unique crime, which crime in itself was the motivation of an even more amazing murder.
The odd part of it was that if Todd had really interpreted the significance of the empty sardine can floating on a muddy stream, or if Alan Cameron had thought to pull up his socks before venturing into the long unused billiard room the whole course of the case would quite certainly have been altered.
Stuart Palmer has in this book written his most original and exciting story; a story marked by intelligent action, splendid characterization and dry humour.
1937 Collins, as NO FLOWERS BY REQUEST
The telegram, “SUGGEST WE ALL ACCEPT UNCLE JOEL’S XMAS INVITATION THIS YEAR STOP EXCELLENT CHANCE TO DECIDE ABOUT HIS SANITY,” brought the Cameron heirs rushing to eccentric Uncle Joel’s dilapidated home. Like vultures, the Camerons descended, waiting to pounce on the money that would be theirs if Uncle Joel could be proved crazy. Openly they discussed ways and means of legally disposing of Uncle Joel, and if Uncle Joel heard them discussing him he never said anything, but continued his wanderings around the eery house, chuckling evilly. The Camerons get a run for their money – and so does the reader.
Sat R of Lit (2nd January 1937, 40w)
Books (Will Cuppy, 3rd January 1937, 280w):
Palmer fans will have to get along without Miss Hildegarde Withers for the nonce, for Mr. Palmer is trying out something entirely different this time, and an expert bit of thimble-rigging it is. Instead of a lovable spinster and a reasonable plot, you get a group of fairly wild personae, a completely unrestrained bunch of incidents, and a generous number of lightsome touches in the mist of the agony, all in a mood that we can’t quite put our finger on—the movie mood, perhaps.
NY Times (Isaac Anderson, 3rd January 1937, 270w):
The book is strongly recommended to those who like a story with surprises all through it and an extra big one at the end.
Boston Transcript (16th January 1937, 350w)
Spectator (E.B.C. Jones, 26th February 1937, 100w)
Times Literary Supplement (Caldwell Harpur, 6th March 1937):
Spiteful, half-crazy old Uncle Joel lived nearly alone in a big house on the coast of South California. This is a land of mist and drizzle at the end of December, at which season Uncle Joel invited all his eight kin. They were also his heirs under a trust deed, and he knew they all wished he would die or go quite mad. When the garage was burned and two teeth of Uncle Joel were found in the ashes two questions arose: first, had some impatient heir or heiress murdered Uncle Joel; second, was Uncle Joel hiding somewhere and gloating over the disappointment he would inflict by reappearing? A reviewer must leave the author to answer, especially as the author has been quite successful in making most of the eight heirs individually interesting.
Observer (Torquemada, 7th March 1937):
A shade the best of three American detective stories which I have just read is No Flowers by Request. In it Stuart Palmer has done quite a daring thing. Having safely established Hildegarde Withers in our hearts and intellects, he has dropped her from his team for this match, and yet succeeds in winning. With a bitter geniality and unfailing zest he keeps the group of Camerons—all save the tragic and delightful Mildred—vividly living after they have descended upon Uncle Joel in California to see if they can carve up that unpleasant old man’s estate. It looks at one time as if the combustible power of petrol had left nothing to carve; but the major surprise will not, I think, be the big surprise to the average reader; it is the minor ones which will keep him going to a hard finish.