The Murder of Steven Kester (Harriette Ashbrook)

Spike Tracy shows himself no ass when he investigates the death of ‘Bottom’ at a masked ball. In two senses: he goes as a Roman gladiator, “dressed only in a tiger skin and an air of irrepressible good humour” – and only narrowly escapes social embarrassment when a safety pin goes awry.

Ashbrook takes neither crime nor detective too seriously, but sets out to entertain. Steven Kester, the host, aristocratic, autocratic, and a bloody snob, is found dead in a closet after the unmasking, still wearing his enormous donkey head. In true style, the victim was going to change his will the next day. The situation, as Spike observes, is classic: “the proverbial house party, a murder, everyone under suspicion, a man of mystery, two lovers – and it looks bad for them – misappropriated funds, threats of disinheritance, cut telephone wires, and strange doings in the dead of night.”.

This is a cleverer, more confident detective story than Ashbrook’s debut novel, The Murder of Cecily Thane. That took Van Dine‘s Benson Murder Case as a model: gifted amateur assists initially untrusting police, and wins them over; suspects are seen from the outside; the mystery relies on tracking their movements around the crime scene, and dismantling an alibi. Kester ‘breathes’ more easily; Spike is a guest in the house, so knows the suspects more intimately; and the plot is more complex. The solution, however, is transparent; I solved the mystery less than a third through. The alibi is clever, but an experienced reader will tumble too early to the trick and the murderer.

The book was filmed in 1934 as Green Eyes:

See also TomCat’s review: “A competently constructed, charmingly told detective story with a splendid setting, a solid alibi-trick and interesting character backstories, but not a shining example of Ashbrook’s ability as an innovative and original mystery novelist…”

Contemporary reviews

Chicago Daily News: A good, fast-moving and well-written detective story, with a pleasant dash of humour.

Will Cuppy in the New York Herald-Tribune: Get your copy of this bigger and better successor to last season’s baffle hit, The Murder of Cecily Thane. The merits of H. Ashbrook’s new volume are such that we hereby place him (or could it be her?) on the regular approved list of stellar performances to be missed at your own risk. The Murder of Steven Kester is swift, exciting, excellently contrived as to plot and most pleasantly flavoured with just the right amount of fun.

3 thoughts on “The Murder of Steven Kester (Harriette Ashbrook)

  1. I’m looking forward to your next reviews! Ashbrook is entering an interesting and experimental period with her next two mysteries, The Murder of Sigurd Sharon and A Most Immoral Murder, before writing her two best detective novels, Murder Makes Murder and Murder Comes Back.

    Funny how I read your website in the mid-to-late 2000s to help find my way and now your reading an obscure mystery writer I blogged about recently.


    1. Time moves, and the wheel turns! 😉 I’ve discovered a lot of good books on your site; I do wish I had impossible crimes and American baroque writers were easier to find, though!

      Review of Sigurd Sharon is up. I liked it!


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