Death Wears a White Gardenia (Zelda Popkin)

  • By Zelda Popkin
  • First published: USA: J. B. Lippincott Company, 1938

Blankfort’s department store on Fifth Avenue is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary; the Governor’s wife is there to open the store – but the department is marred by the discovery of a corpse (strangled) in the back of the lingerie department.

As department store murders go, this is more immediate and more human than Ellery Queen‘s French Powder Mystery (1930), but the mystery is weaker. Popkin knows both murder and big stores first-hand: as a teenage journalist, she covered a dozen homicide stories (mainly Mafia killings); as a publicity agent, her clients included several leading New York department stores.

Smart young lady detective Mary Carner and her pals “turn up a couple of good motives and half a dozen suspects – a jealous wife, an avenging brother, a betrayed, desperate sweetheart, a cocaine sniffing prowler, a mysterious business associate” – but the murder isn’t allowed to interfere with the work of the store. Bizarrely so: apparently the department store can order the police not to investigate until after business hours.

“It’s Mr. Blankfort’s orders. Mr. Blankfort is running this store. Not the police department. Get out.” The finger-print expert put his things together reluctantly, grumbling under his breath.

“The worst of it is,” Inspector Heinsheimer muttered … as the three detectives filed out like sheepish children caught behind the barn, “the worst of it is, he’s got the right to do this if he wants to.”

The book is hard-nosed without being hard-boiled: men have mistresses; modern girls spend the night with their boyfriends (“A woman capable of supporting herself can do as she pleases about her friendships with men…”); and it’s understood that pregnant unmarried women might need abortions.

The solution, however, fails to excite; there’s no real creativity in it, and no outstanding clues. Read this for the setting, not for the plot.


The strained atmosphere of a great New York department store is the setting for this brain-teasing mystery. Early one morning Andrew McAndrew, credit manager of the store, is found dead – murdered – in an alcove just off the silk underwear department. A big man, McAndrew had been choked to death the evening before. Chris Whitaker, store detective, and pretty Mary Carner, one of his assistants, are the chief investigators. A good many persons had been working in the store at the time that McAndrew must have been murdered, and they are all under suspicion.

The murdered man’s mistress, his wife, the shop-lifter who found the body and even detective Chris Whitaker himself are among those whose activities are under investigation. Mary Carner finds that the murdered man’s files have been tampered with. Constant danger attends her search for evidence. Even though the solution of the murder will come to the reader as a great surprise, there are clues leading to him, or her, fairly planted throughout the book. It is a book to satisfy the most exacting mystery adept.

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