- By Henry Holt
- First published: UK: Collins, 1939
The ‘doll’ in question isn’t a peroxide blonde chanteuse, mixed up with gentlemen known as Smooth Joey and Slugface; it’s a toy sent to film producer Carl Massey, “with red-gold hair and a faintly smiling face” – and a needle tipped with prussic acid in its stomach.
While the title suggests American hardboiled, this is an English mystery thriller – albeit snappier than most. The short chapters whizz by; and the dialogue is bright and breezy. Settings include English film studios and a a neo-Gothic castle with secret passages, dungeons, and death-traps, built by an Australian gold prospector. The climax comes at an old mill where the villain has hero (playwright Michael Kennedy) and girl trussed up. (“You have been a curse to me ever since I first set eyes on you, Kennedy,” growled [the murderer].) Like a Batman villain, he is going to pound them to pulp in a stone roller. Fortunately, the police rescue them in the nick of time, and we fade out on a clinch – without really learning what clues pointed to the murderer’s guilt. Michael, for all his cleverness, only learns the murderer’s identity when he falls into his trap.
When Carl Massey, the famous film producer, was murdered with fiendish cunning by means of a poisoned needle concealed in the clothing of a toy doll, it was the first of a series of murders that was to shake the glamorous film world. Michael Kennedy and Inspector Pope found themselves amongst a strange set of people; undercurrents of love and hatred did not make investigation easy, and others were to pay the price of their folly before Michael began to make headway with the case. Mr. Henry Holt’s unfailing ingenuity makes The Mystery of the Smiling Doll a really outstanding detective story.