Death and Letters (1950) by Elizabeth Daly

Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt Item: Written Document


This is the 15th detective novel Daly wrote and is her penultimate Henry Gamadge adventure, which contrasts with my only other read by her, Unexpected Night (1940), which was her first novel. An author’s later efforts can sometimes be a bit disappointing so I was interested to see how this novel fares in comparison with her earlier work.

The book begins with an escape aided and abetted by the series’ amateur sleuth Henry Gamadge. Sylvia Coldfield, whose husband recently died of a sleeping tablet overdose, is being confined against her wishes, by her relations by marriage. Under lock and key and constant supervision her only way of getting a message out to the outside world is via a crossword puzzle. Yet freeing Sylvia is only the beginning of this bibliophile mystery, as Gamadge re-examines her husband’s death (which increasingly seems less and less like a suicide) and the attempts made against her to put her out of the way.

On the whole this is a light and quick read, in which Daly tells an entertaining mystery. Unlike when Nicholas Blake’s sleuth Nigel Strangeways ages, Henry Gamadge is still as likeable and enjoyable as he is in his first fictional appearance. There are comic undertones, such as when the escape of Sylvia is effected, but this is not overdone. I felt Daly started this novel very well, making me wonder what plot was forming around Sylvia. This is not your usual dead body on the carpet detective investigation and due to the book based theme the resulting investigation is quite unusual, requiring Gamadge to decipher a number of people who are involved in a central culprit’s wider schemes. The motive in the story is an interesting variation on some well-known themes and although a later work by Daly still has a strong surprise factor. The cast of suspects, an extended family, are a good choice and it was interesting reading about them, trying to decide which are guilty and which are not, despite their friendly and respectable exteriors. However due to the shortness of the book I didn’t get as much time with the suspect group as I would have liked and this did depreciate my overall enjoyment of the book, which is a shame as Daly did set up a good assortment of characters. Yet on the other hand the brevity of the book did mean the pace was well maintained and reader interest was not allowed to flag. So in summary it was a good read, but I wouldn’t like to say it was Daly’s best work.

Rating: 4/5


  1. Daly is one of my favorite authors; for that matter, she is said to have been Agatha Christie’s favorite American author. Not surprising, IMHO, given that Daly, like Christie, was quite ingenious at misdirection. My favorite of hers (if you’re looking for another by her to review) is The Book of the Dead, where the misdirection is stunning. I’ve never been that big a fan of Unexpected Night; I think her books got better, with stronger, sharper plots, very quickly after that first one. My two cents.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve only read two myself, but they seem to be set around America. Don’t think he is confined to a home town, tends to be fairly mobile. Her work is not too hard to get a hold of. Quite a few second hand copies from the 70/80s and I think Felony and Mayhem have reprinted a few of her books.

      Liked by 1 person

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