Source: Review Copy (Felony and Mayhem)
After my first experience of Lenore Glen Offord last year, when I reviewed Skeleton Key (1943), which is the first Todd and Georgina mystery, I was keen to read more of her work. Fellow readers with their own looming TBR piles will not be surprised that it has taken me over a year to do so.
My True Love Lies (1947), is a non-series novel, set in post-war San Francisco, a setting, Offord expertly recreates for her readers, making it sound like a vibrant and active place. As with the Skeleton Key, we have a hard working and modern female protagonist to follow and this time it is Noel Bruce, who works as a driver for the Navy, whilst also taking drawing classes at the Sherwin Art School. The story opens with Bruce’s internal poise and plans to attend a party after work being turned upside by the reappearance of Lieutenant Coree, a very dashing Navy radar technician. They met at a party recently but got separated and it is clear that both are happy to have found each other again. Yet a routine driving trip for Noel, taking Coree to check up on a radar part, is actually the beginning of our central mystery. What they see, hear and experience there becomes of vital importance, but the reader and Noel only realise this fully far later on. For now though chapter 1 closes with romance and parted lovers, as Coree is off to visit his parents, though don’t be mistaken that there is no eerie or unsettling feeling as well. After all we do find out that Coree’s recent fiancée married another man, a prominent criminal lawyer named Chester Verney and that this fiancée, Anne Tannehill, is actually good friends with Noel, who pushed her and her new husband together.
Romance gets firmly pushed to one side after this as murder rears its ugly head at the plaster works where Noel’s sculptor friends and fellow students at the art school work on their creations. A body is found underneath and a part of Tannehill’s unfinished sculpture, with clay covering the body. Also in the clay are the words: Claude Pruitt, 1903-1943. Yet readers would be mistaken in thinking that is the name of the victim, for that of course is Verney… The investigation led by Inspector Geraghty unsurprisingly focuses on the artist community, as well as looking into Verney’s past. Noel becomes a more central figure as it soon becomes clear that someone thinks she knows something important about the case and police protection of sorts is soon arranged. For quite a while Coree is out of the picture, (though not out of Noel’s mind, who is anxious to avoid telling the inspector about his movements and connections with Verney and Tannehill,) and instead we follow Noel and Chan Lockett (her body guard), though Coree does eventually reappear, only to confuse the case some more.
One of my issues with the Skeleton Key was the limited sleuthing role Georgina Wyeth played. Yet I think in My True Love Lies, Noel is a much more active sleuth, albeit in an accidental sleuthing kind of way. Moreover, the female characters in this tale are very deftly and deceptively crafted, as often how such characters appear initially, masks their true nature. Kindness in this book is a far from bland and innocent quality and becomes quite a darkly used trait at points. Furthermore I think Offord recreates female relationships and perspectives in an engaging and realistic manner. In the blurb, the book is shown as a combination of 1930s plotting with ‘a kind of feminism which feels startlingly up to date.’ It was this last element which intrigued me most, as looking back at the female characters I am unsure whether there is a clear feminist stance. Granted there are women who are independent, pursuing their own talents and interests. Equally there are women who seem to use men how they like and on their own terms. But for me it is primarily the story’s ending which troubled me, with some unsettling aspects mixed into the solution, which made me rethink how gender was being depicting in the book.
In some ways if you had only read the title and the first chapter you might think this is a basic and simple mystery or perhaps something more in the Patricia Wentworth romance line. However I think that would be inaccurate portrayal of the story as a whole and I noticed quite a few times in the solution how clues were sneakily placed earlier on, which I had completely missed. Equally I think the tone and atmosphere of this book is not saccharine sweet and actually has quite a bit of grit to it. As I said above the setting is one of the book’s key strengths and the artist community is an interesting one to follow. Furthermore, to comment on the male characters briefly, I think Offord is good at creating figures who it is hard to make definite judgements on, as with the victim for example, reader opinions are likely to change throughout the book and for me ended on a note of ambiguity. The only main area which needed to be worked on is the middle of the story, which didn’t work quite as well for me in terms of pacing. So yes on the whole I’d definitely recommend this book and based on my two reads I think Lenore Glen Offord definitely deserves to be better known and read, as her depictions of wartime and post war America and its effect on women is a real treat to explore. If you are interested in giving her a go Felony and Mayhem have reprinted quite a few of her works (see below), including further entries in the Todd and Georgina series.
Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt Item: Red Object