The Black Coat (1948) by Constance and Gwenyth Little

Constance and Gwenyth Little are one of the many authors I blogged about in my early days, but haven’t really got around to trying again until now. Bad I know, but hopefully today’s review will make up for it. The Littles wrote standalone mysteries, rather than having a serial sleuth, though you could say their novels shared a number of tropes. In particular they tend to have a female protagonist, often a working woman and the mysteries themselves frequently occur within a household of sorts. Romance is also in the offing for the female protagonists, but the Littles are savvy enough to avoid fairy tale stereotypes.

Yet having said all that, I would say this novel by the Littles is unconventional to say the least. The opening premise is quite complex but once you get your head around it, it is easy running after that. Of course that does not help me out when writing a review, which can only really summarise what happens in the beginning. Oh well here it goes… There are two women on a train to New York and they are both called Anne. Anne 1, our main protagonist, is going to New York to find work as a commercial artist. The other, Anne 2, is somewhat of an unreliable party girl, who definitely doesn’t earn Anne 1’s approval when she steals her coat (leaving her own behind), and gets off at an earlier station. From here on in there is only Anne 1 so I’ll skip the number. Having lost her coat Anne has difficulties making her rendezvous in New York as she does not know the appearance of the person she is meeting and her own coat had a flower in it to identify herself. Things certainly go awry once she gets off the train, being incorrectly picked up by George Vaddison, believing her to be the other Anne, who was supposed to visit her sick grandmother, Ellen, for the first time. However, when the error is realised, George is keen for her to stay on at the private hotel Ellen owns whilst the real Anne is found. Ellen does not have all her wits about her and the mystery begins with the cryptic and enigmatic phrases she says to Anne, in particular implying that she will show Anne where something is, that she had to kill a man for! Though it seems there are a number of other people who are also interested in finding out where this something is too and suffice to say they do not all end well. Of course another key character comes in the guise of the person Anne was supposed to meet at the station, a maverick and mysterious man named Tim, whose urge for amateur sleuthing finds an opening in the weird events happening at the hotel, many of which I haven’t shared as I would be here all day and undoubtedly spoil your own fun.

Overall Thoughts

As you can tell this mystery doesn’t have a normal structure and in fact there isn’t a dead body until at least half way through the book, though it is none the worse for that. In style it is a comic crime novel, possibly even one of the screwball variety. Bodies appear and they’re not the ones expected, people have a strong tendency to disappear and a lot of mischief is caused with a prosthetic hand. I really enjoyed the unusual nature of the plot as it did keep you on your toes and certainly led you down the garden path a number of times. It is so light and entertaining that you don’t see what the Littles are up to behind the scenes. In a way it is a book with a set of open and closed suspects, which was interesting to see. The romance element of the plot is very cleverly done and wittily handled. It is not saccharine sweet and avoids being predictable. Quite a thrilling adventure in many ways and the only quibble I think I would have is, is that the final quarter of the book is a little too rushed. Delightful story though and one I would definitely recommend.

Rating: 4.5/5

Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt Item (Silver Card): Bottle/Glass for Drinking.


  1. Interesting review, all the more so because I recently completed my second novel by the Littles. I think if you enjoyed ‘The Black Coat’ you would also enjoy ‘The Black Eye’… In fact, most of the Littles’ novels seem replete with similar tropes: fairly strong-minded heroine who hates housework; bodies appearing and disappearing; a leaning towards the comic; eccentric middle/ old-aged women. From my hazy recollection I think ‘The Black Eye’ had a better puzzle than ‘The Black Rustle’, and I agree that clues get sneaked in right under the eyes of the reader because of the humour.

    Liked by 1 person

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