Murder on the Tropic (1936) by Todd Downing

Last week I reviewed Clues and Corpses: The Detective Fiction and Mystery Criticism of Todd Downing (2013), so it only seemed fitting to take another look at Downing’s own detective stories.

In this adventure Hugh Rennert, US Customs agent, is presented with an unusual request. Edward Solier on inviting him to his office, offers him a chance to make some money to recoup the amount he lost on his citrus crops, (with Solier having sold him the land), which were badly blighted. To recoup the money Rennert has to go to a hacienda, named the Flores in Mexico, which Solier part owns with two others. They need to buy back all the shares they sold on the venture, due to financial difficulties, but one share holder, a botanist called Bertha Fahn, refuses to sell her shares and has taken up residence at the property. Rennert’s task is to convince her to sell and he also has the additional assignment of figuring out who is pouring away vast amounts of the property’s bottled water supply, (the springs having dried up). Rennert agrees, but he senses there is something much more troublesome going on at Flores, with one of Solier’s partners already dead (from sunstroke apparently), and another suffering some kind of illness. Is someone trying to oust the inhabitants from the property? After all a family member of the previous owners is currently residing there due to his plane being damaged and there is also the company architect, who might have an axe to grind. This is a fast paced novel, in that the action takes place over two days, but with most of the book focusing on the first. The body count mounts rapidly, with victims suffering from yellow hallucinations. To add to Rennart’s difficulties, the tail end of a hurricane approaching their area cuts him off from outside help even further.

Overall Thoughts

As I said this story takes place within a rapidly short time frame, which I think worked well with the nature of the plot, given that its’ strengths and emphasis are on setting, characters and a dramatic atmosphere: ‘There’s a tension here, an undercurrent of repressed emotions that rather worries me. It’s like sitting on top of a volcano.’ It is interesting to see how Downing uses the unbearably hot weather and the Mexican culture to create this effective unnerving atmosphere. Living in the North of England, murderous and violent action prompted by overly hot weather, is understandably an unfathomable concept to me, but it works well in this book. I think puzzle focused readers may be a bit disappointed by this novel though, as in some respects it is more thriller-ish in its focus. However having said that Downing does leave some significant clues as to the perpetrator, which of course I didn’t hugely pick up on until the end. It is an enjoyable tale but I think it important to set out what this book does and does not set out to deliver.

Rating: 4/5

Just the Facts Ma’am (Gold Card): During a Weather Event

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7 comments

  1. Thanks for the review, and I’m glad that this novel got a good rating from you. It’s the only Downing novel that I guessed at the central twist to the solution – which rarely happens to me. But I nonetheless felt it was, as always with Downing, tense and well-written. I’m very much looking forward to your next review, to see if I should get hold of that Bruce novel!

    Liked by 1 person

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