I’ve had mixed reactions to this writing team’s work. I quite enjoyed their first novel, Made Up to Kill (1940) and really enjoyed The Frightened Stiff (1942), but unfortunately then got severely irked by If the Shroud Fits (1941), in which the female lead was trying a little too hard to win nitwit of the year.
In today’s read Jeff and Haila Troy get embroiled in murder once more when they offer to babysit their cleaning lady’s less than best behaved son, Chuckie, whilst she goes to a wedding. They take Chuckie off to Central Park to play with his toy boat and meet fellow nautical enthusiasts, albeit rather more grown up ones, which have formed the Knickerbocker Model Yacht Club. It is the commander of the group of decides to sit on an isolated bench on grassy knoll and it is of course he who gets stabbed in the back in plain sight. Equally of course no one saw anyone go near him apart from another member of the group who was most assuredly not stabbing him in the back. Wills, affairs of the heart, night time prowls and wild goose chases and more all appear in this tale.
Murder in a park is not the most frequent of mystery novel settings, but it certainly crops up in the work of quite a few well-known vintage crime writers, such as Nicholas Blake, R. Austin Freeman and Margery Allingham, if my memory serves me correctly. As JJ notes in his review of the novel, this story does increasingly wander into the territory of the thriller, despite containing an impossible/locked room novel. Does the one usually preclude the other? I’m not sure but the solution to this story is quite a simple one, even if it does have quite a far-fetched motive. The red herrings in this book were a little more obvious than usual in my opinion and there was one element of the ending which I did predict early on. However, there are other delightfully surprising elements in the story that I didn’t figure out ahead of time and the narrative strands which make up the mystery plot do come together at the end in an interesting and intricate way.
So did Haila win twit of the year in this book? Well I would say she probably came runner up this time round. Haila has a bit more of an independent and feisty streak in this book and I love the way she pushes Jeff into taking on the case. Yet there is still a sense for me, of her being a bit undermined in the book. Perhaps it is because I have recently read a Jane and Dagobert Brown novel by Ames. Like Haila, Jane narrates the mysteries she and her husband unravel, however I just feel that Jane has a bit more respect and dignity and the power balance between her and Dagobert is much better matched than it is between Haila and Jeff. Having said that I think the relational humour works much better in this novel than it did in If the Shroud Fits and I think the Roos pulled together a very strong cast of characters.
Whilst it feels like I have been banging on about the imperfections of this story I did find it a fun read, much stronger than If the Shroud Fits. It might not be the most complex of mysteries, but the circuitous route the Troys need to take to reach the solution is certainly an entertaining one.
Just the Facts Ma’am (Silver Card): Death by Knife/Dagger