Back in January I reviewed Hubbard’s first adult mystery novel, Murder Takes the Veil (1950), whose plot was somewhat stymied by one character’s refusal to tell the proper authorities what she knew. However, I decided to give this writer one more try, hoping that a few books in, this crinkle might have been ironed out of her writing. But was it? Read on and find out…
Before I look at the book, I thought it worthwhile to include the story’s dedication:
To The man in my life who, Though he seldom has Time To read my books, is nevertheless my most devoted fan and press agent, my ever loving husband, Joe.
Is this something of an oxymoronic sentiment? You would have thought reading the books you’re supposed to promote might help, but I could be wrong. Hubbard is not the first female author I have come across whose husband has failed to find the time to read his wife’s creations, as June Wright made a similar remark about her own spouse. Anyways on with today’s review…
Dannie Grear is in fear for her life at Narrows. It is holiday season, but she is not there to take a break; she is there to confirm her suspicions concerning a man and a string of twenty-year-old deaths. Her suspicions are confirmed, but unfortunately for her, the man is on to her and her pitiful attempts to contact people she knows to gain help are without success. Her final throw of the dice is to contact a student nurse, Lizette, who knows her niece, (another nurse), at St Matthew’s hospital. But the supervising nun, Sister Simon, refuses the call to be passed onto Lizette. No reader is surprised when Lizette discovers Dannie stabbed underneath a plum tree on hospital grounds some time later. Whoever she was running from finally caught up with her… The police are duly called in, but it is Lizette who is our primary focus, followed by Sister Simon, who becomes more involved in the plot later on. Yet the murderer has not finished their killing spree, but will those who know something share it with the police?
Answer to that last question: No
Consequentially two more people die because they didn’t tell anyone what they knew. Moreover, one hero worshipping friend of Lizette knowingly fulfils a demand issued by the killer, over the telephone, in order to prevent Lizette from doing it herself. Telling the police any of this seems to have not occurred to her. Of course, you know she is not going to last five minutes… Perhaps the worst offender for withholding information is an elderly nun who received a letter from Dannie a week before she dies, which outlines her suspicions. Again, this is revealed very late in the plot as the nun in question just wanted to forget about it… To be honest I am baffled why Hubbard makes so many of her characters act in this way. As a means of obscuring the solution to the reader it is a primitive tool and not a very satisfactory one at that.
But what about the crime solving nun, you say? I was looking forward to this aspect of the book, as I do enjoy a good sleuthing nun. Akunin’s Sister Pelagia comes to mind. Like Pelagia, Sister Simon is a young woman. However, the similarities stop there, as Sister Simon does not really have the same intellectual capabilities as Sister Pelagia. She is revealed to be quite inexperienced in her new role and is under a lot of pressure. Nevertheless, I don’t think these factors give her much sympathy and her misjudgement over the phone call creates a barrier between her and the reader. The fact that Sister Simon doggedly tries to exonerate her decision doesn’t really help matters. Solving the actual case seems something of an afterthought and I think the verb solving is probably too generous a word. Lizette asks a few questions of people and passes on the information, (which trickles in, in the final third of the book), but in the main Sister Simon just relies on her hunch about the cold cases. This is a shame as I feel that Hubbard gives Sister Simon an interesting backstory involving a father who was a policeman, who was murdered during an arrest. It is this father who taught her how to shoot ‘a moving target at fifty feet,’ which proves quite useful in this story.
I have been pondering the two novels I have read by Hubbard and whilst they are quick and easy reads, I don’t think they are successful mystery novels. I’m not sure she grasped how to unfold a mystery. I also don’t think she fully left her children story writing career behind her, as the prose style seems more appropriate for a younger audience, which is evidenced in the long descriptive passages Hubbard employs. These invariably spell things out a bit too much and include a fair amount of inconsequential scene setting information. Additionally, the way in which the nurses’ home and the psychology of the nurses are depicted, are very reminiscent of what you would expect to find in an all girl’s school novel of the time.
If you enjoy young-adult novels from the 1950s and/or enjoy stories set in milieus such as colleges and hospitals, then Hubbard might be an author worth investigating.
Source: Review Copy (Coachwhip Publications)