New month, so another new-to-me read by Doris Miles Disney. This is the earliest book I have read from her to date, and it features her series sleuth Jeff DiMarco, who works for the Commonwealth Assurance Company, as a claim adjustor. In keeping with the other DiMarco story that I read, Family Skeleton (1949), this is an inverted mystery of sorts and my edition describes the story as follows:
‘Passion plays the tune in a case of macabre murder. She was rich. She was beautiful. She had everything a woman could want. Except one thing. His name was Eugene, and she loved him. and he loved her. Just one thing stood in her way. Her husband…’
We don’t see Jeff until around the halfway point, once the murder has been committed and the inquest has been settled. Instead the book begins with Hazel, a woman who has always felt inferior due to her social background and as a consequence is always assessing her social position. Is it good enough? The markers she chooses for answering this question come in the form of Eugene, and the woman he married instead of Hazel. This bubbling sense of dissatisfaction with her life, her home and her husband is like a small fire which suddenly gets a can of petrol thrown over it when Eugene strolls back into her life.
In her eyes he is more from the social elite, the group she wants to be a part of. She has always wanted him, yet he only ever fooled around with her when they were much younger. This is a warning sign for the reader and for Hazel, but unsurprisingly Hazel pays it little heed. Eugene is made in the Great Gatsby mould, embodying that same brand of well-to-do selfish irresponsibleness when it comes to women and the way he treats other people. It is Eugene’s promise to ask for a divorce, after all, which seals the fate of Hazel’s husband Ralph. Eugene may have had no intention of keeping his promise, but Hazel is determined to make it a reality. Hazel’s valuing of Eugene and herself develops, morphs and even atrophies throughout the book, with Eugene coming to symbolise a wide variety of things for Hazel.
Hazel’s murder method is simplicity itself and has many advantages. In some ways she really ought to have got away with it undetected. Yet for various reasons she does not. Some of these reasons are beyond her control and they have a pleasing Francis Iles flavour of irony attached to them. Whilst other reasons reside with herself and her own behaviour which becomes increasingly reckless. There is something quite tragic in her downfall, in the way she nearly gets what she wishes for. She gets a small taste of what she had strove to gain, yet not only does this taste not last forever, but it reveals that it was a dream that was rotten at the core.
I wouldn’t say there is anything particularly surprising with this book, except perhaps the ending. Yet I am not entirely sure it is grounded enough psychology to be fully convincing. The idea that “well breed” people don’t kill their spouses so they can marry another also tends to crop up. However, on the whole I would say this is a familiar, though well told story.