State Department Cat (1945) by Mary Plum

Today I am reading an author new to me. There wasn’t much online about her, but I found a review on the Mystery*File website which accredits the following mysteries to her:

  • The Killing of Judge McFarlane (1930)
  • Dead Man’s Secret (1931)
  • Murder at the Hunting Club (1932)
  • Murder at the World’s Fair (1933)
  • State Department Cat (1945) (N. B. Although my own copy states it was first published in 1946, so any clarification on this matter would be appreciated.)
  • Susanna, Don’t You Cry! (1946)
  • Murder of a Redhaired Man (1952)

The dust jacket to my edition notes that this is ‘a very topical thriller about sinister doings in the State Department at Washington where Trouble, the cat, has gained a reputation for starting things. When Trouble caressed the immaculate trouser leg of George Stair, applicant for the Foreign Service, George promptly failed his examination. Worse still, when entrusted with a brief-case of papers loaded with international dynamite, he lost them.’ Naturally the remainder of the book is concerned with George as he tries to retrieve the papers stolen from him.

This is not the cover of the edition I have, but is one I came across in the Mystery*File review. It is more interesting than my own edition, though probably not very good at hinting at the type of story it contains.

Overall Thoughts

Plum goes to some effort to create a backstory to George and how his father’s work in the Foreign Office, is still having ramifications in the current time of the book. Given the publication date of the novel, I imagine it would have been ’topical’ to have a protagonist who has endured a Japanese POW camp and seen their father die there. So for all the moments of humour and irony, this is still a story with dark notes.

George is a likeable enough hero; smart enough to avoid falling into the obvious traps laid out by his adversaries, but still fallible enough to lose the papers in the first place and to get stuck in a sticky situation at the end. Any antiquated views on the role of women are quickly squashed by his romantic lead, who is not one to sit and twiddle her thumbs whilst there are thieves to uncover and papers to find.

Alas the cat, who gives the story its’ title, and who gets the plot rolling, does not occupy much page space, much to my disappointment of my cat Agatha. The cat in this book is called Trouble, as a rumour has built up that whenever he touches someone, it spells doom or at least a period of discomfort, for the person in question.

I wouldn’t say this is a bad story and I can imagine it making a reasonably entertaining film, in the old style. But I wonder whether the book blurb maps out the plot a little too well, as I didn’t feel like the narrative had any surprises in store for the reader. This is where my opinion on the mystery diverges from that expressed in The Criminal Record in The Saturday Review wrote of this novel that it was ‘spy-stuff of the better sort. Plentiful thrills enlivened by humour and romantic moments.’

Rating: 3.75/5

5 comments

  1. I own this book, but I haven’t read it myself. I was glad to read a second opinion, though! The review on my blog you referred to was by Bill Deeck, whose death several years ago came all too early. Since I can’t easily locate my copy, I can’t confirm the dates, but Hubin states: Doubleday, 1945, hc) [Washington, D.C.] Eyre, 1946. Did you read a British edition?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for your review. I have this book on the shelf, but have not read it yet. You inquired about the publishing date. My book has copyright and publishing date of 1945 by The Crime Club, plus a gift inscription on the flyleaf dated December 1945. I have read one of her other books, The Killing of Judge Mac Farlane, and posted a review here >> http://readinggoldenagemysteries.blogspot.com/2020/11/the-killing-of-judge-mac-farlane-by.html I enjoyed it and hope to pick up some other of her titles. – Rick

    Liked by 1 person

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