Reprint of the Year Award 2021: Nomination 2

Last week saw various bloggers, including myself, posting up our first nomination for the 2021 Reprint of the Year Awards. If you missed those posts here is a link to my own, which contains links to all the other nominations.

Today we’re doing it all over again, with our second and final nominations. Tomorrow I shall be putting the reader nominations into a generator online to randomly select three to include in the final poll. This poll will be going live tomorrow, and the results will be announced on the 30th December. So if you would like to make a suggestion you only have a short while to add your nominations, on this post.

Here are the links for the second nominations from other bloggers:

AidanThe American Gun Mystery (1933) by Ellery Queen

Bev Murder in the French Room (1931) by Helen Joan Hultman

BradThe Eight of Swords (1934) by John Dickson Carr

HayleyThe Chianti Flask (1934) by Marie Belloc Lowndes

JanetThese Names Make Clues (1937) by E. C. R. Lorac

John NorrisThe Wintringham Mystery (1927) by Anthony Berkeley

JohnHare Sitting Up (1959) by Michael Innes

KarenGuilty Creatures (2021) ed. by Martin Edwards

MoiraMurder After Christmas (1944) by Rupert Latimer

Puzzle DoctorTill Death Do Us Part (1944) by John Dickson Carr

RekhaThe Figure of Eight (1931) by Cecil Waye

This week’s nominations have added a further two Carr titles to the poll, bringing it up to four in total. These second nominations also seem to have a strong leaning towards books published originally in the 1930s. It is interesting to see each year how the choices vary as last year the most popular decade was the 1940s, and there was a more even spread of nominations between the 1930s and 1950s.

It was tough trying to decide on my second title, as there are a lot of reprints that I have enjoyed this year. However, my feline firekeeper in residence helped me to make today’s selection. I can’t imagine why they picked this one…

In case you haven’t read this book, here is a quick synopsis:

‘When Rachel Murdock and her sister Jennifer receive a call for help from their favourite niece, Lily, in Breakers Beach, CA, they quickly hop a train from Los Angeles to see her — but not before collecting their prized cat Samantha in a picnic basket and bringing her along for the ride. Samantha, it turns out, is an heiress, the inheritor of a fortune left by a wealthy relative, and so the attempt at the cat’s life, made right after they arrive, comes as a shock. The cat survives, but unfortunately, Lily, murdered soon thereafter, is not so lucky. By the time the police arrive, the clues are already falling into place. The source of Lily’s trouble is revealed to be a gambling debt incurred during an attempt to cheat at bridge, and the suspects in her slaying quickly pile up. But then another corpse is discovered, buried in the nearby sand, and it becomes clear that the killing spree concerns more than just the young lady’s personal money trouble. With the authorities distracted by lurid details, it’s up to Rachel and her furry friend to uncover the subtleties containing the solution to the puzzle.’

Some of you looking at the cover and picking up on the subtle fact it involves a cat, might be instantly deciding this is not the book for you. Cats have very much clawed out a sizeable part of the American cozy crime territory and since Hitchens was American and she wrote a whole series involving a cat and her owner, you may be thinking this is an early example of what you might have encountered today. But whilst The Cat Who Saw Murder (1939), is a prototype of the cat mystery, it is no one’s cozy cat mystery. This is a cat mystery with plenty of bite! You have to be careful it doesn’t take your arm off when reading it! Death is not sanitised or glossed over and that’s after you have encountered the slovenly boarding house Rachel is visiting! Our amateur sleuth might be elderly, but she has a tough case ahead of her and she does undergo physical tribulations before the end of the book, not least nearly being killed.

I like how Rachel Murdock is introduced to us and her trajectory into becoming an amateur detective. She doesn’t leap straight into action and the stage at which she becomes more active in the detection feels right and plausible. Her infallibility as an investigator, at times, is also highly amusing. Her sneaky searching through other people’s rooms is one such comical moment and is a nice example of the humour which runs through the narrative. At one point it is said that: ‘Under her couch Miss Rachel started to tremble. There was a Saint-somebody-or-other who was supposed to look after thieves, she had read somewhere, and she considered that he might perhaps also be interested in people who were guilty of unlawful entry.’

Puzzle fans should definitely give this book their vote as Hitchens delivers a solid mystery with numerous interesting clues. Lily’s murder is concisely but effectively lead up to, with many unusual incidents occurring on the first evening Rachel arrives. This gives the reader time to pick up information about the various inhabitants of the boarding house, but Hitchens is smart enough to ensure that there is not too much overlap between this information and the facts Lieutenant Mayhew initially gathers just after the murder. John Norris who writes at the blog Pretty Sinister, equally expresses admiration for the puzzle aspect of this story:

The Cat Saw Murder is a neatly done up puzzle of a mystery with some deft cluing, excellent characterization in the myriad beach hotel guests all of whom have multiple secrets, some offbeat humor, gory murders and a very neat surprise ending.’

Moreover, the early chapters contain several foreshadowing comments, which I found quite fun, as they reminded me of old film trailers…

‘As for Rachel herself: there was shock and grief, and a time when the cold fingers of death had almost clutched her. There was the puzzle of the crime, which allured her mathematical mind as would a problem in algebra.’

… especially when the narrator remembers they are getting ahead of itself: ‘So the scene fades back and back until…’ Yet these moments of foreshadowing are in addition deployed by Hitchens as a way of enhancing the puzzle element.

‘Lieutenant Mayhew has wished that he might have had the gift of second sight at this point. He maintains that he would have sent Miss Rachel straight back home: cat, baggage and all. Today, he thinks, he could have had the pleasure of knowing that two thoroughly disagreeable people were in prison. Cruel and ruthless people who deserved much worse than they got. Miss Rachel made him let them go.’

Reading this at the beginning of the novel makes it quickly start wondering which of the people we are now going to encounter are being referred to in this passage.

Finally, this being a cat themed mystery, means I am totally justified in using cute animal-based persuasion. You can’t say no to these guys, after all?

9 comments

  1. This is a great debut for the Rachel Murdock series. Not at all the kind of book that most people would envision when you say “cat mystery.” But as good as they are I prefer the Prof. Pennyfeather mysteries. Don’t know why those weren’t selected by Penzler for thee GAD reprints. Far superior, just as gory and gritty. Mysterious Press own the rights to all but two books in Hitchens’ back catalog. They’ve released the first Penyfeather book in a digital version from Open Road Media. The plan is for more I think. It’s labeled as Book #1 in the series in the Amazon listing. I think they’d have made more money had they added that book (Bring the Bride a Shroud) to this reprint series as a paperback.

    Liked by 1 person

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