NOTHING CAN RESCUE ME (1943) by Elizabeth Daly

Daly_Nothing-Can-Rescue-Me_bantamDon’t you just hate it when a book you think you’re really going to like just doesn’t ‘do it’ for you? This is such a case …It is one of 16 detective novels by Elizabeth Daly (1878-1967), who was said to be Agatha Christie’s favourite American mystery author. Antiquarian sleuth Henry Gamadge is investigating what might be a nasty prank or something darker. His old friend Florence, rich and recently married to a younger man, has been writing a novel, but someone is adding increasingly nasty comments to the typescript when she isn’t looking …

I offer this review for Bev’s Vintage Mystery Challenge; and Friday’s Forgotten Books meme, hosted today by Todd Mason at Sweet Freedom.

“I often think that persons who only care exclusively for the inanimate become only half animate themselves”

It is February 1942 and Sylvanus Hutton and his Aunt Florence have, for the duration of the war, moved out of the city and gone back to their upstate country pile, ‘Underhill.’ Sylvanus asks his old school friend Gamadge to help when Florence starts to unravel after her manuscript gets interfered with after increasingly menacing messages start being typed by persons unknown into the manuscript. But who is doing this and why? Is it her secretary? Her unfaithful husband? Or any one of the assorted hangers-on at Underhill, all of whom stand to benefit from her will, which she has regularly changed being more than a little fickle. Gamadge recognises the additions to the typescript as quotes from the likes of Poe, George Herbert, John Ford and Marlowe (the latter, from Dr Faustus, giving the book its title), but it does little good when two murders are committed right under his nose.

“When the capsules melted, the cyanide crystals poured into the acid, gas was set free, and she died a death that isn’t much slower than lightning.”

Daly_Nothing_felonymayhemThis is an ultra traditional Golden Age mystery and its easy to see why Dame Agatha might have been such a fan. All the action takes place over a single weekend inside the secluded mansion, the solution lies hidden in the past, there are a couple of romantic subplots and ‘psychology’ plays an important part in Gamadge’s eventual solution. However, I wish I had liked this more because although many are fans of Daly’s work, I found this to be pretty tiresome really. Not just for its obsessions with bathrooms and closets (we are reminded of them constantly, setting up the villain’s dash between connecting rooms at the climax rather clumsily) but also because it is endlessly repetitive!

“Do all these people know about the unpleasantness, whatever it is?”

I truly lost count of the number of times that ‘planchette’ and the phrase ‘residuary legatee’ were used. On top of that, I didn’t really like any of the characters very much, including the rather dull amateur detective, who mostly seemed to utter phrases from his subconscious without any filtering (nobody seems to mind much though) without doing anything very clever. And the less said about an initially amusing, but increasingly ridiculous and massively over-extended, sequence of events surrounding the wearing of women’s slacks in the household the better (truly a case for Moira of the sartorially exacting Clothes in Books blog). I love Golden Age mysteries and re-read books by Sayers, Allingham, Carr, Queen et al with great pleasure, but as I get older I do find that my tolerance does get strained by the artificiality of so many of the books published at this time. I wish I had found it more engaging as I usually like this kind of thing, but to me it fatally lacked spark and originality. The villain’s initial adding of the quotations to Florence’s manuscript is never really adequately explained and I found the writing style mostly to be flatter than a pancake, despite some occasional humour.

“Say, Mr Gamadge, these are nice folks, did one of ’em go crazy?”

Other reviewers on the blog block have been much more positive about this one though and you should also check out the wise words of Karen’s over at her Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings as well as Bev Hankin, who generously gifted me this copy and who gave a very sensible review of it at her blog, My Reader’s Block. Most of Daly’s books are available from Felony and Mayhem, the specialist imprint established a decade ago by Maggie Topkis, while Gamadge was profiled by Les Blatt over at his Classic Mysteries blog. The Henry Gamadge mysteries

  1. Daly_Nothing-Can-Rescue-Me_bantamUnexpected Night (1940)
  2. Deadly Nightshade (1940)
  3. Murders in Volume 2 (1941)
  4. The House Without the Door (1942)
  5. Nothing Can Rescue Me (1943)
  6. Evidence of Things Seen (1943)
  7. Arrow Pointing Nowhere (1944)  [aka Murder Listens In]
  8. The Book of the Dead (1944)
  9. Any Shape or Form (1945)
  10. Somewhere in the House (1946)
  11. The Wrong Way Down (1946)  [aka Shroud For a Lady]
  12. Night Walk (1947)
  13. The Book of the Lion (1948)
  14. And Dangerous to Know (1949)
  15. Death and Letters (1950)
  16. The Book of the Crime (1951)

This book was a gift from Bev Hankin, the fine hostess of the 2015 Golden Age Vintage Mystery Challenge bingo – I submit this review in the ‘TBR opening line’ category as its opening was a bit more arresting that the others I picked at random – it begins: “The plump little man leaned over Gamadge’s shoulder and squeaked in his ear: “Who am I?”” The three other books I picked from my TBR, and found wanting in this respect at least, were: Mabel Seeley’s  Eleven Came Back (“To begin with, there wasn’t anything about our going to the Lady Luck to indicate that we were getting into murder.”); Alan Hunter’s Gently in the Sun (“Even at this hour in the morning, when the dew clung heavily to the rough, wiry blades of the marram, one could tell that by early afternoon the temperature would be nearly ninety”); and Catherine Arley’s Ready Revenge (“The employees in my tannery don’t work on Saturday afternoons.”)


***** (1.5 fedora tips out of 5)

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36 Responses to NOTHING CAN RESCUE ME (1943) by Elizabeth Daly

  1. Colin says:

    Yes, a disappointing book is made worse when it’s one had hopes for. I guess we have to accept all GAMs aren’t going to do it for us all and you just have to learn to filter those ones out. I read Marsh’s A Man Lay Dead a while ago and it tried my patience no end – lots of artificial stuff n that one too, and a bit too much about bathrooms as it happens.

    • Thansk for that Colin and certainly I find Marsh much less tolerable as time goes by. I’ve been addicted to Golden Age detective stories for over 30 years but maybe because I have so much less time than I used to, my patience gets tested more easily – maybe. Or I’m turning into a grumpy old git, that’s always a possibility of course …

  2. realthog says:

    Felony and Mayhem, the specialist imprint established a decade ago by Maggie Topkis

    And hurrah for F&M! Long may that fine venture survive.

    I don’t think I’ve ever r4ead any Elizabeth Daly, although the name of her detective does ring a bell. I guess I should give her a try at some point. On the other hand, from what you say . . .

    • Well, I ah hoping that someone will tell me that i picked a duffer and that i should try a different title in the series. On the other hand, Karen and Bev were both pretty keen, so …

  3. tracybham says:

    I read most of the books in this series when I was younger (but not sure at what point) and liked all that I read. I am hoping I like them again when I read them, because I have read other negative reviews (don’t remember which book/books). I do have copies of almost all of them, I think I am only missing one.

    I am glad you reminded me of the ‘TBR opening line’ category because whether I get any bingos or not, I want to do that square. On both cards. I have read plenty of Golden Age mysteries and some Silver Age too, but I don’t seem to pick books that fit a new category.

  4. Margot Kinberg says:

    Oh, Sergio, I am sorry to hear this one didn’t do it for you; I really am. I like Elizabeth Daly’s work, and I think Gamadge is a good character. But not every entry in a series appeals to everyone. If you haven’t had the chance to read some of Daly’s other work, I’ll be interested in what you think if you get to it.

  5. kaggsysbookishramblings says:

    It’s frustrating when this happens, but there are no guarantees with books – I’ve often been disappointed with ones I should love and unexpectedly like ones I think I should hate. I’ve loved both the Dalys I’ve read, and I like Gamadge as a detective. C’est la vie!

  6. Bev Hankins says:

    Sergio, I’m sorry this one didn’t do it for you. While I do like Daly and her hero Gamadge, this isn’t my most highly rated one. I’ve rated Unexpected Night, Evidence of Things Seen, The House Without a Door, and Night Walk higher. Maybe one of those would suit you better.

  7. I’ve had a similar reaction to Elizabeth Daly’s work. I’ve read a handful of her mysteries and they’ve been very uneven.

  8. prettysinister says:

    There isn’t one book by Daly I can rave about these days. I read most of them when I was in high school, but the two I’ve read in the past couple of years were not exciting nor very original. Given that Gamadge’s specialty is forged documents and bibliophile expertise you’d think the plots would appeal to me. They don’t. Not does her dabbling in quasi supernatural events have any thrill. Like you I cant see myself re-reading any of them. Too many new writers to discover.

    • Thanks very much for that John – I foudn the vague hint of the supernatural to be wasted – and i have to say, you are describing very closely how I felt when reading this one!

  9. Brian Busby says:

    The premise you lay out in the first paragraph really had me thinking that Nothing Can Rescue Me would be right up my alley. How disappointing.

    Still, I’m curious. Does anyone mention of the connection between the name of the country estate and the typewriter manufacturer?

  10. Richard says:

    Tiresome is always a problem. I have the same reaction to Carr’s books.

    • Ah well, there we are, definitely horses of a different shade – love Carr! I can;t believe you would prefer this to The Judas Window though, really i don’t 🙂

  11. Yvette says:

    I’m glad I’m not the only one, Sergio. I read one of Daly’s books a while back and didn’t think much of it despite the high praise from others over the years. I too found her detective dull and uninspiring.

  12. lesblatt says:

    I’m a fan of Daly, Sergio, though I do agree they’re not all equally good. My own recommendation would be to try “The Book of the Dead,” which I think is certainly one of her best.

    • Thanks Les, I will certainly try again but i think maybe I started in the wrong place. Mind you, I’m not much of a Marsh fan so I wonder if there is a pattern here …

  13. I have never read Elizabeth Daly but after your own review and the comments above, I wouldn’t mind giving one of her novels a shot, Sergio. I just might like it.

  14. I read several of these years ago, and was neutral about them, but read one recently and did like it more. However, you have now ensured that I HAVE to read this one because of the women in slacks! I think I actually have it somewhere on the shelves – I remember the melodramatic title. I will report back. (And, actually, I would have gone for the book with the first line about the tannery: surely so simultaneously dull and bizarre that there must be something to it…)

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