This wartime example of the ‘Had I But Known’ school was one of the handful of mysteries published by the Minnesotan writer Mabel Seeley (1903-1991), who principally set her work in the Mid West. This particular title however takes place a little further along, in the the Tetons of Wyoming, at a ranch named the Lady Luck. Martha and Dane Chapple own a small network of radio stations but their principal investor has decided to pull out – and to their horror, is planning to sell his interest to a borderline fascist.
I offer the following reviews as part of Bev’s 2015 Vintage Mystery Challenge; and Patti’s Friday’s Forgotten Books meme, today hosted by Todd Mason at Sweet Freedom.
“Oh, I’ll be subtle. I know how to do it. But they’ll say, feel, do – as I dictate””
A powerful woman cutting a swathe through a male-dominated profession, Delphine Anda Huddlestone ran a scurrilous right-wing newspaper until she was divorced by its proprietor (when the scoundrel traded her in for a younger model). Now she has remarried, has moved near to Jackson Hole, and is planning to get into the radio business by taking over the small Arcadia network created by the Chapples. She plans to use this as a platform to infiltrate America with her right-wing ideals, taking advantage of the fact that Dane is about to head off to war, assuming that Martha won’t be able to stand up to her. But Martha is plenty feisty! She and her husband head off to Delphine’s new home to try and dissuade their partner from selling and arrive in the middle of a house party that includes their nemesis’ new and old husbands, assorted friends and her bitter secretary. The life and soul of the evening is hardboiled showgirl Lolly Sheean (“My motto: never fear pants”), and it is she who dies later that night while the party of 12 is out on a moonlit horse ride. Was it an accident, suicide or was she pushed off a rickety old bridge? And why was a small sacrificial fire lit outside the ranch? And why was all the hair cut off from Delphine’s new husband while he was drunk and asleep? Then another murder takes place and the the evidence points towards Dane, who has been found concussed near the body. Now it is up to Martha to prove his innocence and get away from the evil clutches of the real killer (and maybe uncover a Nazi spy too).
“I wonder now what would have happened if I had rested after that, a minute longer or a minute less. I wonder what difference it would have made in the outcome.”
This book unquestionably belongs to that ‘Had I But Known’ strain of romantic suspense fiction that tends to be so derided nowadays (and indeed, didn’t always get a lot of critical respect even then). I didn’t mind that foreshadowing technique at all and enjoyed Martha’s strength in the face of adversity and thought Delphine made for an enjoyably nasty adversary with her nakedly fascist outlook (you can really tell that this was written during the war). It is also a point in Seeley’s favour that, as usual, the protagonists are working class and the setting uncommon. However, the book is also a little bit dull, the prose style on the clunky side, the subsidiary characters thin and it is certainly a shame that the lively Lolly is killed off quite so soon. I don’t really want to put potential readers off too much though as this is an entertaining enough read (if a bit over-extended). Curtis Evans has written authoritatively on Seeley and her output on his blog, The Passing Tramp.
This book was a gift from Bev Hankin, the fine hostess of the 2015 Golden Age Vintage Mystery Challenge, for which many thanks.
I submit this review in the ‘letter in my name’ category as my first name begins with the same letter as the author’s surname: