Thursday, February 8, 2018

#21 - Murder in the French Room by Helen Joan Hultman (1931)

dustjackets.com

About this edition: This edition contains Baffle Case Number Two, The Crime at Laurel Lodge by Lassiter Wren and Randle McKay. Readers were invited to submit their solution to this short, self-contained mystery for a chance at one of the prizes to be awarded in gold. The solution was never published, but would be mentioned on the dust jacket flap of The False Purple. There would be just one more Baffle Case in the future.


About the author: The Golden Age of Detection web site says this about Helen Joan Hultman: Helen Joan Hultman was a largely forgotten US author who worked from the 1920s through to the 1950s. One of her detective characters was called Tim Archer. Another was Inspector Dan Braddon. The page also lists her bibliography.


Principal characters:

  • Joyce Terry, sales clerk
  • Phil Leonard, Joyce Terry's mysterious fiance
  • Madame Nordhoff, buyer
  • Otis Galway, general manager
  • Chester Penn, elevator operator
  • Jessica Brooke, store detective
  • Henry Knox, floor superintendent
  • Mrs. Ludlow Wilkinson, customer in dressing room F
  • Edith Pike, sales clerk assisting Mrs. Ludlow Wilkinson in F
  • Dan Bratton, police detective
  • Paula Pringle, reporter
  • Vivian Agnew Thayer, victim in dressing room E; 2nd wife of Rupert Thayer
  • Mary Whitford, 1st wife of Rupert Thayer
  • Rupert Thayer, husband of the victim
  • Ross Ingram, happened to be on the scene when it happened
  • Connie Kendall, Ross Ingram's girlfriend
  • Emily Scott, the mysterious "Emily" of a note
Locale: an unnamed US city

Synopsis:

Joyce Terry is a sales clerk at Line and Hollis, a large urban department store. She works in the French Room, a section devoted to ladies' dresses. She enters dressing room E (one of six, A-F) to find its occupant has been murdered. Jessica Brooke, store detective, is on the scene immediately and soon the police arrive, led by detective Dan Bratton.

Of the six small dressing rooms, E was occupied by the victim; C is believed to be vacant, and the others were occupied by customers; although some report hearing sounds from C ( which is adjacent to E - the murder room).

Two problems emerge: the victim's identity is unknown, and the murder weapon cannot be found. Word gets out and the press show up. Reporter Paula Pringle, acting on a hunch, deduces - correctly - the victim is Vivian Thayer. Soon the weapon is discovered concealed in the hosiery department of the store.

When the victim is identified, a photo of her and her husband appear in the newspaper. Joyce Terry (who found the body) is shocked to see the man in the photo - captioned as husband Rupert Thayer - is the man she is engaged to, but knows as Phil Leonard. If he is one and the same person, she has an outstanding A-1 motive for getting rid of his wife.

Review:

This starts out looking like a locked-room mystery, but not for long. The murder means are revealed almost immediately. It becomes of a puzzle of who-where-when as a parade of characters were circulating in the vicinity. And oh, the characters! There is no shortage. It seems every person popping into the story for however brief a moment gets a name, and keeping track of the various names arriving in each chapter will spin your brain. The list of principal characters provided above should suffice, and even that list is quite large.

It is refreshing to have the protagonist a strong female lead (store detective Jessica Brooke), unusual for the 1930's. She drives the action along throughout, with police detective Dan Bratton always lagging a bit behind. She does conceal certain information from him as she goes along, not quite playing fair with the authorities; but gets the job done.








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