Sunday, March 11, 2018

#28 - The Mardi Gras Murders by Gwen Bristow and Bruce Manning (1932)

About this selection:

About the authors: Here is a Wikipedia article about Gwen Bristow and her husband, Bruce Manning. They also authored three other novels in the Mystery League series (The Invisible HostThe Gutenberg Murders and Two and Two Make Twenty-Two). 

Principal characters:
  • Cynthia Fontenay, leader of DIS 
  • Roger Parnell, DIS member killed at the party
  • Arnold Ghent, DIS member
  • Dick Barron, DIS member, lost a bundle at The Red Cat
  • Ross Hildreth, DIS member
  • Lucy Lake, Cynthia's maid
  • Esther Morse, guest of honor at the DIS party
  • Fritz Valdon, owner of The Red Cat gambling joint
  • Con Conroy, secretary to Fritz Valdon
  • Mark Oliver, toy manufacturer
  • Tony Wiggins, photographer for The Morning Creole
  • --- Wade, reporter for The Morning Creole
  • Captain Murphy, of the Homicide Squad
  • Dan Farrell, District Attorney
Locale: New Orleans


The story is set in three parts, corresponding to the three days at the beginning of Mardi Gras: Collup Monday, Shrove Tuesday, and Ash Wednesday. DIS is a secretive group of 50 who hold their own alternative Mardi Gras celebration with a satanic theme: members dress in masked devil costumes and hold a big drinking party. As they are masked, the only way to tell them apart is a number of the back of each costume.

Photographer Tony Wiggins is assigned to take a group photo for his paper, The Morning Creole. Soon after, one of the DIS party, wearing #47, is found dead by Lucy Lake, maid to DIS leader Cynthia Fontenay. The victim is initially thought to be Arnold Ghent, but when his mask is removed he turns out to be Roger Parnell, wearing the incorrectly numbered costume; belonging to Ross Hildreth. Hildreth was out of town and missed the DIS party.

The investigation begins by Captain Murphy, and reporter -- Wade is his confidante and assistant. 45 of the DIS members present were in a closed room under observation when the murder occurs, and are eliminated from suspicion. The 5 remaining and some others (p. 89) are rounded up for questioning.

Toy manufacturer Mark Oliver, DIS member 147, is shot and slightly wounded by persons unknown. 

Cynthia Fonteney is questioned, and soon after dies in a fall during the Mardi Gras parade. Is it murder? When the parade is over, the body of Mark Oliver is found inside a closed simulated fish bowl on the float in which he was riding.


If nothing else, this book will acquaint you with the runup to Mardi Gras. I'm not sure if the DIS group has any basis in reality, a quick search did not turn up anything on it; but there are many and complex groups making up the celebration.

Reporter Wade seems to have a free hand in running the investigation, with the authorities having minimal participation. In the 1930's everything revolved around the newspaper world, and this story reflects that. Wade works out the solution with photographer Wiggins running the leg work. It is enjoyable following this pair as they work so well together.

It is distracting that the speech patterns of African-American is represented by phonetic spellings, i.e. "yessuh". Although unacceptable today as stereotyped, this was a prevalent writing style of the 1930's. There is liberal use of the n-word when referring to African-Americans, yet this seems, in context, non-derogatory. Two African-Americans play key roles in resolving the murders.

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