Sunday, July 10, 2011

Vintage Mystery Sunday: The Silver Leopard

It's Vintage Mystery Sunday and time to step into my vault of classic mysteries and choose one to feature that I read and loved before blogging took over my life and I began reviewing everything I read. This week's featured book is The Silver Leopard by Helen Reilly. Reilly's career reached from 1930-1962. She was one of the first authors to feature police procedure in her work and she based her novels on research she had done on the New York homicide squad. Inspector Christopher McKee is her central detective and she shows him at work with a full complement of supporting officers--from fingerprint men to detectives ordered to shadow suspects. The Silver Leopard leans a little more towards the suspenseful Had I But Known school of her later works, but McKee still has a major role.

In this mystery Inspector McKee faces a knotty problem involving the members and friends of one of New York's oldest and most prosperous families. They are all privileged, suave, and used to
getting their own way. At the center is Catherine Lister whose uncle passed away several years ago, but who still has ties to her Aunt and two cousins. Aunt Angela announces that she plans to remarry--her intended is an old family friend, the famous portrait painter Michael Nye. Catherine is then summoned to Nye's studio where she walks into a situation destined to make her the prime suspect in Nye's murder. The door is on the latch and there is a trail of clues leading straight to her and the silver leopard statue that Catherine's uncle had sent to her just before his death. When McKee becomes involved, his investigation will lead from downtown NYC to an old, run-down country inn and a lonely house in another state. The District Attorney begins to pressure him to arrest Catherine, and McKee has to walk the tightrope between keeping the girl's freedom and protecting her from the danger of her own death.

There is a lot of suspense in this one...and a definite atmosphere intended to imply that if Catherine had just paid attention to a few details then she might have known that someone would be desperate enough to at least frame her for murder if not murder her as well. But this is all nicely balanced with the clear, well written police procedure scenes with McKee. McKee follows the book, but also allows his compassion and humanity to see through to the real culprit.

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