Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Black Widow: Review

The plan was to read Black Widow by Patrick Quentin (pseudonym for a collaboration between Richard Wilson Webb and Hugh Wheeler) written in 1952 and follow it up with a viewing of the 1954 film starring Van Heflin, Ginger Rogers, Gene Tierney, and George Raft.  I mentioned in 2010 that I wasn't sure that the Peter Duluth novels were quite my cup of tea when I highlighted A Puzzle for Fools by Quentin for an A-Z blogging meme.  I'm now pretty sure that the Duluth novels aren't my cup of tea...and neither was the film--despite the quite lovely cast in this classic noir piece.  Either that or I'm just not reading/watching the stories at the right time.  I may have to give it another go sometime in the future.  As it is, I don't have a whole lot to say about this one.  I read half and then skimmed the rest just so I could say it was done and to see what happened.'s the outline: Peter Duluth, director and former alcoholic, is left on his own when his beloved wife Iris leaves home to care for her ill mother.  Their upstairs neighbors take Duluth under their wing and invite him to a party that he really doesn't want to attend.  He shouldn't have.  There, he meets a young woman who is a struggling writer and he enters into a strange friendship with her that results in her using his apartment as a place to write while he is away at the office trying to put together the next great play.  He takes her for an innocent in the big city of New York and wants to help her out.

When his wife is set to return home, Duluth collects her from the airport and they return to their apartment to find Nanny Ordway, the young writer, has apparently committed suicide in their bedroom.  Circumstantial evidence begins piling up, we discover that Ordway was pregnant, and witnesses come forward that paint a rather black picture for Duluth....the police go from thinking suicide to thinking that the role of murderer just might fit the director.  Nanny Ordway definitely was not as innocent as she appeared and someone is guilty of her murder.  But will Duluth be able to prove it wasn't him?

And somehow this plot just didn't do a whole lot for me.  I found myself having a hard time believing that Duluth, who has supposedly been around the block a few times, would enter into the weird friendship with a young woman that he keeps telling us he doesn't enjoy being with.  Oh, wait...he does.  No, actually, he doesn't.  Wait...changed his mind again.  And the way he's sucked into the circumstances that make it look like he might be a murderer....well, that just seemed to me to be straight out of the Had I But Known school.  If he had just thought for a few minutes how his behavior might look to an observer.....he might never have taken Miss Ordway out for hamburgers after that party.

The tightening net of circumstantial evidence was, I'm sure, supposed to create all sorts of dramatic tension.  But, honestly, I didn't much care...and, knowing that there were more Duluth stories written after Black Widow, I knew that he would manage to be proved innocent in the long run.  The best part of the story for me?  The dialogue...I do appreciate the Quentin team's way with the spoken interactions between the characters.  

Over all--a two star outing. Since I didn't finish watching the movie, I won't be counting this towards the Book to Movie Challenge. 

Challenges: 150 Plus Reading Challenge, Mount TBR Challenge, Outdo Yourself, Embarrassment of Riches, What An Animal, Color Coded Challenge, Book Bingo, Off the Shelf, Adam's TBR Challenge, Mystery/Crime, A-Z Mystery Authors, Vintage Mystery 


Ryan said...

I'ms orry you didn't like this one. I read Puzzle for Fools last year and really enjoyed the setting. How can you not love a mystery in an asylum? Well I guess you didn't so that's okay :-)

I just finished the second book, Puzzle for Players, but haven't written a review for it yet. I enjoyed it, though I'm not sure how much Duluth should get credit for solving the case.

I guess I will have to wait and see until I read the third one.

Bev Hankins said...

Sometimes you just have to be in the right mood for a book....I haven't found the right mood for a Duluth book yet. I read one of the mysteries written under the Jonathan Stagge pseudonym and liked it a lot. I'm hoping that Murder at Cambridge written as Q. Patrick will be good as well.

Anonymous said...

I think your points about the plot are fair Bev but I'm a big fan of the Quentin books so it's a shame this one didn't intrigue you more - this was the final Wheeler and Webb collaboration and the Duluths only appeared, in a supporting role, in one more book written by Wheeler alone. Interesting you mention the dialogue as Wheeler went on to have a major career as a Broadway playwright in the 60s and 70s and author of the books of several musical by Stephen Sondheim (he also worked on the screenplay for the movie version of CABARET).