Saturday, July 6, 2013

Dead Man Control: Review

Dead Man Control is one of the most standard police procedurals of those that I've read by Helen Reilly.  First published in 1936, it follows McKee of Centre Street--the other strong effort which I read previously.  Reilly was one of the first authors to feature police procedure in her novels and she does it quite well here. I much prefer her stories where Inspector McKee shows up early and often.  This one does not disappoint.

In Dead Man Control, the dead man in question is Fennimore Kingston, a strong-minded, wealthy autocrat who had everything and who liked to control it all--from his beautiful young wife of three months to his weaker, dependent cousin, from his ex-mistress to his long-time friend (and debtor) to his servants. Even after he is pronounced dead from a shot in the back, Kingston seems to exert his control over everyone who knew him.

The story opens with the murder. Kingston is found dead in his study--the door locked on the inside, the windows wide open to the winter air full of falling snow...and his new bride unconscious with the gun nearby.  At first it looks like a possible burglary gone wrong, but the police soon prove that no one could have gotten out of the windows without making a mark in the snow and Katherine Kingston finds herself arrested on suspicion of murder. District Attorney Dwyer is thanking his lucky stars for a nice, straight-forward case.

Enter Inspector Christopher McKee.  After interviewing everyone connected with case--except Katherine, who refuses to talk--and examining the rooms where the murder took place, McKee begins to doubt whether the DA's case is as strong as he might think.  The deeper he digs, the more likely it becomes that Katherine is innocent and someone else will get away with murder if McKee and his minions can't discover how the murderer got out of a locked room.

This story has a more intricate plot than the previous novel.  We still follow McKee and various officers around--including the mousy little Todhunter and Lieutenant Pierson--observing 1930s policeman at their finest.  McKee not only must discover the real culprit in the Kingston murder--but there is a jewel theft, two more murders, and an attempted fourth that all need his attention before the case is complete.  If only those most involved would stay put....but some of his witnesses go missing at the most inopportune moments.  

I thoroughly enjoyed Reilly's locked room mystery even though I spotted what must have happened with the door.  She still managed to pull the wool over my eyes when it came to the culprit.  A very pretty twist at the end.  Three and 3/4 stars (rounded to four on GoodReads).

1 comment:

Ryan said...

I adore locked room mysteries... especially if the solution is elaborate and crazy.