Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Purple Parrot: Review

Here we have another classic Golden Age impossible crime. This one features Professor Theocritus Lucius Westborough, expert in Roman history and occasional amateur sleuth, and involves the death of an irritable wealthy book collector. Hezekiah Morse was never adverse to a little under-handed dealing to get his way--especially if his way had as an objective one of many coveted books. So no one is terribly surprised that he's been found stabbed to death and there are plenty of people who might have wanted him dead. The only difficulty is that none of the obvious suspects--from the big-time paving contractor out for blood after an accusation of slander to the mysterious Mr. Wells who visited Morse on the night of his death--could have possibly done the deed.

The only one who could have killed Morse is his granddaughter, Sylvia--a young woman who was about to be disinherited if she didn't marry the man Morse had chosen for her. And Barry Foster, Morse's lawyer and Sylvia's fiancé, was not the man Morse had in mind. Under the terms of a yet-to-be-signed will: if Sylvia is a good girl and marries Morse's favorite, Thomas Vail, two-thirds of the estate will be hers and a third will go to Vail. If she defies her grandfather and marries anyone else, then she will inherit nothing but his terracotta statue of a purple parrot. She'll either be an heiress or the owner of a rather gaudy knick-knack.

On the night in question, Sylvia and Foster have just become engaged. Barry has told her of the plans Morse has for his new will and Sylvia insists on going at once to let her grandfather know that she loves Foster and intends to marry him. When they reach the house, she makes Barry promise to give her ten minutes with her grandfather before coming up to join them.  Nine minutes go by, there is a scream and Barry and the butler, Baines, both reach the study at the same time--to find Morse stabbed through the heart with his own knife.

According to Sylvia, she had sat in her room (adjoining the study) for the nine minutes, removing make-up (which her grandfather hated) and working up the courage to tell him her news. But when the police arrive in the form Captain O'Ryan and Detective Johnny Mack--with a little man with a long name in tow--and discover that the main study door was locked, that there is a sheer drop from the study windows (and no marks on the ground below of a ladder or a man falling), and that the only other way in was through Sylvia's room, they come to the obvious conclusion that Sylvia killed Morse.

Sylvia denies it. Barry, of course, believes her. But they have to admit that the evidence is rapidly stacking up against them. Fortunately, the quiet little man who has accompanied the police, believes there is more to the case than meets the eye. It's up to Professor Westborough to prove that rare wine, priceless books, and an apparently worthless bird from New Zealand are more important than all the clues that seem point directly at Sylvia.

This is a very pleasant little puzzler with quite a few twists and turns--and even though our amateur detective (in a very Philo Vance sort of way) is the owner of all sorts of esoteric knowledge, one doesn't really need to have that knowledge to work towards the solution. I got inklings and was feeling my way towards the right answer even without the good professor's know-how. I must say, however, that I am better pleased with Barry Foster's solution to the impossible crime than I am with the one which is proven to be correct.  Spoiler (again, I'm using faint font color that can be highlighted, if you don't mind a huge pointer towards the solution): I'm just really not all that sold on hypnotism as part of the solution.  This is the second novel in as many months to use that bit of, pardon the pun, hocus pocus to help wrap-up the mystery.  Granted, the hypnotism is more believable this time round (after all, we're only hypnotizing one person this time instead of a whole houseful), but Barry's solution of the make-shift bridge between the buildings makes WAY more sense. And I was compelled to think about those holes in the side of the house repeatedly...

But that small quibble aside, I thoroughly enjoyed meeting Professor Westborough and following him as he uncovered the clues to the real culprit's identity. Overall, a great read and a nice visit to the Chicago area of the 1930s.  3.75 stars, rounded to 4 on GoodReads.

This book fulfills the "Color in the Title" square on the Golden Vintage Bingo card--and gives me my first Bingo!

Challenges met: Vintage Mystery Challenge, What An Animal, Mount TBR Challenge, Cruisin' Thru the Cozies, Bookish TBR, Color Coded Challenge, Century of Books, Outdo Yourself, How Many Books, My Kind of Mystery, 100 Plus Challenge, Book Bingo 


fredamans said...

I love reading your reviews. Most cases, it would have been a book I would have otherwise overlooked.

Robin M said...

Sounds good. I've read a couple of her stories and you are right. You can slip in at any point without having to start at the beginning.