Friday, May 23, 2014

By the Watchman's Clock: Review

By the Watchman's Clock by Leslie Ford (Zenith Brown) is one of her stand-alone novels. Written in 1932, it is one of her earliest stories and it predates her delightful Colonel Primrose and Grace Latham series. One of the highlights (for me) is its academic ties. It is set Landover, Maryland, home of Landover College, and several of the main characters have connection to the campus. Martha Niles, our narrator, is married to one of the instructors and both she and her husband become prime suspects in the murder of Daniel Sutton--local millionaire who has held the fate of the college and the town in his rather tight-fisted grasp.

Dan Sutton loved to exert his power over people--over his relations, over the townspeople, and over the local college. The only person who had successfully put a spoke in his wheels was "Aunt Charlotte"--a former servant who had been deeded her house and land for her lifetime (and to her descendents thereafter). When Sutton bought the land surrounding her home, he was determined to own that last bit.  But she would not sell. No matter what he offered. He sets plans in motion that look to gain him his desired ends. Meanwhile, his niece has decided to defy him and marry the man of her choice--even with threats of disinheritance hanging over her. And, last of all, a Mexican has shown up who wants to get back land that Sutton owns but really belonged to his (the Mexican's family). And that doesn't even begin to represent the number of people who have a problem with Dan Sutton. 

So, nobody is terribly surprised when Sutton is discovered in his library dead from a gunshot wound. What is surprising is that Tim Healy, Sutton's gatekeeper and nightwatchman, is also dead outside the library window--apparently frightened to death. When it's discovered that Martha was roaming about the place at the vital times and that there is a whopping big motive for her and/or her husband to have disposed of Sutton, she gets to work looking for alternate solutions.

I debated on my rating for this one. I set it at three stars on Goodreads and then knocked it down to two. Then I decided on a 2.5 and rounded it back up to three. As you might guess, this is a slightly unsatisfactory book. There's a hefty dose of Had-I-But-Known (in the worse possible way), a whole lot of not telling what we do know because we're just sure it will make the nasty ol' District Attorney suspect the wrong person, no real follow-up of obvious clues and yet no real trail of clues to lead to the culprit, and, worse of all, no satisfactory bit of justice at the end. I like my mysteries to end with the culprit trotted off to jail...

So what, you may ask, did I like about the mystery to give it even a 2.5 rating? Well, there's the academic slant (you know I'm a sucker for those...). And there's the characterization--particularly of Martha, our narrator. She has a very strong and likeable voice. It was an easy, breezy read (something I was ready for) and it came packaged as one of my beloved pocket-size books. A decent read--not one I'll recommend with high praise and raptures, but certainly worth a try if you happen to find it.  ★★ and 1/2

This fulfills the "Academic Mystery" square on the Golden Vintage Bingo card.

Challenges Fulfilled: Vintage Mystery Challenge, Mount TBR Challenge, Bookish TBR, Monthly Motif, Adam's TBR Challenge, Outdo Yourself, How Many Books, 100 Plus Challenge, Women Challenge, A-Z Reading Challenge, A-Z Mystery Author Challenge, Crusin' Thru the Cozies


fredamans said...

Not to often I get a book that does the same to me and I can't figure out where to rate it, but when it happens, I feel frustrated more at the author for putting me in the predicament. :-)
Great review!

TomCat said...

Believe it or not, but this book was next on the pile here. Guess I'll skip it for now.

Bev Hankins said...

TomCat:'s not one of her best. I much prefer the series books.