Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Button, Button: Review

Button, Button by Marion Bramhall (1944) finds us on Cape Cod in 1942. Our heroine is Kit Acton. She and her husband Dick have just recently moved into a rental home in Lyford where Kit spends a great deal of time on her own while Dick is in the Navy. They don't know anyone in their new hometown and Kit's life is pretty dull until Sally Winstead shows up on her front porch. She is a friend of a friend of Kit's father's and sets out to make Kit her friend and to show Kit the ins and outs of Lyford life. 

From all appearances, the main entertainment in Lyford is antiquing--a passion which Kit quickly takes up. She decides that she would like to furnish her new home with some good period pieces and Sally takes her round the local shops and introduces her to the trade. Kit manages to get on good terms with one wily old man, "Old Jake"--a man that few seem to really like. Another huge hobby in the small town is button collecting--it seems that just about everyone is interested in grabbing up a few calicoes or floral enamels or historicals. Even Sally gets bitten by the button bug when she buys her first green-starred calico at the annual Button Show.

Old Jake is rumored to have a fabulously rare button, a jewel-encrusted beauty that belonged to Louis XIV, but no one has actually seen it until he decides to show it to his new friend. However, it looks like owning the fabled button may have been unlucky indeed when Kit and Sally stop by his shop on the way home from the Button Show and find Old Jake murdered and the button missing. The circumstantial evidence points toward Sally's ex-husband Dr. Wilton Barnes, but there are plenty of collectors who would have loved to get their hands on that beautiful button. Did someone take advantage of Barnes's argument with Old Jake to do murder, collar the collectible, and shift the blame? Sally denies harboring any feelings for her former husband, but she convinces Kit to help her do some sleuthing of their own before the State Troopers can arrest good the doctor. But if not the doctor, who?

Marion Bramwell is a name that I never came across until I picked up one of those nifty 3-in-1 Detective Book Club books (Which I grabbed primarily for the Elizabeth Daly book--review coming soon on that one too.). A search through the interwebs didn't produce much help.  The gadetection website, so often a font of knowledge had just this: "Marion Bramhall was an American writer. Her series detective was Boston nurse's aide Kit Acton." The site also tells me that this is second four novels. I'm not entirely sure how we know that Kit is a nurse's aide--there's nothing in Button, Button to tell us so...and all the doctor/nurse-type duties are performed by Dr. Barnes and Sally Winstead (who was also studying medicine before marriage and divorce). 

Having read the story, I can see why there isn't much out there about Bramwell and her mysteries. Not that the mystery is bad--it is a decent whodunnit with pretty fair-play. The characters are also fairly interesting and given enough spark that you want to stick with the story and see who the culprit is. But there really isn't any hook, no real zing that would put Bramwell into the top-flight group of detective novelists. The only fairly unique facet is the focus on button collecting...those more knowledgeable about crime fiction than me may know otherwise, but this seems to me to be one of the earliest examples of a mystery that focuses on a collection that is outside the usual stamps, books, artwork, or weaponry. This gives the book a little bit of flair, but not enough to keep it in the collective internet consciousness apparently.  ★★  for a decent mystery and enjoyable read.

This fulfills the "One Author You Haven't Read" space on the Golden Vintage Bingo card.

7 comments:

bloodymurder said...

I had never heard of this author either, thanks Bev - wow, you're just galloping through the challenge - must keep up, must keep up! :)

fredamans said...

Sounds like it was a great book for it's time, but maybe not as pertinent to this era. Great review though.

Bev Hankins said...

Sergio, I'm pleased to find someone new to you. Now, I just wonder if John has read her....

John said...

Never heard of her, Bev. You're doing well at stumping me this year!

In fact, I thought the title was for Anthony Gilbert book. But it was the DJ illustration that misled me. Turns out the Gilbert book is THE SCARLET BUTTON.

Never heard of button collecting either. Very strange. Did Bramhall make it interesting or humorous? I guess it's no more strange than thimble or spoon collecting, two other arcane hobbies that have gone the way of the Dodo and passenger pigeon.

Bev Hankins said...

John, you have made me very happy. I never thought I'd be able to stump you. It was actually rather interesting--kind of made me want to look up info on button collecting (I haven't yet). I'm still trying to figure out why a button called a "calico" would have stars on it. Not exactly what I think of with calico....

The only humor involved was at how obsessed these folks got over clothes fasteners....but then I'm rather obsessed with my books, so who am I to talk? :-)

Peggy Ann said...

Another 'rare' author to keep my eyes peeled for! Amazon list 5 books by her all in hardback.

Ryan said...

Sounds like a precursor to the whole "cozy" craze we are now in.