Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Book of the Dead: Review

Mr. Howard Crenshaw travels east from California to wrap up the estate of an uncle. But while he is there the reclusive, friendless man is diagnosed with leukemia and passes on himself. The doctors at the hospital see nothing wrong with the lonely gentleman paying everything up front and getting his affairs in order well ahead of time. The only person interested in his affairs is Pike, a man of all work who acts as his companion/valet/light nurse until he can no longer avoid the hospital.

But unknown to Pike and the doctors, Mr. Crenshaw had made one friend while at his uncle's estate--Miss Idelia Fisher. He and Miss Fisher shared a taste for literature and he let her borrow a battered old edition of Shakespeare which contained The Temptest and a few odd markings in the passages. When Miss Fisher tries to return the book, she finds that Crenshaw has been admitted to the hospital and no one will allow her to see him or will tell her anything about his condition. 

A mutual friend had mentioned biblio-sleuth Henry Gamadge and that when queer things happened Gamadge could sometimes make sense of them. So, she takes her puzzle to him. Gamadge no sooner takes up her case than they find out that Crenshaw has died--most definitely of leukemia. But little "queer things" continue to crop up and when Miss Fisher is bludgeoned on her doorstep and Gamadge barely escapes the same fate in his own home, he knows that there is more to the mystery of Mr. Crenshaw and his oddly marked Shakespeare than meets the eye.

Once Gamadge really starts digging--and brings in a private detective agency and an FBI agent to help--he finds that Mr. Crenshaw wasn't nearly as alone as it appeared. There's a wife who shows up to identify the body (and make sure the will is all in order) and a step-niece who seems more attached to her uncle than the "grieving" widow. The doctor who was initially called into the case also benefits substantially--through a rather hefty fee, and who knows what kind of influence the mysterious Mr. Pike might have had on the dying man. All-in-all a pretty puzzle for Elizabeth Daly's sleuth in Book of the Dead.

 I really enjoy these light mysteries starring the genteel Henry Gamadge. This one takes place during war-time with gas rationing, a distinct lack of men, dim-outs (no street lights, etc.), and mention of Gamadge's "other" jobs--on call for war work. And Gamadge seems a little more sombre and business-like as a result. I still enjoy him as an investigator, but he comes across as a bit stiff and not quite as personable. Perhaps its because Clara is out of town and isn't there to soften him...not entirely sure. Nicely plotted and the other character are well-rounded. Various reviews I've read indicate that the solution was telegraphed (even though one reviewer said that some of the clues were kept up sleeves), but I must confess that the telegraph lines must have been down in my area, because I didn't get it.  That may also be because things are rather hectic here at the moment (gearing up for another round of classes at the university--new student orientation and so on). But, whatever, the reason, Daly managed to keep me mystified until the end...which is more fun than having no mystery left at all.  Good solid read.  ★★


John said...

I remember reading most of these when I was in high school, but I can't remember *any* of the plots. I think this one of the few Gamadge books I liked. The leukemia business rings a faint bell.

This made me smile: "...but I must confess that the telegraph lines must have been down in my area, because I didn't get it."

Bev Hankins said...

John, I really enjoyed the Gamadge books I discovered back in my early 20s....Reading more recent finds now (20-some years later) he doesn't seem as personable. I don't know if it's the stories I'm reading now or if it's where I'm at personally now. I've got a few more to read, so we'll see.

TracyK said...

I have this one too, the same edition. I have not read it and a couple of other ones, but have read most of the series (years ago). I wonder if I will like them so well now, after your comments.

fredamans said...

If it kept you mystified to the end, it must be decent. Great review!

Ryan said...

I'm not familiar with the author, but I know I've only scratched the surface of classic mystery authors.