Sunday, December 7, 2014

Black-Headed Pins: Review

 ...I realized that the noises in the attic had stopped. The next minute I heard them all pour down into the hall, sounding like a herd of elephants, as men usually do when they're trying to be quiet. (p. 113)

Black-Headed Pins is the second book by Constance and Gwenyth Little and the first in a long line of books with "black" in the title. Their first book, titled The Grey Mist Murders, might count as a shade of black but despite the somber colors of their titles, the Little books are far from somber affairs. The ladies may deal in murders, but they are humorous, madcap affairs rather than chilling, nerve-wracking adventures. 

Cozy by nature, the murders happen tidily off-stage and allow for plenty of frantic rushing about and snappy dialogue by the players. The action always takes place in drafty old mansions, hospitals, boarding houses, ocean liners--in short, anywhere that the Littles could convene a gathering of eccentric characters who seem to have wandered in from a B-movie along the lines of Bob Hope in The Ghost Breakers or my Halloween-viewing experience The Thirteenth Guest with Ginger Rogers. The heroine in each stand-alone novel runs very much to type--strong-minded and always willing to speak her mind with a sense of humor and a distinct interest in finding a man who will either do his share of the housework or who is rich enough to hire help to take care of it.

Black-Headed Pins finds Leigh Smith needing a job and having agreed to play companion and housekeeper to Mrs. Ballinger. Only Mrs. Ballinger didn't tell her that she holds on to every penny as though it were the last one ever minted and that they were bound for the drafty, creaky Ballinger mansion in the back of beyond in New Jersey. It isn't long before "Smithy" (as she is known) regrets her decision--there is little food and less heat and no housekeeping funds to speak of. When Mrs. Ballinger takes it into her head to invite the nieces and nephews for Christmas, it all Smithy can do to get the old lady to part with enough cash to provide a little Christmas cheer for the party. 

The family doesn't make it any easier by arriving with three unexpected guests--but Smithy does see some possibility of a pleasant weekend. She doesn't, however, anticipate the resurrection of the Ballinger family curse--which comes equipped with ghost dragging bodies back and forth across the attic floor--or that the Ballingers will start dropping like flies from "accidents." Because, you see, when the ghost starts dragging imaginary bodies around that means a Ballinger will die. And once the Ballinger is dead, someone must sit with it till it's firmly planted in the ground or it will start transporting itself around the house.

Mrs. Ballinger's favorite nephew, John (favorite because he repairs things around the house for free), is the first to go. Liking nothing better than a home-improvement project, he heads to the roof on Christmas Day to fix a few leaks. Next thing we know he's slipped from the roof and died when his scaffolding rope accidentally breaks. Or is it an accident? That "break" in the rope looks an awful lot like a clean cut....The local town cop--Joe by name--shows up to investigate, but Smithy and her two male conquests, Berg--nephew of the house--and Richard Jones, his uninvited guest--decide to play detective themselves and try to get the bottom of things. But another Ballinger will die and an attempt will be made on Berg before they finally explain the dragging noises, the scattering of black-headed pins everywhere, the bloody phone receiver, the mysterious tune on the gong, the lack of blood, and the footprints in the flower bed. Oh...and of course who engineered it all.

Like my previous read, Mayhem in B-Flat, this madcap mystery is great fun--with suspects popping in and out of rooms and dead bodies roaming through the hallways how could it not be? Smithy gets in plenty of witty one-liners and exchanges bon mots with her two beaus...all while giving the local policeman a run for his money in the detecting business. Highly entertaining and I look forward to reading the other three Little novels hanging out on the stacks.  ★★

1 comment:

fredamans said...

I laughed at that snippet, how true... LOL.
Sounds like a really fun read. The wit really captures my attention.
Great review!