Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Case of the Painted Girl: Review

It was a strange, incomprehensible business. A recently murdered man. A painted nymph, unconscious by his side. And brooding silence in the house except for that persistent bell ringing without human intervention. (p. 10)

And so the adventure begins for Jimmy Harrison in The Case of the Painted Girl by Frank King (1931). Harrison is on his way to Scotland for a well-deserved holiday when his radiator runs out of water along a bit of deserted English countryside. He heads out into the night in search of water for his ailing car and walks right into a murder mystery. Seeing a building through the trees, he hopes to find some sort of container to dip water from a handy stream. As he approaches, a dark figure runs from the house and a shrill bell starts ringing through the night...and won't stop. Harrison, not wanting to get mixed up in something dangerous, is about to head back to his car when he hears a frightened woman's scream. He can't ignore the need for help and finds a way into the locked building...to discover a man with a knife in his chest and beside the man, the huddled body of a girl, clad only in a loose robe with her face thickly painted with make-up. And there are slim, girlish fingerprints on the dagger's handle.

They have just managed to convince each other of their innocence in the matter when a man claiming to be the police starts pounding on the door. Harrison, suspicious, spends time trying to establish the man's credentials and when the two men go upstairs, Harrison is knocked unconscious (it seems his suspicions were justified). When he awakens, he finds the girl gone and the authentic police on the scene. That's when his real troubles begin. There is no evidence to back up his story...and the dagger now has his prints all over it. It's up to him to prove to his innocence once the Scotland Yard man, Inspector Gloom, arrives.

Chief Inspector Gloom...looked as much like a corpse as any man could do while alive. (p. 62)

And what a police inspector he is.

"I don't suppose you really know anything about it," continued Gloom, his voice lifeless as his appearance. "It wouldn't be my luck to have my hands on the murderer to begin with. I'm a very unlucky man, Mr. Harrison. Things usually seem to go the wrong way for me. I don't suppose I'll ever get to the bottom of this case. But I like it. I like dealing with criminals who dig dead men from their graves. Things like that amuse me. I'm sure we're going to be friends, Mr. Harrison. I'm sure we're going to get lots of fun out of this case, even if we never solve it." [talk about a Gloomy Gus!]

But Harrison suspects that Gloom isn't quite as pessimistic as he pretends--even though Gloom seems a rather pessimistic and inefficient fellow, Harrison suspects the manner to be assumed, "a pose assiduously cultivated to fit in with his name and his physique." We'll have to see if he's right. We'll also have to see if he and Gloom can find Myra Livingsone (the missing girl) and find the answers to a few questions..like why an unknown shop girl should be carried off, painted up, dressed in so little, and left in a deserted house on the moor? Why was she found beside the freshly stabbed body of a man who supposedly died with his face in a fire a few days earlier? Who dug up the body of the man buried in his place? Why does somebody keep stealing corpses as fast as Gloom and Harrison find them? And who has been hiding in the empty loft at the village inn....and are they the same people who have been camping out in the hut on the moor? Harrison and Gloom must find the answers to these questions and defeat the evil genius behind it all if they want to save Myra from a terrible fate.

This book was the most fun I've had in a long time. Not fairly clued at all--but it reminds me of one of the serials that used play at the theaters. Just when you think the heroes have discovered an answer and are getting close to capturing the criminals, up pops another little mystery and they're off on another adventure. King's story is a quick read with plenty of action, more than a few coincidences and improbabilities, and great characters. It's worth the price of admission just to meet Inspector Gloom and watch him try to live up to his name. ★★★★

This fulfills the "Author Never Read Before" square on the Golden Vintage Bingo Card.

More Quotes:

Both Jimmy and Myra were in high spirits. Dangers might threaten, the police might have absurd suspicions, but youth would not be denied. They had passed through a trying time together and been separated. They had come together again strangely and unexpectedly. Neither of them was inclined to quibble at the dictates of Fate. (p. 70)

JH: He didn't show up very well last night...to be bluffed by a girl.
IG: It doesn't matter much to a man who is killed by a bullet whether that bullet was fired by a male or a female. A frightened girl with an automatic can do a great deal of damage--more than I should care to face, Mr. Harrison. (Jimmy Harrison, Inspector Gloom; p. 70)

It's hardly considered the best behaviour to dig up a dead man from his grave, is it? Don't be annoyed, Mr. Harrison. I'm not suggesting that this is one of your hobbies. (Gloom; p. 71)

I hadn't much doubt about the matter, but I do like to be sure whenever possible. Unfortunately, it's so rarely possible. (Gloom; p. 76)

I believe you'll be terribly disappointed, Inspector, if we ever do discover anything, won't you? (Myra Livingstone; p. 82)

G: More fun. The fingerprints of the man with the burned face have been identified. He is on our records at Scotland Yard as Black Ferguson.
H: The news seems to please you.
G: It does, Mr. Harrison. It lends such a charming anticipation to the outlook. Our recent information about Black Ferguson was that he had joined forces with the most mysterious and elusive personality in London crookdom---" (Gloom, Harrison; p. 91)

M: Why don't you arrest him?
G: Impulsive youth. So charming--and so reckless. I don't arrest him for two reasons; first, I've nothing against him except my guess; second, if I give him rope he may hang himself. (Myra, Gloom; p. 107) 

All challenges met: Vintage Mystery Challenge, How Many Books, Mount TBR Challenge, 100 Plus Challenge, Color Coded Challenge, A-Z Reading Challenge, Genre Decades Challenge, Cloak & Dagger, European Reading Challenge, Mystery Reporter,Monthly Key Word


BooksPlease said...

It looks like you really enjoyed this book. I like all the quotes you've given - it gives a real flavour of the book.

fredamans said...

The car breaking down would have been my first clue it was about to get real... lol.. I watch too many horror movies. Sounds like a great read! Fabulous review!

Ryan said...

You always give me great new books to read.... now I just need to find them all.

Bev Hankins said...

Ryan: I lucked into this one at a Half-Price Bookstore. I'd never heard of Frank King before that.