Sunday, May 17, 2015

The Three Fears: Review

The Three Fears by Jonathan Stagge (aka Richard Webb & Hugh Wheeler) (1949) is the last novel by the duo to feature Dr. Hugh Westlake. Westlake has been invited by his wartime friend, Dr. Macdonald "Don" Lockwood, and his wife Tansy to spend a month at their home in the Massachusetts resort of Bittern Bay. There will even be entertainment on hand in the form of two rival  acresses--Daphne Winters, with her "five sweet symphonies", budding actresses to whom she gives summer tutelage, and Lucy Millken, ""America's Most Beloved Actress"", one time understudy to the Divine Daphne, now her bitter rival. They expect fireworks and maybe even a cat fight or two, but no one expects murderous attempts to made on Daphne. 

Someone very clever is using the atmosphere to make attempt after attempt on Daphne's life and sanity--using knowledge of her three fears: fear of poison, fear of being closed in, and fear of fire against her. The culprit is relentless and doesn't even seem to mind that innocent victims are collected along the way. Two of Daphne's Symphonies are caught in the killer's web. The first intercepts a poisoned capsule meant for Daphne while they are at tea at the Milliken's house and the second dies in a fire in the summerhouse. Westlake, having previous experience with murders, joins the police in the search for the murderer, but they run into blank wall after blank wall. It isn't until one of the Symphonies makes an urgent phone call to Westlake that he begins to see the intricate plot behind it all.

Of all the pen names taken up by Webb and Wheeler as well as Martha Kelley and Mary Aswell (Patrick Quentin, Q. Patrick, and Jonathan Stagge), I think I enjoy the Stagge books with Dr. Westlake the best. This one has a nifty puzzle plot with a nice juicy clue dangled right before the reader's eyes in the opening chapter. I don't think that's a spoiler--most people still aren't going to get it. I know I zoomed right over it. Westlake is a good amateur detective. He's not infallible by any means and the way he works through the twists and turns of the mystery is very realistic. Solid characters--the police chief is perhaps a little bit too inept, but overall the characters are very well done. The rivalry between the actresses adds just the right about of spice and spite to the mix. ★★★★  for a lovely vintage mystery.

Since the first death occurs over tea and cake, this counts for the "Eat, Drink & Be Merry" Square on the Golden Vintage Bingo card--and collects two more Bingos. This is also my second entry for Curt's Crimes of the Century feature. This month is focused on crime fiction from 1949.


Anonymous said...

So glad you like this one - always pleased to see the Stagge series get some love! Thanks Bev.

fredamans said...

A realistic mystery, you say... sounds awesome!
Great review!