Friday, December 18, 2015

Cold Poison: Review

Miss Hildegarde Withers, retired school teacher and sometime amateur sleuth, has retired to the glittering west coast--land of movie stars, film moguls, and cartoon studios. She's just thinking how boring life is with Inspector Piper on the opposite side of the country and no murders to solve. 

But then something nasty starts happening at one of Hollywood's most renowned cartoon studios. Someone has dipped their brush in poison and started sending threatening notes accompanied by violent doodles of the star of the studio--Peter Penguin--with a noose around his neck. It looks like somebody has more than comic mayhem on their mind.

The studio's management don't want the notoriety that would follow an investigation by the local police, so when the head man (who is on business in New York) runs into Inspector Piper and tells his story, Piper suggests Miss Withers as a quiet substitute. The company wants to blame Larry Ree, a cartoonist with a unique sense of humor who has played many practical jokes in the past. But Miss Withers suspects that something more than a warped sense of humor is at work. She's proved right when Reed is proved innocent in a most definite way--he winds up dead.

The police want to call the death an accident--death by poison ivy--saying that Reed must have been extra-sensitive to the plant. But how did Reed come into contact with the ivy in the studio. Miss Withers sets to work proving not only that murder has been done, but finding the means to introduce a poison ivy concentrate to the inmates of the cartoon studio. 

Cold Poison (1954) is Stuart Palmer's last novel featuring that intrepid sleuthing schoolmarm Miss Withers. He gives us a lively tale and an interesting backdrop for the murder and mayhem with some fairly well-drawn stock characters. The plot is a bit disappointing. Miss Withers (and Piper, who comes flying in to help when a possible connection is found to one of his cases) dig up lots of backstory on the characters with clues pointing...where, exactly? It's somewhat difficult to find the few bits of real evidence amongst the chaff. 

The murder method is clever...and better clued than motive and perpetrator. Overall, a decent mystery--best enjoyed for the setting and characters than for puzzle plot. ★★

1 comment:

fredamans said...

Not sure if I could read this knowing the plot is disappointing. The murder intrigues me, but I'm not sure enough to read it. Great review!