Friday, December 11, 2015

The Chuckling Fingers: Review

Part of the appeal of reading The Chuckling Fingers by Mabel Seeley (1941) is the setting. I've been to Grand Marais,  Minnesota with a bunch of boy scouts. Of course, we went paddling in the wilds of the Boundary Waters hunting for adventure instead of a murderer and we came back with as many people as we started with--but it did give me a feel for the area described in what was described (at the time) as "the mystery novel of year."

Seeley's story begins with Ann Gay arriving in Grand Marais in response to a letter she receives from Jean Nobbelin warning her that her cousin and best friend Jacquelin Heaton may be in danger. Jacqueline has recently married for the second time, wedding Bill Heaton, lumber tycoon. Several ugly incidents have occurred that make it seem as though Jacqui may be a bit unbalanced...or someone wants her to seem that way. Acid is used to make holes in Bill's suit, a bed is set on fire, and Ann's robe is cut to ribbons--among other things. 

There are tensions surrounding the whole family. Between Jacqui and her new husband. Between Jacqui and her university-age stepson, Fred. Between Fred and his father. Between Phillips Heaton (Bill's cousin) and just about everyone he meets. But is there enough tension and unrest to explain murder when it happens? And happens it does...with every bit of evidence pointing directly at Jacqui. Sheriff Paavo Aakonen seems to accept the evidential pointers, though he is, wisely, slow to arrest the most obvious suspect. Ann has her work cut out for her to prove her cousin's innocence and make sure that the proper villain is identified.

Overall, this is a most satisfying mystery with interesting characters, fine-tuned timing, good mechanics--with just one quibble that I share with Curt over at The Passing Tramp* (more on this in moment), and an intelligent heroine who keeps her wits about her throughout the horrible events. There is plenty of suspicion to go around, several members of the family who might have motives, but it appears that most of them have alibis. The difficulty which both Curt and I have with the book is that the culprit isn't really discovered through a careful sifting of clues and logical puzzle-solving. Ann (with the help of Jean and Jacqui) must set a trap to trick the murderer. Otherwise, s/he may not have been caught. ★★ and a half.

*Curt has given a fine overview of Mabel Seeley, as well as a review of  The Chuckling Fingers. Please stop by The Passing Tramp and check out his post.

~This is my second entry in Rich's December Crimes of Century feature. Got any 1941 mysteries on tap this month? Come join us!

1 comment:

fredamans said...

This one sounds like a fun read! Great review!