Saturday, December 5, 2015

The Corpse & the Three Ex-Husbands

Sue McVeigh was the pen name of Elizabeth Custer Nearing (9 Jan 1898 - 30 Aug 1960). Nearing was a news reporter for the Philadelphia Public Ledger, managing editor of the Clifton Times in Clifton, NJ, and then a news feature writer for the New York Telegram. Under the pseudonym of "Sue MacVeigh" she published four mystery novels between 1939 and 1941. Her first serious novel was The Lancasters, published in 1947. As McVeigh, she wrote The Corpse and 3 Ex-Husbands (1941) as the narrator of the story.

Sue McVeigh is the wife of Andrew McVeigh, a celebrated detective in New York City who is off serving his country in the war. She receives a letter from her many-times removed cousin Henry inviting her to come and visit her distant family in upper Michigan with promises of hospitality and a welcome change from her worries in NYC. She arrives to find the family in an uproar. The family patriarch had passed away years earlier--leaving his house, land, and earthly goods to his daughter Claire. Claire had rapidly gone through three husbands and foolishly promised two of the three the land and/or house. All three exes have showed up for a little reunion. Two are fighting over the estate and one seems to still be carrying a torch for Claire. There is a forbidding housekeeper, a half-deaf handyman who is built like a lumberjack and roars at everyone to compensate for not being able to hear, Cousin Henry who has a thing for lichens, and Henry's two ghastly half-sisters who seem to exist only to make everybody's life more miserable. Throw in a freak winter storm--no, not just with snow but thunder, lightning, loss of electricity & phone, and a flood that cuts the house party off from civilization--and a murderer who seems intent on removing all of Claire's former husbands and you have the makings of a most delightful and relaxing get-away for Sue.

Sue is used to "helping" Andy with some of his cases (thus, the other three mystery novels, I suspect). Without Andy to guide her, she writes letters to her missing husband telling him the facts of the case. She describes how two of Claire's husbands have died and the actions and conversations of all the inmates of the house. When the big house (there are two abodes) catches on fire with the bodies inside, it attracts the attention of the State Troopers who discover they have more than a suspicious fire to investigate. Sue just manages to solve the murders ahead of the boys in blue.

When I first started reading this, I wrote in my notebook: "overwrought melodrama." I really thought that was going to be my succinct reaction. I still think "Sue McVeigh" is a bit of a "Mary Sue" character inserted in the story to prove how smart the author is and to fulfill a "I wanna be a detective" fantasy. But I also have to admit that Nearing planted a very nice clue early in the book that I let slip right by me. Even though the atmosphere of the story is very over-the-top, there is the germ of a very nice mystery here--pretty fair play and a nice twist at the end. It's a shame that it appears that this is the last of her four mystery novels--I think she had the makings of a good crime author if she had continued to work on her craft. ★★ for a pleasant, entertaining read.

Since this was written in 1941, this counts for Rich's December Crimes of Century feature. Got any 1941 mysteries on tap this month? Come join us!

1 comment:

fredamans said...

The title and cover had me giggling.
Great review!