Monday, February 22, 2016

The Black Rustle (1942): Review

 And then, directly above me, in the attic, I heard her quite distinctly--a light, gentle footfall and the whispered rustle of a skirt.

According to a Packett family legend, the little lady in black, a doll-like statue which normally stands on their country cottage mantle, leaves her post periodically, transforms into a ghost, and walks the floors whenever she gets perturbed by family behavior. Well....the weekend family get-together must have really upset her because she keeps disappearing and reappearing faster than a jack-in-the-box on an endless loop. But who wouldn't be upset when it seems that the family membesr are killing each other off?

Marina Hays is not a member of the family. But she has been invited to join the weekend festivities by her friends Marge and Elizabeth. She wasn't very enthusiastic and had to be convinced. And even though Bruce Collyer, the handsome cousin who own the cottage, seems interested in her (even though he can't seem to remember her name), it isn't long before she wishes she had stayed home. Because she didn't know "Stay Alive" was going to be one of the games. Elizabeth is the first victim. Initially, it looks like the poor swimmer just go in over her head and has perished in an accident. But then Marina notices a couple of items out of place and mentions them to Bruce Collyer (owner of the cottage). He makes sure the coroner is aware that the accident might really be murder. An investigation has barely begun before we have victim number two. This time the victim had been whispering about a secret. Did someone kill to make sure the secret would never be revealed? Marina's powers of observation will be needed again to help the authorities unravel the mystery.

Constance and Gwenyth Little wrote 21 mysteries together. All but one, their debut novel The Grey Mist Murder, had "Black" in the title and they all fall into the comic romantic mystery subgenre. The Black Rustle features the romance between Bruce and Marina--but what a romance. Bruce seems to think that the way to win the girl is to get her to hold boards while he nails and screws and saws. Oh--and call her anything but her name: Maggie and Malvina are favorites. It's also a great idea to do your courting in a cottage where everybody treats everybody else's room like their own--you never know who might pop in while you're whispering sweet nothings....or changing into your bathing suit. When you sit down and think about it, all that casual semi-nudity seems like it would be pretty risqué for the 1940s, but the Little sisters tell their story with such innocent comic charm that you don't sit down and think about it at the time.

These charming, cozy mysteries are great fun. Intricate puzzle plots--no. But interesting and original characters? Yes. The books are written with plenty of humor and with tongue firmly planted in cheek--especially when it comes to some of the murder methods. While they're often not the most practical method of disposing of an unwanted relative (rival, purse-string-holder, etc.), they're usually quite ingenious and well-thought out by their creators. A nice comfortable read from the vintage years. ★★

This fulfills the "Statue" category on the Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt card.

1 comment:

fredamans said...

Sometimes a solid story is just what I need. No fluff or deepness necessary. Sounds like this is perfect for that moment.