Saturday, February 13, 2016

The Bridal Bed Murders: Review

The Bridal Bed Murders (1954) by A. E. Martin is the second story to feature Pel Pelham, a man with a varied career having done everything from door-to-door sales to carnival barker to a stint with the circus. Set in Australia, Pel plays the reluctant, but can't-help-himself amateur detective alongside the police detective Linley. This book is actually missing an "S." It should have been named The Bridal Beds Murders....because there are actually two beds. The first is an ornate Chinese-style bed in the impromptu bridal chamber of a rooming house across the street from Pelham.

The room was originally intended for a Captain Carruthers-Carstairs, recently returned from the Far East. But a newlywed couple shows up and the landlady asks the Pelhams to take in the Captain so she can offer a room to the honeymoon couple. Before the wedding night is over the bride is found stabbed with a Chinese dagger and the husband is nowhere to be found.

The second Chinese bed came back from the East with the Captain. Pelham has been in between jobs and when he hears that the Captain also has a bed, he dreams up a sure-fire crowd-pleaser. He spins a story of the haunted bridal bed--scene of a dreadful murder during the Ming dynasty--and talks his newspaper friend into printing a story daring a brave young woman to defy the "legend." An actress is hired to play out the story and garner interest so Pelham can show the haunted bed at the carnival. But another woman dies in the second bed. 

The victim is Anna, the beautiful young wife of the carnival's "world's fattest man" (who, at age 32 weighs in at 42 stone). There has been much jealousy circling round Anna. Her husband is sure all the men are courting her behind his back. All the women are jealous of her life of ease and her easy hold on the men. But are there connections between the two recent murders? Did the young bride know someone from the carnival? Who did she call shortly before her death? That's what Pelham and Linley have to find out.

When the book came out in March 1954, Kirkus Review wrapped up their review with "For the reader- no honeymoon- just to repent at leisure." Anthony Boucher ( from another review at the time) seemed to think it was a worthwhile read in its way: "A trifle long and slow, it's still a highly rewarding book, with as unusual and well-realized characters (including a Bearded Lady and a superb Fat Man) as you could ask, and an odd blend of bitter naturalism and quiet humor that gives it a savor all its own." Well, it's not quite as bad as Kirkus made out, but it's not all that good either. It is true that Martin gives us a good variety of characters, characters that are not just cardboard cutouts of carnival exhibits. It is also true that the world of the carnival freak show (as it was so inappropriately known at the time) provides an interesting backdrop for the murders. But Martin falls down on the job with the mystery itself. The explanation is long, drawn-out, and quite frankly not believable. After painting one of the characters in a certain light, there is no reason given for the rapid change. The suggested motivation just doesn't ring true. He also did not make nearly as much of the Chinese bridal bed connection as he could have. Overall, a disappointing read with a few points of interest. ★★

This fulfills the "One Person" category on the Vintage Golden Scavenger Hunt card as well as "Knife/Stabbing as Murder Weapon" in the Mystery Reporter Challenge. The dust jacket shown at the top is the one which should go with my copy--but all I have is the yellow hardback at the bottom with the Inner Sanctum logo.

All challenges fulfilled: 100 Plus Challenge, Outdo Yourself, Vintage Mystery Challenge, Mount TBR Challenge, Travel the World, What's in a Name, Cloak & Dagger, Charity Challenge, Triple Dog Dare, Mystery Reporter, My Kind of Mystery, Mad Reviewer, 52 Books in 52 Weeks


fredamans said...

I think I'll pass on this one.

J F Norris said...

Have you read any of his other books? I've found them all to be not only well written, but tightly constructed and in some cases ingenious. THE OUTSIDERS (the first Pel Pelham mystery) is the humane antithesis of FREAKS, Tod Browning's noirish movie about sideshow life. SINNERS NEVER DIE, Martin's first mystery novel is especially intriguing and original take on the unreliable narrator in crime fiction. DEATH IN THE LIMELIGHT is a strange Gothic tale that may be a bit too complicated for its own good, but had some great characters that kept me reading. But I think his skill in creating characters and his sharp lively writing more than makes up for any of his faults.

Bev Hankins said...

John, this is the first one that I have ever seen. So, no, I haven't read any of the others. I do agree that his strength is in his characters. This one has that "it just needs something a little more" feel to it. I think it could have been good with the right motivation for the chosen culprit.