Saturday, February 6, 2016

The Clue of the Judas Tree: Reviw

And in its way the house at Ivy Hill was incredible as the things that happened in it. In fact, I suppose it was the kind of house that strange things have to happen in. as a sort of ironic destiny. I didn't, of course, know any of that when Cheryl Trent brought the big car to a stop in front of an elaborate oak studded door. (p. 18)
Zenith (Jones) Brown wrote may mysteries under three pseudonyms (Leslie Ford, David Frome, and Brenda Conrad) with the bulk of them written as Ford.  My initial foray into Brown's work was with Homicide House written under the name of David Frome and featuring Mr. Pinkerton--that was long before my blogging days, so I don't have clear notes on that experience. Most of the Leslie Ford books feature her delightful detective duo, Colonel Primrose and Grace Latham. The Clue of the Judas Tree, published in 1933, predates the Primrose and Latham books and is one of two books that feature Lieutenant Joseph Kelley as detective. 

This is the second of the two Kelley novels. Our narrator is Louise Cather, a nearly-thirty journalist who has been sent to the estate of Duncan Trent to ghost write his autobiography. It seems that everyone will be interested in the life of the self-made millionaire. Before she can even begin chapter one, the wealthy businessman is shot to death in the library and everyone suspects that Michael Spur, a shell-shocked veteran of World War I, has had another episode. You see, Michael has killed once before while in a fugue state--the last victim was his father. But Lt. Kelley isn't so sure. Did Michael kill while suffering a relapse? Or did he have a motive and hopes that the shell-shock excuse will keep him from the electric chair? Or...maybe someone else wanted Trent dead and has arranged for Michael to take the rap. Kelley begins collecting clues and when Louise finally tells him all she's heard and seen, he is able to piece together what really happened in the library.

The books written as Ford follow closely in the Mary Roberts Rinehart tradition with female narrators and romantic overtones to the stories. Judas Tree is even more Rinehart-esque with definite Had-I-But-Known tendencies throughout the opening chapters.

I didn't know then that the time had already passed too far along for Mr. Duncan Trent's autobiography to ever be written, or that my stay at Ivy Hill was going to be like a Grand Guignol, with midnight screams and murder and staring-eyed Death meeting you almost at every turn. (p. 24)

Louise Cather experiences many HIBK moments in her introduction to Ivy Hill.

...I had a queer icy fluttering inside of me, in spite of myself. I looked up at the darkening rose window, and at the tattered flags hanging limply from the balcony. For a moment there seemed something almost ominous in the air. (p. 25)

This book doesn't represent Ford at her best. The atmosphere is good and I like the rough-around-the-edges lieutenant. But the explanations at the end are both too matter-of-fact (look, this is how it was done and who did it--because I said so) and yet convoluted. It is pretty difficult to get a handle on the killer's motivation for some of the action. Like Curt at the Passing Tramp (click for his post on Leslie Ford), I was a bit mystified over the title of the book. The Judas Tree really doesn't hold a clue of any sort worth noting. A decent read, but so far I much prefer the Primrose and Latham books for a more complete package of mystery and characters. ★★ and a half.

This fulfills the "Bloodstains" category in the Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt as well as serving as a second entry in Rich's February 2016 Crimes of Century feature. Got any 1933 mysteries on tap this month? Come join us! 
All challenges fulfilled: 100 Plus Challenge, Vintage Mystery Challenge, Outdo Yourself, Mount TBR Challenge, My Kind of Mystery, Cloak & Dagger, What's in a Name, Triple Dog Dare, A-Z Mystery Author Challenge, Women Challenge, Mad Reviewer


fredamans said...

I think I'll pass on reading it.

Anonymous said...

Another completely new author for me Bev - thanks, even if it is not the place to start perhaps.